Ubisoft Bordeaux's Lead Character Artist Eric Moreno talks about shifting from music to 3D character design, explains how Wrath of the Druids' Ciara was designed, and discusses the endless possibilities of Blender.
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My name is Eric Moreno, I was born and raised in the South of France. Although I had a love for drawing, it was my musical mind that won the better of me. So I studied music and worked as a music teacher for a few years. When I moved to Bordeaux I joined my brother who worked as an artist for a video game company. Seeing the work he was doing revived an old flame for art. That is when I decided to learn 3D, I believe it was around the year 2000.
As a good self-taught artist, I spent a few years as a comic book artist, in collaboration with my brother Marc Moreno. I finally got some work at an advertising company as a 3D artist, then later I worked at a cartoon studio.
This went on for a few years. Then it was around 2009 that I said goodbye to sunny Bordeaux, for the somewhat less sunny Montreal. I have worked on a few projects such as Avatar by James Cameron (for Nintendo DS), Shaun White Skateboarding, Watch Dogs (pre-production work), Assassin’s Creed III, Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands, Hyper Scape, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and finally Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Wrath of the Druids.
Becoming a Character Artist
Now, as I was working on Avatar, I was, seldom, looking at the amazing work that the character artists of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood were doing. These guys are total heroes for me. The work they were doing, the way they were able to breathe life into characters was surreal. Some of these guys had the kindness to show me their amazing work, and that is how I started making small projects.
However, it was on Assassin’s Creed III that the character team members were kind enough to accept me and mentor me, for which I kindly thank each and everyone for all their support (Magdalena Dadela, Laurent Sauvage, Raphael Boyon, Michel Thibault, Ian Ladouceur, Mager Kamel Aquino to mention a few).
I had the utmost privilege of following Mathew Luhn's masterclasses on character design, as well attending Scott Eaton's classes and of course, I learned a lot with an awesome maestro and friend Pascal Blanché.
For Ciara, I worked tightly with Hugo Sahuquet (Associate Narrative Director) and David Pellet (Art Director). Together, we built the canvas, and most importantly, they gave me total freedom to design the character. Lucas Leger (concept artist) gave me a concept to follow what David wanted, and from there I leaped into the character design. It was a really exciting challenge and this will remain an awesome experience of collaboration and freedom of creativity.
Unfortunately, there are no technological advancements or little tricks! I love to work in an iterative manner. I need more time to feel and build the character I work on and to truly make it come to life in my mind. Then all the pieces get together and I can start creating the micro-details.
Exactly the same way as I work in ZBrush, I use the minimum of brushes in Blender, and whenever possible I work on finer details in texture.
Designing the Clothes and the Props
When I started to work on Hyper Scape, I made the decision to work in Blender. I was modeling clothes and then applying simulation in Marvelous Designer to perform finer work. For Ciara, I adapted the same workflow, however all the cloth simulations were done directly in Blender, using, in addition, the Cloth brush in the Sculpt module.
For the harp, Lucas Leger gave me a very nice concept, and for that, I did the old-school box modeling with a little touch of sculpting.
Even if I start to paint more and more of my texture directly in Blender, Substance Painter stays my best buddy when it comes to texturing. We have a lot of smart materials unique to Assassin’s Creed, that cover most materials such as metal, leather, wood, etc. But in the end, the bulk of the work of tweaks and shades is done in the game engine, Anvil.
I have been in this industry for some time now, and I have become somewhat lazy, and I was kind of tired of moving from one software to another for small things such as sculpt, retopology, UVs, etc. So I started using Blender to create hard surface object concepts about 7 years ago. I quickly started to enjoy the simplicity of the interface, and the fact that everything was accessible through shortcuts, but what really made it for me, is when Blender 2.8 came out with the Eevee render engine, that was the spark, I had finally found the tool I needed for my workflow.
Blender is the same as the people who mentored me and shaped me into the artist I am today, I cannot express my infinite gratitude to Ton Roosendaal (founder of the Blender Foundation) enough, Tom is the developer without whom this software would not be what it is today and there would be no Blender community that constantly contributes to the awesomeness of Blender.
When I started to work on Hyper Scape, I found myself working only in Blender, I could create concepts and quickly show them to the team effortlessly. It was at that time, that I found the interest in Blender among other artists was growing. So Ubisoft Montreal gave me the task to create training days on Blender for the studio, but I knew that Ubisoft Paris already had a Blender user group. We regrouped the entire Ubisoft World community together, and I have no doubt that in the very near future, a pipeline entirely in Blender will see daylight for a project.
For Ciara, her hair was a nice challenge! But all in all, for my daily use, there are no challenges in particular that come to mind, I would say every hard part just marks the evolution of my process. As I always say a tool is a tool, the most important is to be comfortable using it.
To learn Blender 101, there is no secret, for my part, I relied on tutorials from Cedric Lepillier. Then I studied Daniel Bystedt's and Pablo Dobarro's works, as they made a lot of huge improvements with the Sculpt mode development in Blender. I also watched videos from artists like Flycat (with some great time-lapses), Nazar Noschenko, or Danny Mac 3D.
The basic rules to do character modeling remain unchanged for me, and they are repeated by many 3D artists. They are the following: observe and learn from great sculpting and painting artists, including the people around you (my best and most awesome art director will always be my wife). But again there are no shortcuts, the only way is to work, work, and work again, and just when you think it is enough, remember: it's not!