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Creating a Stylized Paladin with ZBrush & Substance 3D Painter

Francisco Viloria has shared the sculpting and texturing process behind Kestra – a stylized paladin from an indie game – and explained how the shining mace was made in ZModeler.


Hello there, my name is Fran Viloria, I’m a Character Artist and currently I’m working for readyplayer.me by Wolf3D, a multiplatform Avatar generator for the Metaverse.

Since I was a kid, I always knew what I wanted to do, spending all my spare time drawing and watching animated TV series like He-Man, Thundercats, Looney Toons, Silverhawks, and more. I studied Illustration at the Instituto de Diseño de Caracas in Caracas, Venezuela, and in my early career, I worked as a Graphic Designer and Web Designer. In 2005 I came to Barcelona, Spain, following my girlfriend who is my wife today, and I joined a comic school Escola Joso because I wanted to work for Marvel or DC.

A few years later, in 2010, I joined Gameloft Barcelona as a 2D artist, and my career in video games started. There, I collaborated on three released projects:

  • Green Farm – a farm tycoon simulator for Canvas made with Flash.
  • Shark Dash – a puzzle game made with a 2D engine with pre-rendered characters and environments done in 3D, this one was my first 3D project.
  • Minion Rush – a real 3D runner which was a hit and made me a real 3D artist.

In 2015, I joined King, where I was working on one mid-core project called Warrior Legend, unfortunately, this game was canceled after the soft launch. After the cancelation, I decided to spend some time as a freelancer working mainly for the toy industry in Barcelona.

In 2019, I joined Outfit7, where I was working on the My Talking Tom franchise projects, and last summer I decided to join Wolf3D where I’m learning a lot about the Metaverse and all the new stuff that is coming.

The Kestra Project

I started the project in May investing just a few hours per week. Friday nights used to be a party on my PC with this project.

What caught my attention in the Kestra concept was the overall shape and the effective and simple composition. My main goal was to improve all the mid and final parts of the process, which are materials and lights, so I didn't need too complex poses for that.

Face and Hair

For the face, it is the same workflow I have for the entire model. First, I go for blocking with simple meshes trying to match the proportions and shapes. Once I’m happy with blocking, I go for each part, face, hands, clothes, armor, etc., and start with DynaMesh and Sculptris mode to find a proper shape and in some cases with medium details. Then when I’m happy with it, I do retopo to start sculpting properly over a clean mesh.

The hair was a big deal for me, I tried 3 different ways to do it, and in the end, I went for separated strands. I did the base mesh for strands in Blender, with curves and managing the thickness parameter to find the perfect flow on the strand. Then I moved to ZBrush to tweak them one by one until I find the right composition. After that, I just added some sculpting layers to get some details.


For the shield and the swinging mace, this time I worked directly with ZModeler modeling in the Polygons mode, and when the model was done, just added some sculpting layers for details.


For retopology in this project, I worked with 3DCoat, I took the base meshes I used for sculpting and I did some tweaks to get the best low poly mesh possible. Then I did the UVs with RizomUV.


I did the whole texturing process in Substance 3D Painter, from baking to the final textures. Instead of working with Roughness/Metallic, I decided to work with Specular/Glossiness, because it is easier to have more colorful and stylized textures. 

The first step is to set up the Substance 3D Painter file with the proper shader and the HDR environment. In this project, there is a PBR Specular Glossiness shader and a neutral HDR to avoid color influences in materials. I wanted to have stylized materials, but at the same time, I wanted to give the feeling of reality, that feeling when you can identify the material of the pants, the metals, etc., every material should be recognizable.

I just started adding base color, picking the color from the concept, then on top of it, I added layers with darkest values and higher values, details like patterns on fabrics. In this case, I didn't have that many hand-painted layers, I used filters and masks and just some hand-painted tweaks when needed.


I did a super quick rig just to be able to pose her and do simple idle animation. I did it in Blender with Rigify Armature. I used the same HDRI as in Substance 3D Painter in order to keep consistency. I set up the background with a solid color and I decided to forget about the grass on the floor of the concept because my goal was the character, so I didn't want to have anything but her. Then I lowered the intensity of the HDRI until I got just some soft silhouette of the character, then I started with main lights, top-down to illuminate the character, and a backlight to generate a rim.

After this, I went element by element to create their own light set up in order to push up volumes and give proper hierarchy in the readability. I worked with Omni but in some cases, I used spot source to have more control over the area I was illuminating.

Francisco Viloria, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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