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Study more stylized characters
I have worked on many different projects from FPS to tactical RPGs both at school and in the game companies.
I discovered character art at school about 2 years ago, and at the time I was still doing a lot of concept and environment art. But when I learned more about ZBrush I totally loved it. I really enjoy sculpting!
I've been seriously focusing on creating characters for 1 year now, even though I still want to keep doing some other stuff in concept art and environments.
Snow White: Start of the Project
This Snow White character is actually a part of a bigger project, that I won't talk too much about right now because we want to release more information as the project grows. Some friends from school and I really enjoyed working with each other on our group assignments, so we started a small game project. That's why I made this character: to figure out the character pipeline for the game and try to set up a visual style for the next characters.
I imagined a version of Snow White who took revenge on the evil queen and stole magical books from her to get her powers. I first made a 2D design to use it as a reference for my 3D work.
Sculpting the Body in ZBrush
When the concept was done, I started a basemesh in ZBrush. I spent the time necessary to really get the good proportions before going any further.
I consider that to be the most important part, - if the base body mesh alone doesn't work, nothing will do!
When I got the body like I wanted it to be, I continued blocking out the character, creating meshes for every element so that I was able to move every part and still modify them easily. For this part, I used simple brushes such as clay build up, move, and hpolish.
When the blocking part was looking good, I started cleaning some pieces of the character.
I used many brushes from Orb's brushes pack that really helped to get the stylized look. You can download these brushes over there.
For the hair, I made clean simple meshes with ZModeler and just duplicated them and used the move brush to give them a good shape, keeping a clean and low basic geometry on each strand. When I liked the positioning I just creased some edges and divided the mesh, using “uncrease all” for the last divide to create a little bevel to catch some light.
I kept strands separated on the front and merged the others on the back Finally, I sculpted the hair mesh a bit with the orb_cracks_2 brush.
Modeling and UVs in Maya
For every hard-surface part, I made a quick quad draw in Maya to get a clean and nice topology that is easy to modify in ZBrush afterward. I often used the ZRemesh (keeping groups) and 'polish by group' features to keep clean shapes. For the shoulder pieces, for example, my workflow was:
I also used some of those tools on many parts of the attire, like the sleeves:
For the sword, I wasn't totally happy with my initial concept so I decided to redesign it directly in 3D. I've looked at some references like Fiora's sword in League of Legends, and some real rapier references. I needed to make a shape that could be easily noticeable from above in the game.
I modeled the blade in Maya and then I only had the handguard to figure out.
I wanted to keep the apple shape in the design, without it being too obvious, so I included it on the handguard while trying to keep the design as elegant as possible.
I made the low poly model and UV unwrapping in Maya, separating the textures this way to make eventual customization easier.
As it's the first character of the game and a 'crash test' of sorts, maybe we will change the UVs repartition later.
The fur was a nice challenge. I wanted it to look stylized, but I did not want to create individual meshes for the fur since I figured it would be too resource-intensive. So I baked my 3D sculpted fur on a plane using Marmoset to create the initial alpha mask. I polished the mask in Substance Painter afterward to get rid of some pixels here and there.
Then, I duplicated the mesh, flipped the UV shell, and moved it a bit around the model to add some depth and variation on the fur at a low-performance cost.
Baking & Texturing
I baked my entire model (Normal, AO, Alpha) with Marmoset Toolbag 3. I love this tool for baking since it lets you paint your own baking cage and choose both the distance for projection and the direction for normals. It helped me fix some tricky details like the space between fingers, for example.
I still had to bake objects separately to make things completely clean.
Afterward, I baked the remaining maps in Substance Painter and used this software for texturing.
After creating group masks with flat colors and roughness for all materials, I started working on the texture. I spent a lot of time on the base color before doing anything else. I used some generators such as AO masks, light, and curvature masks to create gradients of color on the model.
It gave me a nice base to polish everything manually. I hand-painted the base color and the roughness on a lot of parts of the model like the head, the wear on clothing and leather, etc.
I also imported my model in Marmoset Toolbag early on, even before the posing was done, to often check my textures. I think it's a nice check to do, even in game engines, since the result is always quite different from the render view in Substance Painter.
For the rig, I used a Maya script named Rapid Rig Modular. It's a really nice tool for beginners, and still really effective even in a professional setting. I recommend this script to every character artist who's not very fond of rigging.
After the rig was done, I did the skinning with the native Maya tools.
Finally, I added simple blendshapes for the eyebrows, mouth, and eyes to make the character look more lively.
Preparing the Renders
I made the high poly renders in Keyshot, and all the textured renders were made with Marmoset Toolbag with a simple lighting setup.
I set up the camera angle, FOV, etc. for the full character render and for the turntable. And then I updated the lighting as needed for new camera angles.
My lighting setup had 3 lights initially, but I later added a few specific lights to put emphasis on the face.