King Grayskull

Character Breakdown

Nick Gaul


Nick Gaul

Lead Character Artist


My name is Nick Gaul, and I've been working in the VFX/Games/Tech Industry for almost 20 years now.
A large portion of my Career was spent at Weta Digital, where I worked as a Lead/Supervisor in the models department.

I have a passion for 3D Character Art, and recently, I've been dedicating more time to enhancing my skills and knowledge in Unreal Engine.


With the KingGrayskull project, I really wanted to push my understanding of all things character creation within Unreal Engine. This included furthering my knowledge in shading/lighting, as well as animation.

This was also a collaboration with my friend Chay Johannson, who helped with all things rigging and simulation, such as hair and cloth simulation.


The software used was Maya, ZBrush, Marvelous Designer and Substance Painter.

References & Inspiration

King Grayskull is a character in the new “Revelations” animation of the Masters of the Universe IP.

I grew up playing with He-Man figures, which has always influenced and inspired me, even as an adult. So, I wanted to bring a character from it to life.

The main inspiration for the piece was some 2D concept art of the character.


Blockout & Modelling

The blockout of the mesh was started using a meta human.

This provided me with a base mesh with UVs, as well as the blend shapes and rigging. I used that as a basis to sculpt my new character while maintaining the topology and UVs.


The rest of the costume pieces were made in ZBrush using insert brushes for things like small straps and bolts. Detailing the model was done using a mixture of brushes and alphas.

The environment is a mixture of Quixel assets and textures, with props made in ZBrush such as the cauldron, torch, shield and sword.


Most of the assets were quickly blocked out in ZBrush using Dynamesh and relying on ZRemesher to optimize the topology for UV mapping. Anything very specific was taken over to Maya to use quad-draw tools for retopologizing.

Cloth & Fur

Any cloth that is simulated is built in Marvelous Designer, allowing for easy creation of the simulation geometry used for pieces like the cape and loincloth.


The fur is all done using Maya’s Xgen tools, which I find very easy to use and quite flexible for achieving very broad and granular control.


The dreads required some thought in terms of creation, mostly because conventionally in film, you’d rely on a very dense amount of hair requiring a lot of CVs and density to achieve.

To save on the amount of hair, I created only the shell of the dread by creating a template shaping curves around a tube and using that to transfer to all other dreads.

Xgen is great for customizing deformers using expressions, which helped create a lot of natural variation in the hair.



I relied heavily on Substance Painter to texture assets quickly and export them as USD packages to Unreal Engine, where all the materials were already set up. Substance is a potent tool allowing for complex textures very quickly.

Lighting & Rendering

Lighting and rendering were all done in UE5.3 using their real-time ray tracing. I absolutely love that you can light and get real-time feedback in UE, which helped iterate quickly and find the right look much faster. I used fog to add depth to my scene and controlled specific settings via some key lights. I did check some path-traced renders to compare and found the two were quite close, with the path tracing showing obvious better results in bounce light/GI and slightly better reflections and SSS.

With the lighting, I really wanted to play off the idea of hot and cold or like fire and ice, so I used a balance of cool tones and warmth. The cool tones were emphasized by a very strong key simulating moonlight, while the warmth came from firelight.

I used UE’s Niagara system to create the fire for the torches and cauldrons, another incredible feature in UE that added a lot to the piece.


The final piece is comprised of a few different animated cameras, all rendered out from the movie render queue.

Rigging & Posing

Chay rigged up the character back in Maya and utilized the meta-human facial board to transfer facial motion. I used the iPhone app “LiveLink” to capture the facial motion.


After most of the base asset was sorted and proportions locked down, it was rigged up in Maya, and then this was used in Unreal to warp motion to.
Utilizing Unreal’s IK retargeting, we warped across various motions to test and use.

We imported the idle motion back to the character in Maya, allowing us to run the wardrobe and hair simulation.


In conclusion, UE has really allowed artists the tools to go much further than before, both from the ability to render scenes in real time or extremely fast (even the path tracer is fast, all things considered), but also allowing a network of tools and features to create worlds extremely quickly.

Meta human also serves as a massive pool of resources to use and learn from.

The King Grayskull shaders were all reworked from the meta human shaders, adding my own maps, and extending some functionality where needed.