Augusto Ribeiro E Silva gave a small talk about the production of his recent character Dealer and advised on how to work quickly on 3D concepts.
Recently, I've been focusing a lot on developing a pipeline that would facilitate my 3D creation process, so that I can end up creating concepts already in 3D from the beginning and get a photorealistic result very quickly.
With my current workflow, I can create a character like this one from scratch in a day or so, and since I switched from Keyshot to Octane, my render times are way faster.
The main idea of this project was to develop a drug dealer who stole a special arm that the government or private securities use as some sort of a "bodyguard arm" that protects whoever is using it. So he's kind of an outlaw that got one of these very technologically advanced arms illegally and sells drugs while it watches his back.
I used CAD software (Fusion 360) for developing the eyes, then I exported the mesh in .stl format to ZBrush, used ZRemesher and added some hand-drawn details, sometimes using alphas and sometimes sculpting directly onto the mesh. For clothing, I used primarily Marvelous Designer. I sometimes combine clothing I'm developing with clothing I've done in the past, so I basically almost never start from scratch. If it's possible, I also purchase clothing models online and use them in my projects, but in this case, I started from scratch. Later, I exported it into ZBrush and turned it into a solid object so I have fewer subtools. That facilitates my creation process, especially when applying materials with Octane since all the clothing turns into a single object.
For the textures, I still used insects as inspiration and utilized a website called Microsculpture, which has insects that you can zoom in to see the tiniest details. Basically, I got my textures from nature itself. Then, I generated specular maps using that texture and a normal map that simulates regular fabric, getting the specular reflexions combined with 3D bumps from the normal map. I always try to make my textures as "other-worldly" as possible, so looking at nature is the right answer for me.
I also focused a lot on the reflective yellow part of the clothing with the sci-fi vibes since it contrasts black natural-looking fabric and takes away the need for more than 2-3 materials.
Advice for Character Concept Artists
One of the skills which I think are important today for developing a character quickly is a good sense of anatomy. If you lack it things won't work out properly, your clothing might look weird and the overall design becomes uninteresting. Another important thing is to sculpt only what needs to be shown. Don't focus on useless stuff that no one will notice!
I learned anatomy traditionally using clay. I know that a lot of Brazilian artists end up learning it from people like Alex Oliver or Rafa Souza who have exceptional anatomy knowledge and sculpting skills. Another thing I recommend is to purchase alphas and other things from people who already created what you need to avoid starting from scratch every time. That is crucial for having a quick pipeline of a concept artist. Remember that you need to think as a concept artist, not a 3D modeler. These are two completely different paths, and most people end up confusing them which generates extra work that isn't needed at all. If you want to be a concept artist, there are 3D modeling stages that you'll have to ignore in order to be more efficient.