Digital Artist and Game Developer José Tijerín has told us about the character creation process behind his upcoming visual novel Dear Althea and explained why Reallusion's Character Creator was picked as a go-to tool.
Hello, my name is José Tijerín and I live in Spain. I studied at the Escuela Superior de Dibujo Profesional de Madrid and I specialized in comic drawing. When I finished my studies I tried several times to work in the comic world, but unfortunately, it didn't work out except for some webcomics.
However, in the meantime, I learned how to model and render in 3D, with this knowledge I started to do Matte Painting. Thanks to this I was able to do several freelance works for small companies and individuals. Some years ago I started to learn how to create videogames and nowadays I'm developing videogames in 3D and using Matte Painting techniques. In a few months, I'm going to release my latest videogame on Steam thanks to Reallusion programs, the project is called Dear Althea and you can add it to your wishlist. You can also find me on ArtStation, Instagram, or see my work on itch.io.
From Comics to 3D Art
It's no secret that more and more comic authors are using 3D models to facilitate and speed up the creation of vignettes. When I first started learning the art of cartooning it was a bit rarer and frowned upon; it was mostly used for cars and cities. I started using 3D models in Clipstudio, but soon I had the need to generate my own models. I realized how much time this saved me and little by little I substituted drawing for 3D to the point where I was able to render the vignettes directly and then draw on top of them.
Choosing the Character Creator
Before I knew that Reallusion's Character Creator existed, I had been looking for a program that would provide me with a basis for creating characters for a long time. Like everyone else, I started with Fuse, but a large number of limitations made me look for another program that would also allow me to model the character and apply the clothes to several different characters in order to create large crowds of people (something very tedious to draw).
When I discovered Character Creator I realized that I no longer had to model from scratch, I no longer had to rig the body and face of each character. In short, this program allowed me to save days of work and that's what made me choose it.
When you ask someone about visual novels, they usually reply that they are boring and not very interactive. This is because there aren't many visual novels that let you really interact with the story and in the end, you can spend hours reading the text without anything changing on-screen. I'm not saying that there aren't good visual novels, but since it's not a genre in demand, the big studios don't spend money on these productions, which creates an interesting gap in the market.
When I started creating this kind of video game, my intention was to bring the dynamism and the art of the graphic novels that I liked so much to videogames; that's why I sometimes mention that I make visual graphic novels, because the image that appears on screen has a narrative function and, therefore, it changes according to the situation as if it were a comic book.
When creating a new character I take personality into account when working on facial features. In the case like mine, where the characters are more cartoonish, having the basic concepts of creating a character is very important that the character's personality is reflected in the most visual aspect; his clothes, his haircut, his look... everything is crucial when generating a character and before I start with the 3D model I usually spend a lot of time to detail the main character's details in several sketches (although I may have inherited the latter from the comic).
Once I have several sketches with the character really detailed I modify a character in the Character Creator to make it anatomically match my character and then I take it to ZBrush to outline it. Then I create the facial texture and finally I make the clothes.
The main feature of Character Creator is undoubtedly its flexibility. Being able to completely model the face and complexion of a character makes that, despite using a tool that many use, your character is unique. Their tools are also very easy to learn and open new possibilities; in my case, I'm learning to use Unreal Engine 5 to make my next project (which will have animation) entirely within Character Creator, iClone, and Unreal Engine. Although, obviously, I will continue to rely on the typical essential programs with which character creator and Icone are compatible such as ZBrush, Substance 3D Painter, or Maya.
As long as they are human characters, Character Creator gives you the flexibility you need to create your characters. You can see for example my cartoon characters for sale in the Reallusion shop or you can visit my Instagram. I get bored quickly and whenever I start a new project I change my style radically, this is not a problem with Reallusion tools. If there are any limitations it's usually on my part, so I never stop learning anatomy, composition, and new programs. I dream of having a graphic result like the modern Disney princesses or the Arcane series, but I don't think I'll ever reach that level of supreme excellence, but the artistic result I get is just what I need to be able to tell the stories I want to tell.
Many people make the mistake that their main characters don't differentiate well from each other, this can be solved if you select a different color palette for each character or if you get them to "move" or express themselves differently, however, a good character design would have to be graphically so distinct that you could distinguish the characters (however realistic they were) just by their silhouette.
I've seen that people often jump into ZBrush without being clear about the graphic style of the project or the situations the character has lived through. As I said before, Reallusion tools are very flexible and allow us to experiment. Before we start modeling the characters, we can experiment with different graphic finishes, shapes, and finishes. Once we have a striking result we can start modeling and check the result as a whole.
Generating a 3D character until it became a fully functional character took me about a week. As you can imagine this was hell when you had to make hundreds of characters to fill a street and you ended up taking the character you already had and changing the colors and clothes. With Character Creator, you only spend as much time as you want to spend on it, you can even add hairstyle or clothes to your character from the library that the program already has.
The hairstyle of a character is fundamental and many people end up leaving the character bald or with a generic hairstyle that ends up detracting a lot from the overall result. It is always tedious and complicated to generate a hairstyle and if, as is my case in my Dear Althea videogame, the hairstyle responds to a historical period it can be even more complicated. Generating a cartoon hairstyle simplifies the process and allows you to control the volume in a better way, I recommend you to try it because carving the hair is a more natural way of working.
I know people who barely know how to work with 3D programs, to these people I tell them to forget about Maya and ZBrush; they should download Unreal Engine and open their Metahuman page in the browser. If you have played a video game you will quickly master the creation of characters and you will be able to move without problems in the world of Unreal.
It is only a matter of time before you want to create your own personalized characters and for that Character Creator is perfect, because with little knowledge you can have results that can satisfactorily solve personal or work-related jobs. It is difficult not to end up spending hours and hours customizing our characters and putting them in various sets of clothes to see how they would look.