For this project, I wanted to apply everything I have learned over the years regarding stylized art. The character is based on a concept with many references that helped me create something unique for the challenge and my portfolio.
I used the following software for this character: Zbrush, Maya (may vary), Marmoset 4 for baking, Substance Painter, Photoshop, and Marmoset Toolbag 3 for rendering (which allows me to achieve an illustration-like style that I enjoy).
For this project, I had the idea of creating my concept based on one of my favorite characters, someone who is significant in world history and very inspiring to me. I wanted to achieve a character that reflected this inspiration.
I merged various concepts: Joan of Arc + Akira + The Dø’s lead singer + various sci-fi armors. I blended these ideas together, and this was the result.
Blockout & Armor
I started with the head and the basic body shape. I spent a lot of time defining the faces of my characters, and this time was no exception. I often work with separate spheres for each body section, especially regarding armors.
I started by trying out some options, and in the end, I made them work and added more elements. I relied heavily on Marco Plouffe’s latest works for armor creation.
For the creation of the pieces, I carefully followed the following process. Although it is a commonly used approach, I hope it provides you with some new tips that work for you.
Cloth & Props
For the clothing, I decided to go for the same style that I have been working on. I sculpted it, aiming to apply what I have learned from working on Fortnite characters. It’s not overly complex, but it provides valuable information, particularly regarding how wrinkles behave under pressure.
I usually play with X, Y, and Z shapes, using standard and dam standard brushes to create them. I use a lower subdivision level for standard and higher subdivision levels for angle changes.
As for the flag, I utilized ZBrush’s dynamic simulation with some patience to achieve decent results.
I played with gravity and added more faces and layers. However, this method can be destructive, so I recommend using morph targets.
Face & Hair
For the head, I think it depends a lot on the references, but lately, I’ve been trying to develop my own style. I really enjoy incorporating a neutral expression in my characters.
But in this case, I wanted to use a wider range of expressions and experiment with many of them to see which one fit best. I truly recommend this, not just in a technical sense but creatively as well.
It’s like playing around with the character, not just limiting them to a boring neutral expression.
I recommend exploring and experimenting! This approach can lead to different situations, and in my case, it helped me achieve some interesting poses based on these expressions.
For the expressions, I base myself on several sheets on Pinterest, which inspire me a lot. I also upload these sheets to social networks; I think people like them a lot.
With the hair, I used a somewhat unconventional workflow. I started by creating the individual strands, made a dynamesh, and then created clean topology in Maya.
Inside Zbrush, I used creases, aiming to achieve something stylized and generate certain translucent appearances at the ends, as if they were hair cards.
I made an attempt at hand painting; I’m still new to this, but it’s a good start. All the brightness information is in the albedo.
UV & Baking
In the UVs part, I practiced a little with texel density; I wanted all the armor to have the same resolution.
I usually use Toolbag 4 to make bakes. It’s an easy process; you just have to name everything in the same way, and the importation is simple. Plus, you can see the dynamic cage and modify it to avoid bake errors. It’s a highly recommended tool.
This project was planned for a budget of 100k; in this case, I had the freedom to add an extra body without armor.
As for the topology, try to be as clean and fast as possible.
I divided the texture sets into two 4k (an example of the distribution in the following image). Separating each set in different colors may seem obvious, but I recommend planning the texture sets well, marking them like this to better identify them. In this case, different material colors can speed up the selection of the sets.
Lastly, and very importantly, pay attention to the roughness of each part; each material is different in terms of roughness and metalness, so you always have to have variations. It is also good to add some noise and break the roughness.
This helps to prevent the shine from being smooth and monotonous.
I like to play around and create fake brands, like a corporate identity for costumes and assets, mainly for modern or sci-fi characters.
In this case, I added some patches to the design.
In the following image and video, I show a little how my process is.
During the first phase of the character, I usually explore the possible poses of the character. I want them to be a bit dynamic; I mean not very complex, but if I want to get away from the pose in A, here I show my first sketches.
When I had everything ready, I already experimented with UV textures and topology, I started posing. I didn’t want to waste time experimenting with rigging (something I want to do later).
I used the transpose master Zbrush tool, and based on my previous explorations, it’s something more work but fun. As I said before, many poses arose from the initial facial expression.
For the render, I used Toolbag 3. I don’t know why, but it works better for this style of characters; it has the use of the Dota shader, and the shadows work better for me. Most of what I use here can be transferred to Marmoset Toolbag 4. I decided to add an outline to the materials; I like that style. I also added the Dota shader effect. It’s an excellent effect to achieve this finished drawing style. I wonder if calling it hand-painting is something weird that I want to perfect.
Everything I learned and applied from the Dota shader I took from here: [Link]. Here I show a little how the lights in my scene work. It is the standard lighting. In my case, I like to exaggerate the rim light; it can help a lot with epic characters.
Much of the extra information comes from the emissives in the scene, like the sword or the background.
Another point that helps to make the light more volumetric is the fog; I recommend using it no matter what version of Toolbag. The truth is that these settings work in any.
She is one of my favorite characters, and I also created one of my works a long time ago. I did not do the entire lake in real time. It was more of a time challenge for me, since in style, it is something that I am already perfecting.
I will continue with this type of character; I like that religious and futuristic aura, and I’ll see what happens. Thank you so much.