Hello, my name is Tamás Sárffi, I’m a freelance Character Artist working in the Cinematic and Video Game industries for about 4 years now.
I started messing around in 3ds Max and Cinema 4D when I was 15 years old and I managed to stuck in this world. When my parents decided to buy an internet subscription the world of 3D art opened up for me. Since then I have been working as a Motion Designer, then migrated to my true passion: character art. I got my first job in 2016 as a Character Modeler at a small video game company in Hungary called Primal Games Studio, where I had the chance to work with a bunch of talented people, including Miki Bencz. He gave me the fundamentals and mindset for creating and focusing on the importance of a personal portfolio. Our collaboration started there, in our free time, crunching the computer and creating what we liked the most: stylized characters in hand-painted fashion.
Thanks to this hard work with Miki I had the chance to work on some amazing projects at Blur Studio (Love Death + Robots), Digic Pictures (Game Cinematics), Keos Masons (Fortnite) and some other great companies as a freelancer.
Currently, I am working with Axis Studios, our latest project was Tales of Runeterra Cinematics, which aired on youtube in the last few weeks before the game was released.
I always seek to do personal work in my free time, because that's the place where I can focus on what I like doing the most and keep up my interest in character art. If you look at my portfolio, you can tell that I am a fan of the stylized, female-oriented shapes, that's why I choose Wellington Phelippe’s piece. It has all the beauty of a female body and the pose here was a huge selling point for me. I tried to capture the feeling and the mood which the illustration reflects.
My other goal with this piece was to deepen my knowledge in texturing and rendering, which is not my strongest skill.
I usually start working from a base mesh. I knew that I will work on a posed model right away, so basically I instantly broke the symmetry. This is a great way to practice anatomy and take your sculpting skills to the next level, so I definitely recommend to lose the symmetry sometimes.
The face was the part where I used symmetry the most. I tried to follow the feeling of the illustration, but then I ended up changing the shape of the eye quite a bit because there is a point where stylization can't be overdone. Over the years I developed this kind of style for myself, looking at a lot of references back then. For this piece, I only used reference for the body, but I recommend collecting as much ref as you can. But most of the time on personal pieces I am too lazy to do that.
People often say that I work pretty fast on these models. I think it is because I always try to work with the final topology from the start. It means that I don't have Dynameshed or ZRemeshed parts and I often skip the concept sculpting phase. Or I try to do the retopo and UVs very early in the sculpting process. It is a little bit risky when you are working for production because it's harder to change things when you establish your topology too early, but I found out that this works the best for me.
On personal projects like this, it doesn't really matter because you have all the time you need.
It was very important here that I get a very clean high poly to sculpt, because I wanted to do some clay renders later in redshift. A clean topo is a must if you want to achieve a polished result.
I used ZBrush for this with very basic brushes (Standard, Dam Standard, Clay Buildup, Zmodeler, Smooth). One of my favorite tools in ZBrush is the Claypolish feature. If you have enough resolution it can enhance your stylized edges and clean up your model even more.
Anatomy is very important when you are dealing with 3D characters. I could say that it’s a must to know at least the artistic anatomy if you want to do this kind of work. I studied and practiced a lot.
The female anatomy is especially hard. You need to have a different mindset when dealing with all the curves, bumps, and valleys of a female body. In this case, I focused a lot on the silhouette and the small gestures on the face, eyes.
I can say that if you practice a lot, eventually you will get better and you will see the minor differences in the man and woman anatomy which is the key here.
Once again, for having a good stylization it’s a must to know the basic anatomy. If you don’t have the foundations you end up having a creepy looking dude in front of you.
I started working with a dynamesh in ZBrush and tried to block out the basic shape of the hair. At this stage, I am not focusing on any details, only silhouette, which is very important. The illustration did not have very much detail on the hair, so I gave myself a little freedom to change it and experiment with different shapes. After a few rounds, I decided to go with these curled up hair strands, because they look like a bit like a candy for me and I think match the style on the whole.
The process for the strand: in ZBrush, I modeled a single strand with Zmodeler (simple polygonal modeling and extrude). Then I placed all the strands by hand following my base Dynamesh blockout. After a few hours of tweaking, detailing and moving things around I got this shape:
With the textures, I wanted to create a very clean, not very detailed result. So on the skin and clothing, I have some basic gradients and little hand-painted tones. Because my skills in hand painting are equal to zero, this approach seemed to be the best solution. As I like my sculpting to be clean, my textures will be clean as well. The most “painting” went into the face and body, on the clothing I used some gradients with the Position Map in Substance Painter. Then I added some cloth details via Generators in Substance. The Texturing process is basically done.
Most of the work went into the lighting and shading. This is the part where I also have less experience, but I wanted to give it my best. I knew in the beginning that I wanted to use Marmoset for rendering, because I have some knowledge of the software and it gives really nice results, not to mention that it is very easy to use.
Basically, I had 3 shaders, for the Skin, Clothing, and Hair. On the skin, I wanted to have a basic subsurface scattering so I turned it on in the shader and added a bit of red subsurface tone to it. Due to its stylization, I didn’t want to over complicate things so I don't have subsurface maps here, just a basic color.
For the Hair, I had a special map controlling the Reflectivity, it’s called Directional Map. It gives the hair a more realistic specular highlight when I render the turntable.
Roughness and specular on the other parts are also controlled with texture maps exported from Substance Painter.
To finalize the piece, the last step of my work was setting up the lights. In the concept, we have a bright yellow background projecting some nice rim lights on the character. I wanted to include it in my renders, so I decided to add a background object which has a luminance material on it. That will give a nice yellow backlight for me. Other than that, I added some area lights to my scene, a basic 3 point setup (modified a bit). I wanted the viewer to focus on the face, so I tried to make it the brightest part of the image. Nothing fancy here.
I really like to see every model in its pure beauty, that is why I always render some clay shots. I wanted to show my sculpting skills with these images because I think it is my strongest area of the process. For these, I used Cinema 4D and Redshift. It is a great renderer because it uses only your GPU and it’s very fast. I had no experience with Redshift before so I asked my brother to help me out. He gave me some basic lighting and shading knowledge for the software and this gave me the result.
I wanted this project to be a fairly quick task, to see how far I can push things with texturing and rendering. Sculpting in ZBrush is the spot where I feel comfortable however texturing and shading is always a challenge for me. I would say it took me 10 days in total to finish Candy.