3D Character/Facial Modeler Rodrigo Avila told us about the workflow behind the creation of the realistic Joker portrait, discussed the tools used for modeling, texturing, and rendering, and shared some tips and tutorials for aspiring artists.
Hello, dear readers! My name is Rodrigo Avila, I'm a 3D Character/Facial Modeler. My career in art started when I was little. I enjoyed drawing, and art was always a part of my life.
I did some traditional art (I mean painting with colored pencils), and later on, I started digital painting. It all started in 2016 when I took the 3D modeling course at Faculdade Méliès. Four years later, in 2020, I took a course with Kris Costa where I was able to learn and improve my realistic character workflow.
The well-known projects I did were the anatomical écorché of David Bowie's face, which I put for free download on Gumroad.
I also did Abraham Lincoln. It was created under Kris Costa's supervision:
The Joker Project
I started the Joker project a few years ago. It was just a study I was doing at the time. Recently, looking at my old projects, I found it lost on the hard drive and decided to continue.
My biggest inspiration for this project was Alex Ross's Joker and other versions of Joker as well. I used references from these artists for every part of the project: smile and makeup were a mix of Jack Nicholson's smile with other comic books' Jokers and even Joaquin Phoenix's. The outfit I used was a reference to Alex Ross's Joker outfit. In each part, I put these references because my idea was to create a unique look and smile for this Joker.
The Creation Of The Head and Face
I did the face modeling in ZBrush. I put all the ideas I had in mind together and then I made a face sketch.
After having done this part, I duplicated the mesh and removed the eyes and mouth. I did this to be able to project the new base mesh and use the texture from 3D Scan Store.
By removing these parts and leaving only the face, I could project the new mesh more cleanly .
In the process, I placed points where each number matched each region. This way, the new mesh would overlap the old mesh, making it easier to have a mesh with UV and topology ready for texturing .
After this step, I added the HD displacement texture to the face. Here is a tutorial for this method provided.
To ensure high-resolution details, I implemented six subdivisions in the model. This allowed for finer intricacies to be accurately captured.
To add finer details, such as pores and texture to the lips, I utilized my brush pack. These brushes enabled me to achieve precise and realistic pore details, as well as add texture to the lips.
To create the mouth, I followed a step-by-step process. Firstly, I created a base structure as a rough draft. Then, using MetaHuman, I generated teeth with a pre-existing mesh topology. This allowed me to model and refine the teeth, making them larger and more irregular. Additionally, I applied a yellowish paint texture to the teeth and added small veins in the gum area to enhance realism.
As for the eyes, I divided the modeling process into four parts: the clear part of the eye, the iris, the pupil, and the caruncle. I started by modeling the cornea, followed by the iris and the caruncle. This approach helped me to achieve a more realistic eye structure. The eye area is crucial as it brings life to any project, so I prioritize paying attention to the details in this region.
Modeling The Character's Outfit and Body
In the process of modeling the clothes, I utilized Marvelous Designer. I exported the Joker in a T-pose, as it helps ensure symmetry during the simulation. I started by creating the pants and shirt, followed by the various pieces of the tuxedo. Once the pants and shirt were completed, I proceeded to work on the vest. During this stage, I utilized the freezer functionality to adjust overlapping pieces and ensure proper fit and alignment with other clothing elements.
To do the retopology, I used the Maya software, I wanted Maya to do the retopology and to unwrap the mesh. For the head, I used the mesh base with UV from the Total Scan 3 website. The method I used was to reproject this base mesh over the old mesh that I modeled as a plugin ZWrap in ZBrush. This program projects any base mesh over another mesh quickly and efficiently.
I exported the flat version of the clothes to Maya, where I redid the topology using the Quad Draw tool for it. In Maya, I duplicated this flat version and used Quad Draw to create the new topology for the entire outfit.
During this process, I was creating the new topology while considering the direction of the lines and how it would function when the character was posed.
Here you can see an example of the workflow used for clothing.
After having done this step, I took the new mesh version of the clothes to ZBrush, and there I made the final pose that Joker had. After posing, I refined the folds of the garment.
To create the texture, I utilized a texture from the 3D Scan Store website. By projecting this texture and placing points accordingly, I was able to use the HD displacement texture from the 3D Scan Store. The website provides a workflow guide for this specific method.
For the skin texturing process, I utilized ZBrush. To paint the face, I followed these steps: first, I exported only the face to Marvelous Designer and applied the color texture from the 3D Scan Store package. After importing this texture, I returned to ZBrush and laid the foundation for painting the Joker's face.
Next, I planned to use this painting in Substance 3D Painter. My intention was to create a striking makeup look that would make the face appear terrifying. I imported the painting's texture into Substance 3D Painter and aimed to merge it with the 3D Scan Store skin texture. To accomplish this, I created a mask.
To texture the eye, I first textured the cornea. For texturing the cornea, I downloaded some ray and vein textures, I would use these textures to create the veins of the cornea.
With the mesh centered on the XYZ-axis, I used Activate Symmetry and I projected these textures all around the cornea, except the center, since the cornea had multiple veins at render time, which gave the most realistic appearance in the eye.
In the region of the iris, my first step was to gather references for iris patterns and cavities. The process was similar to the cornea region. Initially, I modeled the cornea cavities, then using the standard brush with a small tip, I activated the alpha and chose Activate Symmetry to create lines around the iris.
For the hair, I utilized Maya's XGen. I started by creating the base guides as a foundation for the rest of the hair. My intention was to style the hair in a swept-back manner, as if it had been greased but still slightly messy.
The clothing texture was achieved within the shader itself. I utilized a clothing texture from Texturing XYZ, which offers a wide range of textures in its library.
The most challenging aspect of the project was working on the hair, particularly finding a unique design for this version of the Joker. Overall, this project proved to be a significant challenge, but it provided valuable opportunities for learning and further improvement of my workflow.
I used Arnold for rendering this project. It's one of my favorite renderers, mainly for skinning. Its subsurface is very easy to configure and use.
To make the lighting, I used three light sources. Two lights were positioned on the sides, providing subtle and low-intensity lighting, while one light was placed in front, facing the face. The central light had the highest intensity to achieve a striking effect on the face.
For the scene, I opted to use the lookdev set from the CAVE Academy website. I found their lookdev set to be excellent for creating studio-like environments. Here you can find it as well.
If you want to render realistic characters, my tip is to study a lot of anatomy, lighting styles, and photography, mainly focusing on details and regions. Regions are like the eyes always bringing the air of realism to the design. The look is something that brings the character to life and what they want to say to you and to those who will follow the art in the end.
This project took me almost one month to finish. The main challenges were the lighting and modeling stages because I wanted a very realistic and striking likeness for this Joker. I think that with every project you challenge yourself to learn something new, and I think that's really amazing in a personal project.
My advice for beginner artists is to focus on the style and area you want to pursue, if it's realism, then study a lot about anatomy, likeness, and photography. Anatomy is fundamental for character artists, so practice a lot and do quick studies, which will be of great help in the future. Studying a little about photography, lighting, and photographic angle styles is something great for lookdev, especially if applied to realistic art or likeness.
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