Character Art: Balancing Between Style and Realism
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Character Art: Balancing Between Stylization and Realism
19 June, 2018
Character Art
Interview

Georgian Avasilcutei, an artist who worked on such projects as Dishonored 2 and Life is Strange, shared his character art workflow and some tips. 

Introduction

Hello. My name is Georgian Avasilcutei and I’m a game character artist from Romania. I’m working in the game industry for more than 10 years (last 9 years as a freelancer) and I have worked on quite a few games during these years, most notable Dishonored 2, Life is Strange and Vampyr. Right now, I’m working on an amazing project with the guys from Warner Bros Games / Avalanche but sadly I can say no more about it.

For many years I worked as a prop artist (for Vampyr, for example, I’ve made only props) but in the past few years, I concentrated more on characters professionally though for the personal projects I have worked only on characters for as long as I can remember.

I have no art degrees and a question that I’m asked often is if I have any 2D skills. To be honest I think there are a lot of 10-year-old kids who can draw better than me. I think is a misconception that you need an art background to make 3D. I don’t think it hurts to have some art school, but I think that if you put the time and passion into what you’re doing you can succeed no matter what.

Modeling

Since the past few years, I’ve worked on multiple projects that had a stylized look (Dishonored 2, Life is Strange, Vampyr). I’ve developed a certain workflow to create characters and props that have “that” painted look. One thing that was often required was to have a character that in the high poly looks realistic to a certain degree but with stylized textures. 

My process always starts with the creation of a quite realistic high poly on which I intervene and exaggerate things a bit (like folds) and on which I also sculpt a lot with a trim dynamic/hpolish brush to give it a feel of strokes over the whole mesh. This will help a lot when I create the painted texture because I will use the green channel from the normal map object space texture and all these details will be there in the texture. The idea is to give it a certain stylized look but keeping it believable, that’s why I always make the clothes in Marvelous Designer and try to make the materials as believable as possible. The same thing goes about the texturing part. I start with a close to realism texture on which I intervene later in Photoshop and transform it into the painted one.

Baking

For baking, I’m always using Marmoset Toolbag 3. It is an amazing software that makes the whole baking process really easy and fast. I think the most important part is not the baking by itself but the topology you create for your low poly. A lot of junior artists still believe that you need an all quad topology and that if you use triangles then your character won’t work in games. The truth is that in any engine the characters end up triangulated and that all your quad work is only for easy editing of the low poly in case you want to modify something. So, for topology I use a certain technique (especially for clothes) where first I create an all quad topology that is good for animation then I get to work on that and add a ton of cuts and triangles to follow all the shapes of the folds. This way I get a quite low polycount mesh and I get a low poly that follows the high poly as closely as possible and easy to be skinned.

Texturing

The work I did for the textures in Substance is not really complicated. I used a lot of materials from Substance Source and just added a few dirt layers on top. Nothing too complex since I already knew that most of the details will be gone when I will paint on top of it. I only cared about the normal micro detail and roughness and metalness. For the skin and the pets, I’ve painted a quick polypaint in ZBrush since I find it way easier to create a decent base for your skin textures there. Of course, some of the details like the hair, arrow feather and eyes were added later directly in Photoshop.

Hand-Painted Look

As I was saying the hand-painted look was made in Photoshop on top of the “realistic” texture that I got from Substance Painter. Just as a quick tutorial here I’ll explain the steps.

First of all, I duplicate the diffuse texture and add a cutout filter in photoshop just to make the colors a bit simple and more defined.

This layer goes on top of the diffuse with an opacity of about 30%.

The most important thing is that I take the green channel on my baked normal map object space.

And add a cutout to it too.

This layer goes on top of everything as an overlay and at around 60% opacity. 

This gives our texture a painterly feeling and now I can go ahead and paint on top of this all.

For painting, I’m using a square brush with color dynamics with hue, saturation and brightness jitter of around 3%. This will make every stroke a bit different and with it, I can easily start breaking the hard edges of the texture where the cutout made some shadows. I usually paint with a brush opacity between 15 and 40%. Also, I try to give the texture a lot of color variation so sometimes I get a completely different color where it should not be, like blue and red accents here and there. The idea about having the diffuse as the first layer is that I can easily pick the colors for the texture from the underneath layers and I have a layout for the dirt and damage that it will make it look somewhat realistic.

At the end with some small touchups (correction layers), the texture is done. 

That’s it. With a few touches for roughness too I’m pretty much done with the texturing.

Leather

Regarding the leather, I just want to point out a thing that I learned during the years while making all kind of leather pieces: create a layer base and 2 layers on top… one rough yellowish leather and the other can be a solid black material. I tend to add the yellow one on the edges and on the exposed areas of the leather while I put the black one in crevices and all the points where the material is gathering or is hard to get used. This will give you a nice gradient (on roughness too) for the leather and it will make it look amazing. You can see me using this process in my tutorial that I’ve made for Quixel Suite where I’m working on Geralt’s armor. A lot of leather there and I used this trick a lot.

Rendering

I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary when rendering my characters. I just use a cool sky, 3-4 lights and just play a bit with camera settings. Marmoset Toolbag is such an amazing software where things render pretty much by themselves. One thing that I always change is that I use a Filmic(Hejl) camera tone mapping. It gives a nicer contrast and overall look of the scene. Other than that, the shaders are pretty much standard. Obviously, I use subsurface scattering for skin and fuzz for clothes, but this is what you should use in any other render engine to sell your materials. 

I hope this was helpful. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Georgian Avasilcutei, Senior Character Artist at WB Games

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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