Blair Armitage shows the production of her The ArtWar contest entry. To create the perfect look, she utilized the skin and hair shaders in Marmoset Toolbag 3.
I decided to take a break from in-house work for a while and ended up living in Tokyo for a year. I was able to do contribute to some really cool projects while working freelance such as Shardbound and Kingdom Death, and overall really enjoyed my time there traveling and working! This project was done in my own time for a contest over at Cubebrush. The ArtWar contest made me nostalgic for the huge game art competitions that used to run a few years ago and inspired me to start making characters, so I wanted to get involved with the community.
Oniko & Tama
The themes of the contest were Sci-fi or Fantasy. I prefer fantasy, but I wanted to do something slightly different than the typical western tropes. The deadline was quite tight for me, as sometimes my personal projects can go on for months as I can be too much of a perfectionist! Because of this I chose to do something more stylised than realistic, as I find these type of projects easier to complete on time. Being in Japan at the time, we used to go to this oni-themed ramen shop that had the kanabo clubs hanging everywhere, and I remember talking about wanting to make an oni girl character at some point; so I took the opportunity! Because of that shop I also wanted to get a cooking theme in there, so I knew I wanted her design to have some chef themed accessories such as the ladle and bucket of garlic. I looked at a lot of artists that embraced eastern aesthetics mixed with fantasy, such as Hyung-Tae Kim, who also does a great job of designing characters who have a lot of accessories and parts dangling from them, but still avoid looking bulky overall. I was able to visit a couple of events such as Wonderfest that really inspired me to improve my character posing, so I knew I wanted to make some kind of dynamic sculpt. I tried to mix these together and draw a loose concept that clearly communicated the influences without being overly cliche.
The proportions went through a lot of changes. She started out very tall, with an older looking face. I blocked out all the clothing and accessories so I could see the overall proportions of the entire character, not just focusing in on the body. When the shoes were added, I felt like her head was so small it wasn’t the focus of the image anymore. I was looking at a lot of Japanese figures and character designs for reference, and the heads are usually very large so that the facial features retain readability; I ended up making the head much bigger than within my usual comfort zone, and I think she looked cuter as a result. Even if the scene overall looks complex, I wanted each element to be minimal on detail and instead focus on appealing shapes. I kept having to enlarge and thicken things like the ribbons and bells, as my first instinct was to make them small and delicate, which didn’t work well as part of the overall aesthetic. For colour choice, the original concept was very bland, so I went with blue/green to compliment the red skin. I felt like my characters are usually very red/purple overall and I tend to stray away from using cool tones, so I tried to be aware of that and consciously take a risk on a colour scheme that was a little gaudy.
Adding that extra element to the mix like another character was something I hadn’t done before! I like games where you can have pets and companions such as MMOs, and I was also inspired by a lot of the fan courier designs for Dota 2. I knew I wanted to make a pig character because of the ramen theme, so at first it was just a matter of gathering a bunch of reference. I played with the idea of having him as giant, or really angry looking, but in the end I decided to leave the focus on the main character and keep him small. The accessories are really simple components that are gradually built up in a way that adds complexity but still leaves enough negative space for the design not to become busy.
I was really unsure about how I’d go through the texturing process. The method I used was a result of necessity, as I really wanted to pose the character at the highest res, but still have textures in the final image. Marmoset Toolbag 3 can handle a lot of geometry in a scene, so I ended up grouping all the meshes together that used the same material, and importing them one by one with ‘preserve polypaint’ checker during the decimation phase. I’m not familiar with setting up shaders for offline rendering, and I like the instant feedback of realtime shaders, so I was glad to be able to utilise the skin and hair shaders in Marmoset, especially the use of anisotropic specular for the hair. This was very simple and quick to set up, and I think it helps a lot in making that material read very quickly as hair, compared to the other shiny surfaces on the character. I was also able to use the additive alpha shader on her eye lens, and I created extra geometry in ZBrush for the corneas to get a nicely positioned highlight in her eyes. The overall process was just a matter of individually tuning the materials by eye, and the polypaint itself was mostly flat colours with some gradients, with albedo set to vertex colour in Marmoset. I tried to make sure there was enough contrast between glossy and matte materials, and I love incorporating metals as well as matte cloth on a character design to achieve this contrast.
I did end up having to UV the body, as I wanted to paint a specular map to control the specular level of the body compared to the face. This was the only thing I UV’d, as going through that process for every single element of the scene would have taken way too much time, and might have killed my motivation to finish! For the style I was aiming for, UVs weren’t very necessary as none of the elements have any micro detail or subtleties that go beyond what polypaint can deliver. At the earlier stages of the character I had a feeling that having too many materials would be a problem in the future, so I made sure to consistently use the same materials and colours throughout the scene to minimise the headache of setting up loads of materials and shaders. I think limiting your palette of materials also helps make the character feel more consistent and unified overall. Even though I was anxious about using this method at first, I’ll definitely be using it in future to present sculpts without having to worry about spending a lot of my personal time retopoing and UVing when I’d rather just be focusing on the art.
Blair Armitage, 3D Character Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.