Creating Hair for Real-Time Game Characters

Creating Hair for Real-Time Game Characters

Georgian Avasilcutei talked about the way he approaches the creation of hair for real-time characters.

Georgian Avasilcutei talked about the way he approaches the creation of hair for real-time characters. He’s currently working on a more detailed tutorial, which is available here.

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My name is Georgian Avasilcutei and I’m a character artist from Romania. I’ve been in the game industry since more than 10 years ago but before that I worked for a couple of years in media as an environment artist. Half of my career I was a prop artist and to be honest I think that it helped me a lot in growing my skills and made it easier for me to make the switch to characters. Even tho I was making props for the job I’ve always worked on characters in my spare time. It was my dream job, so as soon as I’ve seen an opportunity (while working on Life is Strange for DONTNOD) I’ve asked for character work and became a full time character artist.

I’ve worked in studios in my first years in the industry but in 2009 I’ve decided to take the freelance path. The first 2 years were really rough. The world financial crisis and my not so long experience in the game industry made it quite a challenge to find contracts. In the end I’ve had the luck to get a contract with DONTNOD and it was a long and fruitful collaboration with them. With each year passing, I’ve had the opportunity to get some new contracts that culminated with working for Arkane on Dishonored 2 and now with my current contract with WB Games.

When I had the firsts contacts with the 3d world the internet was a place where you could barely find any tutorial or help…so most of my knowledge came from the software help and the “click and see what it does” experience. The fact that it was so hard and took so long to learn the basics is the main reason why I’ve always shared my work with the 3d community. For each new thing that I’ve learned I’ve made a tutorial or streamed while working so that others will not waste years trying to figure out workflows or learning new tools. I’ve always been there for those who wanted to pick my brain about the 3d and I’m really happy that some of them are quite the 3d artists now. So if anyone needs some guidance don’t be afraid to bother me on facebook, artstation or anywhere else you can get a hold on me. Even tho my job takes most of my time I still try to find time to answer all of your questions.

The Real-Time Hair Tutorial

In this tutorial, we will focus on creating hair suitable for games. I’ll explain my workflow using 3ds max but I’m sure that this can be replicated in any 3d software. During the years I’ve tried different approaches for making hair and for now I feel like this is the easiest one since I have complete control over each and every hair card rather than grooming in some hair plugin and getting overwhelmed by the massive number of strands. I’m not saying that this is the best way to make hair…this is what I consider the less time-consuming approach and with the best results.

For many years I’ve been afraid of making hair. It was completely overwhelming. So much work to do and so much detail that I was failing even before starting by not making a good plan and sticking to it.

The plan is like this: 

  • Gather references.
  • Figure out what kind of hair strands you need for the texture.
  • Create the texture.
  • Start placing the cards from scalp till loose hairs gradually and making sure you get the right volumes.
  • Always check in the engine.
  • WIN.

Gathering references.

The internet is filled with images of hairstyles. You can find even pictures that are a collage with different views for the same hairstyle which is a blessing. It doesn’t need to be exactly what you want to make but at least it should give you some idea of the hair flow.

Figure out what kind of hair strands you need for the texture

Make sure you get as many references you can for your hairstyle and study them. Imagine how a hair card should be and how the hair should look on different hair cards.

Take into consideration that you will have some large hair cards that will cover most of the scalp and gradually smaller ones when you get further away from it.

Create some planes and apply hair and fur to them. Mend with the properties and style of the hair until you get the result you’re looking for.

As you can see on my texture I have 6 different hair cards. I’ve left some space on my texture on the lower part that will be used for eyelashes and eyebrows if I ever intend to take this character further and make a full character

The one on the left which is quite dense and with an almost white alpha is the one that will cover the scalp.

The second one is the most used one in my model. This has medium density and it’s the one I’ll use to create the overall volumes of the hair.

The third one I will use to give some variation and to close some possible holes in my hairstyle. When using hair cards you will end up with the hair looking good from an angle and with a weird gap from a different one. So this relatively low density strand will be used to cover those up.

The next 2 hair strands are for the most important part of a hairstyle, the variation that gives its realism. These two are quite dense and are used to simulate those strands that deviate a bit from the overall flow of the hair.

The last one is the loose hair strand and you can use it to make the loose hairs and give some extra variation where needed.

Create the texture

For the hair texture just create a new camera, set the render resolution to 4k and make it fit your strands. My texture was rendered using scanline and I have no specular or lights involved since we only need the diffuse and it’s variation.

Once you’ve rendered the texture you’re good to go. Don’t worry if your texture is not really perfect. During the process, you might go back and change it a bit. For example, you will see that at some point I’ve gone back and reduced the number of hairs for the strand 2,3 and 6 and increased it for the first one.

Start placing the cards from scalp till loose hairs gradually and making sure you get the right volumes.

Now comes the fun part.

First of all, organize yourself. Create the hair cards and place each one of them on a different layer. For each strand create a spline and make sure you name them right. Being organized is really helpful and will make your life way easier.

Once you created all the layers and added a path deform for all the strands you can start working on the hair.

You need to understand that this is a really time-consuming process. I’ve seen a lot of people that tried to make the hair really quick and ended up with some random mass of hair. Give it time and make sure you get what you want from placing the hair cards.

Start with the 1st strand and cover most of the scalp keeping in mind the flow of the hair. Don’t worry. You won’t get it perfect from the beginning but having the strands on the splines it will make it easier to correct it afterward. Continue with the rest of the strands till you achieve the desired result.

In the end, after placing the whole strands you can combine all the hair planes into one mesh and adjust using soft selection the whole volume of the hair.

You’ll see in my tutorial the whole process and you will realize that this is not hard, just time-consuming.

You can check out the tutorial from Georgian Avasilcutei over here. Be sure to check out his Artstation and Twitch as well!

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Comments 1

  • Victor Ng-Thow-Hing

    Thanks for the tutorial - I bought a copy. Is it possible to produce some of the model files in Maya format instead of 3ds Max?


    Victor Ng-Thow-Hing

    ·a year ago·

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Creating Hair for Real-Time Game Characters