Sergei Kotenko has shared his working process behind the Ash from the Evil Dead project, gave a useful tip on what to do so that the eye would not get blurred, and discussed the texturing and lighting processes.
Hello everyone! My name is Sergei Kotenko, I'm a Character Artist from Ukraine. Initially, I was an engineer in the construction industry. The desire to engage in computer graphics prompted me to change my field of work. And after a lot of sending resumes with a portfolio and redoing test tasks, I got into the industry as an artist in an outsourcing studio. That was about 8 years ago and I was lucky enough to work on various projects in the gaming industry from Overwatch and Monster Hunter to several games in the Call of Duty series. The desire to focus on character creation pushed me to further self-improve. Now I am a character artist in one of the Ukrainian studios.
Inspiration and References
From a young age, the Evil Dead has made a great impression on me. More than 2 years ago, I was watching one of Ash's films and it inspired me to create this project. I wanted to convey my feelings about this character as well as I could. As a result, I reviewed all the films, and literally, every scene with the hero took screenshots as references. Later, I additionally collected references that would help me get the right feeling about the character.
Face and Hair
The most difficult stage for me is the head, I decided to do it first. The base for the starting point of the head was the usual sphere. Before that, I hadn't tried to do the likeness of someone and ran into a lot of problems. I had to constantly switch to something else so that the eye would not get blurred.
I saw some mistakes even on the almost finished model and I had to go back and fix them on the high poly model. I often used ZAppLink and switched between a photo of the actor and my model at the right angles for a more accurate match in proportion. It was also useful to export the model to the Marmoset Toolbag to see closer to the final lighting and camera perspective. In this project, I used scans as a basis for detailing the skin. Then I retouched some parts manually to get a result close to the original (scars, some wrinkles, and bumps on his skin).
I made the final skin textures in Substance 3D Painter, using data from the scan as a base. I tried to maximize the color spots, wreaths, etc. to get the required result. At the top, I added a low-intensity Cavity map. Also, I added dirt and scars. It is interesting that the actor had one of the scars in real life and the rest were added by make-up, I tried to replicate this effect.
As for the hair, I initially blocked the volume of the hair in ZBrush and further, it helped me. In this project, the hair is the usual planes. I created the base for the strands using XGen in Maya. But for a more subtle refinement, I used ZBrush, changing the position of individual hairs. Then I rendered the maps I needed in xNormal (Normal, Alpha, AO) and finalized the result in Photoshop.
For placing the strands, I used ZBrush and mainly Bend Curve, as I like the tools there more and it turned out to finish the job faster. I placed everything in accordance with the principle: first large strands, then additional ones that add volume, and then individual flyaway hairs. Then I added the eyelashes and eyebrows. In the end, I had to move everything a little to get the right shape and proportions.
For clothes, I also used references, but I decided to simplify my life a bit and not tear the shirt as much as in the films. I created the base of clothing in Marvelous Designer.
It was more than 2 years ago and then it seemed to me that the more folds I create there, the better the result is, but now I think this is to be true. I changed a lot during the finalization stage in ZBrush, significantly increased the detail, completely changed some folds, worked on the seams, etc.
As for the boomstick and chainsaw, I was more guided by personal preferences. Therefore, some elements in proportions and functionality have been changed. I modeled the base in Maya and then finalized the detailing in ZBrush. This will make it easier to work on the texture stage.
For retopology, I like to use TopoGun. I tried to make laces, buttons, etc. with separate elements for a more interesting result on the render. I wanted to show small elements of the chain itself to the chainsaw model and modeled them on low poly. I also additionally created a texture with fabric rips and placed planes with that texture to complement the places where I have rips on the high poly. I divided the UVs into pants and boots, a shirt, a chainsaw, a gun, a hand, and head. Also, for non-organic parts, I tried to keep the resolution of a pixel density as close as possible.
I think that textures are a very important part. They can ruin a good model and just as well help a weaker model to look more spectacular. Textures were made in Substance 3D Painter. I used similar principles for texturing clothes, a chainsaw, and a boomstick.
The main task for me was not just to put on the base material of the fabric, but to make it as diverse as possible in colors and shades, some of them are barely visible, but in general, they add life to the model. Not just add basic wear and tear, but try to think about where they are most likely to be and at the same time so that the viewer would see them. I also tried, whenever possible, to add small accents, like blood stains on a shirt or pants.
In the material, I set up Microfiber to convey the effect of the fabric.
I used a Height map to add detail to the model's silhouette. The result is not as significant, but it definitely adds detail.
I put less attention to props as they were not the most important element in this project. For the chainsaw, I made it feel old and added signs of use and dirt, but I tried not to overdo it and send it to the universe of a rusty apocalypse. As for the gun, here I also tried to look at the references of real weapons and transfer some of the elements I liked to my textures without abusing the dirt effects.
For the eyes, I made a separate sculpt to get the desired effect. The material has a parallax effect.
In general, the materials setup took quite a long period of time with fine editing of parameters and changes in the Roughness map.
Lighting and Rendering
I rendered the main shot in the Marmoset Toolbag. I think that lighting and presentation are one of the most important elements for the final image, and at the same time, it is one of my weakest skills. I tried several lighting setups with different lighting placements. In the end, I chose the best result. It uses several light sources and a box around the character. My main light source is a regular spotlight. In this case, the influence of Sky in the scene is very high, since I wanted to achieve atmospheric lighting, and individual sources helped to subtly influence the result.
For the general shot, I reduced the effect of Sky to a minimum. The main light source here is Omni Light from above. I also added glowing squares so that you can get a good glare in the eyes of the character.
I can say that for me, each character is a unique mystery that needs to be solved in order to get the most beneficial lighting. I usually start with the classic 3-point lighting system and experiment further to achieve mystery solving.
I started this project in the spring of 2020. Here I was able to practice in likeness, and also work closely with creating hair. I would like to redo many details, but I realize that this could turn into an eternal project then. I had to redo everything in ZBrush quite heavily and repeatedly, as when I returned to the project, I was less and less satisfied with the result.
So I can give the advice to beginners – if possible, do your personal projects as quickly as possible, do not plunge into a swamp, and redo everything 100 times. With a completely blurred eye, in the end, when you don’t understand whether the project looks good or it’s better to leave it in case of the questions like "What was the most unsuccessful thing you did?".
I am self-taught and can give more advice to beginners. Don't be afraid to ask questions from colleagues in the office if you don't know something. The diligent practice of sculpting after work and the constant requests for feedback from more experienced colleagues is what helped me become a character artist. I am well aware that there is still a lot to learn. This project helped me take my mind off the situation that is currently happening in my country. I often wanted to give up, but I'm glad that I was able to walk this path and finish the project. Thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions or are interested in my work, you can find me on ArtStation.
Sergei Kotenko, 3D Character Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie
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