Colleen Peck Larson told us about the work process behind the Frollo project, explained how his face and outfit were sculpted, and shared cool tips and tutorials for beginner Character Artists.
Hey everyone! My name is Colleen Peck Larson and I’m a 3D Character Artist at PlayStation Studios in San Diego, CA. I’ve been in the industry for about six years as a 3D character artist after getting my BFA in illustration from San Jose State University. Most recently I had the opportunity to work on The Last of Us Part II, and I’m looking forward to sharing the other things I’ve been working on at PlayStation.
Art has been ingrained in my life for as long as I can remember, and I intended to be a 2D artist until I began using ZBrush for a college class in 2015. That totally sparked a new interest in me and when I graduated in 2016, I completely switched my focus to a career in 3D character art. I absolutely love the craft and always look forward to learning new things.
Inspiration and References
The Hunchback of Notre Dame has always been one of my favorite Disney films. It sparked my interest in cathedrals, medieval time period and that entire aesthetic, so it was very fun to dive into this project. I began this project during a mentorship program with Glauco Longhi and Raf Grassetti in 2018. I learned a great deal from them and leveraged that knowledge as well as what I’ve learned in my career so far to create this project.
I have a big passion for classical art, sculpture, and history, so I drew a large portion of inspiration from the old masters like Rembrandt, Bernini, Van Dyck and historical sources as well as many games and movies. My intention with this project was to redesign Frollo in a more realistic/historically accurate way, but maintain some echoes of the original design. Initially, I had begun doing only a bust, but decided to redo the entire lower body later on in order to get a bit more dynamism and life into the pose.
Head and Hands
Basically from the start, I had in mind Peter Capaldi to inhabit the role of my Frollo. It was my first attempt at creating a likeness, which was a huge undertaking, but under the tutelage of Raf Grassetti and Glauco Longhi, I learned a great deal.
For likeness, it’s important to gather references of your subject, ideally at the same age, with similar focal lengths, and from different angles lined up as closely as possible. A good way to do this is to find an event/premiere/photoshoot of the actor, to get multiple shots from the same day.
In order to check your proportions, a really helpful method is to use ZAppLink camera angles in ZBrush combined with the see-through function to match the angle of your head in the viewport with different reference photos. This sometimes creates weird-looking results, so it needs to be balanced with relying on your own perception of what feels right.
For a more in-depth look at this process, check out Frank Tzeng’s Gumroad tutorial on sculpting likeness.
Tackling pore detail was a new process for me. Initially, I had tried using some alphas for the pores but wasn’t super happy with the result, so I went through the process of using TexturingXYZ’s multi-channel faces to get matching pore detail and color. Additionally, I learned the process of transferring 3Dscanstore pore detail to my sculpt, which required some customizing and toning down using morph targets and layers. I also did a significant amount of hand-sculpting of wrinkles and pores to finishing out the process.
I used a similar process with the hands. I began with the standard base body that comes with ZBrush, sculpted the primary, secondary, and some tertiary forms myself, and added the last detail with the 3Dscanstore transfer method. I mostly finished out the hands in a neutral pose first, then posed them using the classic method of masking with poly groups and transposing in ZBrush. The final step was to sculpt some custom folds in the skin for the posed version and bake new maps.
For texturing of the head and hands, I decided to use the 3Dscanstore color map as a base. I love using 3Dscanstore’s assets as the color and pore detail match perfectly and they’re very high quality.
I could do a whole article on texturing a head in Substance 3D Painter, but the basics are: keep in mind the color zones of the face. Add reds/purples/greens to certain areas. Add a cool layer for stubble. Add extras like capillaries and veins. And I like to add a layer with the cavity map in the color channel set to multiply or overlay and lower opacity to bring out the cavities. Additionally, a convexity layer is set to color dodge or screen to bring out the high areas.
This was my first time going through the process of making hair for a character using XGen from start to finish. Before I started, I took a bit of time to create a photo bash on top of an existing render so I could get an idea of my direction. It’s really valuable to make your own concepts throughout the character art process even if they are rough.
It was very important to me to maintain a very intimidating silhouette for him, and his design took a few different forms. Initially, I was going to make him into a clergyman as he is in the books, but over time I opted for the more ominous look of the judge robes. I was able to get ideas from historical paintings/drawings and from reenactment communities as well as movies and games. Eventually, I settled on the black/gold/purple color scheme and created a rough concept for myself as well as a callout sheet to keep in mind the materials.
Ultimately I decided to blur the lines of historical accuracy for the sake of appeal and achieving the look I was going for. Originally I had planned on doing a bust, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with that, so I decided to simulate and sculpt the clothing in a posed state since I knew this character would be a show piece rather than a game character. My MD patterns ended up looking very simple but were achieved with a lot of trial and error.
There is not much to say about the actual sculpting of the cloth that hasn’t already been said in other tutorials, and Outgang has a few tutorials on the subject.
For the embroidery, I went about it old school. I found a damask pattern online and cropped it square so it would tile. Then I loaded it onto a plane within ZBrush and drew on all the strands by hand using the Curve Tube Snap brush. I don’t really recommend this method and if I had to do it again, I’d just learn Substance 3D Designer. After the fibers were drawn onto the plane, I filled them with white and the plane with black.
This became my ID mask for Substance Painter. I then exported the plane as my high poly and the plane/fibers combo as my high poly. I then baked that in SP and added a few different color layers along with some overlaid AO. Then I exported my maps and tiled these textures over the surface of the coat within Marmoset.
I’d never really made props before, so I was excited about the challenge since I am quite interested in prop art. I used a mix of Maya and ZBrush to create each asset. I didn’t have a particular method other than mostly starting from primitives and using Curve Tube brushes for some embellishments. For the texturing in Substance 3D Painter, I made sure to give the assets enough wear and tear to make them feel used and a little old. I wanted to give the impression that the finery had a hint of rotten quality to it, just like Frollo himself. This was my first time using anchor points in Substance 3D Painter, and it really proved to be a powerful tool.
My software of choice for retopo and UVs was Maya. It’s what I first learned and what I still use at work, so I find it pretty fast and somewhat relaxing. As you can see from the image below, I made sure to keep the topology of the clothing and organic forms as clean as possible. However, most of the assets ended up decimated for the final render. Although I wanted to render this character in real-time, I also wanted to remove any limitations from myself that I work under on a daily basis in game art. Having clean topology really helps with sculpting and laying out UVs in an ideal way for using tiling detail maps as I did with a lot of the clothing.
Marmoset Toolbag 4 is a very powerful real-time rendering platform that I really enjoy using. I began by gathering some lighting references that interested me from shows and movies. That made it a lot easier to hit the mood I wanted to achieve.
My lighting setup went through a lot of iterations, but through a great deal of trial and error, I ended up with a result I am pretty happy with. It was a challenge to get a moody atmosphere while also attracting attention to the correct areas and making sure that the costume was not too dark.
There was not much post-processing involved other than some minor brightness and saturation adjustments. The additional lighting scenes were a fun experiment to try and achieve a certain look with far fewer lights and a much more simple setup.
I think in terms of rendering, the difference between realistic and stylized characters is not too far; I believe the big difference is the proportions of the character as well as how it is sculpted. Physically accurate rendering requires the character’s color maps to be without any lighting information, however, I like to put a little bit in to punch up the look. The eye and skin shaders were set up as follows:
I began this project in 2018 and am just finishing it in 2022. It’s a long time to work on a project, however, I did take a significant period of time off from personal art after starting my job at PlayStation. Once I returned to the project in 2019, I decided to take the approach of chipping away until it is finished. This meant, working on it after work maybe 2-3 nights per week for 2-3 hours per night, and longer sometimes on weekends.
This allowed me to feel like I was moving forward but also take time for myself to recharge. I also would take longer periods of time away from the project if I was feeling burnt out, sometimes weeks or months at a time. I believe that unless you are hustling to get into the industry or get a better job, it’s not worth it to push yourself to your mental and physical limits. Art should be fun and if you are sacrificing your health to do it, it’s the wrong way to go about it in my opinion. It takes a huge amount of grit, determination, and passion to finish a large project and you’ve got to remember to cut yourself some slack.
I definitely wanted to give up at times, but I’m glad I kept working on it bit by bit and I learned a great deal completing this project. Among many things, the biggest thing I learned is to step away when you need to or find other ways to revamp your excitement for the project like listening to music, checking out more references, or heading to a museum for inspiration.
My biggest piece of advice for beginning Character Artists is to figure out what you are most passionate about, decide which studio you really want to work for and create a project for yourself within one of the studio’s IPs. Ideally, you could find a concept that is similar to the IP and work from that, which would simulate the process of being on production for both yourself and those looking at your portfolio.
I don’t advise re-creating an existing character because that has already been done and you are putting yourself at a big disadvantage. Show your individuality, stick to your craft, keep a constant hunger for learning, remain humble, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the people who inspire you.
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