In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
Hello everyone! This is going over the workflow I use for creating my characters but more specifically for the liger soldier character I modeled. I don’t go too far in specifics since things like that always change and even looking back now I would have done some of it differently. Mainly I wanted to mention my main workflow as well as a few key points in the creation of this particular character I decided to make this tutorial since I felt people might like to see a bit of the process compiled together. I really hope that someone out there finds this useful in some way but if not at least I can say I tried.
The Beginning – Know Your Concept
The first step is always to spend time analysing your concept. Know what the proportions are. Open it in photoshop and move parts around to see how they relate. Know what parts you’ll have to make. What are the materials? What parts are repeated? It can also help to write this all down. If you want to you can also try drawing the character yourself because that will force you to look at all the details. As you analyze the character take the time to think about how you’ll make the parts. For instance will it be sculpted in Zbrush or modeled in something like Maya. Think about what is best suited to achieve the look of the material you are creating. You’ll also want to consider if something will be broken up into pieces or built as a single object. An example of this could be the strap on the glove. I ended up making this a separate piece but it might of been more efficient to sculpt it right out of the glove. When thinking of things like this you want to question the final resolution of the textures and size of the model on screen. If the model is tiny it makes sense to sculpt everything together since it’s faster.I usually take my time with this. In the past I’d often end up with a mushy model if I didn’t have a plan.
This is really of less importance but here’s a breakdown of the brushes I used to create the liger. – Clay Build up (my favorite): used for all the major forms – Dam standard: Used to get sharp edges on hard surfaces, armor damage and creases in clothes. – Smooth light (A custom brush from Scott Spencer’s Zbrush Character Creation book): This allowed me to smooth without destroying all the details. I tend not to use the regular smooth brush unless I’m trying to start over. At which point I just want a really smooth surface – h-polish: used for cleanup a hard surfaces – standard: used to sculpt clothing folds – move brush : self explanatory – custom stitch brushes for fine details.
Starting the Model
Now that you know what you’re going to make the next step is to block in the anatomy. The liger had some really cool proportions so I had a lot of fun with this. I tend to vary how I create the base body/anatomy I almost always work with dynamesh. Dynamesh allows me to quickly rough in the anatomy and get a nice silhouette without having to worry about topology. Since the liger is pretty muscular I decided to take a bunch of spheres and morph them into parts (ie forearms, hands, head etc). This way it would be easier to overlap muscles at the joints such as the elbow, ankle, etc. For less muscular characters I tend to make the arms and legs with the curve tubes brush. (I usually do this for female characters since it gives them a feminine/curvy posture right from the start).
Parts that were more complex such as the hands which had separated fingers were merged together before the rest of the body. The hands needed to be decimated at a higher level so the fingers wouldn’t weld together. I wanted to be able to make sure they merged properly before attaching them to the rest of the body. An important thing to note is that when blocking in the anatomy you should get in all the parts as quickly as possible. You won’t be able to tell how well the anatomy is working until you see all the parts together. I also add the eyes and hair early on since they really help visualize whether or not the anatomy matches the concept. Once i feel pretty comfortable with the anatomy I’ll merge it all together and refine the sculpt a bit. Don’t dwell on it too much though. Once the clothing is added to the model there is a good chance you’ll want to change the anatomy a bit.
Time for Gear
Once I’m satisfied with the anatomy. I run a zremesher and create some quick polygroups so I can quickly hide parts as I progress. Generally I like to separate areas that might get blocked by other parts of the body. The hands, torso and head are the main parts that need a group. Also, if the mouth opens I group the bottom jaw. When creating the gear I try to stay in zbrush as much as I can (it’s where I have the most fun). For most parts, such as the gloves I used mesh extraction and sculpted from there. In other special cases I used primitives and zbrushes retopology tools. For instance sculpting circular objects can be time consuming. Therefore I took a more technical approach to the buttons and belt buckle, which were made with a cylinder. I masked one row at a time and scaled inward to get a rounded top. The side details of the belt buckle were done with the retopo tools since I found dynamesh
would weld the slits together.
Good Old Refinement
Once I’ve blocked everything in and am happy with the silhouette I refine all the parts. I’ll go one subdivision at a time on all parts. (ie 1st sub-d for everything before subdividing again). For me this is very important. First, it ensures that I don’t go too high poly until I’m confident with the form I have and second it allows me to make sure every looks good as a whole.
How do you know when to subdivide? If you find you have the shape you’re looking for and you’re going for a new pass on the details. When this happens you’ll likely find yourself fighting the topology. It’ll look jaggy and bad overall. This is when I subdivide.
For the liger character I would like to mention the armor. A while ago I watched an excellent tutorial by Hai Phan. He made a good point. With fantasy armor it’s cool to make it look hand made. When modeling in Maya (or another similar program) you end up with a very clean model which looks machine made. Using Zbrush definitely gives you a more organic feel which helps. I aimed to do this for all the armor but I found that the boots and knee pads weren’t shaping up well. Those I made in Maya and later softened up in Zbrush (It’s not good to have edges that are too sharp).
Onward to Maya (and back again)
Other things that needed a base done in Maya were the sword and shield. Now I’m not going to go over every part but we’ll look at the sword to get an idea of the maya workflow. On the left you can see the starting shapes I made. I drew out the shape of the guard and blade with the polygon tool and used the cylinder primitive for round elements since they’re hard to draw out by hand. I used the split geometry tool on the polygon shapes to get some geo to work with. Swords are nice since you only have to do one side and then can mirror it over. Once the shape was good I ran a bevel (the best tool for hard surface modelers) to make sure it would hold up when smoothed. Finally, I brought the model into zbrush for detailing. The cloth on the hilt was sculpted out of a duplicate of the hilt which I first deflated. The pattern on the guard was done by masking out the area and running a deflate deformation.
Feedback and details
Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are people out there who will help you. don’t be afraid to post progress of your work and ask for input. After a while it becomes hard to tell what’s good and bad about your work. You’ve just been looking at it too long and a fresh eye helps. After posting my work and having a second look myself I made a variety of changes. I didn’t just do this at the end either. I had made changes whenever it became obvious something wasn’t working. This is all digital, it’s not hard to replace parts and move things around.
Finally was the most satisfying part of sculpting, adding details. I added little scratches and patterns to the surface to give the model that extra pop. Remember only to do this at the end. Otherwise you’ll just be wasting time since those details would get lost if you sculpted over them with bigger forms. It seems straightforward but I used get frustrated from modeling the same thing a bunch of times.
I always like to think of retopology as a puzzle. You have to try to fit the polygons together in the right way. Before starting out I’ll decimate my model. I usually to two levels of decimation. One that’ll be used for baking later and the other for retopologizing. At this time I think about what the final low-poly parts will be. The liger was separated into 15 main polygon chunks (the main body, eyes, gloves, upper shoulder pad, lower shoulder pad, shoulder straps, shoulder pad connectors, tail, knee pads, upper boots, lower boots sword and shield). It’s important to think about what will need to be separate and what can remain on the main base of the body. Things like the shoulder pad are separate since they should be able to move around more freely. For retopologizing level of decimation I combined the parts that would later be baked together. (the final baked parts remained separate so I wouldn’t end up with individual parts that had too many polygons in them).
You should consider what tools you will be using to retopologize too. This helps for time efficiency. For this character I had parts that were originally modeled in Maya. It was much faster to use the original model and make a low version of it than it would of been to retopologize from scratch. When it comes to organic stuff I aim to use programs like 3D coat to retopologize.
When it comes to retopology it’s important to consider your edge flow and where to use triangles. Triangles are generally fine in areas that don’t deform too much. However on game res characters triangles can be strategically placed at joints to retain volume with the fewest number of polygons. There is plenty of information about this and I recommend studying it. One link to get you started can be found here.
Another thing to think about is your polygon count. This will help you to decide how many polygons to distribute to each part. For the Liger I wanted to be around 20,000 tris. However, I knew the hair would use a lot so I left some extra for that later.
This is where things get hairy
Game hair is a tricky topic and one that I am always on the edge about. For the liger I experimented with a new approach. What I started off by doing was going back to the concept. I looked at the silhouette of the hair to see what the key hair-chunk shapes were. Afterwards I created a few additional generic chunks that would fill in the rest of the fur. In Maya I created a perfectly square polygon and applied the fur texture I made. In the top camera view I used the create polygon tool to trace the hair shapes. I added edges with the split polygon tool. When doing this I added a cut down the center of each hair chunk so I could make them into cup shapes later. This way they’d appear less flat. Finally I selected the hair chunk and the original plane and ran planar mapping on it.
With that I made the hair into the cup shapes and placed them all over. While doing this I referred to the concept to try and match the silhouette best I could.