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3D artist Rodrigo A. Branco shared some valuable lessons he learned during the production of his new real-time character – Huntress.
Hi there! My name is Rodrigo, I’m from Brazil. I started to dig into 3D art in around 2009-2010 back when I was working with VFX but I was part of a matte painting and editing crew. Today I’m working on collectibles and for the last 3 years, I’ve been personally focusing on CG characters. I remember when my friend showed me ZBrush for the first time. I was instantly hooked and started to search for CG character artists. That time I realized it was the thing that I wanted to do.
First of all, I love the Order: 1886 and Bloodborne. I’m in love with their rich atmosphere, designs, and story, and I thought it would be cool to merge them all into one character. The funny thing is that I started to work on that after an awful likeness project which was a complete failure. This time I was using the head as a base and then gathered tons of references about both games and props from movies, cosplay and LARP images. I also gradually made clothing with the help of a lot of great people who helped me through the concept formation.
Character Production: First Steps
The first step was to make the body. I sculpted over a base mesh and then loaded the mesh into Marvelous Designer to make the first blockout of clothing. I faced a lot of ups and downs before I figured it out and had to turn back to ZBrush to get the sculpt core started. Following the refs, I made the coat, legs, boots and belt shapes. My next step was the head. After wandering around different shapes, I chose a scan from T24 3D Scan Store, designed the albedo over the sculpt and kept on sculpting and refining it. Following the texturing XYZ Killer workflow, I put the displacement maps over it and finished by manually adding pores and skin imperfections.
Creation of the Face and Hair
The face was challenging because I wanted to give my character emotions. I tried out a lot of blend shapes layers with different expressions. At first, I thought about the kind of pose the character could have in case of a certain emotion. I cycled through anger and scream and decided to mix them into one. After that, I moved on to adding other details such as a mouth, teeth, and eyes. Hair was also a big challenge, I was never able to make hair work properly in real-time. I had to spend a lot of time on that since I wanted it to be well placed. It took me hours of adding hair cards and checking the position of different strands. I have used XGen for my previous projects but this time it was a cinematic VFX workflow that I wanted to bring into a real-time scene keeping the quality I got before.
Adam Skutt and Ashley Sparling‘s texture tutorials helped me a lot with understanding the right path of shading and getting the realism I was hoping to get. Adding a hat was not in my plans but some friends thought it could be a cool addition to her image, so using ZBrush I added the hat and adjusted hair. Then I realized that was a total badassery.
The character’s clothing had lots of layers that I had to thoroughly combine with each other. I divided my work between 4 UDIM UVs and Maya (Maya was mostly used for the head retopology). I decided to use fabric materials for most of the parts with some leather detailing. As I went on with this project, the clothes of the character shifted to a sleeveless leather trench coat. She had a look of a 17/18th century and the leather gave me more room to simulate realism. This also made me think about creating a mesh with decent topology. I spent a lot of time adjusting things before auto rigging it to have the base posing and then moved everything with transpose in ZBrush.
Making the Props
Forming the props was the funniest part of all my work. I have an absolute love for Gothic ornament designs, especially from the 18th century. Those floral details were a mix of hand sculpt and alpha projections. The sawed-off shotgun was the first modeled prop, then the sword (that’s a direct tribute to Bloodborne) and the pistol. All of them were made in ZBrush using ZModeler and 3D Snapshot, UVs were made in Maya.
The pistol didn’t have a magazine clip, I took a repeater and added it to make it look like a Steampunk auto pistol. I wanted to add a supernatural aspect to the weapon. Carved details were the best way to add this vibe. I’m some sort of addicted to these details, so you can be sure to expect more of this in my next projects.
The pedestal was also very important since it was directly connected to the character. First I attempted following a lava rock style but it wasn’t matching with the character’s style so I redesigned a pillar/pool so that a stair was coming out of it. Then again I jumped into detailing and checked a lot of architecture references to build the pattern.
Working with materials is like eating candies. It is so easy to go crazy and add tons of layers. Once I realized that it can make things heavy for both files and the amount of information in the whole concept, I started to balance these 2 things imagining a limit for each of them.
Almost all organic parts were made in Mari as well as lots of hand-painted details on the face, but most of them were made using Substance Painter. All textures were in 4K. I made lighting tests to check how everything looked. The weapons, clothing, and pedestal had differently distressed parts. The weapons had to have a used, greasy/dusty look, while the clothing had to look worn but not so much. Leather contained most of that information. The pedestal mostly looked the same as some parts of the armor plate but I had to add blood on it, paint some splatters and add gradient layers between grease/blood and dust over it. The specular and metallic channels get the main differences when working that way.
The biggest challenge for this project was to keep focus, discipline, and inspiration. If not my friends, people at Glauco Longui and Wipelãndia discord channels I wouldn’t be able to finish my work. Nyllo and Bernardo didn’t let me drop the project on those days when I thought I was not able to finish. These guys helped me every day giving feedbacks and cheering me up. This kind of things makes you keep going and staying focused because sometimes you can get tired of the idea or want to rush things over. But in the end, I can tell that this time was worth it.
Rodrigo A. Branco, Freelance Character 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
Ornament Brushes/Alphas Vol.1 by Jonas Ronnegard is an Ornament alpha/brush set for ZBrush, Substance Painter, Quixel DDO, NDO and more. There are 55 brushes and height/alpha maps, all 2048×2048 16bit in Tiff, Jpeg, PSD, Photoshop ABR brushes, as well as ZBrush Brushes.