Real-Time Character Production Tips And Tricks

Real-Time Character Production Tips And Tricks

Saurabh Jethani did a detailed breakdown of his 3D character, showing how he sculpted the face, did the hair and created the fantastic skin material.


Greetings everyone! My name is Saurabh Jethani I am a character artist for games (Student).

I am from Bhilai-3, a small town in India. I am just a guy who loves video games and the art of making characters for them. I try to make every new project of mine better than the last one.

I recently finished my one year course at Think Tank Training Centre.I haven’t worked on anything professional yet, but apart from some WIP sculps, Cute tiny robots who never saw the sunlight.  I’ve made two characters for my portfolio.


Yeah, so the project started as a weird sci-fi sheriff character which I can add to my portfolio. The concept had everything, I can ask for a good concept. Just not the face so after finishing my blockout I decided I want a good face for this project. 

For my high poly, I do everything inside Zbrush for me personally It is more fun and much faster.

For the face I started from the default Zbrush male base mesh, I could have started from a sphere but it takes extra time to get to a stage where base mesh already is and as a student saving time helps a lot. Plus the default one divides pretty well.

So I gather useful references and start working on it and keep working on it till it looks good to me, whilst changing stuff according to valuable feedback. After I am happy with my sculpt I send a decimated version over to Maya and retopo the face. I make sure to follow the anatomy with edge flow while keeping in mind the important edge loops for animation.  This helps the face deform well with blend shapes.

All that is left is to make UV’s, bake my information from high poly to my low poly. Texture it and get the shader working. If someone has a solid face sculpt and good bakes rest of the stuff gets really easy.

Combining realism with stylization

So the reason for him looking stylized is his primary shapes and exaggeration of few of those. The realism side of him comes from the secondary and tertiary details.

I just tried to use my anatomy knowledge and the references to make this character. One of my primary references was Nathan Drake from Uncharted 4, Naughty dog handles it really well the art of making stylized/realistic faces. If you mirror Nathan Drake’s face from the middle you can find he is pretty symmetric, His nose, jaw eyes being deformed a bit, some shape changes in places. Real-life human faces are deformed and generally less symmetrical.

So the trick to making a stylized/realistic character will be having a solid foundation of the face with exaggerated facial feature (by that I mean having a bit more pronounced plane changes in face, not too extreme), and less of asymmetry, and lastly keep a lookout for happy accidents this project had quite few which made me realize a bit stylized element might help the whole project.

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When I started the face I wanted to give him hair so I projected hair texture on his scalp which basically worked as a hair cap, but I decided to drop the idea and called it done …but changed my mind again and spent 3-4 days straight placing those evil hair cards.

I made my hair texture using Xgen and hand placed those cards in Maya. Getting the texture out is the easy part of making hair for games. It can also be done insider ZBrush by making strands, hand painting in photoshop, using real-life photos to turn into usable textures. Personally, I found XGen to work best for generating textures.

For placing those…. Huh… I wish I can tell you there is an easy way to do those ..but there isn’t, there are some plugins that do placing for you but the best result is achieved by hand-placing those cards. So I just try my best to not get fed up while placing them, listening to some good songs and crying helps sometimes.

But being serious here, hair cards are easier than you think, they just take some time to get used to. I know the empty scalp can be scary to look at but just start with one hair patch, make one more, one more, just one more and before you know it, you’ll have enough to work with and keep on making it look better.

When I place hair I like to think I am punching hair strands in a doll head. Placing the roots in place first and grooming the rest of it. Starting from hair patch closest to scalp first and building my way up.

One thing I like to do to make my life easier is grooming my hair cards while inside subdiv mode (pressing ‘3’ in Maya). Reason for that is I have a curvy flow that hairs have, I don’t have to add edges to achieve them, basically easier to groom them and see the final result much closer.

But that’s not the final result you ask me? Sweat not for that I have you covered.
After finishing the placements got to Modify>Convert>Smooth mesh preview to polygons.

You will have a dense geo now got to Mesh>Reduce (Change reduction method to triangle limit)
Enter your triangle count…Boom …. Final mesh with curves supporting your hair strands.

In some areas, you might have to go and manually add edges to get rid of zig-zag hairs. Even 10k worked fine for me on this project. Final output differs from project to project.

I hope these tricks help someone while making the hair cards.

Facial features

After finishing the sculpting phase I was happy with the shapes I had, I just work on them till I reach a point where I am happy with them or they are workable if I am running out of time. In this project the new thing I used were displacement maps. For a game head, proper alpha pores work pretty well but I just wanted to try the scan data from and they are great. They have all the necessary documents to using their displacement on their website. One thing I learned the hard way was not to go crazy by hand sculpting on top of those scan data. Cause the information is extracted from a real-life human and personally, I am not in a place where I can go and change something by hand which is a real-life thing. I can just use it to enhance my art. All I did after displacing the information was to add few imperfections like scar and moles. and pump up some of the secondary details as pore details were making them blurry. After this, I just bake my high poly information to low poly and start making my textures. There is no secret to getting something like this. I just projected my albedo, played with hue and saturation, hand painted a bit . after that I went and made my roughness map.

Every big change I did I made sure to see how it is turning out inside Marmoset, which was the render engine I decided to use this time. It was just a lot of back and forth, seeing what looks best under every lighting situation. The forehead was just made to look more oily by using a secondary reflection inside Marmoset. Which tightens the specular on the area where light is hitting it. So I kept low spec and higher gloss to achieve that look.


So for the scar, since they were the hero scars I handmade those by sculpting in my sculpt and texturing by hand. If I have to do dirt on his face, sweat or more secondary wounds I use Substance Painter for its procedurals and mask out the stuff which I don’t want. As I can see the changes in my normal, roughness and albedo at the same time there is no other better option for me. For dripping sweats, Substance has pretty good particle effects which give good dripping effect.


So for the skin, I constructed my shader as shown in character setup video from the people at Marmoset. The skin shader can be constructed using the same maps I used inside Unreal Engine. For the next face, I am planning to use Unreal as the skin shader inside it looks amazing. There were some experiments I had to, discovered new ways to improve skin.I am not saying that the skin I have for this project is the best games can achieve. There were certainly some mistakes on this face and unclear ideas on how to get this look or how to do some specific things. It’s just that, for this project, this is the furthest I learned about skin. For the next one I’ll learn more and update how I construct my shader, project after that I’ll update a bit more and keep on improving my art and shader. Same for games, the skin shader along with everything that is running inside it will improve and the way we see them and construct will change.

But for this project, this is how I constructed my shader. This is a breakdown I made but decided not to post it anywhere. Hope this helps anyone who is looking for skin shader. And hopefully, it also supports some of the questions asked in other questions.

This is basically how I constructed skin for this character. After making my shader works with every lighting situation I start lighting the face. Lighting is not my strongest point so I stay away from fancy lighting setup and try to stick with basic 3-point lighting.

For me the most interesting part of this project was the ending one, seeing all of your struggles and striving you did to get to this point serving its purpose is priceless. The skin is also a fascinating subject I’ll love to study more about it and keep on improving by using what I already know as a base.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview and I hope this helps anyone looking for skin shader and they have as fun as I had while making the skin.


Saurabh Jethani, Student

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 6

  • Clara L. Vegel Grady

    Thank you so much for sharing!


    Clara L. Vegel Grady

    ·a year ago·
  • Hamza Riaz

    Amazing work man


    Hamza Riaz

    ·a year ago·
  • Arpit singh

    Awesome work man


    Arpit singh

    ·2 years ago·
  • Deepak Sharma

    Thanks for share bro.


    Deepak Sharma

    ·2 years ago·
  • Ivan Kashubo

    Great !! ;)


    Ivan Kashubo

    ·2 years ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Nice Work man!


    Anonymous user

    ·2 years ago·

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Real-Time Character Production Tips And Tricks