Alsu Rakhimova has walked us through the SWAT Warrior project, discussing the idea behind the model and explaining how the character's tactical outfit was made using Marvelous Designer.
The SWAT Warrior Project
Hi everyone! My name is Alsu, and I am a 3D Character Artist based in Vancouver, currently working for PlayStation Visual Arts studio. Since I joined the company last year, I had an opportunity to work on a very exciting upcoming game. Unfortunately, I cannot share more at the moment, but I am looking forward to it.
I created the SWAT Warrior project as my final work for my Advanced term at Think Tank Training Centre in early 2022. My supervisor was Nicolas Niño, who is a great Character Artist. The project was based on the concept by Dia Nak. The whole project took just 11 weeks so it was important for me to learn how to efficiently use the software at my disposal, including Unreal Engine 4 and Marvelous Designer. I created the jacket and the pants in Marvelous Designer.
Studying Marvelous Designer
I was introduced to Marvelous Designer at my school. We had an introductory course taught by Kenzo Nishidate. The interface of the software was very intuitive, so it was easy to quickly create simple assets and start garment simulation. I was very excited when I created my very first asset in Marvelous Designer – a pillow! I was so amazed by the garment simulation that I kept dragging the pillow up and down just to see how it was interacting with the environment. Very soon, I was able to create more complicated assets like buttoned shirts and pants. I think that the cloth simulation of MD is a great help for character artists while creating garments or even accessories like shoes or bags.
Before starting any project, I always gather reference images of garments in PureRef to make sure I understand the construction of the garment and the cloth texture. You will need this understanding while building the garment in the software and selecting the fabric preset.
For this character, I gathered a lot of images of SWAT uniforms including tactical vests, belts, leg protectors, etc.
Once I have a better idea of how my garment is supposed to look, I create a simple blockout of it in ZBrush. This way, I am getting a better understanding of the overall silhouette and construction of the garment. For tight-fitting clothes like pants, I usually just use the Poly Paint brush to schematically outline the seams, pockets, and zippers on the body base mesh.
Setting Up The Outfit
The next step is to export the body base mesh to Marvelous Designer and start creating the patterns. There are two ways to do that: you can either create a pattern from scratch (with or without the help of existing pattern images that you can find on Google) or you can divide your ZBrush garment into sections and import them as ‘garment’ to Marvelous Designer. The latter method was demonstrated by Arno Schmitz during The Character Art of Horizon Zero Dawn with Guerrilla Games panel:
There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, so go with the option that works for you. Tips for beginners:
- In order to get the proper folds that fit the garment texture, experiment with different fabric presets.
- Take advantage of the symmetry and duplicate your patterns to save time.
- Learn the Marvelous Designer shortcuts for a smoother switch between instruments.
Once you are happy with the fitting, it is time to start adding smaller details like seam piping, padding, and extra folding. It is important to keep this step last since it would be difficult to make big changes afterward. On top of that, garment simulation with smaller details requires a smaller particle distance, making the simulation process slower.
Tips for beginners:
- Use shrinkage warp and weft to create nice small wrinkles on the garment piping
- Decrease the particle distance to get better garment simulation results
- To make the simulation process faster, try freezing/deactivating the garment pieces that you are not working with right now
- Obvious but important advice – save often and keep version of your project just in case.
After the garment is complete in Marvelous Designer, I usually export it back to ZBrush using this method by Outgang to refine some folds and to add missing elements like zipper sliders.
Approach to Texturing
I textured the outfit in Substance 3D Painter trying to stick to a procedural method for as long as possible. This allowed me to quickly change the textures to my liking and even use the textures later as a smart material in my later projects. Here are the main principles that I try to stick to while texturing the outfit:
- When it comes to color and roughness variation, you want to start with big-scale adjustments and then move to the smaller ones. The key is to zoom out to see the bigger picture from a distance. This way I check if color/roughness/specular variation is good enough.
- Use the combination of procedural and hand-painted approaches. The combination of the two approaches will give a unique look to your textures and will save some time. I use a “Dirt” brush for almost all my hand-painted fixes.
- While texturing the character, I use a very neutral Environment Map (Display settings > environment settings > Environment Map: “Soft 1LowContrastFront 2Backs”). It helps me to avoid any color reflections on the textured object.
As soon as you have the base color for the character – put the character in the rendering engine right away and confirm that the scale is right.
Rendering & Presentation
When presenting the game character in the real-time engine, the texture budgets can lead to some small clothing details looking washed out/blurred. In order to preserve the high fidelity of clothes, I add fabric detail normal to all my shaders.
How to Get Started With Marvelous Designer?
I would advise beginners to start with the basics – try and create a very simple garment and export it to a different software (Maya, ZBrush, Blender, etc.). It will help you to understand both how the Marvelous Designer UI works and how to integrate it into your workflow. There are a lot of free step-by-step video tutorials that could help you to learn. Personally, I highly recommend such YouTube channels as Outgang and Evgeniia Petrova.
- Automatic UV packing
- Import/export FBX with multiple avatars
- Roll up
- Select all sewn patterns
- USD: Unified UV coordinates support
Explore these updates on the Marvelous Designer website today to elevate your 3D artwork!