Android Charlie

Character Breakdown

Marco Vergantini

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Marco Vergantini

Senior Character Artist

Introduction

My name is Marco Vergantini, Senior Character Artist with a decade in the game industry.
I've worked at Gameloft, Frontier Developments, and currently, I am a Senior Character Artist at Roarty Digital.

After ten years, I'm still in love with Character Art/Design, continuously learning, studying, and improving every day.

Goals

For a while, I had this idea of a character that always keeps his hands in his pockets no matter what, and instead uses prosthetic arms to accomplish any task.

About the design, I envisioned a future where knowledge/science comes from the gods, so people tribute them by making tech in the god’s own image.

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Today, I would like to share a breakdown of my submission for the Artstation challenge “Neo Tokyo.”

I’ve been testing for several months an alternative texturing workflow, trying to achieve the eye-catching look of Hand-Painted texturing but retaining all the benefits that come from PBR texturing, including having the light and shadows interact with the models shapes.

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Software

  • ZBrush: Sculpting.
  • Maya: Retopo and hard surface modeling.
  • Marmoset Toolbag: Baking and live render.
  • Substance Painter: Texturing.
  • Photoshop: Tweaks to the textures.

References & Inspirations

My main inspirations for this character are the outfit of Spike in the episode “Jupiter Jazz” from “Cowboy Bebop,” definitely “Ultron” from The second “Avengers” film.

Also, the main inspiration for the unconventional design of the armor comes from a mix of “Bishamon” from “Darkstalkers” and “Dino Mech Gaiking.”

Finally, the shoulders are a big reference to “NeoGenesis Evangelion.”

Blockout

The first step is the blockout. I usually create something quick starting from the ZBrush “head planes” and recycling other models I previously made.

For example, in this case, I borrowed legs and shoes from another character with similar features. At the very beginning, it doesn’t matter to have details on it; the main mission is to have a whole figure that matches volume and shape with the image I have in my head.

Once I’ve nailed the right figure of the character, it’s just downhill, replacing every element with something more detailed. To do this, I make a “dirty” sketch thanks to the Dynamesh modeling, adding medium details.

It doesn’t have to be too perfect; actually, the “real” modeling starts after the first retopology in Maya, where I clean up my sketch, allowing me to benefit from the “crease” from Maya to ZBrush and the most important thing, the “Polygroups.”

At this point, the actual High Poly modeling can start. Clean topology and polygroups are to me the main pillars to sculpt something precise and good-looking.

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Armour & Weapons

I started the Artstation challenge going for some usual sci-fi look, playing it safe, then I thought that was the perfect chance to make something more interesting.

As I mentioned before, I decided to go for an unconventional sci-fi design, making an “organic” looking armor, trying to follow the Design over function direction.

My idea was to mock the God Asura, giving the character 3 faces: “the chest piece” shaped like a Japanese Oni mask, the “backpack” resembling Yebisu face features, and the character head wearing a tengu mask. I thought it was a cool contrast to give him a pissed/badass look wearing something ridiculous.

About the props, the 3 drones on his back are meant to mock the Japanese god of thunder drums.

Initially, I had 5 of them, but it was looking a bit crowded, so I applied one of my golden rules when I worked on a stylized asset, “less and bigger.” The Mace is just a sci-fi version of what Japanese Oni seem to carry with them in every portrait I found.

Also, equipping him with a Katana sword would have been a bit too obvious and stereotypical.

And finally, I chose to make him a delivery guy, adopting yellow as the color code for the company he works for. That’s why the ramen case he carries and the bum bag share the same color.

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Clothing

For his outfit, I started blocking out a padded jacket in ZBrush, and after a quick retopo, I simulated it already in a pose with hands in the pocket.

After that, it was just a matter of cleaning up in ZBrush and adding small details like zippers, iron patches on the shoulder, and wires running along the arms ending on the tech wristbands.

The shoes are just a futuristic take on Air Jordan. Also, the shin pads are a repeating element you can find on the prosthetic forearms too.

And last but not least, I added on his waist a reference to the epic Sony WM-DC2, my favorite of my Walkman collection.

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UVs & Baking

Nothing too crazy about the UVs; I just followed the challenge requirement of two 4K for the whole character.

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Texturing

Here comes probably the most anticipated feature of this asset. For the texturing, I’ve been putting into practice a new workflow I’ve previously tested before starting this challenge.

I’m a big fan of Hand-painted texturing artworks; some of them are sincerely stunning. The only downside of that is the lack of interaction with the rest of the environment.

The Hand-Painted texture involves only the Albedo Map. It doesn’t react to light or shadows, and this is why I’ve spent months developing an alternative solution.

What I call the “Normal Painted” workflow has all the benefits of a PBR texturing with a “hand-painted vibe” given by the “tweaked” normal map. This washes out the tiny details coming from the baking, but the final result has a lovely glance in any sort of lighting.

And it’s not just a normal map matter only; if plugged into Substance Painter, the “painted normal map” influences, for instance, a generator applied to any channel, Albedo, Roughness, Metalness, etc.

About the colors, I went for the “Honda” old-school color palette for the jacket and leg pads. The bag on his belt and the box he carries are coming from his food delivery job; this is why they share the same colors and stick out of his outfit. rest of the environment.

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Rendering & Lighting

For rendering, I used Marmoset Toolbag.

The lighting is simple three-point lighting, one Key light, one Fill light, and where I usually go for just one, this time I had to use 2 rim lights because of the complexity of the character silhouette.

Conclusion

It has been tough but interesting work on something with 100% freedom from the concept to the design, and in the end, I came out with a weird texturing that worked quite well, surprisingly.

I would like to thank all my friends for their precious feedback. Alberto, Claudio, Ludovico, Galaxy, Kimia, Alex, Lufio, Diego, and Nikos, thanks from the bottom of my heart for the feedback and the company; there is no challenge I can’t face with an amazing pirate crew like that.

A special thanks go to Francesco and his brother Riccardo for making a stunning rig and animation for my character; they really brought my character alive.

Also, I want to thank Nathaniel for the big help in developing my new brush strokes texturing technique.
Last but absolutely not least, I want to praise my Girlfriend Lottie for her extraordinary support and care day by day.

Thanks for reading.

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