Freelance Character Artist Eugene Lukashevich has shared his story of becoming a Character Artist, told us how he joined the Diablo II: Resurrection team, and discussed the sculpting and hair-creation workflows behind the characters made for the game.
Hello, my name is Eugene Lukashevich. I was born in the industrial city of Zaporozhye, Ukraine. I studied Design-Art Graphics and Architecture and I have always loved to draw, ever since childhood. Drawing has always been a large part of my life and still is.
I have been working professionally in the game industry since 2011. I used to work in various game studios in Kiev and Moscow, since 2018 I'm freelancing.
I started out as a Props Artist at Plarium, but after a year I started working with them as a Character Artist. I also worked with Room8Studios, Nuare Studio, 4AGames, Blizzard.
I participated in projects such as Paragon, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Metro Exodus, Back 4 Blood, and Diablo II: Resurrected.
Working as a Freelancer
I started working full-time in the office in 2011 and I think that for a novice artist to start his career in the office is a great experience that will help to learn faster from colleagues. But now the situation is different.
Since 2016, I wanted to try myself as a freelancer, and since 2018 I realized my idea because I thought I've gained enough experience, and still, I'm sure, there is always room to grow. When you work in the office, there are great advantages, such as communication with colleagues and exchange of experience, and you can observe the whole process from the inside and take a direct part in it. Freelancing has more freedom but more responsibility. At the moment, I am comfortable working as a freelancer.
Getting Into Character Art
As I mentioned earlier, I always liked to draw characters, portraits, busts, but I always wanted to realize my passion in 3D and I tried to make my own drawings out of clay. Of course, at a young age, I did not know that there was such a specialty as a "Character Artist", I always thought that I would become an "artist", but I did not think where this road would lead me. My parents gave me a lot of books on classical sculpture and painting, and I also did not forget about games and movies, such as Aliens, Terminator 2, the Lord of the Rings, etc. And a lot of games ranging from Half-Life 1-2, Doom 3, and ending with the GTA series. While playing games, I was always interested in how these worlds with characters were created and I continued to play, this was the beginning for me.
At the university, we began to learn 3ds Max. Gradually I started learning the program, modeling and rendering interiors and exteriors, and at some point, I decided to model the character's head according to the lesson, it was Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, of course when I finished it was not like Gollum at all, it was something else, but I was so impressed with what I did that I kept trying again and again.
In 2009, after learning about the Dominance War competition, I was impressed with the works and after what I saw, I started learning ZBrush and it just blew my mind. It was amazing. I didn't take any specialized courses on characters, I watched everything that was available online for free, tried to understand what this or that instrument means, and studied anatomy from the book of Bammes.
Joining the Diablo Team
Before joining the project, I sent my resume to Blizzard several times in 2016-2017 but was refused. Despite this, I continued to work and improve my skills, publishing my works online.
One day Chris Amaral, who was the Art Director on the project, wrote to me on Facebook. Chris offered to try to make one of the characters from the game and I agreed. I think if you want to join such a project, you need to demonstrate your skills online and work in the style of a company that develops a particular project and do not hesitate to offer your services, evaluating your skills adequately. My tasks on the project were a complete pipeline starting from high poly and ending with the final textures.
We would often discuss concept art with Art Director Chris Amaral and Lead Artist Crystel Land, finding a common vision based on references that we liked. They are excellent and experienced professionals in their field and have given excellent feedback throughout the project
Usually, my workflow starts with a quick sketch. At this stage I try to focus on primary and secondary forms, trying to find proportions and balance. A good basic model with the right proportions is important for further work. At this stage I use DynaMesh, sometimes switching to Sculptris Pro. After that, I create a clean base geometry with UV to project all the primary details.
For the Mummy project, I had to divide the muscle groups on the arms and part on the legs, in order to get the desired effect in places where the muscles touch, since the original result where I sculpted a single geometry using a DynaMesh did not suit me, because a single piece of geometry weighed a lot and it was not a convenient way to modify it, even after clean topology.
For Diablo, Overseer, and MegaDemon characters, there was a different approach. On the clean geometry with the final UV in Mari, I projected XYZ textures with RED (Secondary) and GREEN (Tertiary) detail channels, for this I used the texture of the elbow, chest, and hand. On the chest area, I projected the texture of the chest. For the hands, I used the texture of the hands, and the texture of the elbow was useful for emitting the texture of rough skin for the whole character. I mainly used a few areas on the texture, and it was perfect for getting the basic texture of the skin.
After that I do the following steps:
1. Export the texture from the Mari and copy the Green Channel from the texture
2. Before applying the textures in ZBrush, I include StoreMT in MorphTarget in order to erase or reduce the effect of the texture in places where I want with the Morph brush
3. Then I apply texture to the clean topology of the character through Surface > Noise, this gives me excellent basic detail, after which all the areas were finalized by hand.
The brushes that I used are pretty standard, these are Clay Build Up, Standard, Dam Standard and Move/Move Topology, for ClayBuildUp I sometimes change the Standard Alpha to Alpha 48, it gives a convex, soft effect when sculpting.
The approach to UVs is quite standard, for symmetrical areas such as legs, arms, spikes, horns, and wings, I reuse texture, an equally important aspect because it saves a lot of space. For the unwrapping I use RizomUV, this is a great software that allows you to do it quick and painless, as I like its interface and unwrapping algorithm
Hair and Fur
I am not doing hair very often, but when I was offered to try to make Wendigo, I agreed because I always wanted to try to make a character where he is covered with hair, a kind of a challenge. I want to say that there is no magic button to make the hair fall perfectly, quickly, and beautifully, this process often takes a lot of time and requires patience and a lot of manual work, where you have to put the hairs layer by layer to get the right shape and flow. There are many ways to create a texture: fibers can be drawn manually in ZBrush using the Curve brush or rendered from a fiber mesh, you can draw in Photoshop or use Ornatrix, XGen, etc. For this project, I decided to try Ornatrix-3ds Max.
But first I made a hair sculpt base in ZBrush so that I could have an example of the volume and direction of the hair in different parts of the character.
To create hair, it is very important to get harmonious tufts of hair and a good base shape of the lower layer. First, I placed several guides on a slightly inclined simple plane (Ox Guide from Surface) and gave them a small shape using the Ox edit Guides – Brush modifier, it has a large selection of brushes that help to conveniently give the desired volume to the hair bundle. After that, I adjusted the density, length, and width of the fibers. The hair is usually thinner at the tips, for this I changed the width slope curve and changed the cone values until I got the desired result. I didn't make the ends of the hair on top very thin because it could create an inappropriate noise on the texture, in my cases a slight thickening at the tip was appropriate. After that, I added the Frizz modifier to add a bit of randomness to the hair bundle.
The texture is pretty simple, I just mixed the texture of the hair that I found online with Gradient Ramp.
You can see the whole process of setting up the camera, rendering and hair preparation in these lessons from CharlyTutors (the videos have English subtitles).
After the textures were done I made the actual low poly cards, UV’d them, and assigned the diffuse-alpha texture to visualize the hair.
Then, I prepared a character LP mesh and using Ornatrix generated a base layer of low poly hair cards. In order to give direction to low poly hair, I used the Ox Surface Comb modifier. After the basic form was generated, I started the process of duplicating and hand placing the cards layer by layer depending on texture opacity. I removed unnecessary parts, changed the size of some sections, rotated, etc.
Finally, I added the Flyaways layer, it breaks the silhouette nicely and adds the finishing touch of realism.
I would like to add that creating hair is a rather time-consuming process and takes a lot of time, of course, you should not start such a difficult task if you are facing low poly hair for the first time, it is better to start with some simple hairstyles and move on to more complex forms. I spent a month and a half on this character and most of the time took preparation, tests, and manual work on layers of hair, but it was very informative, interesting, and fun.
I think that first of all it's hard work, patience, and experience. Decide in what style you want to work, realistic or cartoonish. Work and gain experience, make contacts with companies and people who are ready to propose you a job, gain experience wherever possible, try to make your work 100% and a little better. Be patient, it takes quite a long time. Fall in love with the process of creating games. Try not to do the least to just finish the job, try to create your own goals to achieve the result you need, so that you learn new things.
Focus on quality, not quantity. Demonstrate in your works the entire pipeline from blockout to texturing, this will increase your chances for success. As my teacher at the university said: "An artist studies all his life if you think that you can do everything and know everything, think again". Hard work in any case will lead you to your goal sooner or later, someone gets it quickly, someone a little later. Objectively evaluate and compare your work with the work of your dream project and remember to always study the base. Thank you!