The Hunchback of Notre Dame has always been one of my favorite Disney films. It sparked my interest in Notre Dame itself, cathedrals, medieval time period and that entire aesthetic, so it was very fun to dive into this project. I have a big passion for classical art, sculpture, and history, so I drew a great deal of inspiration from the old masters like Rembrandt, Bernini, Van Dyck and historical sources as well as many games and movies. My intention with this project was to redesign Frollo in a more realistic/historically accurate way, but maintain some echoes of the original design.
Basically from the start, I had in mind Peter Capaldi to inhabit the role of my Frollo. It was my first attempt at creating a likeness, which was a huge undertaking, but under the tutelage of Raf Grassetti and Glauco Longhi, I learned a great deal.
For likeness, it’s important to gather reference of your subject, ideally at the same age, with similar focal lengths, and from different angles lined up as closely as possible. A good way to do this is to find an event/premiere/photoshoot of the actor, to get multiple shots from the same day.
In order to check your proportions, a really helpful method is to use ZAppLink camera angles in Zbrush combined with the see-through function to match the angle of your head in the viewport with different reference photos. This sometimes creates weird looking results, so it needs to be balanced with relying on your own perception of what feels right.
For a more in-depth look at this process, check out Frank Tzeng’s gumroad tutorial on sculpting likeness: https://frank-tzeng-art.gumroad.com/l/Kfxz
Tackling pore detail was a new process for me. Initially I had tried using some alphas for the pores, but wasn’t super happy with the result, so I went through the process of using TexturingXYZ’s multi-channel faces to get matching pore detail and color. Additionally, I learned the process of transferring 3Dscanstore pore detail to my sculpt, which required some customizing and toning down using morph targets and layers. I also did a significant amount of handsculpting of wrinkles and pores to finish out the detail.
TexturingXYZ method: https://youtu.be/cOZ5D1ggqb8
3Dscanstore method: https://youtu.be/P15iDVkR3Hk
I used a similar process with the hands. I began with the standard base body that comes with Zbrush, sculpted the primary, secondary and some tertiary forms myself, and added the last detail with the 3Dscanstore transfer method. I mostly finished out the hands in a neutral pose first, then posed them using the classic method of masking with polygroups and transposing in Zbrush. The final step was to sculpt some custom folds in the skin for the posed version and bake new maps.
For texturing, I decided to use the 3Dscanstore color map as a base. I love using 3Dscanstore’s assets as the color and pore detail match perfectly and they’re very high quality.
I could do a whole article on texturing a head in Substance Painter, but the basics are: keep in mind the color zones of the face. Adding reds/purples/greens to certain areas, a cool layer for stubble, extras like capillaries and veins. And I like to add a layer with the cavity map in the color channel set to multiply or overlay and have a low opacity to bring out the cavities. Additionally, a convexity layer is set to color dodge or screen to bring out the high areas.
Check out James Gurney’s blog for more info on facial color zones: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2008/05/color-zones-of-face.html
Magdalena Dadela has a lot of great tutorials on texturing a head in Substance Painter: https://youtu.be/1L5hJalAUHg
It was very important to me to maintain a very intimidating silhouette for him, and his design took a few different forms. Initially, I was going to make him into a clergyman as he is in the books, but over time I opted for the more ominous look of the judge robes. I was able to get ideas from historical paintings/drawings and from reenactment communities as well as movies and games.
Eventually, I settled on the black/gold/purple color scheme and created a rough concept for myself as well as a callout sheet to keep in mind the materials. Ultimately I decided to blur the lines of historical accuracy for the sake of appeal and achieving the look I was going for.
I decided to simulate and sculpt the clothing in a pose since I knew this character would be a show piece rather than a game character. My MD patterns ended up looking very simple but were achieved through a lot of trial and error.
There is not much to say about the actual sculpting of the cloth that hasn’t already been said in other tutorials, and Outgang has a few tutorials on the subject: https://youtu.be/eL7r1Yav7qs
For the embroidery, I went about it old school. I found a damask pattern online and cropped it square so it would tile. Then I loaded it onto a plane within Zbrush and drew on all the strands by hand using the curvetubesnap brush. I don’t really recommend this method and if I had to do it again, I’d just learn Substance Designer.
After the fibers were drawn onto the plane, I filled them with white and the plane with black. This became my ID mask for Substance Painter. I then exported the plane as my highpoly and the plane/fibers combo as my highpoly. I then baked that in substance and added a few different color layers along with some overlaid AO.
Then I exported my maps and tiled these textures over the surface of the coat within Marmoset.
I’d never really made props before, so I was excited about the challenge since I am quite interested in prop art. I used a mix of Maya and Zbrush to create each asset. I didn’t have a particular method other than mostly starting from primitives and using curvetube brushes for some embellishments. For the texturing, I made sure to give the assets enough wear and tear to make them feel used and a little old.
I wanted to give the impression that the finery had a hint of rotten quality to it, just like Frollo himself. This was my first time using anchor points in Substance Painter, and it really proved to be a powerful tool.
This was my first time going through the process of making hair for a character using Xgen from start to finish. Before I started, I took a bit of time to create a photo bash on top of an existing render so I could get an idea of my direction. It’s really valuable to make your own concepts throughout the character art process even if they are rough.
For this process, I followed Tom Newbury’s tutorial on Xgen: https://flippednormals.com/downloads/tutorial-barbarian-xgen-for-characters/
In order to convert my XGEN grooms to geo and set it up in Marmoset, I followed J Hill’s tutorial: https://youtu.be/nFSoGzMzvj0
I ended up only generating slightly more geo than would be visible and deleted the rest that is hidden by the hat.
I wanted to remove most game art limitations for myself such as polycount, texture resolution etc. for this project while still remaining within the workflow of real-time rendering. Despite this, I was careful to keep the topology of my organic assets very clean, which assisted with sculpting as well as clean UV layout and usage of tiling textures on the clothes. Most of these assets ended up decimated for the final renders to get the lowest polycount with the highest fidelity possible.
Marmoset Toolbag 4 is a very powerful real-time rendering platform that I really enjoy using. I began by gathering some lighting reference that interested me from shows and movies. That made it a lot easier to hit the mood I wanted to achieve.
My lighting setup went through a lot of iterations, but through a great deal of trial and error, I ended up with a result I am pretty happy with. I would love to pursue a truly cinematic look in my future projects.
I’d like to conclude with a few pieces of advice I’ve learned over this project and in my career in general.
Make your own concepts and callouts by photo bashing on top of your own renders, drawing, kitbashing, or a combo of whatever is necessary to give yourself direction. It’s much faster than trying to figure things out in 3D!
Use reference heavily. It takes many years to develop a mental library, and if you don’t look at references, you can’t build that library.
Prioritize personality and feeling over perfection. At least for me, this is extremely important.
Perfection is unattainable, so I always try to inject my characters with as much attitude and life as possible rather than focusing on getting everything absolutely perfect.
Test early and often, it’s never too early to put your character into your render engine of choice, get things set up so you can easily test as you progress.
Pace yourself and take time for yourself. Burnout is a real problem and so are the physical and mental effects of sitting in one place for too long. If you feel blocked, it’s probably time to take a break and go do something different for a while.
Art is very difficult but very rewarding. Particularly, character art takes a lot of time and effort.
Finishing a project, especially one that spans years, takes a huge amount of grit and determination, but don’t forget to enjoy the process.