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Catwoman: Realistic Character Production Tips

Mohanad Hossam talked about the production of realistic characters: anatomy, facial sculpting, hair, lighting scenarios, and more.


My name is Mohanad, I'm an Art Director and 3D Generalist who works in the VFX industry for almost 7 years. I'm from Cairo, Egypt, and it's where I live and work now.

My journey into the world of 3D started back in 2012 when I was in my last year of studying for my bachelor's degree in Interior Design and Architecture. I applied for a 3ds Max course as I wanted to use it for some architectural visualization, and during that time, I discovered my passion for 3D art in general, characters and visual storytelling,  I finished the course and started  learning other things on my own which felt like falling into the rabbit hole of a non-ending journey of enjoyment. I was inspired by a lot of artists who shared their works on platforms like ZBrush Central and CGSociety and I wished to become one of them.

A year later, I got my first job in the Advertising Industry where I was creating CG visuals for print and TV commercials in Egypt. I worked for clients like Coca-Cola, Lipton, Lay's, Pepsi and others. 

DC Heroes in Steampunk

Art Background Matters

When I was 13 I started drawing with traditional media like pencils, charcoal, and pastels, and after high school, I joined the faculty of Applied Arts. This traditional art background really helped me when getting into 3D.

I always like to say that art is art whatever the medium you are using. Basic color theory, light, distribution of objects through positive and negative spaces will always apply and be the same. 3D software is just a tool that replicates traditional art mediums, so someone who has a general art background will always find it easier to achieve a good-looking visual in 3D than someone with only technical software knowledge. Of course, the tech side is crucial but only after you understand the basics of art. And remember that technology evolves at a very fast pace. 30 years ago there were no 3D jobs available, and in the near future, the framework of our industry will definitely change again. But art will live forever, - so be ready and keep yourself "updated" and your art foundations solid! 

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Steampunk DC Characters: Goals

The DC Steampunk theme is something I've thought about for some time. I'm one of those people who are in love with old and retro things. The language of the Victorian era design has a huge appeal to me as it contains a lot of combinations between metals, wood, and leather which feels rich in detail and authentic.

At the same time, I wanted to create a portfolio piece that showcases my skills in executing high-quality 3D characters and concept design. I wish I could finish all the characters I like and take them a step further into a movie or a game. That would be a dream come true! 


Organic modeling for characters and creatures is all about anatomy, There's no shortcut through this process. If you want to breathe life into your models or reach a certain level of creativity in creature design, you should practice the anatomy of all sorts of things. The classical way of studying anatomy is breaking it down into pieces like a torso, a hand, a leg and just starting drawing or sculpting it again and again until your eye gets familiar with the natural shapes and forms of muscles, bones, fat. It's all about training your eye and hands to spot the curves and anatomical landmarks. 

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Facial Sculpting

A feminine face is one of the hardest things to do. In theory, it consists of simple organic design elements and therein lies its difficulty. Simple shapes are very sensitive and don't tolerate even minimal sculpting mistakes and deformations.

If someone is starting to learn facial sculpting, I would recommend practicing with old men and women because of the huge number of curves and creases from the wrinkles that define the shapes clearly. Also, I recommend making 2D portrait studies of the same person from different angles.

As a reference for my artwork "The Cat 1887" I used an Italian model named Vittoria Ceretti. I modeled the face and hand-painted the textures in ZBrush to have more artistic control over the process. Sending the model to Maya or any other 3D software with a physical camera is crucial and must be done early in the process to get feedback about your shapes. ZBrush might be a bit deceptive since it doesn't use real physical cameras or lighting,

Then, it's al about going back and forth between ZBrush and Maya until you achieve an accurate likeness.


I work on the bigger shapes first and slowly move towards details. First, I make the character with accurate anatomy in an A-pose, not a T-pose, because it's more neutral. Then, I start making clothes and bigger props. Sometimes, I start working in the same file in ZBrush, and sometimes I make a low poly in 3ds Max to later import it to ZBrush. If I need to render the character in a certain pose I use Transpose Master inside ZBrush and test different poses a lot until I'm satisfied with the result. Making some paintovers in Photoshop also helps sometimes. Then, I render the pose in Maya to make sure it's anatomically and proportionally correct. After that, |I can start adding smaller details and props to the model.

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Most of the modeling and detailing is done inside ZBrush except for the clothes (I use Marvelous Designer to speed up the process).

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Speaking of texturing, a general rule of thumb is that it is a combination of procedural noise and hand-painted textures.

I use a wide variety of noises generated either with ZBrush Noise Maker (a magnificent tool) or with procedural tileable textures and noises inside Mari or any other texturing software. First, I do a hand-painting pass using Polypaint inside ZBrush and perhaps mix it with some color noise from the Noise Maker. After that, I export the painted textures and import them into Mari to refine, add more variations, and match the albedo with the displacement and roughness maps.


In the past, I used Ornatrix for 3ds Max and Hair Farm but now I only use XGen. It seems easy and flexible and allows adding the desired amount of complexity to your hairstyles.

In XGen, I like to keep things simple. I suggest using the lowest number of guides when building hair so that you have good control over direction, shape, and overall editing. For instance, editing 10 guides and tracing their effect on the hair will be easier than using 50! As you progress in the right direction you can increase their number gradually to add detail.

I would also recommend dividing hair into several groups depending on its type: baby hair, flyaways. and so on. Separating and organizing hair types will save you a lot of time and make your grooming process easier!


Every character design has some anchor points that influence your presentation style. For instance, in my "The Cat 1887" project, the character's personality has some seduction and deception traits, so I needed dramatic lighting. That's an anchor point! If I presented her in a daylight environment that key element of drama would have faded! You need to trace your character's story, feel it, and translate that with light and shadow. I used a soft light on one side which made the character's left side darker to convey mystery. With it, I wanted to say that Selina Kyle has a dark side, she is a thief.

Mohanad Hossam, 3D Generalist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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