Keith, I just wanted to stop by and say: Thank you.
Having side projects are important in progressing as an artist. http://rollingskygame.com/run-3
Amazing artist Tim Paauwe did a wonderful breakdown of his fiery character. He showed how he sculpted, textured and animated this amazing project.
My latest project, The Allure, was made for the contest, beyond human on Artstation.
My main goal was to start creating characters again, as this was always a dream of mine. I saw that Artstation was having a contest back in July 2017. It was the “beyond human” contest.
This was a fantastic way to force myself to get started again. The character I chose to do was the Allure by Khoa Việt. The reason why I picked this one is that it had some of the most difficult aspects, full body human anatomy, and fire hair. Who doesn’t want to make fire hair?
As the contest progressed. I decided to opt out of the contest as I wanted to explore all the other possibilities of character creation and learn as much along the way. This way I got the most out of the project at my own pace.
My main inspirations for the project were Overwatch and Heroes of the storm. However, it is good to look at other games, just not to limit yourself. To create more diversity, I created a style brief during the contest.
To get a good balance of shape it is important to look at the silhouette of the model but also how things flow. Do they have rhythm and good composition of details? A good rule of thumb for shapes is, Primary > secondary > tertiary shapes. I left most of the tertiary shapes out during the modeling stage for readability but put some back in during the texturing stage.
The most challenging parts were to have good anatomy, facial and overall. With stylized anatomy, it is key not to add every definition of a muscle. Go for the landmarks, simplify them and bring out their major shape is most important.
The dress was also a challenge as the concept did not provide a back view, I had to do a design of my own, which I like to do but for a contest maybe not the easiest thing to do.
Because of this, I ended up redesigning it a few times, changing the overall shape and silhouette.
With the final iteration, I’ve made the dress chunkier which is easier to read and gives me more opportunity to add in details during the texturing stage.
UVlayout is my main tool for creating UVs especially for more complex models like characters. It lets you draw the seams organically but the main feature for me is the UV packer.
UVLayout has a great packer that also lets you adjust the UV shells afterward. You can change their place, size etc. For other small assets, I use Maya.
For the texture, I started out in Photoshop. Creating the Albedo map with all the color gradients necessary. Getting everything correct here is important as these maps will be imported into Substance Painter. (This was before Substance Painter added the gradient tool into their package.)
Once the maps were all done I imported everything into painter and converting everything to the PBR standards. I used the roughness, metalness workflow. For Painter, I organized it into shaders. With this method, I can easily hide or unhide certain parts of the model. This makes it easier to paint on certain things into substance painter.
The caveat here is that, with this approach, I had to combine all the maps later into 1 for the game.
From here I did a lot of overpainting to create more variety into the albedo itself. For a stylized look, the Albedo map is the most important map. The roughness and metalness are there to enhance it to PBR standards.
To keep it as clean as possible I did not use any grunge maps for the roughness. The face was the most important thing for me to get right. Here I studied the skin colors in the face. As the character has bright red skin this was deceptively hard. Adding more red color will overburden all the other colors so a good balance has to be maintained.
Rig and Animation
To make the character come alive I rigged the character, not only to relearn or test my ability of rigging but more importantly, to make her come alive.
After the rig was done, the main question I had in mind was, how can I give her personality? Make her feel alive, as a person and not just a T-pose character.
Answering these questions, I created the idle animation and blend shapes. Here I convey how she would move in real life, how she feels and her expression, is she angry, happy or does she feel flirty etc.
With this in mind, I made an idle animation as if she would be floating, looking around and change her expression from flirty to somewhat surprised. The animation feels floaty and that is something you want to avoid in general. I used this to my advantage as the character is floating in the air. Also looking for shape language. The curves from certain limbs need to flow into the body and vice versa.
The facial rig is made the old school way, this is not the most flexible, but it is perfect for what I needed. No blendshapes made, everything is deformed by joints/bones. With this, I made several facial expressions.
The fire was very tricky for me to get right. My first plan was to create some form of simulation but as the hair is very curved and in 3D. This becomes very time consuming to simulate and render into a flipbook. Also, with simulations, it tends to look more realistic than stylized. I took a good look at Overwatch’s particles and they tend to be very sharp and overly cartoony.
Creating a sprite sheet in Photoshop for the hair and laying out alpha cards in Maya was the way to go. This was very time consuming but well worth it in the end as I had control over every fire shape that I put on my character. If I didn’t like it, scrap it and use another one on the sprite sheet.
I found out that Marmoset supports custom shaders, this was very helpful to create the fire effect I was after. The material is only panning in the Y direction and turning opacity off maintained the overall shape but panned the albedo in between the fire shape itself which created an awesome effect.
Just as important is the fire shader. It is very important to get the correct values and colors for the emissive shader. Set the opacity map to add rather than either as I want the fire shapes to overlap and create hot spots.
With the nature of opacity maps, I had to use a mesh underneath just to have all the fire shapes as visible as possible.
Very important was to use Marmoset Toolbag 3.0 as the custom shaders where not working in 3.2
The character has multiple stages of animation, either an idle animation or a static pose. I find it very useful to organize marmoset per pose or animation as much as possible.
With the lighting, I started off creating one lighting setup, for the idle pose. Having some directional lights and fill lights in place. As I started to have more poses and angles of the character in place I changed the organization to a camera per folder structure. I copied over the main lighting setup and named it accordingly, I kept the naming of the folder and the camera the same. The whole reason for this method is to maintain lighting consistency but also to be flexible if I had to tweak some lights for other shots. I.E color, strength or location of the lighting.
Thank you for taking the time to check out my progress! If you’re interested in seeing where I started, here is the beyond human contest thread, where the project was in very early stages.