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Creating a Historically Inspired Young Girl with Intricate Clothing

Kariné Akulian provided a detailed breakdown of how to create a young girl from the Renaissance period, who has a ringlet hairstyle and wears various armor pieces, accessories, and garments.


Hello, I’m Kariné Akulian and I’m an aspiring 3D Artist from Spain. 

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been passionate about art, spending many hours drawing and painting my favorite subjects. However, as I grew older, I drifted away from art to focus on my studies, and it wasn’t until my second year in law school that I realized this path wasn’t for me.

After leaving law school, I continued working in a corporate job in the insurance field while rekindling my love for art as a hobbyist. During this period, I focused on designing custom playing cards, which led to a turning point in 2018: A jewelry brand noticed my designs and reached out for a collaboration. Seeing my designs translated into 3D changed my outlook on what I always envisioned as a hobby and ignited a new purpose in me. That’s when I decided to pursue a formal education in CG, with the goal of eventually switching careers.

I found that animation and game-related courses offered comprehensive curricula, covering both characters and environments. So, I pursued a Degree in 3D Animation, Games, and Interactive Environments, along with a specialized course in Characters & Creatures for Games at Think Tank Training Centre (TTTC).

During my time at TTTC, I acquired extensive skills and knowledge in the character creation workflow, including sculpting in ZBrush, cloth creation in Marvelous Designer, retopologizing and grooming in Autodesk Maya, texturing in Substance 3D, and rendering in Marmoset Toolbag and Unreal Engine. Under the mentorship of Character Artist J Hill, I was able to apply and refine my skills to create my first real-time character, Asker Online Fan Art.

All in all, my journey from law school to the world of 3D art has been challenging yet incredibly rewarding, and although I am still working full-time in the insurance field, I am excited to continue growing as a 3D Artist.

About the Asker Online Fan Art Project

This Asker Online Fan Art, based on artwork by Korean artist Woo Kim, was the project I chose for my mentorship term at TTTC.

Getting Started and Character Choice

Given that it was my final term, and I had the privilege of working with an excellent professional like J Hill as my mentor, I wanted to ensure I learned and honed my skills as much as possible, by covering various aspects of real-time character creation.

I was looking for a character that, while not overly complex, would still be challenging enough to help me grow. I wanted a project that included a mix of organic and hard surface modeling, a reasonable amount of details, an interesting groom, and clothing. Additionally, I had a personal preference for a historically inspired character that was unique and not overly mainstream. When I saw this artwork, it immediately caught my attention as it checked all the boxes. Moreover, it added an extra layer of complexity by being a child, which is always challenging to translate to different media without falling into the uncanny valley trap.

Working with References

Once I had my concept chosen, I decided that a semi-realistic approach would be the most fitting to stay as true as possible to the original artwork. I then started gathering all the necessary references into a PureRef board to better understand the character and achieve the desired look.

I made sure to gather references for anatomy, a ringlet hairstyle, as well as different armor pieces, accessories, and garments mainly from the Renaissance period, with some from later centuries. The goal was to have visual references for all the elements that made up the concept, to ensure that I properly captured and translated the placement, shapes, proportions, details, and textures to 3D, both during the block-out and the detailing stages.


I knew from the start that the most challenging part of the character would be her face. Having drawn realistic portraits before, I was aware of the difficulties in properly recreating a young face. The lack of reference points, such as wrinkles or strong adult features, can easily lead to anatomical mistakes.


Most of the high-poly modeling was done within ZBrush, and that’s where I started the project. I used a basemesh as a starting point and worked in an iterative manner. During the early stages, I focused on blocking out the right anatomy and proportions, using pictures of Spanish Princess Leonor as a reference. Once I achieved a believable result, I began adjusting the features to better match the concept. It took many iterations and changes before I was finally satisfied with the result, ensuring a balance between realism and the original character design.

With the features in place, I initially completed one version of the high-poly model by using displacement maps for different areas of the face, as well as manual sculpting.

I later replaced the head with one I created using the Mesh to MetaHuman plugin within Unreal Engine (using my original model for the task). I added a faint layer of details, using a displacement map converted from the MetaHuman normal map. Then, I added the fine details around the lips and eyes, using the Dam Standard brush. Since children lack prominent skin texture, I was careful not to overdo the details.

For the eyes, I initially created them from scratch in ZBrush, starting with spheres, slightly modifying the overall shape, and adding iris details both by hand and using displacement maps created in Photoshop. Additionally, I added another mesh on top to create the cornea. Just as with the head, I ended up using the MetaHuman eyes for the final model, with slight modifications in shape and placement.

Tools Used

I used a very basic toolset throughout the entire sculpting phase of the character, including the Standard, Dam Standard, Inflate, ZModeler, and Move brushes, as well as the masking features to have better control over the areas I was working on. Additionally, I worked with layers for a less destructive process.

Hair Setup

For the hair, I chose to work in Maya with XGen. I achieved the desired look by starting with a mesh and using it to create a tube groom. I first created the block-out mesh in ZBrush, by placing ringlets across the head. Then, I used this mesh to create the guides with the Tube Groom XGen feature. With the guides in place, I was able to make any necessary adjustments easily. To give it more realism, I added variation to the volume and length using Noise, Clump, Curl, and Cut modifiers.

I found this tutorial by Hadi Karimi to be very useful for creating a realistic groom with XGen:

I used Alembic Cache to export the final groom for its use in Unreal Engine.

Body and Outfit Workflow

Just like with the head, I worked iteratively to ensure a consistent level of detail across all elements. I started by blocking out the main shapes and placing all the elements, ensuring that I stayed true to both the concept and the references.

I used poly modeling for most of the process, leaving sculpting for the final detailing stages. Using basic shapes like cylinders, I removed all the unnecessary faces and modified the pieces with Dynamic Subdivision active for high-poly previews with thickness, without unnecessarily increasing the polycount. I kept the subdivision levels active, for as long as possible, for easier and faster manipulation. Additionally, I heavily relied on ZRemesher and ZModeler to remesh and fix geometry as needed.

As I progressed, I increased subdivision levels, using noise with the surface feature and hand-placed finer details like bumps, scratches, and wrinkles with alpha textures and brushes, such as Standard, Dam Standard, Inflate, and Trim Dynamic.

For armor detailing, I used the CurveTube Brush for the embossed lines, merged and polished the surfaces after applying DynaMesh, and added lames and rivets with custom IMM brushes. The chainmail was created using a custom IMM brush and the NanoMesh feature.


I used Marvelous Designer for the ruffled collar, gloves, and robe, retopologizing them in Maya before refining them in ZBrush.

The jacket and breeches were fully created in ZBrush, with seams and wrinkles added both manually and using tools such as Masking and Deformation, after dividing the meshes into polygroups adjusted to the logic of pattern-making.

I sculpted the trims directly in ZBrush, for better control over the placement and to ensure that the ends and intersections were clean and matched the garment’s shape. To achieve the desired result, I created three different IMM brushes: a thin trim, a wide trim, and a twisted cord, which I later placed on top of the garment, creating curves along the edges.

For the embroidery, I masked different shapes on the garments to create new subtools, which were later modified using very basic brushes, mainly the Dam Standard and Inflate, to add the desired levels of detail.

Accessories and Props

I followed the same workflow to create the accessories and props, but relied more heavily on sculpting, especially for the hammer, as it had much more intricate and detailed elements.


After the high-poly modeling stage was over, I decimated the different elements and imported them into Maya for retopology. I used the Quad Draw tool for this task. I focused on using loops and rings for better definition of the model’s structure. Additionally, I aimed to maintain a uniform density and low poly count as much as possible for consistency and optimization. Also, although all joints are covered with armor, I was mindful of the geometry in those areas to make them deformation-friendly when necessary.


I stayed in Maya for the unwrapping and packing stages. I cut seams in hidden or logical areas, such as the pattern seams of the clothes. I then unwrapped, optimized, and arranged all the shells into seven UV sets (plus the head UVs, which I didn’t modify since they came with the MetaHuman mesh).


I used Substance 3D Painter for baking and texturing everything except for some fabrics, which were created in Substance 3D Designer. The whole process was very straightforward and quite simple. For the most part, I followed a procedural workflow, starting with smart materials and then adjusting the textures using different masks and effects. Since there wasn’t much material variation, I was able to quickly achieve a decent result. I mainly focused on the armor, props, and accessories, while creating very basic textures for the fabrics, as I already knew that the final look would mostly depend on the shader settings and the use of detail normals in the rendering software.

For the face, I projected a base color texture from the 3D Scan Store and then, refined it with basic tools. I did the same with the eyes, although the setup and rendering within Unreal Engine were done using MetaHuman default textures.

The final material setup was done in Unreal Engine, where I imported all the assets and created the necessary materials, starting with a few master materials and then applying their instances to the character.


I chose to create the jacket, breeches, and ruffled collar textures in Substance 3D Designer. For the ruffled collar, I took some liberties to add extra details that were not part of the original concept. I referenced different fabrics and tutorials by Pauline Boiteux to create a cotton fabric with beadings and lace trims. For the jacket, breeches, and gloves, I decided on a simple velvet texture, which I found to be the most fitting for these garments. To achieve this, I followed a comprehensive tutorial by Filip Hodas.


For rendering, I used Unreal Engine 5.3, selecting the path tracing mode for a more realistic output. For lighting, I applied a classic three-point system focused on the character, complemented by a skydome to achieve more realistic highlights and better environment illumination. 

In terms of post-production settings, I used DaVinci Resolve to slightly tweak the color grading and adjust the exposure to enhance the final image.

Project Duration and Challenges

This was an on-and-off project that I worked on part-time alongside my full-time job. Due to pressing matters, the project was put on hold for long periods, making it difficult to precisely time. Most of it was finished during my 14-week mentorship with J Hill, but I spent an additional 10 to 12 weeks in total to completely finish and share it online.

One of the main challenges was creating the facial features and expression, especially ensuring the character didn’t fall into the uncanny valley or look like a doll. Another significant challenge was achieving a high level of detail and realism while maintaining optimization for real-time rendering.

Future Plans

I’m currently in the process of finishing another historically inspired real-time character from a different artist, which I also started during my time at Think Tank Training Centre. My ultimate goal is to be able to apply my skillset within a professional environment. To achieve this, I plan to explore different styles moving forward, allowing me to experiment with various techniques and refine my knowledge and skills. Additionally, I’m learning scripting to acquire technical skills.

Advice to Beginning Character Artists

My advice to beginning character artists is to focus on mastering the fundamentals of anatomy and proportion, as these are crucial for creating believable characters and training your eye. I also recommend actively seeking and being open to feedback, as recognizing one’s mistakes is the first step to improvement. Finally, be patient and persistent; there are no shortcuts, and practice is key to honing your skills.

Kariné Akulian, Digital Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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