02 November 2021

Samurai Mercenary – Character Breakdown – Robin-Julian Lee



Hey! I’m Robin-Julian Lee, currently a Junior 3D artist at Elite3d, where I have worked on a couple of AAA productions over the past years. In this article, I want to show you the workflows and techniques
I used to create my latest project, the Samurai Mercenary. With this project, I wanted to go through the whole pipeline of the creation of armor, from conception to the final renders. Since I am used to doing props and environments at work it was really refreshing to do something new and different.



Like any other project, I started with collecting ideas and references. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to integrate the owl theme into the Armor in some way. I especially found a huge fascination with the barn owl, whose colours would determine the dye of the Samurai.

The first major issue I encountered during the planning stage, was the design of the Armor plates. I just didn’t feel very happy with the ones I had in my reference sheet. After looking around for a bit longer, I came to the conclusion that it would be better to design them myself.

Modelling Workflow


Moving onto the modelling and blocking. Here you can see one of the methods I utilized to design the shoulder plates. I am a huge fan of non-destructive iterative workflows. They allow you to make quick changes in your design and keep your meshes clean and consistent. In this case, I used the array and lattice modifiers a lot. This allowed me to have a good preview of what the end result will look like while working on a non-deformed simple mesh. In my case I used Blender but there are ways to replicate these results in other 3d software.

I highly advise you to explore the capabilities of each toolset for a more effective workflow, it really helps. Always be open to finding new ways of doing things, never settle with your current pipeline. This practice will also help you a lot when dealing with working in the industry. Things here are always changing.


In this project, I did a lot of the pre-work in Blender, before putting it into ZBrush to add the final details. I just feel more comfortable blocking things out in my modelling software. But I can see myself shifting more towards Zbrush for the blocking in the future.



For the clothing, I used Marvellous designer. I was quite fortunate to find some good patterns online, which helped me a lot, especially with the pants. The biggest challenge though came after creating all the patterns, let me tell you, it was a painstaking process of getting the shape and folds in the correct way. In the end, I used extra meshes which I modelled in Blender to support the shape.

This part was for me more like a trial and error, of changing some settings and pressing the simulate button. I am really not too proud of the way I had to do things here but was nonetheless happy with the result I got in the end.

Sculpting in ZBrush


After feeling happy with the shapes and the overall block out it was time to throw everything into ZBrush. Here I started adding details like folds and ornaments. I used a lot of different alphas and custom brushed for this part.

The by far biggest challenge was the chest piece. I really wanted to improve my sculpting skills. So the huge area gave me the perfect opportunity to do something big. To create the Owl and the clouds I started by masking out the main shapes and extruding them layer after layer to give the sculpt some depth.

Afterward, I sculpted in the fine details. I really fell in love here with the Slash2 Brush which came in handy for sculpting the feathers.



Now I want to get a bit more into detail on the texturing. While working on the textures I always switch between the different channels, mainly the albedo and the roughness. That gives you a different perspective on your Asset and really helps to improve your final result. I usually like adding dirt and leak types with different roughness values, that will make your textures instantly more interesting and give them more depth. For the colour palette, I chose to go with the colours of the barn owl as mentioned before.

Less is more. The issue which popped up already in the early stages of the texturing was the uniformity of the Armor plates. It made the whole Armor look really boring. My solution was to select some of the rows and give them a different colour. The result was ok, but I was still not satisfied here. To push it even further, I selected random tiles and gave them a small tint. That really made the overall colours more interesting and added some storytelling to it. As plates would be replaced over time.

Be careful though not to overdo this, you don’t want to end up with a sparkling rainbow samurai. Keep the tints subtle and don’t make all the plates individual. You want some variation not an explosion of colours.


To push the materials even further, it really helps to think about the way the materials work, how they are layered and how they were created. Think about the way your materials would wear overtime etc.
At this point I would like to recommend the hand-drill tutorial by Jason Ord on Artstation learning – https://www.artstation.com/learning/courses/owg/substance-painter-pushing-your-texturingfurther/chapters/d3J/introduction, I used a lot of his texturing techniques and it really helped me to improve the overall quality of my project. There is really not much I can add to his course.

Rigging and Posing


Now, this is where your character really comes to life. For the posing, I went with some generic samurai poses. I really like the results I was able to get out of here.
For the Rig I used the standard Rig which comes with Blender, I just had to adjust it a bit, but overall there were no major issues. Since the Armor consists mainly out of plates the weight painting was done rather quickly and easily. After completing the setup I could start with the fun part of posing the character.



Finally, I rendered my result in Marmoset Toolbag 4. For the lighting, I used a combination of hard and soft lights. Nothing special here, soft lights from the HDRI and the directional lights and hard lights from the spotlights to highlight certain areas. For my usual setup, I create for each individual shot an extra camera and a sky. This may sound a bit tedious but it really helps to push the quality of each shot. When I am satisfied with the result I render the image out in a super high resolution and give it some postprocessing in photoshop.


Final Advice

Now you will hear this quite often but I wouldn’t say it again if it wasn’t important. Never shy away to ask for feedback, especially when you are working on a project for over several months. Over time it is easy to develop tunnel vision and become oblivious to the most obvious mistakes. I know that it can be really soul-crushing sometimes but to have those extra eyes really helps to push the project to the Next Level.



This concludes the breakdown of my project. I know how hard it is sometimes to go through an entire article, so if you made it this far you have really earned my respect. I tried to keep it short and simple, highlighting the more important aspects of my workflows. I hope that you had some fun reading this small summary of my journey.
Finally, I would like to thank the team at GamesArtist.co.uk for giving me this opportunity to write about my project. I had a lot of fun doing this and it also gave me some time to reflect on my journey.