16 September 2020

Making a Medeival Character – Felix Ostwald



Hello everyone, my name is Felix Ostwald and I am a 3D Artist from Ravenna, Italy. I’m currently working as a teacher and 3d artist for “AIV – Accademia Italiana Videogiochi” a videogame Academy in Rome, and freelancing for “Forge Studios” a game development company based also in Rome.

About this Project

This project was developed to be the final exercise for our students at AIV, to challenge there knowledge and skill acquired during the 3 year 3d graphic course. We choose the medieval theme for texture, teaching and workflow purpose, so the students could research their own concepts or ref, without losing track of the upcoming lessons.

Workflow at all is nothing unusual: Zbrush blockout, face anatomy sculpt, Marvelous for the cloth, retopology in Topogun, texture in Substance Painter and render in Marmoset Toolbag. First of all I’ve started by choosing a concept to follow and gathering A LOT of reference images of all the different parts of the character (head, armor, cloth, gambeson…). Below you can a part see the “wall of art” used for this project and the concept by Ksenia Kim.



It all starts in Zbrush with the blockout stage, to get overall shapes and proportions right at first pace. In this project, I’ve started from a scanned body, because the focus is on the cloth and armor and not on the anatomy. There was a lot of use of the Extract function and Zremesh to get the right topology and move on faster.

The hardest part to blockout where the armored glove, because it was made off all tiny metal plates overlapping in a very specific order; also thinking for a future animation phase.

The gambeson, pants and boots I’ve used Dynamesh for a quick shape and Zremesher for a cleaner topology to refine later.


After the blockout was done, and the shapes were close enough to the concept, I move along with Marvelous Designer.

Marvelous Designer

Choosing Marvelous Designer was a no-brainer, because it an industry-standard circa for now, and it gives the best results in less time. In this project, it was used for all the cloth: gambeson, tunic, pants and boots.
To make them I’ve imported a decimated version of the character’s body into Marvelous. Starting from the lowest sitting cloth (the gambeson) I stated shaping the 2d pattern in the way I want it, later added Internal Lines for the vertical padded lines, use the Layer Clone Under function and tweaked the material setting as needed.

The compression of the tunic by the belt, was made using a simple mesh made in Zbrush, exporting an “attached” version (on the character’s body) and a “distant” version, imported the second into Marvelous and used the function Morph Target. A simple tutorial on this was done by Olivier Couston.



After exporting from Marvelous Designer I need to clean the topology of these assets, using Zbrush’s new powerful Zremesh algorithm, and projection the simulated mesh to get back every detail. The first thing I did I fixed the layering of all the cloth with Move brush, cleaning some unwanted folds and refining some minor details.
Next, using Dynamic Subdiv I cleaned the hard surface assets, added some divisions and with the Orb Brushes I’ve added some minor scratches and bumps. The boarders were done with Zmodeler, as I had a clean topology that helped me a lot. Clean topology is always needed.


I use manly default brushes like:

ClayBuildup, Standard, Dam_Standard for organic, and Flatten, HPolish, Trim_Dynamic, Orb brushes for hard surface. For cloth instead, I suggest using the SK brushes.

After defining the main folds and forms of cloths, time to add the minor details using alphas, that speeds up the workflow. To control that fine details it can help using Zbrushs Layers, where through slider the intensity can be controlled, very handy.

The big neck chain mail was done via Nanomesh, creating a small tile ring mesh, and deleting the unnecessary rings to make the pointy border shape.

Keep checking references for small details is very important, and I’ve keep in mind that the I can add even more details in Substance Painter later. You should consider this kind of facts to better manage time.
The Final sculpt image below.

The head got a bit of rework because I need the add XYZ Displacement workflow into the lessons for AIV academy.

I’ve studied the breakdowns on XYZ Texture website, and used one of them Multi-channel faces and stretched it in Photoshop to adapt it to the faces UVs. Later I refined it in Zbrush, still using the Layer function for overall control. To fix some spots I’ve used skin alphas found online.


Lowpoly, UV and Bake

To create the realtime version of this character I’ve used Topogun and Maya retopology feature. We established a polycount limit to around 100k for the complete character, kept some armor and cloth pieces together as low-poly and fix a max number of texture sets and size.


The topology is nothing straight forward, knowing that it will be later animated I need to give special attention to the articulation points. For the armor, I’ve reused some mesh made in Zbrush and for the cloth was all redone by hand.

UVs and texture set organization was done based on the current-gen workflow, by keeping everything straight and stretching some parts to obtain more resolution. Bake done partly in Marmoset and part in Substance Painter, keeping an eye on soft/hard edges where needed.


Texture size and number were predefined to work with the ingame industry standards, and I needed to adapt my layout to it. It was decided for:

One 4k map for the character, that could be used as needed.One 1k map for iris.
One 2k map for hairs.
One 2k map for the weapon.
(The maps were scaled up for presentation purposes).

The texture should have a realistic style and a good amount of details that transmit the sens of combat use. All the texture process was done in Substance Painter starting from scratch or from a smart material.
Keeping the texture palette as close as possible to the concept, I generally stared from a good base color, adding layer on layer of different kinds of grunge and aging effects.


A good suggestion I could give is to keep adding color variation, don’t stick with the same palette, even on metal surfaces, try to add different tones, especially if you try to age a material.

The head was one of the most challenging parts to texture, knowing that the human face has different color zones. I began working my way up from the red tones, to the yellow tones on the forehead and bluer/purpler around the eyes (only Base color). Having a rich Curvature and AO map, I used that to pop out the smaller skin cavities and wrinkles. I suggest taking a look at awesome useful tutorials from Rohin Sight and Magdalena Dadela.


Rendering a 3d asset is a very important phase, it can enhance a project event further or kill the best texture. For me, the easiest software is Marmoset Toolbag, with his simple shader setup and quick realtime render responses.

I wanted to transmit a fantasy/medieval vibe through this render, made that by starting with a classic 3 point light setup: rim light, main light and fill light. After that I started tweaking this light, and adding more spot and point lights, to attract the viewer’s attention where I wanted, and enhance the best parts of the model.

Final cool touch gave the Fog, by blending the different light color in the back of the character.


If you found my Article interesting, please find more breakdowns of my Character on my Artstation.