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Female Character Production by Blair Armitage

Blair Armitage did a breakdown of her outstanding highly detailed character Tifa Lockhart. Software used: ZBrush, Substance Painter, 3ds Max, and Toolbag.

Blair Armitage did a breakdown of her outstanding highly detailed character Tifa Lockhart that balances between stylization and realism. The project was made with ZBrush, Substance Painter, 3ds Max, and Toolbag and took Blair around two years.

Introduction & Start of the Project

Hi! My name is Blair Armitage, and I will tell you about my latest personal project Tifa Lockhart.

It took me almost two years to finish it. I spent so long because I kept restarting the project and going back to the base body and face as I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I was chipping away at it between client work and other personal projects for a long time. I think most people would have left it as a WIP and just moved onto something else, but I can be ridiculously stubborn when it comes to finishing things. I think the main reason I kept remaking it from scratch was seeing the amazing work of friends or other artists, which motivated me to do better and push myself, and also often left me hating my own work! After I finally started to feel satisfied with the body, it was only a few months work on the side to build the rest of her.

Old iteration of the body
Near-final body after studying and critiques


An early iteration of the face from 2016


Final-ish face

The Sculpt

I went through maybe 10 or so sculpt iterations. I wanted to retain some realism to the body so I studied a lot of 3d scans and ecorche to improve my understanding of the muscle tone and levels of the body fat. I looked at a lot of female athletes and fighters for reference, although I think it ended up too subtle in the end. I also had a lot of help from other artists friends who gave their input on the body proportions. I really learned a lot from their feedback.

In terms of stylisation, the waist is small but the hips are really wide. I wanted to make that Chun-li body type of someone who does a lot of kicks but also has a really feminine shape.

For the clothing, I wanted to stay faithful to the original design which is really simple and iconic. I looked at a lot of cosplay props from people who had already done the work of translating the drawing into a real functioning garment, such as the gloves, for example. For her other clothing pieces I could use real-life reference, they were simple to make patterns for in Marvelous Designer and then finish in ZBrush. Some of the clothing was done entirely in ZBrush as I enjoyed sculpting the folds by hand, even if they’re not particularly accurate. 


The final low poly is 90k tris. I could have probably added more geometry for the hair. The clothing is quite simple so there’s nothing too crazy with the tri count.

Details Creation

The hard surface objects like the vials were modeled with subdivisions for the basic shape, then refined and detailed in ZBrush. All the leather pieces are made with subdivision modeling or splines and finished the same way. The suspenders have lots of different elements including a whole back section that is completely hidden by hair, even though I put a lot of effort into it. 

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Painting the Face

The workflow for the face was the same basic process I used for Aigis where I would purchase a face scan and albedo texture, reshape the head to match my sculpt and then reproject those textures onto my UVs. I enjoy working on top of the photo editing out the imperfections I don’t want and retaining the details I like.I repaint all the makeup by hand which is a really fun process, and I highly recommend researching this if you’re not someone who uses makeup in daily life. I also paint in the eyebrow onto the albedo, even though the eyebrows use alpha cards for depth. To get nice looking eyebrows in real life I use a pencil to thicken and shape them and even draw in the lines to look like individual hairs, so this is just a digital version of that. With makeup, you also have to take into consideration the roughness, as they will be different values from the bare skin. For instance, powdery products like eyeshadow will increase the roughness compared to the skin’s natural oiliness, and therefore appear darker as it’s not reflecting as much light. Be sure to check all these in different lighting scenarios too, to see if the values are working. 

Adding Weathering

For everything but the face and the hair, I used Substance Painter for texturing. It’s very intuitive and fun to add loads of weathering by hand and with filters. I often start with a dirt mask using curvature and AO, then customize the amount and frequency of dirt, start a paint layer and erase by hand to get the specific look that I want. I looked at the amazing Lara Croft model in the last Tomb Raider for the ideas on weathering, though I wasn’t able to carry it out at the same quality level. It was interesting to think about where dirt would naturally accumulate on boots, in leather cavities and things like that. Though it’s easy to go too far with dirt and things and the result could have probably been toned down, I still had fun. 

Smart Materials

I used a lot of smart materials from Substance Share and bought a decent amount of Gumroad Substances to browse through while looking for the right fabrics. I tried to pick fabrics that had interesting weaves, as my forms are simple and the character has a very simple color scheme. Getting some nice variety of materials was important.  

WIP shot of the hair without enough volume


For lighting, I used a night-time city skydome to start with. I wanted something that had bright neon lights which looked Midgar-like and gritty. From there, I added a bright blue key light and a warm pink/red fill. I used two additional rim lights: one for the body and one to light up the hair from the back.

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Quixel generously let me use some physically accurate scans of hair, and I was able to collaborate with them a little to give feedback on things like the type of hair and thickness of strands that I needed. I used 4-5 different clumps of hair at varying thicknesses. About 90% of the volume is made using the thickest clumps with the most alpha coverage. Creating this volume is a long process, especially for long hair with a specific style. Even a simple hairstyle like this one was very time consuming to get it to look good, and I often posted on social media for different rounds of feedback.

Different clumps of hair


WIP shot of the hair without enough volume



For lighting, I used a night-time city skydome to start with. I wanted something that had bright neon lights which looked Midgar-like and gritty. From there, I added a bright blue key light and a warm pink/red fill. I used two additional rim lights: one for the body and one to light up the hair from the back.

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With all my lights I customize the shape and check the shadow quality on each one. The new GI features were great for this project and really helped ground the character. I had a lot of fun playing with it and getting the brightness right. For a female portrait, the lighting isn’t particularly interesting, as I wanted her to be bright and have that glowing quality against the dark background. The lighting on the face is almost flat and shows minimum form, almost mimicking a 2D image. For reference, I look at fashion or gravure photography which aims to show the subject in the most flattering light and minimizes shadows falling across the face.  

Blair Armitage, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 3

  • Kain Darkwind

    Wow.  That's amazing.


    Kain Darkwind

    ·5 years ago·
  • Pun Netraraj

    Awesome. Really great tips for beginners like me to start working correctly.


    Pun Netraraj

    ·5 years ago·
  • karstell

    astounding work there - hope someone important notices! I'm just jrpg fan. . . somebody needs to hire you!



    ·5 years ago·

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