Sherlock Holmes

Character Breakdown

Natalia Stolarz


Natalia Stolarz

What goals did I have in mind when making the Character?

First of all, I’m still a student so my first and foremost goal was to improve my abilities through the entire pipeline of game-ready character creation. I’m currently under the mentorship of the one and only Georgian Avasilcutei ( ).

Anyone who has ever heard of him must be already aware that he puts the most pressure on the quality of the work – both in the artistic and the technical fields. It has become my main motto also. I was – and I still am, most focused on doing the best I can and avoiding taking any shortcuts. It’s a long and rocky way of falling and picking yourself up again but – ex nihilo nihil fit.

Taking all of the above into consideration what I wanted to achieve was to understand the whole process of character creation better, improve my problem-solving skills along with my efficiency and productivity, broaden my artistic horizons and the most important of them all – to have fun 🙂

What software did you use?


Software used: Zbrush (+ZWrap), Maya, Marvelous Designer, Topogun, RizomUV, Marmoset Toolbag, Photoshop, Substance Painter.
The final images were rendered in Marmoset Toolbag 4.

The hair cards were made and placed with the use of George Sladkovsky’s GS Curve Tools Plugin for Maya


The inspiration for the character came very unexpectedly during a casual conversation with my friends from the mentorship program. I was trying to figure out what kind of a character I want to make next and the only thing I was sure about was that I wanted to make a male character… and unfortunately, the gross chunk of the character concept art is female-oriented. Somehow one thing led to another and here he was – the cross-dressed Sherlock Holmes himself.

High Poly Sculpting

Like with the previous character I made ( I started the whole creation with the head. It got my full focus and became a fully separate project which feels only natural since the face is what we as human beings pay the most attention to. Following my mentor’s guidance, I choose to  try pursuing sculpting a likeness. It’s not the easiest thing to do especially for beginners but at the same time, it’s a perfect and ultra-challenging exercise in understanding the complexities of human face anatomy. Trying to copy a well-known person might seem like a very derivative task at the first glance but its main purpose is to force you to really comprehend each curve, volume, crease and bump of your 2D model. It pushes you to deeply learn anatomy and to actively think about what you see and what you need to sculpt. It’s a hard and very unforgiving path but also an extremely rewarding one. In the end, at least.

Sculpting (ZBrush) the likeness of Robert Downey Jr took me about 4-5 months. During the whole process, I had the head scans from opened as an additional tool. Having them all the time somewhere near lets you quickly verify the general flow of the shapes and volumes.
Additionally, I gathered a huge collection of Robert’s pictures – preferably with the most neutral expression. Figuring out how to adjust the FOV in Zbrush with the ones used by paparazzi in the red carpet photos might be a little bit tricky at the times but it’s the absolutely necessary and yet very often omitted step.

And then classically – working day by day, going back and forth, starting from the big shapes to the small ones – after a couple of weeks I managed to achieve something that was a base acceptable enough for the next step – which would be using the XYZ textures to add pores and skin details to the sculpt.

To do this I followed “the killer workflow” with the only difference of using Marmoset Toolbag instead of XNormals for baking my maps. I put my primary and secondary details on the ZBrush layers to have better control over them and then I started to fill the gaps with skin alphas. But it definitely couldn’t be the last thing done – if you want to achieve a really nice effect you always need to put in some manual labor – sculpt some additional wrinkles characteristic to your model, add some moles, throw in some imperfections – anything that would make the basic XYZ texture evolve to your final character.

Basic tips, some always and some nevers 

Always work from big to small and don’t even add another subdiv level until you’re sure you did your best on the current one. If you’re striving for a likeness your model should be recognisable already on one of the lowest subdivisions without any skin details at all. 

Never shy away from retopologizing during the sculpting process. Once you’re roughly happy with your bigger volumes you might want to think about retopologizing your head. Having a proper loop flow can save you a lot of trauma 🙂 and you are going to have some UVs for the baking skin detail maps later anyway.

Always have some morph target stored and if possible – work with layers. Especially for breaking the symmetry of the face. Being able to quickly go back to the one your ‘checkpoints’ after creating a particularly spectacular mess is always a relief. Adding a proper set of polygroups also helps a lot with selecting and quickly moving whole areas around. 

Never neglect learning anatomy! I highly recommend looking into some anatomy curses dedicated to artists – you might be surprised how the fat pads could be even more important than bones and muscles sometimes. Try to check Scott Eaton, anatomy4sculptors or Laura Gallagher websites. Buy Georgian Avasilcutei’s guide for sculpting faces. Open some real head scans, watch your tutorials, learn, learn, learn  – and sculpt along! 🙂 

Always organise your files! The more complicated project you work on the more files you’re inevitably going to create. Being able to figure out where you stashed some very specific file after a couple of days/weeks/months is priceless. Not the mention you’re creating for yourself a wonderful set of backup files in case something in your project suddenly goes south.


The creation of the clothing took place both in Marvelous Designer and Zbrush. There are some really amazing ways of fusing these two softwares together in order to create almost literally anything that involves fabric parts. Very often I create a ‘base’ for my fabrics in Zbrush to import them in Marvelous either as a garment or as an avatar – all depends on a particular situation.

For example, for the purse, I imported the metal clutch straight from ZBrush as an avatar and with a help of some freezing and pins I folded the fabric part around. For the boots I created simple soles in ZBrush – quickly made UVs (so I could use them as a pattern), imported them into MD as a garment, froze them and sewed the leather parts of the boot directly to the soles.

The hat was created almost exclusively in Zbrush – the only trick I committed was to create a ‘guiding plane’ for the folded rim and freeze it. This way I didn’t have to worry about the shape of the rip and just purely focus on the pleats.
For most cases, it happens to be much easier to think ahead and spend some time planning your MD projects. There are dozens of approaches to every possible piece of garment. What works best for me is to always use real-life patterns, don’t shy away from frequent switching between software if need be – and experiment.

Both Zbrush and MD have a lot of awesome tools that can be used to your advantage even if they were constructed for totally different reasons!
The last thing – might be the most important one – never ever finish your garment projects on just exporting them from MD. Bring them into Zbrush. Sculpt on them a little – or a lot! Add some memory folds, some stitching holes, some fine creases. If clothing was made exclusively with the use of MD – it really shows!

Once the high poly model is done the very dreaded retopology part awaits.
My preparations are usually very standard – I clean my HP meshes, check if there are no weird holes, flipped normals and other surprising abnormalities. At this part, I try to roughly figure out how I’m going to organise my low poly meshes. Before decimating my model for retopo I usually create a ‘clean’ stage, which allows me to make a copy of it to be used later for the ID baking.


This process for the real-time character is always, always, ALWAYS by hand. I know this process is considered to be boring and tiresome but nothing gives better results for the meshes that are to be animated. Personally, I’m a big fan of Topogun – quickly, intuitive, easy, stable – it has my full love and devotion.


UVing for me has to be done in Rizom! Very efficient, very effective, very powerful. It has all of the juicy options and all them are solemnly focused to cooperate with UVing as smoothly as possible. Since I’ve started using Rizom, I actually consider slashing my UVs a fun thing to do 🙂
So, can you do it faster?

Baking Maps

I bake my maps in Marmoset Toolbag. With the newest 4th release of the software, the baking process is faster than ever. Before jumping to my final bakes I usually spend some time on test bakes. That’s the part where I don’t care that much about the perfect UV layout and how I organized my low poly. It’s purely a time to check if all the retopologized meshes are holding their shapes and volumes and if the UVs are not weirdly stretched anywhere. Usually, for testing purposes, it’s enough just to create a normal map but I also like to make the AO and – again only for testing purposes – put it into the place of the color map to enhance all of the baking imperfections.

Never forget about the proper naming for your low and high poly – the quick loader option in Marmoset is super efficient and can make your life much easier.
The final set of the baked maps contains: normals, curvature, position, AO, thickness, color ID. This set allows me to work with all the fancy generators in Substance Painter and I really like to abuse this option as much as possible.


This is all done with SubstancePainter with some slight touches of Photoshop – if necessary.
The real trick here is to find a balance between sculpting details directly onto your high poly and creating them during the texturing process. Both sides have their advantages and I’m still usually torn whenever I have to choose. On the one hand, hand-sculpted details give you beautifully baked maps to work with and the texturing process itself goes much faster. On the other – creating some small details with the use of textures grants you way more freedom in changing some of them as you go.


Personally, it is one of my most favourite parts. As I’m still learning the art of creating game-ready characters I mostly use hair cards.

There are some really amazing tutorials that can guide you almost step by step through this process- one of them being my mentor’s guide –
It involves creating a hair card and binding it to a deformable curve/spline – which is a fairly easy task in 3DsMax. But since I consider myself a Maya user I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone VideoNomad’s Maya plugin –
It’s an amazing tool that allows you to have almost full control of your curves and hence – of your hair cards. You can change width, length, taper, twist them, group them, clump them all together – whatever your heart desires.

I’m already in the habit of constantly checking the look of my hair in Marmoset Toolbag. The difference between what you see in Maya’s viewport and what you can conjure with the full set of your maps in Marmoset can be quite astonishing.


Those are not always the skills required to have by the character artist and on top of that, it usually takes quite a long time and devotion to acquire them. So my advice is – if possible – ask for someone’s help. If you have a friend who is an animator or who is very experienced in sculpting miniatures – just ask for their aid. They might have some nice tricks stashed up their sleeves – so listening and learning from the pros in their field could be a valuable experience. The same thing goes with lightning and composing. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to people whose expertise surpasses your own.

Final Note

Never forget to have fun when creating your personal projects! Especially if you’re still a student. Just focus on the quality, fall in love with the road you’re on and be patient. Once you have the quality factor in place just keep on going and – as my mentor always says – the speed will come.