FFVII Tifa Reimagining: Character Production Guide

Dylan Kowalski talked about his version of the legendary character and shared his workflow of creating hair and skin shaders.


My name is Dylan Kowalski, 24 y.o. freelance character artist from the south of France, I started 3D when I was in high school for a hobby, I don’t have any graduation in 3D, I learn almost all on the internet, in a self-taught way, Since 1 year I’m only focusing on character creation in a professional way, still in a learning path, that’s why the project is not perfect, still some mistake and things to upgrade, but  hope you will find something interesting here.

This breakdown will focus more on clothes creation/retopo workflow, texturing, hair creation and rendering. 

Gathering Reference

Why Tifa? It is a really great character and her design is perfect to me, a mix of different type of clothes, metal part, cool hair cut. 

The first reason I work on this project is to upgrade my skills, leave the real-time character workflow for something bigger, have more accurate rendering, clothes, hair, etc.

So, first, before starting to work, I passed some hours to take some reference, maybe the most important thing to do before starting this kind of project. I really want something to be close to the original concept, things nice with Tifa is the many fan art of her on the internet, was actually fun to select some ideas through all of these. 

Clothes with Marvelous Designer and ZBrush

For the clothes, my workflow is actually simple, build them on Marvelous Designer, then retopo in Maya before refining them in ZBrushI really try to give them the most detail I can directly in Marvelous Designer and create interesting design for each clothes. Marvelous Designer is this kind of software you can learn & work fast, It’s a really great tool for character and works pretty well for Tifa clothes. 

There are all the patterns for Tifa Clothes.

Retopology/UV and Refining detail

I recommend retopologising your clothes when you work with Marvelous Designer, you will have a better result and more production-ready clothes, for the rig, the UV’s, etc.

Olivier Couston explains well the process to retopo your clothes from Marvelous, I highly recommend you to read this, It’s a huge help and time saver for the project. If you follow the tutorial from Olivier, you should have something like that for your low poly version, who is actually huge better than the topology from Marvelous Designer.

Low Poly Skirt After Retopo process:

For the UV  I split them into 6 UDIM for the skirt, to get the best result when I will work later on Substance Painter. I did this for all the clothes, and all the clothes are split into multiple UDIM.

Thing’s nice with this workflow is, on ZBrush, you keep all your subdivision level, and you can work in low poly, export the low poly to change your UV’s, import back in ZBrush without losing details. For the moment, for me,  is one of the most efficient workflows for making clothes in a good way, I highly recommend this! 

Some close-up shots from ZBrush:

Shoe Creation with the ZModeler from ZBrush

For the shoes, I decide to make them only in Zbrush, using the ZModeler. The ZModeler is a really powerful tool,  actually really close from a classic 3D modeling process, like in Maya, C4D, etc. 

The thing I love with this tool is to combine the ZModeler with the zBrush Dynamic Subdiv and polygroup selection. You can work with 20 Million polys without to worry about the subdivision Level.

For the shoes, I start to make a rough base in really low poly, to have a base to work with. Apply a crease and activate the Dynamic Subdiv. I build all the shoe without leaving the dynamic subdivision. 

When the shoes are done, I just apply the dynamic subdiv, and get a few levels of subdivision, from a nice low poly to a clean high, without losing any information.

Then you ready to make UV’s, add extra details, sculpt, etc. 

Texturing Workflow

Baking Map in Substance Painter

My Substance Painter workflow is simple, I work with the subdivision level from ZBrush. Most of the time I import a low/medium poly element and bake my map directly in Substance Painter from the highest level of subdivision.

For this project, I import lots of files in high subdivision, because of no real-time project, so the baking just extracts some detail and AO/Thickness/Curvature maps. This step is important, I work a lot with these baked maps, create a mask with curvature or thickness map can really change the overall look, and are helpful during all the project.

Texturing Process

Red Leather Texture process

Skin Texture process

For the skin texture, I use a layering process, to a basic yellow base color with multiple layers of red color, using the baked map from substance painter. There are many ways to achieve a Skin texture, this way is just a start & for a torso, you can add more layers, for a face, you will need more color layer, like blue or different yellow & red variation.

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Adding stitches in Substance Painter

Hair Creation

Placing Guides

Was really cool to work on X-Gen for this project, it’s my first grooming experience! 

Before start placing my hair guides, I take a few reference pictures. And got a base mesh done in ZBrush, to have better control on the overall shape. Placing hair guides is quite challenging here, Tifa is a girl with really long hair, took me a few days and a lot of reboots to get the shape I want. I split the x-gen collection to have control on every part of the hair, and have the possibility to change the width of some description without changing the overall hair.

After I finish to place the guides, I paint all the density mask and set the width, the CV count and all the stuff before starting to play with the modifiers.

X-gen modifier: Clump Modifier, Noise Modifier, Stray Noise Modifier 

Actually, the best part of grooming is to start sculpting the hair curves with the x-gen modifiers. I decide to make 4 clumping layers & 2 noise layer for Tifa’s hair.

Why 4 clumping layers? 

Each clumping layer has a different influence on the hair strands, most of the time, the Clumping 1 shape the overall hair. With this layer, you have a base to work with. The other clumping layers help to get the shape I want on each part of the hair strands. On each clumping layer, I set up a noise modifier. This noise modifier is the ”key” to get a realistic feeling, it randomizes the hair placement and gives a more natural flow.

If you want to learn more about the x-gen workflow, I highly recommend you to check this websiteThese tutorials give me the main key to achieve my first groom. 

Clumping Modifier

Noise & Stray Noise Modifier

After making the clumping modifiers, I set up a basic noise modifier, with a small value. It will break the totally straight feeling on the hair curves. The last layer of noise comes with a stray noise expression.

This stray noise will add a nice realistic effect of little hair going outside the main shape.

Material Setup & Rendering with Redshift for Maya

Shading group & SSS Material in Redshift for Maya.

For the material setup, nothing crazy, just the maps from substance painter with some fix values node. All the materials are set up in Roughness/Metallic. in BRDF: GGX. 

For the SSS, I use basic settings, nothing crazy, too. First Layer is in a dark yellow & 2nd & 3rd layers in red. The most tricky part sometimes is the radius scale, for this project,  I was in a right scale, so the radius stays as 1.

Redshift render Settings in Maya

Dylan Kowalski, 3D artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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