The Guilded Knight: Ghibli-Inspired Texturing and Animation Workflow

Konstantin Chulanov and Andrey Azarov did a breakdown of their joint project, The Guilded Knight, discussed their modeling workflow in ZBrush, texturing process in Substance Painter, and talked about animation and rigging in Maya

Introduction and Career

Konstantin: What’s up, dudes! My name is Konstantin and I have been a 3D artist for almost 8 years. Before I became a character artist, I did completely different things. I will tell you a short background so that you understand me better. After college, I built houses, laid asphalt, and even helped build a Golf course, very artistic, isn't it? But I always wanted to do something more creative, so I went to study film directing. Watch 10,000 movies - DONE. Make your own movie - NONE. I was then about 23 years old, with no prospects, and most importantly goals.

Having got a simple job as a technical support specialist, since I had a lot of free time at work, I began to degrade viewing social networks and YouTube. Sad story. BUT one day, sitting on a chair in the office, I was struck by lightning. I asked the question: what I like to do – play games, not bad! Should I start making games?! This idea stuck in my head.

After 2 weeks, I got to the first experimental course on game graphics at the Scream School. Thanks to my mom for supporting my endeavors! The beginning of my career was in Saber Interactive on major projects. Working at RJ Games, I learned the truth of creating houses for mobile games, since 2017, I began trying myself as a character artist, and in 2019, I went into stylization. Worked on Fortnite at Keos Masons Studio.

Now In 2020, I am mainly engaged in my studies and personal projects. Here you can see what else I do. By the way, I'm free for a job. Here we go…

Andrey Azarov: Hello there. My name is Andrey Azarov. I have been a 3D animator for 5 years. During this time, I have worked on the following projects:

  • Dungeon brawlers
  • Virus
  • Dakota
  • IT Territory Studio ( Group)
  • Juggernaut wars
  • Empires of Dead

I am currently working at 1C Online Games on the project Kings Bounty 2. My tasks include creating rigs and keyframe animation of non-anthropomorphic or partially anthropomorphic creatures.
 I started to get into animation while working at RJ Games. At that time I was working as a modeler, but there was an opportunity to try myself in animation, which I took advantage of, more and more realizing that this is exactly what I want to do in the future.

Inspiration for the Project  

Konstantin: A trip to the artillery festival 2019 and meeting with friends and former colleagues really motivated me. I literally remembered again that forgotten feeling why I do all this 3D. I needed an ambitious project because I never made characters for a portfolio, I didn't even have an Artstation page. Since I was a big fan of Qiu Fang, the choice was obvious. Why Gilded Knight? These are paired characters, which means it was doubly interesting to show their connection. Also, find a balance between fantasy and futurism of forgotten technologies. I really like it when a character has an animation, so I called my friend for a joint project. The main goal was to jump above your head, of course.

Modeling a Boy

Konstantin: We decided to split some tasks. A friend helped me make a boy simple dummy, while I was working on the Golem. I do not think that I will reveal some secret, first, we make a character blockout. In my opinion, ZBrush is best suited for this. First, I sculpt the approximate shape of the body proportions, the shape of the face, and then the clothes. I love it when all the elements of the costume are already present on the model.

If you don't feel confident, try to spend more time at the blocking stage, this is one of the most important things. Try to make an interesting silhouette, make sure that the model looks good in different angles, and the elements of the costume are combined with each other.

When I feel that the quality of blocking suits me (usually, this is a very draft sculpture), I start with the details and polishing. The idea of the cannon shield came to me already in the process of working, it was very interesting to design a combined transformer weapon. Yes, so that it harmoniously oozes with a character from the same universe. At that time, I didn't know how to use Zmodeler yet, so I made a shield in 3Ds Max.

The clothing design also had to be partially modified. The design of the mantle with straps turned out to be quite complex, first of all, I thought about how to make the model comfortable to animate. The hair in separate strands did not fit the style well, so I used Chibi figurines for references. At the highpoly stage, I was inspired by the works of the wonderful DINSAI Studio, these guys are incredible.

Creating the Robot 

Konstantin: I applied the same approach to the robot as to the kid. I had to play with the shapes, find a balance between the mechanical elements. In some places, I moved away from the concept in favor of simplifying the design thinking about rig and animation. Immediately, you need to determine the detail of the smallest element, as well as the thickness of the edge on the details. The most interesting thing was to create a hand design, to find grace and at the same time power. Hands are not the easiest thing to do. I wanted to create a functioning mechanism.

After blocking, I threw the model in 3ds Max. Some elements were sculpted, but almost everything else I modeled under the subdiv, using the golem blockout as a guide. It took a huge amount of time, that time I was still skeptical of Zmodeler. After that, I threw the model back into ZBrush and did some damage.


Konstantin: Retopology and UV were a little meditative rest for me: time for podcasts and youtube videos. Character polycount was dependent on his stylization look. A few obvious tricks - it is possible to keep the UV islands parallel to the character (for example, a tube deployed at 45 degrees will give noticeable artifacts), sometimes, it makes sense to leave free space if you suddenly have to add some small elements later, give a little more space for the head (since the face is the area of attention), give even more space for the eyes as the most attractive point.

These aren't characters for the game, so I didn't really care about the UV density. I don't really like to jump from one program to another if you can complete the necessary tasks in one place, so retopology and UV were done using internal Max tools.


Konstantin: I'm not the best storyteller about the technical part because most of my projects are based on inner feeling. I textured in Substance Painter, this software has almost everything. The goal was to achieve a very simple texture, at first it was so, but later it became a little more complicated. Make a small imitation of hand-paint without drawing manually.

Almost all of my recent work is based on pastel & aquarelle colors, I have no idea how I came to this, perhaps, influenced by the Ghibli studio and old Japanese animation. I have never used palettes or other coloristic programs. My base color is super simple, mostly gradients. I tried to make the characters look good from a distance, even if they only have a Diffuse channel. Roughness is essentially reconfigured layers from Base color. I applied the Blur Slope filter almost everywhere.

There are no secrets, just analyze the screenshots. I posted my model on Sketchfab so that you can examine textures in detail. If you have any questions, I will answer them in the comments under the work at the Artstation.


Andrey: For rig and animation, I prefer Autodesk Maya. Most rig elements of The Gilded Knight characters were made based on the methods and practices of my colleague and teacher Pavel Barnev. For more detailed information, on creating and working with them, you may visit his channel.

I use a simple custom rig in my pipeline and try not to overload it with unnecessary elements. The video shows skeletons and rigs for The Gilded Knight characters.

The skeleton contains 146 bones. It took about 16 hours to rig and skin the character. 

Boy Character Rig Elements

Boy character skeleton consists of 102 bones, 24 of them are used for his face.


I prefer the FK for the spine rig with the independent rotation of the pelvis, chest, and head.

This type of rig is more convenient for me and allows me to get natural spine turns without much difficulty.

Stretching of the Arms and Legs

The rig has the ability for stretching the arms and legs, as well as to correct the elbows and knees.


The feet are controlled by a standard set of controls.

Hand’s Rig

I don't use IK/FK switches. Instead, I prefer a hybrid system. The shoulder is controlled by FK control, the IK and elbow controls are in its hierarchy. (Boy_hand.gif). For transferring the IK control (or any other control) to the world space or to the space of any other object I use the special scripts for recalculating the animation.  


For the face rig, I used constraints and driven keys. There are no blendshapes.

Golem Character Rig Elements

Golem's skeleton consists of 37 bones. The most difficult part about the Golem’s rig is his hand. It consists of many elements, controlled by constraints and driven keys.


Andrey: When I prepare for animation, I try to focus on the concept, its idea and mood. Then we discuss it with the colleagues, to find out the style of animation. At this stage, I usually have a general idea of ​​how the character will move and what it will do.  

Then there is a draft sketch and a search for the dynamics. When the draft is finished, I can start adding the details. I start with the correction of the center of mass when I work with weight and balance. It is mostly the pelvis. It is worth noting that the poses I found at the draft stage may not be final. Poses and animation may change in the process, new accents and elements can be added.  

One of the most important parts of my pipeline is animation layers. It is a powerful and flexible tool that I highly recommend, especially if you are a game animator. I use them from drafting to the final polishing. It took about 20 hours to animate the characters.


Konstantin: For the presentation, I chose Marmoset. The lighting in the scene is very simple. A pair of Omni and Spot for accents. One main direct for sunset look, as well as one direct I used as Rim light. I simply sketched HDR in photoshop and it turned out something strange. In any case, it works as I need. Set very small values for Sharpen, Bloom, Vignette, Grain. Put up a barely hidden fog, it may not even be visible. I've used GI and Local reflections, but most of the time I haven't. In this style, the simpler - the better. The idea to add a cell shade contour came at the very last moment, and in combination with such textures, everything fell into place.

Biggest Challenges

Konstantin: The most difficult thing for me was most likely to come up with a design, transfer the illustration to the game universe. Just like the Golem's hands, I had to sit, take time, and figure out how I'm gonna do this. For beginners, I would advise you to work on your artistic taste, expand the visual library in your head. Analyze other people's work and notice their strengths and weaknesses. Monitor your health so if you do not exercise the time will come when your back will suffer. Think critically and stay positive, we are all just students.

Konstantin Chulanov, 3D Artist and Andrey Azarov, Animator

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

Join discussion

Comments 0

    You might also like

    We need your consent

    We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more