I have always been consumed by Blizzard’s games and worlds, most especially the Warcraft universe, providing me with a strong source of inspiration for my ongoing development as an artist. From about 8 years old I knew all I wanted to do was make art for this particular fantasy world, which ultimately has led me into the games industry.
Reason and Inspiration
This project, “Kiara,” came about as a 3D character assignment at AIE. My teacher had advised us to find a character reference online as opposed to creating one ourselves. A lot can be learned from studying a well-designed concept created from somebody with skill and experience in this area, and your final result will be much stronger for it.
While I respected the idea of working from a great reference, I was also eager to create from an idea that was specifically meaningful to me so I decided to meet in the middle. “Kiara” is a night elf priestess. This is a Warcraft culture that I have always been drawn to for their calm and caring nature and harmony with the wider universe; something that resonates with me on both a personal and spiritual level.
Rather than illustrating this character myself, I sought out a particular artist that I admire, Fanfoxy, who also shares a passion for the Blizzard universes and commissioned them to create an artwork based on my ideas.
I was thrilled with the outcome as the confident and regal sense to the design represents the culture’s essence perfectly!
I’m going to focus on areas within the modeling and posing stage of my process, which were done using Maya. Other software I used included Zbrush to sculpt the body and 3D-Coat and Photoshop for painting the textures.
In Maya, I first retopologized the high-poly body using the Quad Draw tool. Once the base body was done, I moved on to creating the armour where I continued to use this same Quad Draw process to achieve the overall shapes very easily using symmetry.
Once the main shapes were blocked out, I extruded the faces to achieve the right thickness for the metal, adding edges and creases where necessary with the Multi-Cut tool, tweaking it until it matched the design in the concept.
I followed this process to build all the elements that were skin tight including the belt, leg armour and shoes. This technique was the main reason that I chose to use Maya over Zbrush for Kiara’s clothing as it allowed much more control and precision by drawing out the faces than what would be possible using a sculpting software.
For the more dynamic elements of the character such as her blowing skirts, hair and the wisps behind the owl, I used the Bezier Curve tool from the Curves/Surfaces tab. This tool allows you to draw out a curve, which I found especially useful to use as a path along which to extrude the mesh to achieve a natural organic flow.
I also used some advanced options for the Extrude operation in the Attribute Editor, such as Twist and a Taper Curve graph that were particularly helpful for the hair which you can see below.
For all of these organic elements I worked in Smooth Preview  so the mesh would continue to flow even after further edits. I decided to create a high poly version for the skirts to bake more accurate lighting for the fabric folds.
To create the sharper definition in the folds I used the Crease tool. Since this is only a preview mode, the actual base mesh won’t be this way until converted to a smoothed version at the very end (remembering to keep a backup version as well).
I also used these Curve tools to make the scroll. By combining them with the Loft tool, you can connect one curve to another to join as many as you want.
After using any of the Surfaces tools, the NURBS need to be converted to a Polygon mesh.
Even though this was primarily a presentation piece, I wanted to use the same workflow I would for a 3D game character, so rather than sculpting it into a fixed position I created it in a T-pose to then pose with a rig. The downside of posing with a rig is the risk of it feeling quite wooden or lifeless (like a doll), which I wanted to avoid since the whole essence of this character was about confidence through her strong stance and gesture. The rig pose provided me with a good starting point but a lot of tweaking was needed in order to carry it through.
For example, to capture the right angle and exaggeration of her stance in the concept, I needed to “break” the rig and lengthen her extended leg so that both feet would plant more firmly on the ground. Without this, the rig pose felt too timid, even though it was anatomically correct.
With Soft Select on, I moved the pivot to the location I wanted to ‘pull’ the selection towards and scaled in that direction. For example, I very subtly offset her shoulders and shrugged them up (left image) to elongate her pose, as though she is stretching towards the direction she is looking.
I made a few similar adjustments on her chest (right image), bringing it forward to exaggerate her assertive stance. A lot of this subtle scaling and rotation all over the body helped achieve a more natural feeling pose and matched the reference more closely.
I chose to do hand-painted textures in an unlit scene as this gave me the most control over the scene’s lighting and materials to match the concept as accurately as possible.
As a further reference, I set up a light in my Maya scene at the location of the owl, to accurately see where the light would hit the character, especially for the back view.
Most of the time I used a hard round brush with ‘transfer’ turned on, in both Photoshop and 3D-Coat. However I did come across a brush pack that was helpful for certain situations, particularly the skin, fabric, and the metal highlights.
Marc has a video tutorial to demonstrate how he uses his brushes if you click on the above image.
To create Kiara’s reflection, I mirrored the lower half of her model below the ground plane. I wanted the reflection to fade off so to achieve this I made a second UV set to use for the reflection’s opacity.
By applying a top-down planar projection in Maya (using either the X or Z axis), and using a top-down gradient as the opacity texture in Sketchfab, the mesh now gradually fades away.
Once you create any extra UV sets, the option to choose one becomes available in a drop down menu in the Sketchfab ‘Materials’ tab.
Having a Sketchfab Pro account played an important role in my character’s final presentation, as it allowed me to upload my own custom background. This meant I was able to paint subtle changes in the background colour to match my reference more precisely. Without this, it would have felt far less dramatic because I wouldn’t have been able to simulate the glowing light.
I’d love to thank Sketchfab for providing the ability to present and share my 3D real-time art, as well as the opportunity to share some of my process.