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Mohammad Asraf talked about his experience at Game Art Institute and the way he approaches character sculpting: anatomy, face, clothes.
Hello, my name is Mohammad Asraf, I’m a 3D Character Artist from Kathmandu, Nepal, and I’m currently working as a Freelance Character Artist for Keos Masons. I’ve been freelancing for them for almost a year now on an unannounced AAA project.
My journey into 3D arts started back at 2014 right after I finished my high school. I’ve always loved playing video games and wanted to pursue a career in game dev so I joined a private institute here in Kathmandu for a 2-year course in 3D animation and game development. At that time, there were no universities here that teach game development or 3D arts. It was all going really well until an earthquake hit Nepal on April 2015 and many of the buildings were destroyed during it. It was a difficult time for almost 6-8 months after the earthquake and when everything settled and everyone went back to there usual lives I found out that the institute building I went to had also been affected by the earthquake and all the courses conducted there were shut down. After that, I was lost and didn’t know what to do but I did not want to just leave my dream behind so I took a self-initiative to learn 3D on my own.
After almost a year and a half of self-studying, I came upon a video from Ryan Kingslien about a character artist course and decided to enroll in it. On April 2017, I joined the Character Artist Bootcamp taught by the awesome Ashley Sparling and Ryan Kingslien.
About Character Artist Bootcamp
The Character Artist Bootcamp for me was a life changer: it taught me a lot of new things and really sharpened and honed my skills. Up until then, I was only learning through YouTube and Google Search which didn’t allow me to get the answers to my questions immediately. The bootcamp with its live structure helped me in that aspect. We usually had 2 live classes in a week, but sometimes there were 3 if extra questions needed to be answered.
Through the bootcamp, I learned how to approach my character with the right mindset, how deadlines work, how to manage my time to complete my character and how the industry approaches character art in general. During it, I made the Knight character.
My approach to sculpting always starts with collecting tones of references even for the smallest things which would include anatomical diagrams, breakdowns, clothing references, etc. I also like to include artwork from other artists and old masters to see how they approach their forms and design. Never let your mind fill in the blanks and always try to find the appropriate reference related to the subject matter.
Then, I usually use a base mesh for the body and start blocking out the anatomy. This time, I started with Vincent Ménier’s basemesh you can get that here and used dynamesh to block out the clothing and accessories. Usually, this step is very iterative so the whole character is gradually changing. I post my WIPs online in FB groups and Discord Groups for feedback, so there are always small tweaks, fixes, and changes here and there until the character is finally ready.
My anatomy blockout process is nowadays similar to what Vladimir Minguillo does: you add in forms in a very basic shape, then gradually build upon them. Here’s Vladimir’s post where it is explained much better. I also add scans into my scene to compare anatomy more closely and especially to compare silhouette. I must emphasize how important it is to step back once in a while from you anatomy sculpts and check your silhouette I have a bad habit of focusing on a part for too long so I am slowly adapting to zooming out and checking stuff regularly. It’s especially important when it comes to female anatomy with very subtle curves and forms. Donna Urdinov has a great tutorial related to female anatomy, I suggest checking it out here.
Anatomy is a long learning process and I am no expert in it. When it comes to translating human anatomy accurately into 3D space, the most difficult part for me personally is how to translate volumes and forms seen in my references. That’s why I like to add in scans to help to review angles and forms that are sometimes hardly visible. I also like to learn the names of the muscles and their insertions and origins which helps me to accurately place them. I use a lot of ZBrush layers when blocking anatomy so if I do make a mistake or want to drastically change something I can always fall back and stay more efficient.
Sculpting face is similar to how I approach anatomy in general: first of all, collect a lot of references for the face you chose to sculpt. The more views from different angles you have, the better.
Face is also a very iterative process for me, as a lot of changes in structure and forms keep happening. To get a proper face that looks believable I would say one should focus on the structure of the skull first and slowly and gradually build forms on it. One thing that makes a face look more realistic and not generic is adding some asymmetrical features to the face as the human face is never perfectly symmetrical.
When it comes to clothing, I usually do a blockout with dynamesh. Sometimes if am confident enough I go directly into Marvelous Designer to start blocking out the clothing there.
In my workflow I try to get most out of my Marvelous Designer stage, then take the result into ZBrush and do cleanups of the general shape and volume fixes, add details like memory and seam folds, stitches, etc.. Again, I use a lot of ZBrush layers to be able to change anything.
I also don’t dwell on Marvelous Designer for too long. If I can’t get something like folds completely right, I would rather take the mesh into ZBrush and fix it there. If you do decide to manually sculpt folds, make sure to have good quaded out topology and avoid poles in general because they leave out pinches when you smooth them. If you are a 3ds Max user, here is a great tutorial by 3dgladiator for Marvelous to ZBrush workflow. If you use Maya, here’s another one by Olivier Couston. I use these tutorials to get some great topology after I am done with my Marvelous Designer stage and want to move to ZBrush.
When it then comes to manual sculpting of the folds, it’s all about the XYZ looking shapes, plane changes, and diamond shapes. It’s important to remember that clothing is not just tubes flowing over a cylinder but rather something that has a silhouette and plane changes. I use the inflate, standard brush with alpha 1, clay tubes, claybuild and flatten to sculpt my folds. Combing the XYZ shapes will give you a diamond shape. I always tend to bring the folds down to these simple forms and sometimes have a difficult time sculpting them. It’s a learning process where practice matters.
As I mentioned above, after I am satisfied with my major forms and shapes of the clothing, I move on to detailing my clothes – memory and seam folds an all those tiny details. That’s how I usually approach my cloth sculpting.
Overall, when building any 3D character there are many challenges which depend on one’s skill level. There is no way to avoid those challenges, only practice. I feel one can’t develop oneself if he/she always stays in the comfort zone so take on your challenges and on your weakness during every new project. When I just started, I had a lot of difficulties with anatomy and forms. I practiced those a lot and got decent enough results after all. With that, I learned that character art is not just sculpting or modeling, but also technical problem-solving. In the beginning, the technical parts like retopology, UVs, baking proper maps can be a challenge and but by research and practice you will overcome it. People often upload their Sketchfab and Marmoset files on ArtStation, and it’s a good source to analyze their topology and other things.
If you’re looking for a place to get feedback on your projects, you can join this awesome Discord server.