Jean Zoudi recreated the main character from Love, Death & Robots's episode The Witness in 3D and shared the workflow for it.
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Hey! My name is Jean Zoudi, I’m a French 3D character artist. I’m 24 and I graduated from a 3D school in Strasbourg 2 years ago. I have been working in the indie game studio “Neuronality” since my last year at school. We’re currently working on an unannounced project. I also work as a freelance character artist in my spare time.
I’ve loved video games since I was a child and later cinema and art became an important part of my life. One day I ended up telling myself that I could do this for a living and started studying art and then 3D. It quickly became a passion and I was eager for learning more and more. A few years later I realized that characters were the part of 3D production I liked the most and I decided to focus on it only.
Personal projects are an opportunity for me to try and learn new things and upgrade my workflow. I’ve worked on several pre-rendered characters but lately, I decided to work on real-time characters only.
The Witness (Love Death + Robots Fanart): About the Project
I was searching for a new project to work on, and I wanted it to be a human character with a full design already existing to focus only on 3D. I also wanted to learn more about real-time hair and lastly, I didn’t want it to take more than a month (in my spare time).
While searching, I came across Alberto Mielgo’s work somewhere on my Pinterest and I immediately knew I wanted to work on one of his concepts. I remembered how much I loved E03 of Love Death + Robots “The Witness”, and thought that I could approach this character in a different way, without all the (awesome) artistic/painterly effects in the TV show, just the incredible design of “The Girl”.
Start of the Work
Before getting into ZBrush and starting sculpting, I took some time to watch the episode a few times and take as many screenshots as I could, along with other references that would come in handy later. I assembled everything in PureRef.
Sculpting the Head and Body
I always start by working on a low poly model. This time I used a basemesh, split the head and the body, and began working on the big shapes to get the proportions right. Once I’m happy with it, I subdivide and work on smaller parts, and so on.
Anatomy is really something I enjoy working on. I think it’s fascinating to recreate organic in 3D, and I’m happy to get a little better at it each time.
I mostly rely on common anatomy references but I like the “Anatomy for Sculptors” book, a lot of artists recommend it and they’re definitely right about it! Moreover, I also really like using 3D character matcap renders, they emphasize the muscles and structure of the body which sometimes make them easier to read I think.
For face details, I used texturing XYZ as a base following this workflow that works great! With the displacement applied to layers, I slowly started to correct the baking errors with a lot of morph targets. After that, it’s really just applying skin details with some custom brushes and by hand with Dam standard mainly. I broke the symmetry in a layer so I can tweak it later if needed.
I also created a very (very) basic hair blockout with dynamesh because hair does change a lot the perception of the face.
In Maya, I added fingernails, tearlines, eyelashes, and small additional parts.
I usually use Marvelous Designer to create clothes, but this time I figured that I wouldn’t really need it since her outfit is very simple and tight. That’s why I simply extracted the clothes from the body using the “Extract” tool in ZBrush, then Zremeshed it and sculpted the wrinkles.
I also added some pieces in Maya, like the rings in the collar, the earrings, the knot on her back, the boots which I modeled from a cube, or the glasses and lipstick I modeled later.
Texturing in Substance Painter
After importing everything in Maya, I unwrapped the model and split it into three main UV sets: Head, Body, and Clothes/Accessories.
Then, I moved on to the baking part. I always use Substance Painter for the baking even if it’s not perfect, it gives me good results pretty fast. I just needed to fix some artifacts on the mesh maps before getting started. I began working on the head skin with the texturing XYZ albedo I Zwrapped earlier. From there, I added layers with roughness and color variations, noise, red, blue, and yellow tones, veins, spots, etc. On top of that, I applied a cavity map I baked in ZBrush with the Multi-Map exporter and used it as a mask to get more contrast and appeal in the skin. Curvature is useful for this as well.
Then I began the make-up part, it’s just some simple colored layers with different roughness and metallic information. I also added some glitter on the eyelids with noise-filled masks.
I roughly painted a haircap that would be useful later for haircards.
The body is basically the same skin material I copy-pasted and tweaked a lot, I just added some tanning marks and details. I used the collar to mask the dissociation of the head and the body so it was easier to get the transition right in the textures.
I created the tattoos the same way I did with the make-up, a masked folder with colored and glitter layers, then I painted with my pen tablet using the pressure option on. I tried to match the overall tattoo design but I had to improvise on some parts.
Finally, for the outfit, I tried to build simple yet interesting materials. I needed the clothes to look fairly new, so I couldn’t add details by wearing the materials too much. For example, I added a slight textile pattern in the height to make it more detailed in close-ups while keeping the vinyl look.
Look-dev and Haircards
When I got all my main textures exported, I started the “look-dev” part to see how skin and clothes render out in Marmoset and began setting up the shaders and basic lighting. At this point, I just went back and forth between Marmoset and Substance Painter to re-export textures as many times as needed until I got nice looking textures. I also created black and white textures based on thickness for the skin to use as Translucency in the SSS.
Rendering the Witness
After a whole lot of changes and tweaks on many aspects, the character started rendering as I wanted, so I could start working on the lighting and presentation. First, I went back to ZBrush to create a pose using the Transpose Master, I wanted it to be neutral but still reminding the TV show. That’s why I took inspiration from the introduction scene where the character puts lipstick on.
With the pose done, I imported it back in Marmoset and created the lighting. I like it to be as simple as possible, so it consists of a white spotlight above the character, a blue-ish directional rim light, and a pink fill light on the side to add color.
The environment is “Tokyo Takeshita” Marmoset HDRI with low brightness just to get some nice reflections and slight ambient lighting.
I didn’t use a lot of post-production in Marmoset aside from some bloom and DoF, however, I color corrected a bit, added a vignette, and some particles in Photoshop.
The main challenge here was to get kind of a likeness and try to re-interpret such a unique style in a more “realistic” way, without losing too much of what makes the design so amazing. Sculpting, texturing, and rendering the face was tedious and challenging. It also was the most complicated haircut I made with haircards and I can’t wait to do more! I learned a lot working on this character and I think my workflow got more efficient as well, I managed to do it in a bit less than 4 weeks.
I’m so happy with the feedback I got on this project, especially from artists I’ve been following for a long time and who are a big inspiration for me!
Thanks a lot for reading, and a big thanks to 80 level for asking me to do this interview, I’m a huge fan of the platform!