For any project reference is incredibly important, I knew that the person this was for loved Andy Park’s art in the Tomb Raider comics, so I did a bunch of research into the visual styles he used and came across some of his sketch work. One in particular caught my eye and I wanted to try and translate this kind of style into 3D.
Following this, I found it very helpful to look at existing statues and figures of Lara. As the intended outcome of this project was a 3D print I wanted to see how the sculptors had posed her as well as the finish to the sculpts. I would be approaching this a little differently as this was a posed piece, not an a-pose.
I also looked at existing digital interpretations of Lara along with the actual game models to help inform how I could interpret the style into my sculpt.
With all this in mind, I did some very quick sketches just to capture the general outfit, pose and stylization I wanted to achieve. This also gave me an image to benchmark my proportions and stylization against.
As I knew Lara was intended as a posed print I broke the symmetry straight away. Normally if I were working on a game asset I would be working in symmetry for the entire process.
Working asymmetrically was a nice challenge that really forced me to ensure that the proportions and forms were maintained throughout the process. This was also a lot of fun because I could really push the gesture of the character without worrying about keeping it in a position that would be optimal for rigging.
I used a pre-existing character base mesh for the body and then extruded and ZRemeshed the clothing and accessories. Some elements were quickly modelled in Maya (the glasses, boots, belt and harness) to be used as base meshes.
Tip #1 – Prioritise clean topology in your base meshes!
Base meshes are arguably the most important part of the ZBrush process. If your base mesh topology is not relatively clean (mostly quadded) then your subdivisions will also not be clean.
It’s a game art myth that triangles are bad, sensibly placed triangles can be fine in your game mesh. However, they can cause havoc in base meshes for sculpting as a triangle will divide into a pole (uneven amount of edges to a vertex.) This is what creates pinching in subdivisions and is near impossible to sculpt over. If you want cleaner forms in your sculpts use a good base mesh topology!
I like to do paintovers of the model through this early stage – I’d really recommend grabbing a screenshot of your piece and looking at it in photoshop if you feel you are hitting a wall.
I ended up doing this and deciding that the arm pose needed changing as my initial sketch didn’t translate as well as I wanted. Doesn’t have to be pretty, just needs to help you visualize it further!
Not much to say here – once the base meshes were all ready and I was happy enough with the pose and proportions I sculpted each part to communicate the material it was made of. As I was trying to keep it clean I didn’t go crazy on details, just primary and some secondary folds in there as well as refining the simplified anatomy. My focus was on the overall appeal of the character.
The model will be going directly into the renderer as a decimated mesh, no UVs, no textures, etc. So the way I created colour variation in the skin and cloth was with polypaint. I put most work into the face but I will be relying on a combination of shaders and poly paint in the renderer to push material definition.
Under the masking tab in ZBrush there are a bunch of different ways of masking your sculpt. I used the cavity and AO masking settings to quickly add AO shadows without using a baked map.
At this point, I decided to put the decimated mesh into my renderer because I would be relying a lot on the material shaders to push the believability of the materials rather than using textures.
I chose to use Marmoset Toolbag 4 for this. I was already familiar with Marmoset Toolbag 3 and I was interested in seeing how the raytracing works. This felt like a suitable project to give it a go.
Once my mesh was in Marmoset I could set up my camera and a first pass on the lighting. I like to get a feel quite early on for the final image, once it is in place I can polish up the model and lighting based on my chosen camera view.
I assigned individual materials to the different parts of the model and simply adjusted the roughness/spec/metal values until I was happy with their readability. I used the skin shader options to get a bit of SSS into the skin and also used a refraction shader for the glasses. Apart from those, there isn’t anything particularly fancy going on.
Now with everything set up in ‘engine’ I could do a few more passes on the sculpt and the lighting until I felt I was happy with the final image.
For the sculpt I realised to make the materials read a bit better that I would need to add some subtle surface detailing to help communicate the material type. So I grabbed some tileable cloth thread displacement, denim displacement and a leather displacement which I applied directly to the sculpt – This included adding seam and stitching details to straps and so on.
I also pushed the hair gesture a bit so that it was not blocking the face and made the plait more visible in the silhouette.
With this all in place the last step was to adjust the final lighting and camera settings, added vignette, sharpen, bloom, etc. Then hit the render button and wait!
A long part of the process for this piece was actually the separating and keying – I won’t go into this in too much detail as preparing and getting meshes ready for print is a whole topic in itself.
Needless to say there was a lot of back and forth and failed test prints before I got it all working.
Even now I still have a few pieces that need reprinting. So I’m not quite ready to show the finished print yet. Watch this space! I will share as soon as I can!
All in all, I really had a lot of fun with this piece! She was completed in roughly 2 months around work.
The last few pieces I have worked on have been really important to me. Working on looser more stylized stuff has really opened me up to feel more creatively fulfilled, I have been learning so
much from these pieces. I’m sure it’s been said before but my biggest piece of advice for longevity in art is doing what you enjoy, find the thing that excites you and run with it!
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Hope this was insightful and thank you for reading about my process!