Kevin Christian Muljadi shared the working process behind the Water Tribe Chief Katara project, detailed his sculpting workflow behind the character's face, head, body, and outfit, and gave advice on achieving a compelling final presentation for a project.
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My full name is Kevin Christian Muljadi. During my college years, I discovered my passion for traditional sculpting and thoroughly enjoyed studying ZBrush sculpting. However, at that time, I was unaware of my potential in 3D character sculpting.
In 2018, I started creating 3D characters when I was working at an animation studio in Indonesia while working as a concept artist. I became interested in developing my skills in the field of 3D because I felt I had potential there and I enjoyed creating 3D characters more than making concept art. Although at that time I was handling two jobs simultaneously at the studio, it was my own choice.
My previous experience in creating concept characters really helped me to understand anatomy when making 3D characters. After that, I also created my own portfolio to showcase a fan art 3D sculpt. I made "Pharah" from an Overwatch character illustration by David Ardinaryas Lojaya. David later mentioned my work on Instagram – I was pleasantly surprised by that and got quite a lot of likes back then. It really meant a lot to me and I began to continue building my portfolio on Instagram and Artstation.
In 2020, I embarked on an exciting journey as a 3D artist at Stairway Games, contributing to the development of the game called "Coral Island." It has been an incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling experience to be a part of this project, where I have had the opportunity to unleash my creativity and passion.
The Water Tribe Chief Katara Project
I started working on the Water Tribe Chief Katara project in early 2023, but due to being quite busy, I couldn't consistently work on the project all the time and there was a period of over a month when I had to pause it.
The reason behind creating Katara was that I wanted to start a new project at the beginning of 2023, and I found an amazing Avatar fan art concept created by Casper Hansen, also known as Zarory_CH. I really loved the illustration, especially the cool ice throne on which Katara was depicted sitting.
My workflow involved gathering various alternative references, such as official Nickelodeon illustrations of Katara and other fan art illustrations or 3D artwork to support the sculpting process. This allowed me to translate the concept into 3D more effectively.
Face and Hair
I started sculpting the head using a sphere shape and tried my best to capture the essence of Katara's face initially, although not in great detail or trying to achieve a perfect likeness. My usual workflow involves blocking out several body parts in their intended poses rather than starting from a T-pose model. Once I had partially created the body parts, I proceeded to add the eyeballs, eyebrows, and hair.
To create the hair, I utilized the Curve modifier, shaping the curve to follow Katara's illustration. This hair curve technique is helpful in speeding up my workflow, and I am grateful to YanSculpts for sharing this tip in their YouTube tutorial. To achieve a resemblance to the concept illustration, I overlayed Zarory's artwork onto my sculpt model and adjusted the overall pose to align with the concept's vision.
Body and Outfit
When creating the body and clothing, I don't really have any special techniques. I begin by blocking out the body parts and then use masking to extract a clothing mesh that I can sculpt into clothes. Most of the work is done through manual sculpting. For certain details, like the draped fabric around the waist, I start with a low poly shape and then switch to high poly sculpting using Blender's Dyntopo feature. I prefer to work in a pose, so I don't do retopology after sculpting is completed.
The process of adding fur can be challenging. I create individual fur shapes using the curve modifier and place them one by one on the clothing to achieve the desired furry effect. As for the leg armor, I use masking to extract a new mesh and sculpt it accordingly. I usually sculpt one side of the armor and then duplicate and modify it to fit the other leg, matching the illustration.
To create the throne chair, I start with a low poly version and then sculpt the edges to give it a more natural, ice-like appearance. I did the same with the crystal behind the throne.
Unwrapping for Texturing
I don't retopologize the sculpt after I finish the model but I add Subsurface Scattering, Roughness, and color diffuse with Blender Vertex Paint in sculpting mode. I do all of these entirely in Blender.
My main focus when texturing Katara was primarily on her face, which I found to be a crucial and challenging part. I made adjustments to give her lips a slightly more relaxed expression, avoiding stiffness. After applying the appropriate skin color, I worked on incorporating Subsurface Scattering (SSS), Roughness, and diffuse color to enhance the texturing.
For the tattoos on her hands and thighs, I created low poly meshes that followed the natural surface contours. These meshes underwent a single subdivision, followed by UV unwrapping and the application of textured designs using alpha channels.
Regarding her clothing and the ice elements, I utilized a comprehensive node shader that I learned from YouTube tutorials. Developing the ice shader presented its own set of challenges, requiring not only shader creation but also careful consideration of lighting setups to enhance the visual appeal of the ice. You can find a nice tutorial on ice shaders here.
I rendered the model using Blender Cycles, and for the lighting setup, I implemented multiple lighting setups to create an attractive focus on Katara's face. My intention was to establish a unique lighting arrangement that differed from the original illustration, as the face is typically the primary focal point in character design.
To achieve an engaging visual effect, I utilized volumetric lighting and incorporated overhead lighting gobos to add a touch of drama and prevent a flat appearance. I also developed an ice-like shader for the floor and added snow-shaped mesh elements to enhance visual interest. Furthermore, I strategically positioned additional lights behind the ice throne to avoid a transparent and dull look.
After finalizing the preferred lighting setups, I introduced snow or dust particle effects to further enhance the overall visual appeal.
In the final stage of post-production, I used Cryptomatte in Blender's compositing to create a mask for the Ice fish, resulting in a brighter appearance. Additionally, I made adjustments to the color grading and exposure to enhance the overall brightness of the image. To further improve the lighting, I incorporated light glare effects during the compositing process.
I'm not sure how much time I spent on this project because I don't really count the total hours of work. Maybe it took me about two months to figure it how to achieve the lighting I want because it was the hardest part for me and I'm not an expert in lighting but I do my best to achieve a good presentation. Rendering the video took me almost two weeks of almost non-stop rendering because I rendered it in 4K resolution.
My advice to beginning Character Artists would be to give your best effort when working on a project and avoid rushing to finish quickly. I often see artists who could have achieved better results, but their work appears hurried or lacks refinement in the final presentation. To me the final presentation is important as it can attract potential clients and make your portfolio more appealing, increasing your chances of finding job opportunities in the industry.
It's essential to realize that not everyone will be satisfied with your work, no matter how good it is. Therefore, welcome feedback from others and use it to improve your next project.
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