In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
My name is Miles and I have recently completed my Advanced Diploma of Professional Game Development specialising in Game Art and Animation at AIE, Sydney campus. I am currently situated in Sydney, Australia. I have always had an artistic background and I believe that it has heavily influenced me to pursue a career in the 3D industry. My skill set is currently focused towards the creation of 3D environments and game characters. I generally prefer a realistic style approach, but I am working on other stylized art forms.
Excited for the new upcoming Ridley Scott movie ‘Alien Covenant’, I was inspired to develop my very own adaptation of the Space Jockeys/Engineers as seen previously in ‘Prometheus’. I wanted my character to be new, yet differentiate itself from how the Space Jockeys were portrayed in Prometheus. For those who are not familiar with this topic, you should really take some time to watch both the classic ‘Alien’ and 2012 Prequel ‘Prometheus’. Being a massive fan of the alien franchise, I had always wanted to explore my limits as an artist and make my own attempt at incorporating my influences and techniques into practice.
Anyway, back on track, whenever I start to develop any character I construct a Style Guide/ Character Sheet. This usually consists of numerous numbers of collective references and concepts that I usually find somewhere on the web or on pinterest. Pinterest is great; get pinterest guys. Also I would highly recommend everyone grabbing yourself a dual monitor system as it just makes workflow and desktop space that much easier. Once I had compiled my reference, I dedicated my right hand screen as a source of perspective, then assigned my left hand screen as my primary work space for modelling texturing and presentation.
High Poly Zbrush
After preparing all of the setup, I started off by blocking out basic body proportions in zbrush, beginning with the torso, followed by the head, legs and finally the arms. I was very particular about retaining most of the original suit detail as seen in the Space Jockey’s amour, only modifying and replacing certain aspects in places where they needed to be.
Another issue that I encountered when I first started concepting was that the body contained too much of a masculine feel. I wanted to direct the shape towards a female figure, while minimizing the amount of sexualised features present on the model. I wanted my audience to be able to identify that my character was of a female nature without having to rely on the expressed bodily parts such as breasts. I Also felt that a vital part of this character was the face. The face is what we use to identify the persona and emotions of an individual. For my character, it was essential to strip mine of the most basic human characteristics and resolve in the expressionless of a biomechanical substitute. I am hoping that through this, I attained a sense of eeriness and lack of social connection to the character. In a sense, a cloud of creepiness should be felt while enduring the very sight of this individual.
The head went through quite a transformation; the original motion was to keep the head and neck very tubular. Though I was never particularly happy with this approach I ended up obtaining some feedback from my teacher and classmates. Moving on from the critique, I then developed a new head profile to replace the original design. Here are some of the key stages of its development.
The single worst thing about developing this character was the legs and feet. I went through several iterations, some were quite obvious, far from the best design choices. Though in the end I was finally able to settle on a design that suited the theme of the character.
Retopo & Modelling
After I had completed the model, it was time for retopo. Before importing the high rez mesh into maya, I gave the mesh a quick reform with the decimation master inside of the zbrush plugins. This helps reduce the overall poly count while also retaining an acceptable amount of detail throughout the meshes surface. From then onwards, I imported the mesh into maya where I performed retopo until I had a suitable low res mesh.
Uvs & Texturing
With a fully retopo mesh I then proceeded to optimize my UV’s to the available texture space accordingly. For this character I decided to leave the majority of the uvs unmirrored as I prefer In most cases to retain unique texturing on either ends of the model. Despite this being a game quality model, I tend to use 2048x texture maps; thus not limiting myself to other lower texture resolutions.
After the new mesh has been exported from maya with the uv layout, I then baked out the normals in a program called xnormals, using the combined effort of the high and low poly model. I baked three map sets; Normal, AO and light map. A Light map is very similar to an AO, though it uses extra ray casting and conformed light to develop a greater map for AO depth.
Using these base maps improves the product workflow and quality later on. I also take my model into mudbox where I build up a base pigment and tones layer, using real time 3D paint tools. This makes texturing that much easier; seams and other texture guidelines are nowhere near as much of an issue, whereas building all the texture work directly from Photoshop. Once I feel that I have an adequate amount of texture layers to use, I then exported each of them separately as their own images files. From then onwards these are then recompiled back into a photoshop document in the same layer order as before in mudbox. From then on, the AO and light maps are combined with the rest of the layers, using Photoshop’s amazing capabilities each layer is tweaked to the right setting using levels and Hue manipulator until a desired look is finally acquired.
After finishing the texture work it is now time to pose and present the character. I have recently started using the advanced skeleton; this is free software and it is available to download at the click of a button. The process for attaching the rig to your model is very convenient, it delivers quick and promising results. I simply adjusted the base rig joint template to the proportions of my model and applied the skin weight process. After waiting a small period of time, the model had been skinned effectively to the rig. With only a minor need of adjustments it was ready to be posed and posted to Sketchfab.
Thanks to the team at Sketchfab, I now have another reliable and excellent site to display my up to date 3D work and I can always count on expert advice and assistance from the staff who dedicate so much effort to its users. I would like to express a special thanks to Bart for this opportunity and I hope to keep his eye on more of my upcoming works.