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Crafting a 3D Young Girl with Realistic Hair and Refined Clothing

Through a detailed breakdown of the Aura project, Soumya Verma shares her journey of transforming a Pinterest concept into a striking 3D character. This character boasts a lifelike youthful face, beautifully complemented by natural, flowing hair and intricately simulated fabric.


Hi, I'm Soumya Verma, a character artist from India, currently working at Cloud Imperium Games. I fell in love with the immersive worlds of video games back in high school, which inspired me to start sketching and exploring art. Later, inspired by games like Witcher 3 and Skyrim, I discovered 3D character art. To develop my skills, I enrolled in Think Tank Online, where most of the projects I created were for my final assignments.

I discovered a beautiful concept on Pinterest by Lee Hu Kwang a few years ago and always wanted to bring it to life in 3D. With this project, I aimed to create a high-quality character and further optimize my workflow. This concept provided a fantastic opportunity to learn new techniques. I invested a lot of time in online research, reading articles and tutorials. I gathered as many references as possible for each asset, even looking at 3D scans and clay renders for inspiration.

Work on Face and Hair

I began with a 3D base mesh and sculpted the character's head. I constantly referenced 3D head scans and photographs to ensure accurate proportions. Since I was creating a young face, I focused on subtle details and less pronounced features.

Human eye size remains largely consistent, so that's where I start to establish head proportions. I also referred to online anthropometric data for realistic head measurements.

For the hair, I began with a sculpted blockout in ZBrush to define the flow and volume. This served as the base for placing hair guides in XGen. I approached this similarly to placing hair cards, starting with a base layer that established the direction and flow. Then, I added more guides for refinement. To break up the silhouette, I used clumping and noise modifiers, as well as another noise modifier for flyaways. Finally, I used a coil modifier to add volume.

The Eyes

In Maya, I followed a workflow I learned from Peter Zoppi. I built geometry for the eyeball, iris, limbal ring, caruncle, and tear line, and then created materials for each.

For Unreal 5, I reused the eye mesh and shader from Epic's Digital Human project, adding geometry for the eye blend, AO, and tear line. After setup, I carefully tweaked the values to closely match the concept.

Clothes and Accessories

I relied on Marvelous Designer to simulate the fabrics. A key challenge was achieving different fabric layers and creating interesting folds. My mentor taught me a great trick: running two simulations of the same object, layering them in ZBrush, and morphing between them!

I used Vector Displacement Maps. First, we create a tileable pattern in ZBrush, then, extract the alpha and displacement map. After UV unwrapping the lapel, I apply the pattern as surface noise, mask by noise feature, polygroup, remove unneeded parts, and apply the pattern to get a tileable result. Within Arnold and Unreal 5, I used simple shaders that allowed me to add fuzz and a detailed normal map to bring out the jacket's finest details.


I did early retopology on elements that I planned to use with tileable patterns, especially the bust, which would exist in two different pipelines. Since this project emphasized quality, I focused on optimizing it for Unreal 5. It has a total of nine 4K texture sets (including the head, neck, and hands). Maya was my main tool for UV unwrapping. For elements needing a weave pattern, I created straight UVs in RizomUV.


My retopologized head provided a detailed base. I added a few layers for makeup, skin damage, and softened blemishes from the scan. Subsurface and specular qualities are key to realism, so, I set up a diffused lighting environment to finesse those values.

Here, I created a tileable pattern in ZBrush, extracted the alpha and normal maps, and then applied them to the surface.

Arnold Version

I used Arnold for rendering. My goal for the thumbnail was dramatic lighting. It's helpful to experiment with various lighting setups and see how your materials react. Here's what I focus on:

Value Range: Is the image readable in grayscale from a distance?
Light and Shadow Shapes: Do these add interest?
Mood: I kept the "Aura" vibe in mind, using a warm key light, a subtle layer of gloom, and a cool fill light to balance. A hair light emphasized the sculpted hairstyle. I also used an aiLight blocker to place half her jacket in shadow for additional depth.

Unreal Version

To test the textures I created in Substance 3D Painter, I quickly set up a look development (lookdev) scene in Unreal Engine 5. After completing the textures, I developed some simple shaders, including cloth, glitter, and various fabrics, to further enhance the character's appearance.


This project took approximately five months. There were certainly times I lost momentum, but checklists and deadlines helped me stay on course.

The best advice I received when starting out: talent is just a head start, hard work will take you further. Having solid foundational skills in anatomy, form, and design is essential. Join an art community, seek feedback, and be open to new methods!

Thanks to my mentor Marcin Klicki for his guidance throughout this project. I'm grateful to Think Tank Training Centre for teaching me what I needed to make this happen, and to Peter Zoppi and James Clark for their feedback.

I hope it gives a general idea of my process and will be helpful for your own project. If you have any questions related to this project, feel free to reach out to me on any of these platforms: ArtStation/Instagram/LinkedIn.

Finally, thank you to 80 Level for this opportunity. I'm a devoted reader and I'm honored to share my work on this platform.

Soumya Verma, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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