Tales da Rocha did a breakdown of his project Glutton talking about sculpting in ZBrush, retopology and UVs, texturing, and preparing renders in Eevee and UE4.
Hi there! My name is Tales da Rocha and right now I'm a character artist working at PUGA studios here in Brazil. I have a bachelor's degree in graphic design in Unesp (Sao Paulo State University) but to be quite honest I've worked most of my life as a graphic designer and I've been exclusively working for 3D in the past 2 and a half years. I can say that 3D was a hobby more than work for a long time, but now I am lucky enough to make this passion my full-time job. I did some gigs for miniatures sculpting and even some character modeling for games in smaller studios. I just got a full-time job at PUGA studios, but before that, I was working mostly as a freelance artist.
I can say that I had no pretensions when I started this model. I and other friends used to meet every Wednesday in Revolution art school here in Curitiba to spend the afternoon and evening modeling/sculpting and chit-chatting. Most of the projects done during those meetings were quick models or challenges. One Wednesday, I decided to take a look at one of my favorite artists Bjorn Hurri and stumbled upon his Dark Fantasy vol.9 sketches, – and that first character got me. I felt an urge to bring that character to 3D. After that, I spent some weeks just working on the character at my Wednesday’s meetings.
In the beginning, I didn't know if it was going to be a real-time character, a 3D print piece, or an illustration so I was more worried to get the shapes right. As the character was developing I decided to take a real-time approach to it, and that's important because the way I sculpt changes depending on the final medium; real-time characters need different sculpt solutions than characters for 3D printing.
In general, I can say that my sculpt pipeline orbits around sculptris pro, I use multi-resolution sculpting just for the later parts of my process and barely use dynamesh at all. And as it wasn't a professional project and I didn't have a strict deadline, I went back and forth a lot of times fixing almost every part of the process, no rush at all. The props and drapery were all done directly in modeling. The ghost arms were made using Z-spheres because it felt the most straightforward process for me.
I try to keep my sculpt process somehow simple so I don't get crazy with brushes and alphas. I use mostly clay tubes, damStandard, move, and lots of SnakeHook – nothing fancy.
A good tip for the sculpting process is to take a lot of screenshots of your model, paste it in Photoshop, use some liquify and brush just to sketch over, and find a solution faster than sculpting all the way.
Retopology & UVs
I was aiming to have somewhere between 100 to 150 tris total in the final character. The retopology was all done using the Retopoflow plugin for Blender. Finishing the body retopology, I found out that I only had 10K triangles and I was far away from my budget so I decided to use a subdivision modifier to refine the silhouette and keep some contrast between shapes inside the character.
For the ghost arms, I’ve decided to keep it in a really low-poly count because I imagined it as instances that could appear in large numbers on the screen, some sort of spawned minions of the Glutton.
For the maps and the UVs, I was really worried about performance so I thought about making everything as modular as possible. I separated UV shells by how they were supposed to be used and some more technical aspects of it. I tried to imagine a full game pipeline and make it easy to detach some textures that could be used in other pieces of the game, and also separated the sets based on their PBR composition. In the end, I've got:
- 4k texture for the body
- 4k texture for the clothes
- 1k texture for the hairs and slimes
- 4k texture for some props that could be broken in: 2k texture for the grave and 2k texture for the weapon
- 4 x 1k texture variations for the skulls
- 2k texture for the ghost arms/silverware/the small crucifixes
My unwrap process is very simple, I used the standard tools that come with Blender, and by the end of the process, I used some plugins to check the textel density and placement of the shells. In the end, it was just trying to squeeze every pixel in a meaningful way inside a shell.
For organic models, I tend to start with polypaint in ZBrush as a base which I will bake together with all the other maps inside Marmoset Toolbag. After that, I export all the maps to Substance Painter and start the texturing process.
Inside Substance Painter, I try to keep my process as non-destructive as possible, so I use a lot of masks and generators and it's really unusual for me to directly paint on a layer, just to correct small problems.
For the skin material, I took the ZBrush polypaint and added a tongue material (that already comes with SP) and I tweak every single option of it. Then I add a SSS map controlling the places where to have more SSS and where I want to keep the normal detail crispier.
I use that as a canvas for the next part, where I try to understand the character and make his material help to tell his story. I’ve put some really small dried bloodstain on him, to give the sensation of someone who had a blood feast a long time ago, some mold because I imagined him as a creature living in a wet environment, some dirt to bring some more contrast to his cavities and give the sensation of something disgusting.
The backbone of my texture process is to use solid fills and masks, this gives me the freedom to easily change colors and properties and blend between different kinds of layers.
I really love to think about how the materials tell us a story. Combine, mix, and play with them so the surfaces can help the character tell who he is and where he came from.
For the render, I decided to use both Eevee and Unreal Engine 4 to learn more about the differences between these real-time rendering engines. As I was developing the scene in both engines at the same time I could feel how light works and how the engine interprets the shaders. I never aimed to have the same result in both, but to use the best features of each one.
Final scene in Blender/UE4:
For lighting, I always start with an almost black scene and add the lights one by one. First, I created the main light, just to get the mood of the scene, after that the rim lights to help the character pop from the background and bring some attention to his silhouette (a good point to bring is: don't be afraid to create a light just to have that small specular in one point, those details make all the difference in the end). Finally, I added a green area light coming from the ground to give that trash horror movie feeling.
One important thing about lighting is the balance between shadows and bright areas. Don't be afraid to leave some really dark areas, they add more volume and drama to your piece.
Coming to the camera positioning I played safe and used the third rules when I wanted to give a scene focus and centralized subject when moving the focus to the character. For the main shot, I put the camera near the ground level to make the viewer feel smaller than the creature.
For the post-processing, I didn't want to have any post FX outside the engine, and in this case, I felt that Unreal Engine delivers a more robust solution than Eevee.
For the glowing arms, I used a quite simple technique: I used a fresnel/facing node as a transparency mask for an emission shader combined with normal maps. This combined with a smooth bloom post effect brings that phantasmagoric feeling to the arm. I could easily make it in Blender and then replicate the same logic inside Unreal.
I think that a secret for a good composition is to make every element talk to each other. I make sure that everything speaks the same language. This character has tension and fear so I used high contrast lighting and a lower camera to make the viewer feel smaller and powerless in front of him. I think that a golden rule is to let your reason guide your emotions because your feelings are going to say if you succeed or not when doing something dramatic.
The Glutton was more of a journey than a finish line. In every situation that I had a chance to take the extra mile, I did it, and looking backward I can see that all those small extra miles made all the difference in the project. The main challenge in big projects like this is to keep your focus and to know that even the smallest (and boring) things have the reason to be there, so organize yourself and keep the things clear in your head. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, embrace them, and accept it as a learning lesson. I went back and forth a lot of times on that project and I was okay with that. Don't be afraid to do the same on personal projects.
A character that stands out is a result of a process that stands out.
Tales da Rocha, Character Artist
Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev