Creating a Sci-Fi 3D Character

Creating a Sci-Fi 3D Character

Yarrid Henrard talked in detail about his fictitious 3D character based on one of Nivanh Chanthara’s awesome concept art pieces. Software used: Maya, ZBrush, Substance Painter, and Knald.

Yarrid Henrard talked in detail about his fictitious 3D character based on one of Nivanh Chanthara‘s awesome concept art pieces. Software used: Maya, ZBrushSubstance Painter, and Knald


Hey everyone! My name is Yarrid Henrard, a 3D character artist from Belgium. Currently, I’m working as a Character Artist for Avalanche Studios, where I was able to be a part of very exciting projects, as well as being a project mentor and tutor for the wonderful students at Forsbergs Skola. Most recently I have been (and still am) a part of the Rage 2 development team, creating awesome characters. At Avalanche I have been able to explore my interest for Photogrammetry by being a part of building our very own in-house rig and creating our scan to the in-game pipeline.

Before working at Avalanche Studios I did my studies at Think Tank Training Centre in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada.

So far my path in 3D has led me on an amazing journey, gave me inspiring opportunities and a chance to meet people that I will always treasure. I can not wait for all that is still to come in the future.

Character Art

From a young age on I have always been enchanted by the beauty of all living things around us, past and present, genuine or fictitious. I used to spend most of my days looking through the books or watching documentaries of our current and past fauna. Never could I dream that one day it was what I would be doing for a living. Naturally, when I first started getting into the world of 3D, I started with creatures that came creeping out of my mind, spawned forward from tales and comics or the endless list of video-games that inspired me. With this came the interest in human anatomy and especially the face.

Even though the human face has been my main focus over the past year and a half, I started my career at Avalanche Studios focused on quadruped anatomy as I was responsible for the animals on theHunter: Call of the Wild.  I had never before made an entire animal so this was surely a challenge, one I was more than happy to take with both hands. 

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In short, I love form and silhouette, how every piece of the anatomical puzzle fits together with perfection to become something magnificent and unique like for example a bird, a mammal or an insect. There is just something thrilling about being able to study this all day long and bring it into the digital world.

As a Character Artist, you are also able to bring forward a feeling and a background story behind the characters you create. Every little detail you decide to put into your character can give someone hints and starts to unfold who or what this being could be and has been through.

The Nivanh Project

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I started the Nivanh project as Think Tank advised to have a model with more hard-surface elements for my demo reel back in 2015 to be more desirable for gaming studios. Since I have always been a huge fan of Nivanh Chanthara‘s work, this particular sketch felt like the perfect concept to put my hands on. Nivanh has this amazing style where organic and hard surfaces meet each other in harmony. This was something to keep a constant eye on during every stage of the project.

Blocking Out in Maya

After closely examining the concept I starting blocking out the character in Maya. In a production pipeline, this is a very important step as it ensures that the rigging and animation team can work parallel with you. It can still be a helpful step for a personal project as well to better understand the proportions or silhouette you are trying to convey and understand the relation and distance between all the different elements of the model.

Once I was more or less satisfied with the block out and knew where I was going with the model I started building the high-poly inside Maya. The main idea here was to make all the hard-surface pieces into proper sub-d meshes and get proxy pieces in place for the cloth parts of the character that would be sculptable in ZBrush.

As you’ve probably noticed the silhouette and proportions of the character changed quite a lot in between these steps. As it was a personal project I was able to keep on changing these along the way since I was not restricted by a production pipeline. During this process, I also kept in mind the mechanical joints and all the small details that should be able to rotate and get animated and thus be aligned properly.

Moving to ZBrush

When it is finally time to take everything into ZBrush the real fun begins. I started sculpting the folds for all the different materials and damaging and roughing up all the different parts. I absolutely enjoy roughing up hard surface pieces as there are so many ways and different kinds of damage you can sculpt. Damaging up your character is also a part of the storytelling which I find very intriguing.  Does he get hit by bullets or explosions, does he slide a lot over the floor or tries to run through the hallways that don’t quite fit? With this project, only the main details went into the sculpt as this was going to be my first model to be textured with Substance Painter and I wanted to explore how well I would be able to do all this inside Painter.

Next, I decimated all my high-poly meshes that I would be able to bring back to Maya and use Maya’s retopology tools for creating my in-game mesh and UV sets. Looking back at this there are certain things that I would do in a completely different way with the low-poly at this point. The final mesh landed just under 70k tris and was divided into different UV sets according to the material type (cloth and metal).


Once the low-poly and UV are to my satisfaction, I am able to continue on to the baking phase. For this, I used a mix of different programs according to my needs. Most of it was all baked inside Substance Painter with certain extra maps baked out of Knald.

Back in the days, I was forced to split up my model into 6 different pieces with each its own Painter file to be able to texture the model without burning out my graphics cards. All the exported maps where afterward stitched back together with Photoshop to create the final textures for the model.

All that is left at this point is creating a cool pose to show off the character and set everything up with some nice lights inside of Marmoset to create the final renders.

Hard-Surface Details

All the hard-surface pieces were modeled in the proper sub-d workflow inside of Maya. Nowadays I would opt for the ZBrush workflow when working on a personal project as it gives me more freedom to explore and creates amazing results without the technical hassle. During the creation of this project, I had to keep in mind how all these pieces were going to move together without crashing into each other. Because of this, I decided to use cylinders for a clean and easy way to create workable joints for knees, ankles, elbow, etc.

In Nivanh’s concept, the main part that was not included was everything below the knees. This area was left open to interpretation. This was extremely exciting and gave me a chance to try to make something of my own that would fit in with the rest of the concept. The backpack was only shown partially but there was more than enough information to expand on.

The base layer for all of the hard-surface pieces is textured with a modified version of the Machinery smart material that comes with Substance Painter. I did some tweaking on the settings of the material and changed up some generators so it would be a better fit for this particular model. Substance also has a lot of great masking generators to dirty up your paint job and make it feel more used. After that, it was just a matter of putting in some more unique details with grunge maps and handmade decals. The grunge maps work great when used as height detail to give imperfections to the metal and paint as seen on the face.

Cloth Materials

Just like with the hard-surface texturing, I started with materials that come with Painter on which I expanded. The waist part started from a base rubber material while the cloth pieces received a material that included a textile pattern. After that, I gave it some overall dirt, dust and unique stains from grunge maps. To top everything off I used some extra maps like cavity and convexity with low opacity to push details and bring it all together.

Pose & Animation

All credit goes to Marco Plouffe when it comes to the amazing pose. Marco is an outstanding artist, and words can not give enough praise. He is one of my biggest inspirations. When Marco released his version of Nivanh’s concept, which was made for Industria Mechanika, I got so excited by his fierce pose that it pushed me to finally render out new images of my own model to give honor to Nivanh’s concept.

At that time, Robert Pettersson, a dear friend of mine and a talented colleague, had already rigged my model and was working on animating it. He was kind enough to replicate Marco’s pose for me with his incredible rig so I could get started on the renders.

At the moment Robert is hard at work making magnificent animations and even bringing everything into the engine as a playable character.

A few words of Robert that go with the provided animation:

When I first saw the character Yarrid created with the inspiration of Nivanh’s sketches, it felt vicious and meant for aggressive deeds. It was obvious to me how the character would move and what kind of style the motion would be in, until I started rigging it. While I rigged it I started to wonder about the character’s relation to the drones that are connected with him through the cables. I started imagining there could be something more to this character, and what it was like outside of a combat situation. When the rig was finished I started playing around with poses but the idea of the character being warm and caring didn’t let go so I decided to block that idea out as an image. That image turned into an animation. One thing that animators do is to explore many options to stay away from cliché and not just go with the first idea that comes to mind. Even in this moment where other authors and audience probably have a set style in mind, I found it important to explore the character a little. It was never meant to be shown but to Yarrid and I wasn’t even sure he would like it. I knew all along it would be out of character but, I still found great joy in toying with the idea.

Working with Knald

Knald is a great baking program which is easy to use and extremely fast when processing your requested maps. I tend to use the program for additional maps like Cavity and Convexity which I use a lot in my models to make everything pop (as shown in the part where I talk about cloth). It tends to work best for hard-surface pieces where you sculpted deep scratches, dents, and details.

Yarrid Henrard, 3D Character Artist at Avalanche Studios

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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