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OPHILIA: Making a Realistic Warhammer 40000-Inspired 3D Character

3D Artist Mod Ratchata has shared a comprehensive breakdown explaining how OPHILIA, a realistic-looking digital character inspired by Warhammer 40000, was made with Maya, ZBrush, Substance 3D tools, and Unreal Engine.

Introduction

Hello there, I'm Mod Ratchata, a self-taught 3D Artist living in Thailand. My career dream is to become a great Character Artist. I started 3D with nearly zero knowledge and a lot of support from Sopon – a friend from the same university. Now he's working with a top 5 world-class VFX company.

Working all day – back to my place to do more on my personal project. My daily life went in a cycle for 3 years then I got a big opportunity to work with a Japanese game company – becoming a member of a small team building and support asset for the Final Fantasy 7 remake.

After gaining a lot of knowledge from a Japanese game company, I moved on to another startup company, but it wasn't really a good fit for me. I moved to M2 Animation, where I continued to work with my university friend (the person mentioned above) to help the team develop an animation project for Warhammer, but this time we used Unreal Engine to render it in real-time.


With superb teamwork, and sharp eyes from the show director, the outcome exceeded our expectations, and since we are so satisfied with them, we continue to work on Unreal projects. I temporarily relocated to a small games company in 2022, yet I soon became burned out and made the decision to return to M2 in 2023.

The OPHILIA Project

To get myself back on track, I decided to start with a character I quite wanted to get my hands on and create my very own version.

Building the proper armor is essential to finishing OPHILIA in the Warhammer world, where there is only war. I have chosen Argent Shroud for the design of OPHILIA. Argent Shroud is known for its lightning-fast assaults and maneuvering capabilities. I chose to go with light armor, blacked out the silver color for her color scheme.

Reaching at least 80% of this quality would be my success for the project, I will try every possibility to match the quality. 

Stopped myself from collecting references and sketched a fast drawing.

Key

  • Less bulky shape for armor.
  • Mid-level Sister of battle.

Blockout

F1, F2, F3 is my main focal point. The read should be in order when I quickly look at this character.

After I completed the first version of the character, F1 and F2 were still causing an issue they are fighting each, stealing the main focus.

I made a change and chose to go with this version.

I believe this is the most appropriate design to use for OPHILIA. All the iconic components are still present, lighter armor for quicker movement and the sphere bolt that can create an energy shield around her top body.

Many tales can be told when putting all the armor together, such as which order she belongs to and how long she has been a member of each Order. The character design for Warhammer is particularly challenging since the story is so compelling and the design language and form are so expressive of the originals.

Tip: Use a close/mid/far camera angle to check everything.

Face

Finding the proper cast is difficult, so I took inspiration from a variety of Pinterest images, stole the forms, and merged many portions to create the final face sculpt.

I decided to go with a rough-badass character with wolf-cut hair for the appearance, with ZBrush, I created this.

Aiming point: 90% realistic, more exaggerated on a specific part.

Tip: Start with a base model, Always using B&W to help you see better structure/forms.


Cleanup and Topology

Some parts may be quickly completed with ZRemesher, exported to Maya, then adjusted by hand. This saves time compared to manual retopology in Maya. I would say it depends, you can go manually if you like.

Unwrapping

All retopology and unwrapping are done by Maya, to have better texture management, you need to correctly unwrap it.

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Tip: Straightening UVs can give you better optimization and texture baking. Orienting your UVs shell to point in the same direction will help you go quicker in the surfacing process

With UE5 I can go crazy with UDIM counts, which gives me more resolution to work on the surfacing process. I will import these textures as a Virtual Texture (VT) in UE.

Surfacing

The whole surfacing process has been done by Substance 3D Painter, but we are dealing with tons of Udims which will be causing you a performance issue in Substance 3D.

I tried importing the whole body in the first working session, then I re-imported again with only the part that I'm working on, sharing the material, and continue to switch the re-import process.

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Working with a grey background will prevent you from too-dark Albedo Map, which affects lumens in UE5.

Color management is also a key to having correct tone/contrast in Substance 3D Viewport, I always working with OpenColorIO + rec709.

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With these settings, the contrast is better and more accurate to the UE viewport (UE = sRGB with ACES fake tone curve applied).

Tips:

  • Always do not start with painting mask/paint layers, I use IDs to help me separate materials and continue to work with "Fill layers" + a combination of "Generators".
  • Surface descriptions in words – this should help direct you to find a good-looking surface.

Using Substance 3D Designer to help create the maps is a huge game changer to enhance the details.

With simple nodes, you will have an emboss for Substance 3D Painter anchor point which is much faster than sculpting it in a high model.

Face

I separated the head file from the body, the map is not perfect, skin pores and detail were added in the ZBrush final sculpt within layers combined with Substance “SkinFace” material.

Export Textures

I’ve used basic Unreal Engine(packed) from Substance 3D and added more custom passes by modifying Substance 3D Painter export config.

Grooming

I am not a grooming expert, but even so, I must do it for this character anyway. Working with XGen core – setting up the project is a pain, using Interactive Groom is not yet my choice.

I choose to groom her to look mid-wet with oily clumped hair to make her look more grunge and not too clean.

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After everything is done, I converted XGen Core to interactive groom, I need it to install into the rig system and export the cache for UE5.

Export the Rig/Blendshape

I apologize for not knowing how to explain the rigging process, which was completed by Advanced Skeleton. I’ve carefully followed a video from AS YouTube.


It’s a very good tool to quickly rig your character. I recommend watching a few videos, then you can go rig your character! Very very amazing tool. I've exported my custom expression with Morph Target (blendshapes), simply export it by selecting the Deforming hierarchy, selecting all the Character geometry, and then exporting.

Export XGen .ABC File

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Export Animation

Select the Main deformation group with only face (blend shape) > Export.FBX with baked animation make sure to check the Deform-Belnd Shapes.

Checkpoint

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Skeletal Mesh Import

I recommended turning these things off, you will have a much more cleaner importing session. For “STATIC MESH”, I recommended importing with “combined mesh”.

You can try using these settings to help you correct the groom orientation.

LookDev in Unreal Engine

Unreal-related learning is exploding on YouTube. I'll try to avoid providing too much information by including a direct link to my source or instructions. From Checkpoint files. I did start importing my RIG as a skeletal mesh. Imported textures to the Textures folder in Virtual Textures (Udim) format. 

Enable VT in your project settings.

Skin Materials/Character Details

I've consumed the knowledge of Digital Human and reworked my custom shader to complete the skin. You can use MetaHuman shader if you like, for me it's too complicated and uncontrollable. To quickly work with your own character, if you’re very new to Unreal/Lookdev territory. I recommend starting simple – plug in the map into the correct slot if you need an extra FX for your material (subsurface, emission).

I’ve learned a lot from Ben Cloward, I am very thankful to him for sharing his knowledge, all the water fx all credits to him. Another shortcut to complete your character is here. This is by far the best tutorial for Character Artists I’ve watched for years.

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In the UE shader’s part, I personally love to work with modular sections. After completing the section adjustment, I use the node called “add name Reroute...”  to act like a warp gate. Connecting those warp gates together really help me organize and avoid the spaghetti graphs.

Combined Things Together

Skeletal mesh (Rig) character with animation in place. Set dressing with free assets from Megascans. FX and Rain were downloaded from the Unreal Engine Marketplace.

Tip: you can download the MetaHuman project from the UE Marketplace to see how they can set up good lighting and environment, or just replace the level with your character.

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Lighting

I've used 3 points of lighting set up to render, Key, Fill, Rim, and enhance all storm feeling by creating an FX light.

Tip: FX light intensity can be animated in the sequencer to fake the lighting exposure and interact with the environment.

Tip: Adding Feature/Content pack with “third person will give you a quick-fire particle”.

Playtime

This is the golden moment after everything's set up together. It’s like going mountain climbing and almost reaching the top.

Nothing’s perfect, take your time, have fun, and go back to improve things if you like.

Rendering

If you are new to UE, maybe this is the easiest way to show your work.

Quick render

Unreal simply grabbed a screenshot from your viewport and saves the image automatically by pressing "F9" You can go with immersive mode by F11 first then F9 to grab your still shot.

High-quality render

Pressing the button and go to high-quality screenshot, type in the multiplying number to increase the pixel density.

To quickly explain how I set up the scene and animation in Unreal, you need to read more here. Combined together, you will have a decent quality of the final render image sequence.


Final Touches

Using post-process to finalize the color and balance; this should be the simplest way to call it done, but I decided to go more with RESOLVE, it's a finishing salt before selling abroad.

You can replace the workflow with anything you like; for assistance with the base mesh and face textures, you can try the most recent update from MetaHuman mesh. This may be one of a thousand ways to finish your character.

As a small part of the overall industry landscape, I really can't offer newcomers any more specific advice than to respect others, learn from the best, pay attention to the process, and enjoy what you do.


Mod Ratchata, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Dimber Rushikesh

    Well Explained thanks, for this detailed breakdown.

    0

    Dimber Rushikesh

    ·11 months ago·

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