Eerie Yokai Spirit Created with ZBrush, Substance 3D Painter & Arnold

Anastasia Fomina walked us through the process of making the Yokai project, discussed the struggles of working with hair in XGen, and demonstrated how the kimono and accessories were set up to complete the chilling look.


Hi, I'm Anastasia, a 3D character artist in the gaming industry. I started learning 3D about three years ago and decided to try a new pipeline, enrolling in courses on cinematography and film. Today, I want to share with you the result of my work.

I decided to talk about how I completed this project in two months, without having experience in cinematics. I will focus on artistic decisions and struggles, avoiding technical aspects, which you can find in the Character Creation for Films-Cinematics course.

The Yōkai Project 

I was ignited by the idea of recreating something that evokes an attractive fear using new knowledge and a new pipeline. I am very drawn to the concept of alluring fear. From the very beginning, I wanted to embody a character with a mysterious, gloomy story, creating a story shrouded in mystery.

Inspiration came to me thanks to the concept of David Benzal. This concept depicted a Yōkai – a supernatural creature from Japanese mythology.

The initial idea was to combine a human body with spider legs. I even managed to create a blockout but decided to abandon this idea during the course.

By the way, I just adore all kinds of aesthetic creepiness! My main goal is to create something unique and thrilling, something that could peer into the viewer's soul.

The first week started with the creation of the character's blockout. Next, I designed the clothing using CLO Designer and refined the character's silhouette. At this stage, I decided to leave him in an A-pose

After that, I worked on sculpting the human head with primary forms that were close to the concept and prepared UV mapping, applying TexturingXYZ to the head for high-quality detailing.

I combined several multi_textures and set up high-quality detailing in Maya.

The next stage is related to modeling and texturing one of the most important elements of any character – the eyeballs. The eye consisted of several parts, each of which I worked on separately.


The stage of working in XGen nearly drove me into depression. How hard it was! Trying to make artificial hair in XGen I almost lost my own. Probably 7 or 10 times the work was redone from scratch.

I also studied a lot of materials on hair. Maya kept crashing on me, often without saving XGen data. I felt like XGen was dominating me, ruling and humiliating me.

Surprisingly, I had no particular problems with eyelashes and eyebrows; I think XGen took pity on me at that moment.

In the end, I didn't like the result that I had worked so hard on. I wanted to create a mystical Yokai, but with loose hair, this effect seemed to disappear. I had to leave the hair alone for a couple of weeks and get on with other important matters. If the hair had not turned out, it would have noticeably worsened my work. At that moment, I was thinking of leaving Yokai bald and "come what may." That's why this stage put me under serious stress.

Clothes & Accessories

In the sixth week, I worked on modeling and preparing clothing and accessories for work in ZBrush. I restitched and augmented the kimono, as the outfit had a massive volume of fabric, and we didn't know how it would behave during rigging. It was decided to pose the character. I sewed the clothing in such a way as to create the impression that Yokai is slowly moving or has frozen at the sight of its victim

All decorative elements were added through alphas in ZBrush. Some of them were drawn by hand. Also, at the ZBrush stage, I added slight wrinkles to the fabric so that it looked softer and thinner.

The Japanese sandals were combined at my discretion, based on a standard model of Japanese geta. All the drawings on the kimono were also added during the detailing process of the ZBrush model.

All the interesting elements were added during the development stage; I didn't have a clear plan, many moments differed from the concept, and I wanted to combine everything I felt was necessary for this work.

I tried to depict the whitening on Yokai's face naturally; it's a thin white mask, partly worn off and embedded in the pores. Using a black-and-white map created in Substance 3D Painter, I was able to achieve this result.

Using the shawl as an example, it was clear that this detail adds charm and the right atmosphere to the whole picture; I can hide the face behind the shawl, which is gentle and airy, while Yokai is covered in blood with a smeared mask on her face. It was an element of contrast “from light to dark,” creating the desired atmosphere in the work.

I was pondering how best to depict the golden elements on the kimono, and it took quite some time before I realized that the gold needed to be removed. It created a strong “noise” on the kimono, distracting attention from truly important details, and the lightness was lost.

In the end, it was decided to replace the golden element on the kimono with regular embroidery, and it turned out exactly as I wanted. The fabric looks soft and velvety, and the embroidery adds aesthetic richness to the kimono.

An interesting fact: after reading the history of the kimono, I deliberately wrapped it to the left side. The kimono is only wrapped to the left side for the deceased, and since Yokai is a malevolent spirit, this detail certainly makes sense.

The ghost's clothing was supposed to be covered with a heavy layer of blood, but since the color of the kimono is similar to the color of blood, it was a strange decision to stain it (red on red – really?!). Here, a minor conflict occurred, and I had to change the concept slightly.

In the end, the decision was made to remove the blood, but to stain part of the light clothing, the pants, socks, and blouse and to focus on the fan. Dried bloodstains on the fan as part of the story.

Yokai can easily deal with a victim with her long, razor-sharp claws, and to avoid staining her face, she can shield it with the fan. That's what I was thinking at that moment.

And finally, I returned to the hair and, once again, started from scratch to create a hairstyle with swept-back hair. After a long series of manipulations, I managed to create something that satisfied me, but it lacked the carelessness, disheveled appearance, and entanglement in the hairstyle. Later on, I corrected this in the right direction.

I had never worked with shaders in Arnold (Maya) before, and connecting displacement maps and textures to Maya took up a lot of my time, as I had to draw a sort of mask in Substance 3D Painter and reassemble materials in Maya for more flexible configuration. I separately configured the shader for skin and metallic elements.


I focused on the hands and gestures. I also worked with references, wanting to showcase specifically old hands, dirtied with soil and blood. Yokai has a beautiful, youthful face, but if you pay attention to the hands, it becomes clear that you are facing a more ancient evil, and the fair face is merely a mask.

If you look at the frame where Yokai holds her hand in front of her face, there will be a sensation that the hand is not hers and that someone or something is holding her by the chin and head (I like this effect). I worked with textures from the 3D scan store.

Lighting & Rendering

It took me a lot of time and effort to learn lighting methods in Maya. I tried lighting based on HDRI and studio lighting using area lighting. I figured out the camera (depth of field, shutter, aperture).

I wanted to achieve a film-like frame with depth and meaning. Yokai looked equally good in warm and cold tones, but I was drawn to the cold shades, found a large number of references with the desired atmosphere, and tried to get closer to it.

The main problem was that when using certain HDRI maps, I couldn't achieve a sparkle in the eyes; I couldn't make them look alive. Adding a few additional light sources specifically for the eyes solved the problem. But it was important not to over-illuminate the face, to make it look as if the event was happening in the forest, and that there were no obvious additional light sources.


I hope you found it interesting to see the process of creation, and believe me, this is really only a small part of the trials and errors.

I took a break from work for a week or two, came back with a fresh mind, and refined it.
In the end, I am satisfied with the result; it seems that the dark effect I so desired was achieved. And that very attractive fear is portrayed here as I see and feel it.

Find me on ArtStation and Instagram to see more.

Anastasia Fomina, Character Artist

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