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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Check out Konstantin Gdalevich talking about the production of the amazing stylized character, inspired by the concept by Jesus Blons. Most of the texturing of this fellow was done with Quixel SUITE and Megascans.
Hello! My name is Konstantin, I was born in Russia but now living in sunny Israel. I work for the mobile game industry as well as some post-production projects as a designer and 3D artist. I worked on a very broad range of projects, from commercials to mobile game production as well as marketing art. In 2015 I, with some great team members, worked on Sky Wars: Archon Rises by 7 Elements Studios and we did a great job of marketing and in-game materials. Unfortunately, the game was shut down but you can see some UI elements and marketing frames in my portfolio.
Back in 2014, I realized that my 2D skills just not enough to truly create what I had in my imagination and that’s when I started to dive more into Maya and 3D in general. At that time I worked at Gravity, post-production studio with some really talented 3D artists who were kind enough to teach me. I was a designer and between projects, I ran to 3D “magic” room to learn from them. What a great time.
Andrew the Whale was an entry to a “Beneath the Waves” challenge from Artstation. Scrolling through great concept art entries (Artstation has this unique and cool Challenge mechanics: first they give a theme to concept artists and they “compete” for a month doing character, environment and prop designs, then 3D artists choose from a ton of great works and bring them to life) I found this great concept made by Jesus Blons (definitely check his work!)
I wanted to make some kind of pirate ship boatswain, someone who is skilled enough to do his duty while being completely drunk.
I wanted to tell a story, story of an old pirate taking a break.
I started with a fresh coffee and Zbrush. The base mesh was done with ZSpheres, I love zspehers – you can achieve a great base mesh in no time while it being completely non-destructive.
I started with a V pose and changed it only after texturing done. So the whole sculpting, modeling, remeshing and texturing process I enjoyed symmetry in most parts, except some changes here and there to break it up.
I wanted to mix the stylized look of a concept with more realistic detailing and approach in general. My inspiration for the final render was a trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2. Guys from Ubisoft did a great job with characters, bringing stylized animals to life with some extraordinary texture and lighting work.
To be more organized I’m breaking up the sculpting process into 4 stages:
1) Blocking – the most crucial part, sculpting is like a pyramid, if your base is bad – doesn’t matter how good you’re in the next stages.
The result of blocking:
2) Secondary forms – here I continue to work with big shapes, trying to sculpt a big muscles / fat parts etc. Always keeping in mind the basics of good composition and curves flow. It will take some time to find a line when blocking ends and secondary forms stage begins. Sometimes I revisit the blockout and tweak it during this stage without any problems. More and more you will try to work like this – less and less you will revisit previous stages.
The result of secondary forms (did a quick pose to engage the viewers and explain the mood of the final piece):
3) Tertiary forms – In this stage I’m taking the big muscle, fat, curves and breaking them into smaller ones without losing the general flow. Of course, you can revisit the secondary forms stage here but try to learn why you’re revisiting it, what didn’t work and what mistakes you can avoid with your next sculpt.
The result of tertiary forms:
4) And the last stage is surface details, this is the stage when your XYZ maps, surface mimic, alphas happening. If you did a good job on previous stages you just enjoying this part like a baby, building the small details on a great, well-balanced character.
The result of surface detailing (we will talk about how I did this barnacles a bit later):
Brushes that I used here are pretty basic: Standard brush, move brush, my favorite clay buildup brush and, of course, Orbs crack brush. All the holes (mouth, holes on the back and eye socket) I did in Maya, I find it a lot faster to just throw your model to Maya, delete polygons and then switch the base subdiv with the one from Maya.
Stripes – this part is interesting, examining whales we will understand that these stripes are geometrically accurate, so if you don’t have gimble stabilizers in your hands, sculpting them manually isn’t an option.
To handle it, I did a fast UV unwrap with Zbrush UV master, I needed only the belly without distortion, so I split it with polygroups and hit the unwrap button, this what I got:
Very dirty unwrap but without distortion, I took it to Illustrator and painted accurate stripes with great tools there (I made 1 stripe, cloned it and then used an Envelope distort function to past and wrap it to my area):
Then I uploaded the result to Zbrush Surface tab and masked by noise:
And that’s how you handle precise details. I kept it in noise without doing manipulation on the actual mesh until the tertiary detailing stage to avoid distortion when moving and shaping the area.
For surface detailing I used XYZ maps, Surface mimic maps, a lot of brushes from XMD toolkit (check it out, this is a must-have toolset) and alphas that I did manually. This stage can and will be time-consuming.
The most challenging part here was a design and not the technical one. To work my way up from ZSpheres to render and stay with the joyful fat whale.
To pose him I used ZBrush transpose master and it took me a while to achieve this result, the pose can ruin your work or take it to a new level so I didn’t rush it. I took pictures of myself trying to be as relaxed and drunk as possible and studied it from all angels, tweaking it for hours until I really felt good about it.
Barnacles (small corals) was an interesting part of sculpting too. I got scanned barnacles from Paul who was kind enough to share STL files.
I took them to Zbrush, cleaned them and made an IMM brush from them.
The key here is to unwrap them first, give them a texture (just as a placeholder) and then start dragging them out on your mesh. Also, the mesh needs to have UVs and texture to it (it can be nasty, bad uvs and a placeholder texture) to truly work. With workflow like that, you will have hundreds of barnacles with perfect UV just waiting for you to repack them. Saves a ton of time.
You can download it from here.
(remember they have UVs, so follow the previous explanation on how to preserve them if you want)
I fast-modeled the base of the mug in Maya with the SubDiv type of workflow, took it to ZBrush, subdivided it a couple of times and ZRemeshed. I love to work like that because you have your low poly from the beginning and Maya is my a truly warm comfort zone. I even modeled the tentacles in Maya using the animation snapshot function for small suckers.
The Kraken was sculpted inside Zbrush on top of a mug.
The same technique was used for a barrel and a mop.
Quixel… I love this tool because of the simplicity and at the same time great functionality of it. I textured a lot of stuff in Quixel but not as complex and organic as this project, so I faced some problems and limitations from the beginning and needed to find a way to overcome them. I wanted to challenge myself to fully texture it in Quixel and try this tool on organic models.
The props and clothes was a straightforward mix of base materials with some moss that I got from Megascans (you can upload them to the Suite in 1 click and use with the great masking system of DDO):
I opened a project for each prop, the first one was a mug. When I was happy with the materials I exported some of them to use in following props.
Here is a material setup of a mug for example:
Here you can see a material setup next to an albedo pass:
I’m heavily using occlusion pass for masking and on top some subtle reddish colors to bring more life to
The whale was a more complex setup. After I watched a ton of references, I began to work. First, I hand-painted the masks between the black and white colors and separated them into 2 materials.
As a base I took a rubber, it was a great start and after some time spent on each channel (albedo, specular, gloss and normal) I started to add more and more materials, mixing them with procedural masks and blending mods to achieve this multicolor look. I love to experiment in this stage, so, for example, rust material was added to his skin only in albedo slot, masked and blended with 6% opacity just to give a bit reddish colors. Moss was added where the barnacles meet the flesh to exaggerate the occlusion and paint it to more greenish tones. In the end, I had a complex looking white mostly procedural material, after – I hand-painted different areas with red, blue, purple and some green colors to make it even more believable and deep.
When I was happy with albedo, spec, and gloss I went back to Megascans to get a nice flesh material and used it only in normal map channel to get this extra small unpredictable details:
Of course, a lot more depth will be added with the SSS and proper lighting…
I wanted to go with classic old school tattoos, so I referenced them from the web and painted with slight imperfections (sorry guys, not my design) to make them look truly believable. I first sketched them on top of the fast print screen of a whale to understand scale, detailing and composition in general, then went to Photoshop and painted them:
Tattoos were implemented to SSS epidermal and subdermal textures with slight changes, we will discuss material setup a bit later.
Yes, stones are Megascans assets:
To leave viewer eyes on the whale, I took only the meshes of these 2 assets and applied a standard dark grey shader to them without actual textures that you get. Scaling and duplicating some of them I found a good composition that sits on my podium and after a little bit of water and sharper highlights to get the wet look I was pretty happy with the result. But to truly bring a life into it I used the clovers asset from the same Megascans:
Clovers are a low poly mesh that comes with displacement, normal and basically, all maps that you need, it looks like that:
I applied a V-Ray double-sided material, plugged in the maps and that’s it.
You just need to lit them properly and you will get a realistic-looking clover in no time.
The liquid was simulated with PhoenixFD, a great tool for purposes like this. It even has a beer preset. How can you not love a software that shipped with beer preset?
I set up a low poly mesh for collisions, changed some parameters and this is the result:
PhoenixFD simulating foam particles straight with the liquid pass if you want and I wanted it. Foam is what making beer – beer… For rendering, I used a native PhoenixFD particle shader and for liquid just a tinted, refractive Vray material and again, like with clovers you need to have a good lighting to make it good.
Ok, let’s break this question into 2 parts: Lighting and shading.
I started to look for great lighting, it took time and a complex light set up for me to feel good:
For example – this is a bad lighting:
vs the final render:
I started with a basic, subtle HDRI, then added classic 3 point lighting and after started to add small light with different levels of intensity to lit problematic parts. When you’re lighting character with different materials, IORs, albedo and specular values its hard to lit him with basic setups. You can, but it’s hard unless I am doing animation and render times are a big problem, I’m using a lot of small lights to achieve more interesting results.
I didn’t use any complex and fancy shaders here. For all the props I just plugged in the maps, corrected the IOR and that’s it. For Skin I used a blend material, the base was opaque glossy shader for more control over highlights. In the secondary slot was another blend material – this time as a base I used a Vray skin material and in the secondary slot was a tattoo material.
Tattoo material is a standard Vray shader with tattoos plugged into the color slot.
Tattoo material is only 6% of opacity to give a little more extra to them. Most of the tattoos looks are driven by SSS and diffuse maps:
Another material setup that I want to talk about is a cloth shader. For displacement, I used XYZ scans, a cool part of it is an opacity map. On top of it, I introduced small hairs with Vray fur and with a combination of all the maps from Quixel I achieved pretty decent results.
I want to thank 80.level for this great opportunity to talk about my long ride with this cute, drunk big guy, I finishing to write this breakdown 5 hours from my flight to Slovenia where my wedding will take place in just 4 days, so wish me luck and I hope you enjoyed this breakdown! Thank you and goodbye! *drop the mic*