Setting Up Sea Creatures with ZBrush & UE4

Oscar Hallberg was kind enough to share a detailed breakdown of his character Vlod created with the help of ZBrush & UE4. 

Oscar Hallberg was kind enough to share a detailed breakdown of his character Vlod created with the help of ZBrush, Substance Painter & UE4.

My name is Oscar Hallberg and I am currently working my way through the first year of the 3D Graphics program at Future Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

I have been doing 3D for around 2.5 years with 1.5 of those focused on character art. I got into 3D-graphics through my previous projects as a music producer and immediately found myself spending more and more time with game art until I decided to pursue it full time, and that was probably the best decision I have made to date.

Looking forward I hope to improve my art as much as possible in time for our internships later this year.

Vlod – Harpooner of Sea Rok

This is Vlod, the humblest yet toughest harpooner of Sea Rok.

Based in the coastal town he works as one of the chief harpooners keeping the inhabitants safe from monsters and intruders. A slow brute on land but quick as an arrow in the water. Through his many years fighting beasts he has acquired a somewhat intimidating figure but the townspeople all know him as the cheerful food lover he has always been.

The idea to create the character came from me needing something to work on after school hours and ongoing talk about doing a collaboration with my really good friend Niklas Wallén, who also made the original concept I started from. The main goal for me was to get to do some anatomy sculpting, skin texturing in Substance Painter and surface detailing for clothing and armor directly in ZBrush.

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Sculpting and Anatomy

Anatomy was a bit tricky with this guy. I really wanted to capture the might and power of a 2.5m tall half-shark brute while making sure he didn’t feel like a blood-thirsty beast. All of this while also making it believable for him to be a mead drinking food guy without people raising their eyebrows when they hear it.

I know some people like to collect a whole bunch of references before they even begin sculpting, and that’s probably a good idea. Sadly I don’t do that too often, I like to just go in and see what I come up with and then look up references and make corrections as I go along. But when I did look for references for Vlod I looked at relaxed off-season Strongmen and 3D models of obese people. I think a big mistake people do when starting out with anatomy sculpting is looking at competition shots from bodybuilders and whatnot. This will only result in models that look really tense no matter how much posing you put into it.

Another thing to keep in mind that I think is really important when doing hybrids of different creatures, hammerhead shark and human in this case, is to not make it so that you just put a shark head on a human body or vice versa (Even though a human head on a shark body sounds pretty neat). What you want to go for is a natural blend. You are not creating a “Half man, Half Shark-Beast” but a new creature that has to feel believable on its own.

I always do a lot of test posing of the model as I progress to make sure that joint placement and forms will work as they should when it comes to rigging and animation. The easiest way to do this is to just do it in ZBrush, and if you have a lot of overlapping stuff like clothing och straps you could use transpose master to move everything at once.

The workflow I use for creating bodies is straight from Rafael Grassetti’s Anatomy Course, so I highly recommend checking it out if you are looking for a straight to the point approach to anatomy.

Clothing and Accessories

Marvelous Designer is starting to take more and more room in my creative process and this time I decided to use is to create the armor pieces aswell, since instead of placing all the plates manually in ZBrush I can just sew them on and use a super-rigid fabric and get some proper deformation from the underlying material at the same time. When imported to ZBrush, I just auto group everything and hide everything but the armor pieces. From there, I create a single polygroup for the plates and separate by a group, and then it’s just a matter of using zmodeler to extrude the thickness of the plate.

I wanted the hide used for the hip piece to look like it was from some crazy creature and not just regular leather. To achieve this I used a bunch of layers with various reptile-skin and leather alphas to slowly build up an interesting surface. Working with layers is really handy since it’s non-destructive, so if you are adding stuff you are not sure you want to keep later it’s always good to do them on a layer to be able to scrap it later if needed.

Skin Texturing

Here is a breakdown of how I created the skin texture:

1. Create a fill layer with the base color for the skin.

2. Create a new fill layer with a slightly darker value and add a “Baked Lightning”-filter. Set the blend mode to soft light and opacity to 50.

3. Create a fill layer with a slightly more pink-ish color, add a black mask and use one of the dirt brushes to paint some color breakup on your model. I would recommend playing around with the dirt brushes until you find a look you like.

4. Create a fill layer with a black mask. Put in 0.04 as the Height value and select an even darker value of the base color. Add a fill layer to the black mask and use “Gaussian Spots 2” as your grayscale and set the scale to 15. This will add the small pores going outwards. Depending on the look you are aiming at you might want to play around with a minus value for the height to get a different look.

5. Create a new fill layer (keep with me, almost done) and add a black mask. Select a color that is pointing into the direction of the second color and use the Dots Brush to paint so you get a mask similar to mine. Use very low opacity for this.

6. Now, for the final layer. Create a completely black layer and apply a black mask with a mask editor. In the mask editor, you want to put everything to 0 except curvature that we want at 1. This is meant to grab all the curvature information from your baked normals and add a darker value in the cavities of your model. Play around with the opacity until you like the look of it.

If everything is done correctly so far you should have something that looks like this, minus the scars:

To add the second color I just carefully painted with a low opacity standard round brush with all available randomizing settings turned all the way up until I was satisfied with the result. You can also play around with any of the masks I mentioned to see if you can add even more breakup and maybe find something really cool!

UE4 Presentation

In UE4 I don’t use anything crazy for materials except using the skin shading model for the body and plugging the base color as the subsurface color aswell as the base color. I also used the eye shader from the “Digital Human”-project from Epic Games.

Lightning was made in 5 stages:

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And if you are just starting out with character art or 3D in general and feel that its a bit overwhelming have a look at this and remember that this was my best work 1.5 years ago (I even used a base mesh for these):

Oscar Hallberg, Student at Future Games

Interview conducted by Artem Sergeev

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