Dmitry Bezrodniy talks about the challenges of creating historically accurate, memorable characters for Hell Let Loose and describes the process of designing every part of their look in ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, Marmoset, and Maya.
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My name is Dmitriy and I have been a 3D Character Artist for 6 years. For the last 2.5 years, I have been actively working with Black Matter Studio on the project Hell Let Loose. During this time, I managed to remake all the characters that were made for the project before me, and made a lot of new things. I can proudly say that everything that moves using two legs in the game is my job.
Working on Hell Let Loose
I must admit that I did not immediately agree to participate in the project, because after 9 years of work at Wargaming, it seemed to me that the topic of WWII was closed for me. But Maximilian, the project director, still convinced me. And I am extremely grateful to him for that. It is nice to be part of a project that looks so good and is enjoyed by so many players.
Hell Let Loose is a team-based multiplayer shooter with a focus on historical authenticity and immersion. The commander is one of the 14 roles that the player can take on. 11 of them are infantry units: from machine gunners or snipers to medics and engineers. 2 characters are tankers, and 1 of them is commander.
In addition to choosing a role, there is in-game customization, which allows you to change the appearance of the character, and it can be unlocked as you level up the role. The most essential option for customization is the choice of uniforms, the largest number is unlocked for the infantry roles and includes 5 or 6 options.
Since the project is made with an emphasis on historical authenticity, themed forums and research on military-historical reconstruction are the main sources of information on uniforms and equipment. While working on the Soviet Army, Roman Krasnoshlykov, a big fan of the game and a reenactor, did invaluable service in finding materials and clarifying some important nuances.
Let us go back to the model. The Commander’s role is rare, only one player in the team can be the commander, i.e. 1 out of 50. On the one hand, the role must be highly recognizable and easily distinguishable from the infantry roles, and on the other hand, we cannot afford to make more than one uniform for the role due to its rarity. Therefore, it was necessary to choose an option that would look correct on both summer and winter maps.
I chose a raincoat for the command personnel M1931, the thing is quite rare but recognizable and it is an all-season item. For the commander's equipment, I used a universal holster for Nagant or TT pistols, an officer's leather harness and a tablet, as well as binoculars and a case for them.
Most of these elements were already made by me for the infantry roles because the role of the commander would be the last one. No concepts were required, except for the small sketches that I created for myself to understand what equipment would be used for each role.
Modeling the Faces
Faces can also be customized: 6 options are available for each side. There are 2 starting faces and 4 veterans unlocked in the process of leveling up. Initially, Hell Let Loose used faces from 3D Scan Store, raw, with no changes except for the optimized mesh. This, by the way, explains why these same faces can be found in other indie games and not only in shooters.
Then, when it became necessary to create veteran faces for Germany and the United States, I decided to slightly adjust the original models. I did it carefully, for most new faces, you can easily identify the 3D scan that was the source image. Most of the work then came down to finalizing the texture.
But when I started working on faces for the USSR, I decided to try deeper processing. The head scans with retopology from the same 3D Scan Store helped me with this, they are much better processed, there is a minimum of scanning artifacts, they are almost symmetrical, on top of that they have good micro-detail and albedo.
As a reference, I used photographs of the Soviet soldiers during the war. I was not trying to achieve a portrait likeness, but rather to convey a generalized image. In HLL there is a tradition according to which each character has their own name. There is Mendes, there is Otto, and this is Ivan (yes, I know, does not sound stereotypical at all). However, among the Soviet names, there are also Nikolai, Alan or Timur, and others.
Since all the fine details were already there, I focused on medium and large details. For this, I mainly used Move and Standard brushes, and sometimes Dam Standard to mimic the folds.
Modeling the Uniforms
The uniform, of course, was made with the help of Marvelous Designer, it was not possible to find a pattern for a raincoat, so I modified the officer's overcoat pattern to suit my needs. Whenever possible, I try to get a result like this in Marvelous Designer to avoid doing extra work in ZBrush. For the trousers, I used the same model of breeches as for the infantrymen and slightly changed the texture.
I usually use Marvelous Designer for backpacks, pouches, and rolls. But not this time, not for the commander.
For the harness, tablet, and other elements, I first created the base in Maya and then added detail in ZBrush.
In ZBrush, I mainly use the Standard and Move brushes to adjust the shape and add some big dents. Then, I use special brushes to finish the edges and add seams and stitches. And also use a few brushes for leather texture or small folds of fabric. You can learn more about brushes from my last article on creating the Scavenger.
Let us skip the retopology headache. Although the HLL models are relatively light, within 35K triangles. In general, not that big of a headache.
After all the cards are baked, you can start texturing. The heads were made in large packs, I used the same project, in which I simply changed the albedo and mesh maps, and adjusted the rest of the layers. In addition to procedural layers that add detail based on baked textures, the project contains layers of dirt, scars, and bruises, and stubble that can be added with brushes. It also contains layers that add undertones to the face, a blue tint at the bottom, red in the center, yellow on the forehead.
With the uniforms, things are not so versatile. For the raincoat, I had to make a new material, rubberized fabric. The rest of the materials, such as the brass of the buttons, the leather of the boots, the fabric of the breeches, and the collar of the tunic, were borrowed from smart materials for the infantry.
It is worth mentioning that the work on the mapping and textures of equipment for all 14 roles was carried out in an integrated manner. Equipment mapping was initially done in such a way as to exclude, if possible, re-texturing of the same equipment items for different roles. Therefore, frequently used elements are arranged compactly and can only be overlapped by specific and rare elements.
Thanks to this approach to mapping, the texture of such elements as the tablet, binoculars, binocular case, and holster were taken from the ready-made textures of the equipment of the infantry officer and tank commander. The only thing left to do was to add smart material for the leather belt and harness, as well as copper for the buckle.
The first models for HLL that I decided to post on ArtStation were German Assault and AntiTank in winter uniform. I thought that for the background I could use light beams of spotlights to emphasize the military surroundings: two crossed lights for Germany, and a V-shaped blue one for the USA. But then I was asked to replace V-shaped light beams with something else because some began to consider those as renders for another game, not Hell Let Loose.
So for the renders of the USSR, I also started with the idea of the light beams, but in the end, it changed a little. I was inspired by Soviet war posters, and then by the image of a salvo of BM-13 rocket launchers 'Katyusha'.
I added two cylinders with a fog gradient to be able to control the background colors inside the Marmoset Toolbag. I placed the front light so that it was noticeably weaker than the side ones to achieve a dramatic effect.
As a result, we got a rather spectacular render of the in-game model. Working on the entire set of roles and uniforms for the USSR turned out to be very interesting for me, there was a selection of historically authentic equipment, and optimization of mapping and textures, and deeper work with faces. I hope that by adding new warring parties to Hell Let Loose, I can use these practices and approaches again and again, and improve them.