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Paul Crafter talked about the creation of his character project, which was developed during the “Character Creation for Games” course at CGMA.
Hi everyone. My nickname is Paul Crafter and my story in CG began just a year and a half ago.
Actually, the real beginning of that story was much earlier, when I got an IBM PC. Like everyone, I was amazed by those first games, they were like a miracle to me and would keep me busy for many hours. And that was the first space for my imagination to run free and create whatever I wanted!
That was what I really liked about the gaming industry – it let me bring to life any characters, monsters, and worlds I had in my mind.
But back then I was a child in a country where a computer was a rare thing. Unfortunately, where I lived there were no people to help and guide me in learning 3ds Max or Maya. And I knew absolutely no English those days.
As a result, I would fulfil my potential and apply that energy by working with clay or polymer clay the other day after my everyday routine.
I’ve tried so many things and been to so many places: sometimes I would even mold gum paste figures for cakes or wander the streets.
But a year and a half ago I decided to quit everything, give up all I was doing and go for what I always wanted, what I dreamed about and what would often keep me awake at night. But when I finally got into CG, the CG industry itself had gone very far and I had to learn a lot of technical aspects. So, I chose to go on courses because I realized that studying on my own would take very much time that I didn’t have. I needed to learn how to sort the wheat from the chaff to tell what information was useful and what might be even dangerous. And time is a highly valuable resource.
I began with a course called “3D Modeling in Maya” at CGtarian school. I’d like to use the opportunity to give a shout-out to my CG teacher and mentor, Aleksandr Novitsky, and say that I’m very grateful to him. If you’re reading this, thank you, friend.
Then I came across an issue of specialization and realized that I should continue my training but focus on the topic that was the most interesting for me. Namely – characters! I also needed a course that would explain to me very thoroughly how to create characters specifically for certain applications in the gaming industry. That’s why I chose “Character Creation for Games with Damon Woods” at CGMA as my next course. I liked that the teacher himself had work experience in the industry and I did not regret taking the course. And when I saw the name Rafael Grassetti, I had no doubts anymore. After the course, I had no more major questions about character development from the concept to rigging. But of course, I’d like to get more criticism from them.
My humble experience lets me only say that I approach design very carefully. I think of whether a character will be used in a project or environment (even in my imagination), what function it should perform. Since there’s the principle of contrast in the world and art is an expression of emotions, characters should not always be cool. In other words, average characters and general NPCs should create a contrast with bright main characters.
After that training, I started paying attention to general important aspects of characters that tell much about who they are and what they do. It’s also fun to exaggerate some of their parts. For example, you can give them giant robotic arms or legs as those of Lucio from Overwatch. I like thinking about habits that tell something about a character but unfortunately, there’re no examples of this in my works so far. Now I’m in the stage of CG when you practice certain parts of the workflow, study theory, learn how and where to download a new brush or an insert mesh tool, or how to design cool cloth texture.
I advise you to start off your work by thinking through all the stages of your workflow. Think about the topology, baking and texturing in advance. I could have evaded many errors and fixes had I thought through all the stages in advance before picking up the stylus.
But let’s have a look at the concept that I chose for my work.
I liked it because of its silhouette, large features, and inflated details. I thought this silhouette would be interesting to work with and I also wanted to learn how to bake and make topology for the things like those sleeves. It was also challenging because I needed to make the right choices to get a good character in the end, realize which of my skills needed improvement and finish the work in time.
The start of work was something new to me because for some reason I associated blockout with black work. I don’t know why but I thought it was a kind of draft and, of course, I paid for that mistake later. So, let’s begin with blockout:
These screenshots show the difference in character design and the decisions I made for the character to sell better.
I began working on the bockout with anatomy. I mean, I decided to stick with the life-like principle when the body defines the clothing and armor, not vice versa. To save time on the parts that will not be visible anyway, I took a ready base mesh by Nickz in ZBrush and changed its proportions to what I thought would suit my character.
I thought about the most active parts of the character – which muscles should be more and which less developed by what the character usually does. I made his chest and arms bigger because there was no point for him to use his legs a lot. I think this is the way to approach character anatomy. You need to find a balance between a Schwarzenegger and a normal physique. For example, I don’t like the idea of designing, say, a forest troll with a pumped biceps. He probably doesn’t use it much anyway and you can develop it this way only through hard work at the gym. Especially when the whole troll’s body is developed this way. For sure, sometimes it looks great but just sometimes. Usually, a character’s physique is one of the things that reflect its habits and occupation. A blacksmith has muscular arms but his legs are much less developed, maybe even regular. Unless he squats with his hammer like in Walt Disney’s cartoons -).
I think anatomy should help showing a character’s nature and its other aspects.
Then, when the silhouette, drafts of clothes and general shapes had been finished, I moved to face detailing.
It’s better to use the least detailed blank for the character’s head because this way you’ll have more freedom. When you have a base mesh for the head with certain features, you’ll most likely only change these features and make generally small changes. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a more space for experimenting with a less detailed blank. So, if you use the blank by good old Nickz, smooth and remesh its face until it looks like a pumpkin.
I chose the face type to suite this character in advance. I made it a mixture of Eastern features and scars. I used mostly just the Move tool and Clay brush and of course Dam standard for wrinkles.
What I’d heard on the course made me think that using layers is key element of this work, unless you are 100% sure that what you’re doing is absolutely correct and it’s what you need. In all other cases, the scars and other such details should be designed in the way that will let you change and control them without changing other parts of the character.
I also like making distinctive faces and expressive forms. I don’t like the smooth and average, that’s why the result looks like that.
Also, I’ve noticed something about the skull structure. For example, the brutal types have a certain kind of skull. You need to look through many references to notice that guys of the kind have similar features. So, first you need to think through the nature of your character, which if vital for building its image, anatomy and face. Then, get 2 tons of references of people of the type you need and find 1-2 features that they all share. It may be the jaw attached to the widest part of the skull, or what the back of his head looks like. For instance, some types have their heads flat of the back and large wrinkles on the neck. If you think about it and research such things, you can make your character more natural. Although I knew I could simply make it with the gas mask on and with not much of a face, but I wanted to give him a detailed face and I think it only made the character better. After finishing the blockout, when I was pleased with it, I needed to begin with clothes simulation. God bless I had Marvelous Designer that made the process very exciting. Since any armor goes over the clothes, I decided to design armor after the clothes.
I think that clothing is a complement to the face. It either helps you to maintain the image or brings about a mismatch when the clothing doesn’t suit the character. It makes the character surreal and absurd (like a guy dressed as a dinosaur distributing leaflets).
Virtual clothes cutting is not much different from the real one. In Marvelous you can use the same techniques that are used in real clothes cutting. But you need to keep in mind one thing about game models – they shouldn’t have rough and deeps folds as well as other things that would be impossible or difficult to bake. If the character’s sleeve is rolled up, you should make it smaller to avoid strong wrinkling. You also need to think, which parts of clothing could be baked and which you’ll have to design using geometry. I wanted to try and bake those inflated sleeves over pretty flat geometry. I found out that it was better to use simple homogenous topology for the clothing and bake the wrinkles. But to enhance some renders and aspects I made the topology move by wrinkles because I knew that the character was not for production. In terms of optimization, you should put polygons only where they have an impact on the silhouette but if the silhouette isn’t affected, leave it to the maps.
Also, when working on the clothing, keep in mind where you’ll be cutting it for UV because you can pretty much form the topology based on it. For example, in this work I made a mistake with the jacket that could have been evaded had I thought through the stages in advance. Marvelous generates topology of course but it’s not fit for games that’s why I didn’t hesitate to remesh it in ZBrush when I was working on new wrinkles. Of course, you should improve the clothing in ZBrush by adding some wrinkles, seams and memory folds. I used a regular brush and smooth for that. After that I would press Remesh and get a geometry with all the wrinkles that I make and smoothed. This is how I got this result.
I’ve learned really much from this project and this course. I tried to use my time at CGMA to the full. I asked every question that crossed my mind and wrote them down to not forget. Basically, this is the first game character that I designed from start to finish and it gave me a complete picture of what I would be going through with this work. Now I can properly plan all my workflow, consider different parts of it which will let me save time. I’ve learned about different maps and how to use them and most of all now I know what Photoshop has to do with all this. I’m going to keep some tricks to myself because I don’t want to leave my mentor, Damon, without work. But I can say I really loved baking technique of some maps in Marmoset, it’s a wonderful tool.
There’re also useful techniques like combine and clean-up in Photoshop. Some things have become so deeply integrated in me that I can’t even single out a separate technique. Since I’m new to the industry, I’m like Pacman – I consume everything on end. But I still need to learn much more techniques to be able to tell one from another and navigate between them. So far, I’ve learned only this much but I can say that all of it is essential. I can’t point at a part of what I’ve learned and say that it’s less interesting and useful. No, actually baking and retopology were the least interesting parts =)
But the most important thing that my teachers have given me and what I’m trying to cultivate − it’s the way of thinking in CG. The way of thinking that gives the results that I would like to achieve. The rest is more like a bonus, an add-on. First of all, you need to establish everything in your head and everything else will follow.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to write about it, to thank my teachers and to share the beginning of my story in this powerful industry.
Paul Crafter, 3d Artist/Character artist.
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.