Doom. The Ghost Crow Devil was created for an Artstation Challenge called “Medieval: Back and Forth”. It takes place once a year, and each time I challenge myself with complex concepts to step out of my comfort zone. For the creation of the “demon” piece, I wanted to try sculpting a dehydrated male body in a dynamic pose. I also wanted to work with subtle texture combinations. This is my first try at this type of work.
I used ZBrush for sculpting, Maya for retopology, UV Layout for unwrapping, Substance Painter, and 3D Coat for texturing, and Marmoset Toolbag for rendering.
When I saw the concept by G.X.guoxue, I knew I had to give it a try. It was a challenging concept for 3D modeling because it wasn’t very detailed, and I had to think about many additional details.
I allowed myself to make mistakes and embrace imperfections from the start, which allowed me to enjoy the process without worrying about the outcome.
I wanted to make the pose more understandable for myself, so I turned to male pole dancers for inspiration.
In their dances, I saw the expression I needed, so I took screenshots from performance videos on YouTube. I also made a few sketches for concept art analysis.
I started with a blockout in ZBrush. I decided not to create the character in an A or T-pose because the contest had a very limited time frame, and I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to rig such a complex character.
I didn’t regret my decision. I worked on it like a traditional sculpture.
First, I focused on finding the major forms, and then I adjusted the proportions.
The character texture reminded me of a tree, so I used the clay build-up brush. I tried not to overdo the surface and left some areas smooth.
The focal points of my work are the head and ribcage, so I put more effort into detailing them. On the other hand, the clothing serves as a resting area, so I didn’t add too many folds to it.
The silhouette was also crucial in my work.
Initially, I sculpted the same pose as in the concept. However, I realized that what works well in 2D doesn’t always look as appealing in 3D.
Therefore, I decided to spread the wings of my birds. The most challenging part turned out to be the skull. I searched for similar heads of different birds on natural science museum websites.
I found that the skull of the California Condor was what I needed. I used it as a reference but adjusted it according to the concept art.
Working on the birds was particularly interesting.
I watched all the YouTube videos dedicated to California Condors. I believe that sculpting birds cannot rely solely on photographs.
Birds are constantly in motion. Additionally, I referred to the bird’s skeleton during the sculpting process.
However, in the end, I sacrificed anatomical accuracy for artistic expression and a beautiful gesture.
Retopology and UVs
I used Maya for retopology. Initially, I wanted to save time and use ZRemesher, but I realized that fixing the ZRemesher result would take longer than starting from scratch.
Therefore, I used ZRemesher only for simple parts. For UVs, I used UV Layout, an older program that I really like.
The contest had a limitation that allowed only two textures with a 4K resolution, which I followed. Unfortunately, after I had unwrapped all the UVs, the rules were updated to allow splitting the 4K texture into smaller sets.
However, I didn’t redo my UVs. I was in a rush to complete this work on time. In the end, I had a total of 64K triangles.
In hand-painted stylization, there are many subtypes. Brush strokes and their boundaries are crucial. Often, the stylization of different games differs in the shape and level of detail of the brush strokes.
So when I search for references for hand-painted textures, I choose a game with a style that serves as the main reference.
For example, I can’t choose both World of Warcraft and League of Legends as texture references because they are very different, although it may not be noticeable at first glance.
For this work, I was inspired by the textures of the game Ruined King.
I really like the color palette: Subdued shades of blue and green.
During the work process, I analyzed the textures of this game in the smallest details and tried to replicate some ideas in my own work.
If I were to visualize how I look at the references, it would look like this. In this weapon from the game, there are several materials, and each has its own pattern.
I believe that attention to detail and working with references are the key to success in texturing.
I initially planned to create the Ghost Crow Devil in a hand-painted style.
Therefore, I only needed to bake the maps as a base for the textures.
I create all the basic materials using this generator.
Then I use the standard AO generators for light and AO invert for shadows. I create gradients using the Linear Gradient and 3D Distance generators.
I create all the basic materials using this generator. Then I use the standard AO generators
for light and AO invert for shadows. I create gradients using the Linear Gradient and 3D
Then I transition to 3D Coat with this base. I love how blending and overlaying colors work in 3D Coat, as it allows for very smooth color combinations.
I constantly keep my finger on the V key, similar to the Alt key in Photoshop. Overall, hand-painted texturing is very similar to 2D painting.
I work from general to specific. Nuanced textures are more challenging than contrasting ones because the color values are very subtle.
I always show the process of working on a character to other artists and ask for feedback.
It’s a great opportunity to improve my work. Initially, I made the shadows too dark and the highlights too bright, which resulted in a lack of cohesion in the artwork.
My friend, a 2D artist, provided me with feedback and pointed out this issue.
I never get attached to my results, and I’m always ready to start over if there’s a chance to make the work better.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to convert the artwork into a black-and-white image to see how the lighting works.
In 3D, you can experiment freely, as you can always save your progress or go back to a previous version.
I rendered my work in Marmoset Toolbag using an unlit shader. One might think that lighting is unnecessary for hand-painted textures since they’re already painted.
However, that’s not the case. I always place two contrasting light sources from behind to emphasize the “volume” and separate the figure from the background.
I was surprised to discover the use of a black light source. It turned out that if you choose black as the color, it won’t emit light but will cast shadows.
I used this technique to create the shadow from behind, as in the concept.
Initially, I painted a blue glow on all pieces of fabric, but by mistake, I only applied the material to two of them.
Unaware of this, I proceeded with the render. When I realized the error, I quickly corrected it and was surprised to find that my artwork looked worse.
It turned out that the glow specifically on those two pieces of fabric supported the diagonal composition and looked harmonious to the point that I didn’t notice the “mistake.”
So, there’s no need to fear mistakes; sometimes they make our work even better and can teach us something. I believe that good composition is crucial in the artwork. It should be cohesive and consistent.
Therefore, it’s not scary to destroy details that have been created or remove overly intricate textures if they don’t contribute to the overall composition and instead disrupt the sculpture.
I am very satisfied with my result because I not only achieved my goal but also learned a few things:
- When choosing a concept art that is challenging and unfamiliar, it’s important not to have high expectations or think that it has to be perfect. This significantly reduces anxiety and allows you to enjoy the process rather than fixate on the outcome.
- Asking for feedback from more experienced colleagues can be intimidating, but it’s an excellent opportunity to identify the weaknesses in your work and improve them. Don’t miss out on this opportunity due to shame or fear. And if someone’s advice seems inappropriate, you don’t necessarily have to follow it.
- Mistakes don’t always result in negative outcomes; sometimes, they lead to improvements in the work. And even if they don’t, overcoming them provides invaluable experience that enables you to make future 3D artworks even better.
Thank you for reading until the end, and I hope you found it interesting. I’m always open to connecting on Artstation or LinkedIn.