Zane Devon gave a talk on his amazing Elk Ranger character project. He discussed the way he approached production, described the creation of the hood and revealed some other details. Take a look at the detailed breakdown.
I graduated from Ferris State University with my bachelor’s degree in Digital Animation & Game Design. However, my professional journey started while I was still a student, at an outsource studio called YETi CGI. While there I contributed to a variety or projects and clients such as Disney Interactive and Nickelodeon. In 2013 I decided that it was time to look for some new experiences, and I began working full time as a freelance 3d character artist. Recently I’ve been working with Mattel on their View-Master virtual reality experiences.
The Elk Ranger
The Elk Ranger was inspired by some images I stumbled across of Inuit people riding reindeer. The idea of an far north ranger type of character was stuck in my head after that. From the beginning I was interested in designing a character that felt like she could belong in a fantastic world, but still be grounded in reality. I’m very happy with the final result, and at some point I may go back to her universe to design future characters or creatures (such as a mount she could ride.) Often end up collecting hundreds of reference images while developing a character, but here are some of the key ones.
I like to start off with some simple sketches where I focus on developing interesting shapes and silhouette. From there I’ll flesh out the sketch in order to define the details, and start getting an idea of what kind of colors and materials I want to work with. Creating polished concept art is not a strength of mine, and not the point of this stage. The goal here is to solve as many design problems as possible before getting into 3D.
Once I have a solid design for a character I jump into ZBrush and block out the shapes and proportions. In some cases I’ll throw color onto the meshes during this early stage to see how it all works together, though as I get into sculpting finer details I often go back to greyscale. My focus right now is to capture the shapes and mood of my concept.
When all the blackout elements are in place and I have “clay” to play with, I get into one of my favorite parts; the meat of sculpting the character. Some things like the fur and hair I will sculpt loosely into place to explore forms. I don’t use these meshes in the final, but I find them to be helpful references when I get to placing alpha planes.
After I’ve finalized the high poly I do my retopology and unwrapping in Modo. Next I prepare exploded versions of the meshes for baking in Substance Painter, which is my favorite baking tool because it’s so fast and lets me iterate rapidly.
For texturing I relied almost completely on Substance Painter. Since I had already figured out what colors and materials I would be using in the concept stage, when I got to texturing it was mostly just playing with digital paint. For this character I wanted to practice making each material (ei cloth, leather, metal) feel realistic and distinct from each other, so that was a big focus.
The final model and textures were presented in Marmoset Toolbag 2.
I knew I wanted to learn a new software while working on this character and based on my research Substance Painter sounded like it would offer the most comprehensive tools in a PBR pipeline. The more familiar I became with Substance Painter, the more I fell in love with it. The combination of procedural texturing, masking, and hand painting is incredibly powerful. And so much fun to use!
The hood was a really fun challenge to tackle. I knew that I wanted to do something that had was knit, and I wanted to give it more volume than using alpha could offer. It took a while to experiment with finding the technique I wanted to use. Once I settled on using the micromesh function in ZBrush, I found I could get great results extremely quickly.
For this character I tried to develop a couple contrasting materials that I could re-use throughout the design of the clothing. The cloth wrinkles and leather was all hand sculpted in ZBrush. Some elements, like the quilted leather, was done with noisemaker and a custom tiling alpha I created. Most of the micro details, like cloth texture, was done inside Substance Painter.
I wanted to make the fur feel soft and wooly, so the majority of those textures were entirely hand painted in Photoshop. When I had all of the alpha planes in place I used Vertex Normal Toolkit for Modo to bake vertex normals onto the fur volumes.
Begin with the fundamentals; understanding anatomy, form, silhouette, color, and light. Start practicing one subject at a time until you build some confidence. Often beginners will bite off more than they can chew when starting a project and end frustrated and burnt-out. Make something small the best you possibly can, then start tackling more advanced projects as your experience and confidence grow.