Pit Bibiloni on diving into 3D character design in ZBrush and the significance of feedback from experienced mentors for artistic growth.
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My name is Maximo “Pit” Bibiloni, I am from La Plata, Argentina. I work as a 2D/3D artist in a small startup in my city. I have an Arts degree from the National University of La Plata (UNLP) and I studied fine arts with Christian Mazzuca. I have been doing 3D in Blender since 2012, but only worked on low-budget projects for my city university. I decided to learn ZBrush as a lockdown project in 2020, and the ArtHeroes Monster Challenge in 2020 was the first project I finished using this software. When working on the Monster Challenge project I did not know the tricks and workflows of the program, so I worked on the project from a traditional sculptor’s point of view, just sculpting and poly painting. Also in the Monster Challenge QAs, I won a raffle, and the prize was the access to the ArtHeroes Stylized Character program, where I created Krisha, the Robot Huntress.
Krisha started as the idea of a Robot Huntress from a heavy tech universe, where robots and humans live as equals, but when robots go rogue there are these bounty hunters and huntresses who excel at taking them down. The concept idea is mine, and the image is a collaboration with my friend Santiago Lozano, from Sigel Studio.
For references, I used a mood board in PureRef and collected several 2D and 3D stylized characters, cyberpunk armours, mechanic arms, military boots, etc.
The most significant changes in the concept process were steps 2 and 4, where feedback from Santiago Lozano and the Art Heroes instructors helped me a lot.
At first, I approached the face and body anatomy from a traditional sculpting point of view, since I had never made stylized characters before. With Daniele Danko Angelozzi’s feedback in the program QAs, I started to understand the logic behind the stylization of the design.
Her hairstyle was first blocked in with a DynaMeshed sphere, just to get the forms there. After that, I created strands of hair with the Art Heroes Insert MultiMesh stylized hair (IMM). Once the strands were there, I polished them with the MAH mech brushes.
My general ZBrush workflow starts with a pre-production stage where I scout and search for references online, smash them in PureRef, and get some general idea of what to look for when jumping to ZBrush. Once in ZBrush, I start with some dynamesh blocking to get the idea of the general forms and silhouette. After the general blocking, it is a process of iteration between ZRemesher and projection, to recover my subdivisions and keep the mesh clean.
Going Into Details
When designing the assets I was always thinking about the history and the why behind the assets. I imagine her oversized boots could belong to a father or a mentor, the cape could be a piece of cloth used to cover dead robots or machines. Also, she has these tiny magnetized grenades on her belt to stick onto the robots to get them down.
The hard surface was first sketched and put in place with DynaMeshed blocks, but once the volumes were there, I used two different workflows. For the chest armor, I extracted and ZRemeshed the metal plates from dynameshed sketched pieces. I applied panel loops to thicken the plates and work a little on the plate joints. After that, it was just polishing and detailing. For the weapon and the robot arm, I mostly worked with QCubes and QCylinders and worked my way with the ZModeler. For joints and details, I used the default ZBrush IMM brushes.
For retopology, I kept the ZRemesher low subdivision topology and unwrapped most of the subtools with the UV Master plugin. Face, eyes, and body were unwrapped in Blender using the GOZ plugin. To get the character ready for texturing, I also used Blender to set up the UDIMs and then exported the object to Substance. There was a trick to figure out here, and the thing was that there is a huge scale difference between ZBrush and Blender, so Blender models have to be rescaled before exporting the object so it matches the high-poly version you have in ZBrush.
Character texturing was made in ZBrush and in Substance Painter, and normal baking was made entirely in Substance Painter. I PolyPainted the face and eyes in ZBrush because it is closer to a traditional painting approach. The general texturing process for the character was made entirely in Substance, that is applying default materials, adjusting the glossiness to avoid a realistic feel, and after the bases were set, I just handpainted the angles, bevels, material decay, and surface breaks in a very flat stylized way. I tried to achieve some realism in the face texturing, so the viewer could be interpellated by her gaze and expression.
Krisha was made during the Art Heroes Stylized program course, and there is an extra bonus Marmoset module that I have followed to achieve the final render. The initial idea was to make it dark and moody with a purplish Tokyo HDRI and a setup of 3 basic lighting modes (main, fill, and rim light).
Because of the model's complexity, I added a few lights to improve the readability of the face and the weapon. After submitting the character with this dark look and not feeling quite satisfied with it, I asked for more feedback from the instructor, and DrDanko suggested a cyanish background that improves character readability and presentation.
I would like to thank Art Heroes for the opportunity to participate in the program. I am especially thankful to Maria JD, Marlon Nunez, Alfredo Baro, and Danielle Danko Angellozi. Also, I would like to thank Santiago Lozano from Sigel studio, for the precious feedback and collaboration with the concept.