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Creating a Photorealistic Portrait of Adam Driver in ZBrush & Maya

Character Artist Ander Humbert has walked us through the working process behind the Adam Driver portrait, explaining how the character was modeled in Maya, rendered in Arnold, and textured with Texturing XYZ's materials.

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My name is Ander Humbert. I am a French aspiring Character Artist. I am currently working at Texturing XYZ as an Asset TD, where I can work on many 3D faces and other textures related to the character creation, both for the website and for some studios.

My interest in the CG characters creation started with a self-portrait project, during my third year in school. I really appreciated the exercise, so I continued doing characters as personal projects, and my last one is this portrait of Adam Driver.

Modeling the Character

I have decided to do a CG Adam Driver because he is an actor that I admire. After some research work for reference, I settled on a series of photographs from Chad Kirkland, which were my major source of inspiration. They have a clear source of lighting that is easy to reproduce in LookDev, and Adam Driver has a neutral expression.

With these references and additional angles of the actor's face, the sculpturing can start. In ZBrush, I used the Base Mesh from the Texturing XYZ add-ons as a base. I tried to keep it to the lowest subdivision level in the beginning and with the symmetry on.

In ZBrush, the plugin Ref Switcher is a great help because you can add all your reference angles with different cameras in your project, with various focal lengths. I calculated the focal for some of the references, but be careful, as a wrong value can lead to a wrong sculpt. A combination of the Ref Switcher and a tool like Epic Pen to paint over makes the sculpt adjustments easier.

Final sculpt in ZBrush with the displace not applied, only to previsualize

Texturing & Rendering

I start with the skin in Mari. I use the maps from the VFace pack 89, and retake the Albedo and the Displacement with the Clone Brush to better match the reference. To place the skin imperfections accurately, like all the moles on Adam Driver's face, I do a projection in ZBrush of the reference image from Ref Switcher to the sculpt.

The resulting map helps as a guide in Mari to paint in white over the projected image and to make an accurate mask. I also use this technique for the eyebrows placement.

For the eye texture, I used iris from the Texturing XYZ's 2D collection, and for the eye model, Mike Cauchi's eye model, which adds more thickness to the cornea (the glass part) inspired me. It highlighted the arc of light on the sclera and the shadow around the iris.

The groom was done in Maya with XGen Core. I started with the eyebrows. I used the projected texture in ZBrush to create a mask in Mari and then import it to XGen.

I did the hair groom using 3 different cameras in Maya, matching the references images. I did a line drawing of the hair on a transparent background to place the guide for each big lock of hair. This was the key to have a lot of control, which meant the guides must really be at the right place. And for more realistic features, I used additional dyes. 

After that, I started with the LookDev in Maya, rendering with Arnold. The skin is composed of two aiStandard Materials joined together with a Mix Shader, the first material is Normal Skin Shader with a broad specular (around 0.8 for the specular roughness), and the second material is only a second stronger and glossier specular (specular roughness around 0.4). This double specular setup made the skin look more realistic than if I used the clear coat lobe.

Thanks to the masks provided in the VFace pack and the add-ons on the Texturing XYZ's website, the displacement, the roughness and the specular were fine-tuned directly during the LookDev process in the HyperShade, by areas of the face.

In the LookDev, I used different lighting to test the different materials. I used the Cave Academy HDRI collection because of their fidelity to the real-life lights.

To give it more credibility, I scattered hair and particles on the model and the cloth. A line of water between the lips helped, too.

The final image was rendered with a Top Lighting. Finally, the compositing was really simple. I used Gizmos from Nukepedia to imitate camera imperfections.


With this project, I learned a lot of ways to save time, although it took me several months after work to realize this first version of Adam Driver. The best advice I could give is to keep as much as you can of the LookDev process inside your rendering software. Too much back and forth between software makes the creative process harder. And keeping and comparing my WiPs really helped too.

Ander Humbert, Asset Technical Director

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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