Creating High-quality Characters for UE4 Games
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Thanks, Allar! Good luck with your new project!

Who just carries around $250.000 worth of files on a portable hardrive without any backups.. The bug is stupid, but this guy is a moron.

by Michael Allar
14 hours ago

Michael Allar here. Thanks a bunch for posting this, I really appreciate it. I'm also the guy who wrote that Confessions article that was posted here on 80.lvl as well.

Creating High-quality Characters for UE4 Games
17 May, 2017
Interview
3D Character Artist Gilberto Magno gave a talk on his latest personal project ‘Legacy of Shin’. The artist discussed the way he built his marvelous character with astonishing armor and presented the project in Marmoset Toolbag and Unreal Engine 4.  

Introduction

Hello! I’m Gilberto Magno, and I’m from Brazil. Currently, I work as a freelance 3D Character Artist and have done work for several companies around the world, including Blur Studio, Blizzard, Plastic Wax, and Axis Animation. With these companies, I’ve worked on titles such as Rainbow Six, Overwatch, Warhammer, Doom, and many others.

In my spare time, I enjoy working on personal projects that allow me to practice different workflows as well as to continually pursue my creative passion!

Legacy of Shin

For now, I’m tackling this project more like a hobby. I’m using it to study something in Unreal Engine 4, and I have a story about this character as well. I created Legacy of Shin to give an art direction for my personal work. Mostly, when I stop to do some personal stuff, I do fan art. This involves creating a universe, which I can infuse with my own ideas about art and gameplay. In short, it’s been a really fun project to work on!  

Character Design

I sometimes have crazy ideas during the middle of the night so I wake up and quickly find a pen and paper to save my idea in a sketch! But when I’m awake, I have a different approach.

I organize plenty of references following the same art direction and then create thumbnails using Photoshop (sometimes on paper as well). The idea to create a character can come for a variety of inspirations and can occur at any moment.

In some instances, I’m navigating forums or galleries like ArtStation and stumble upon some very inspirational works of art—I save these works in my “Inspirational Folder” on my computer! By keeping a folder full of magnificent work, I find plenty of motivation to develop my own work and perfect my craft.

Production 

When professionally freelancing, I receive, most of the time, concepts and references directly from companies. For personal projects, I pick up as many references as possible to help me better understand each part of the character I’m going to create. At this stage, I begin with concepts in Photoshop or concepts on paper depending on where my mind takes me in that moment.

With my concept defined, I move onto modeling inside ZBrush because it gives me more freedom to craft solid shapes and silhouettes before getting too technical with topology and other aspects of the model. After my sketch or basis is done, I follow a rather straightforward pipeline, which includes retopology, UVs, bakes, textures, and in some cases rigging and animation as well. For retopology, UVs, and rigging and animation, I use Maya and Substance Painter for textures.

When I’m working, I sometimes capture time lapses of my workflow. Recently, I started this creature, and I’m recording the process. If you’d like to witness me work in action, check it out here!

Armor

I used ZBrush with DynaMesh / ZRemesher for the main shapes. I don’t refine many of the hard surfaces at this step to save time in my workflow. At this stage, I only create the main shapes, which I send to Maya to do retopology and apply creases on meshes to keep the hard edges. Next, I export using .ma from Maya to ZBrush again.

I use .ma from Maya because Goz sometimes loses creases or doesn’t work well with creases. This ensures I only have to do retopology once because this piece with creases can act as my final low poly piece. In some cases, I include more loops at this stage to help obtain a better resolution so that I can put final details on the model with ZBrush. Finally, I go back to Maya and do some cleanup work, but I don’t create a new retopology.

Using Marmoset Toolbag

Toolbag has definitely been an instrumental part of my work—it’s the best way to test a character in real time for clients.

For example, I used Toolbag for all the turntable scenes within my “Legacy of Shin” video, including the final fur and hair animations. I used the nCloth system from Maya and exported using Alembic to Marmoset Toolbag. The skin shader and hair, among several other features of the character, look really awesome in the final render!

Incorporating Substance Painter

Substance Painter has been very important in my texturing process. I use it all the time for bakes and textures. And I don’t think I encountered anything particularly challenging because I’ve been working with the program for such a long time.

Yet, I approached this project with the same mindset I bring to all of my work—this was a new opportunity to improve my skills. I always strive to better myself and my craft, which I hope is ultimately reflected in the quality of my final product.

For example, when I finish a material like metal I stop for a moment to observe where I can improve or add something to leave the final appearance more interesting—maybe that means including some cavity dirties with colors, or creating some noise effect in roughness.

Substance Painter is also great because if the metal from one piece of armor is similar to another piece of that armor, I can create a smart material and apply it to other similar parts of the same armor set. This really helps me finish my textures faster than if I were to use other softwares.

Working in Unreal Engine 4

This stage of the project was particularly challenging for me because, although I’ve had some experience with UDK3, I’m just a beginner in UE4! I had to study and learn the best ways to import my character while correctly keeping my smoothing groups. Moreover, I had to learn how to use Blueprint to optimize the animation system for my character.

This was, by the way, my first time using Blueprint! I studied and followed many tutorials to understand this part of the project. Despite it being my first time, I’m still running high-quality tests, similar to what a PS4 uses. All in all, I’m getting a great fps rate and my character is more or less low res as well.

He has 60 k polys while the textures are about 6 UVs and are using 2 k of resolution—and I’m not even using a sophisticated system. For example, the hair is composed of planes with alpha and bones with ragdoll (default from UE4). I ran some tests, put multiple copies of him side by side with different animations, and eventually nailed a great performance!

Thanks for taking the time to read about my project! I hope it was an entertaining and informative read. If you’d like to check out more of my work, feel free to drop by my ArtStation!

Gilberto Magno, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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