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Texturing a Stylized Mr. Freeze Model With a New Texturing Workflow

Marco Vergantini discussed the production process behind the Mr. Freeze project, explaining how its painterly-like visual style was achieved with a brand-new texturing workflow, dubbed Painted Normal.

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My name is Marco Vergantini, a Senior Character Artist with a decade of experience in the game industry. I worked at Gameloft, and Frontier Developments, and am currently a Senior Character Artist at Roarty Digital. I started back in 2009 attending the European Institute of Design (IED) in Rome, my hometown. My proficiency is a result of the hands-on experience gained through my work, learning from every colleague I encountered throughout my journey, and most importantly, a lot of study and practice. Working on projects like Planet Zoo, Elite Dangerous, and Fortnite definitely helped a lot to develop my skill set.

Inspiration of the Mr. Freeze Project

Funny how I started, I was briefly showing a ZBrush workflow to a student on Discord, quickly sculpting a head from scratch. Then at the end of the call, I had a half-sculpted head that uncannily resembled Mr. Freeze. Perhaps it was influenced by the fact that, during the Christmas holidays, I spent a couple of sick days in bed, binge-watching the Batman animated series on Netflix.

When I work on fan art, usually my approach involves gathering references to study the key elements, digest them, and then make my own interpretation of the character. My goal was to make a quick "one-week" project.

About Painted Normal Series

Recently, I developed a new texturing workflow that I've dubbed Painted Normal. So far, I made several assets to test it. So far, I'm quite happy with it, but every model I make with it I add a new step or refine the workflow a bit more.

Mr. Freeze Workflow

Usually, my workflow is based on a few simple steps. Sculpt a blockout on ZBrush, then I make a quick retopology in Maya that allows me to work with clean PolyGroups in ZBrush. Then, that's when the proper high poly sculpts start. But, in this case, for the head and the armor, I've been sculpting a quite detailed blockout, and then ZRemesh it, making some topology fixes in Maya, and then starting the usual UVs/baking routine.

The Helmet was just a dome I made in Maya. My weapons of choice are 4 main brushes: Clay Buildup, Move, Dam Standard, and H-Polish. The likeness was quite simple. We're talking about a bald middle-aged man with red lens glasses, and I just wanted to make him a bit older than what he was supposed to look like. 

For the eyes, I took inspiration from Batou, a main character in Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell series. As I explained before, the armor is a detailed blockout that didn't need too fine details, and it was easily achievable with Move, H-Polish, and Dam Standard brushes.

I started the retopology in ZBrush with ZRemesher, and then I made my tweaks to the geometry and the UVs in Maya.


About the texturing, I aim for a classic PBR approach. Usually, I incorporate gradients to enhance model readability, especially when painting the Albedo. For instance, a blue area isn't merely a flat blue; instead, I introduce a gradient from dark blue at the bottom to a brighter blue with a slightly different hue. Additionally, I use a complementary color like pale yellow on top.

For the metal areas in the armor, I maintain consistent values for the metal and roughness channels, a senior material I used to work with used to say that in nature something is metallic or not, there is no halfway. Well, in this case, the strokes on the normal map are not super readable if the metal value is 1, so, I went for 0.8 for a much better result.

Unlike my previous 1.0 painted normal workflow, where I focused exclusively on the normal map and incorporated it into the engine once other Substance 3D Painter maps were ready, I introduced a new step here. I plugged the painted normal into Substance 3D Painter at the beginning of texturing, influencing the generators used throughout the process. This seemingly simple adjustment significantly improved the overall consistency of the outcome.

Concerning stroke effects, patience is the key. I recommend multiple iterations, each with different brush sizes, big strokes, medium strokes, and tiny strokes. Striving for perfection isn't the goal; instead, I mix all iterations into a single cohesive result. Personally, I prefer larger strokes on broader surfaces and smaller strokes in specific smaller areas.


The render was entirely made in the Marmoset Toolbag. I always go for a simple 3-point light system, adding maybe some small omni here and there to underline some areas, like the red eyes, and the bright core on the armor chest. 

I haven't used any post-effect and the output is straight from Marmoset. What you want to keep an eye on is the sharp camera parameter, which is quite important to show off the brushstrokes. Also, in the last Marmoset version, you'll find in the camera setting a new parameter named Clarity, which helps a lot with the painted normal but goes easy on it.

The whole model took me a week. The main challenge for me is always to set up a scene with lighting and shadows that truly showcase the character and its textures.

Advice to Beginning Character Artists

For newcomers, my recommendation is to repeat the entire process over and over again. The key is to become familiar with the workflow and understand how each artistic decision impacts the following steps.

In my opinion, crafting 10 small assets from start to finish holds greater importance than embarking on an overly ambitious project spanning three months or more and potentially draining all your energy.

Marco Vergantini, Senior Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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