Striving for Realism with 3D Characters

Striving for Realism with 3D Characters

Nhat Anh from Vietnam discussed the production process behind ‘Lady in Hanbok’ project.

‘Lady in Hanbok’ by Nhat Anh is an excellent example of 3D realism. A young artist from Vietnam shared some tips and tricks on the production of high-quality characters with beautiful dresses. 


My name is Nhat Anh, I’m currently 20 years old and live in Hanoi, Vietnam. I have had a passion for CGI ever since I saw what one of my friend was doing (if he is reading this, thank you man), and I started learning 3D through online lessons on the internet, since CGI industry in my country is not that well developed, there is no suitable CG school for me to join. I’ve not worked for any company yet, currently I am working with a group of friends, who have passion for making visual FX films.

Lady in Hanbok

I think the most important element when it comes to making a photorealistic character is the eyes, it can decide whether your character is living or not.

Actually, the “Lady in Hanbok” is a ripped-off project I took from a bigger project, the final production probably using another costume, more casual one. The final product will feature some facial animation.

The main idea behind this project is a training for me to get better at what I’m doing. And the ultimate goal is to help improve CGI industry in my country.

The inspiration for “Lady in Hanbok” came from an artist named Seung Min Kim that I like very much, you can check his works on Artstation or Naver blog, it’s amazing. And the inspiration of the overall project was actually came from a Japan dual artists, Telyuka, as most of people in and outside the industry know their latest work, Saya, it’s incredible.


For the body creation I used a free full body scan found on the internet to have an accurate human body scale and, tweaked it here and there to have a more proper asian female body scale then retopologized it for animation-friendly topology. This workflow works very fast and effective for me when it comes to body creation.

​If you want to make something realistic and believable, you must ground it to the reality. The same goes to her face, I asked one of my friend’s friend to be the reference for this character, lips, eyes,etc. It all comes from her, so that the viewers could totally believe the character could exist in real world somewhere.

I used Maya built-in plugin X-Gen to generate hair. The challenges here I think is how to make the hair look as randomized and imperfect as possible, for that I used multiple descriptions of X-Gen to have more control over the hair generation.

For the skin shader at first I used Vray Skin Mtl, you could see all its required maps in Mari viewport, but then I switched to Vray Fast SSS because it is simpler to handle and the result is as great as Vray Skin Mtl.

The skin shading production began with texturing first, for this I used Mari because it’s a high-end texturing software which is very effective to work with (especially when it comes to organic texturing), I can easily project all the skin information. I took photos from real skin of my, again, friend’s friend. I strongly recommend you guys to find a reference and take skin texture information from them, it will give an extreme boost of realism to the product.

​After I finished all the maps I plugged them to their belonged slot in Vray Fast SSS, except for the specular and gloss map. The reason for this is that Vray Fast SSS’s Specular Layer lacks control. Instead I used a Vray Blend Mtl with additive mode on (called Shellac in 3ds Max) and plughed all the spec maps in coats layers.

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All the fabric was created via Marvelous Designer. First, I studied the look of Hanbok via Pinterest and some other sites first, to collect information about its sewing pattern, texture pattern, accessories. Then I start working in MD to create the meshes, and Photoshop for textures.

The same goes to those Norigae – grab some design on Pinterest and remodel it in Maya by creating many CVs and extrude them with a rotated X/Y axis cylinder. For the tails I used X-Gen.

With all my knowledge and experience so far, my advice when it comes to creating photorealistic characters is to ground them to reality as much as possible, from building meshes to texturing. Do some research, go outside (or go online) to find suitable references. You should keep in mind your creativity must be guided by what happens in reality.

Use an HDRI for ambient light, since it will provide a lot of reflection information to your scene, especially when it comes to materials with high reflection, like the eyes.

One more important thing to help you boost your final image quality and your production effectiveness is using render layers and compose them together in Nuke or After Effects, etc. It gives you a lot of control over your images, and help enhance lighting, color, etc. Here is my layers network.

Nhat Anh Tran, 3D artist

Interview conducted by Artyom Sergeev

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