Talia – Character Breakdown – Sonya Belgacem
Hello everyone! My name is Sonya Belgacem and I am a character artist. I will start off by saying thank you GamesArtist for giving me the opportunity to share a breakdown of this project and I hope this will be useful to anyone reading.
My goal for this project was to mainly practice fur, hair and learn Xgen. I also wanted to improve my workflow in texturing in terms of material definition. When I pick a concept or project I think about what I want to learn or improve.
I start by writing a short story or some keywords I want the character to have. It can be simple words like a hunter, flames just to get something going.
This way you can start defining the characteristics and add some flavor. For instance, let’s use the words I wrote. So it’s a hunter, what does it hunt and why?
Any damage and where and how? And for the flames maybe some burn marks or burned parts of the cloth.
This is a way I use the keywords to add flavor, and I will keep these in mind throughout the project.
For the reference gathering, I start by first looking at the concept and try to find real-life references or photos of something similar to what I am looking for.
After that I break it down further to more specific areas, for instance for the cloak I looked up the type of cloth it would be. For the fur, I looked at the silhouette, shapes, color, what type of fur, etc.
When I do a blockout, I do the main shapes of the character first and look at the silhouette to make sure I am still matching the concept.
I check the proportions and work from large, medium and small. Everything can be very rough at this stage. Already here I try to get the feeling that I want in the shapes and silhouette.
Tip: When I am stuck or that something feels off I do a overpaint. I just grab a screenshot from ZBrush and start painting over it. Sometimes this goes faster than sculpting for me and I can quickly tweak those changes that I liked in ZBrush.
Once I am happy with blockout I start once again from large to small, starting with the largest shapes. I rely on the reference I have gathered and think about the story of the character. Where has it been? Where are the damages and how has it gotten
damaged? These can be some of the questions I ask myself.
At this stage, I also start thinking about what I can do in the textures and what can be sculpted.
Here you can see some of the main brushes I used for the sculpt. When detailing I use a low intensity on a lot of the brushes just to break up the smooth surface so that it isn’t perfect. I use the layers a lot in Zbrush at this stage.
After doing a lot of research on hair and looking through a bunch of hair tutorials I get to work. It was a lot of back and forth and trial and error, but once again reference is key. I looked at different types of hairstyles and not just the hairstyle in the concept.
Here is how the setup of the fur looks in Maya. Its basic cylinders are just cut in half and then split up. I have then added some guides and played around with the modifiers a lot.
Here you have a short video of how the setup looked in my Maya scene. I like to turn off the tube shade since it feels more like hair to me.
The main modifiers I use are noise, clump, coil and cut.
The main tip I can give is to have patience and don’t be afraid to go back to Xgen to redo some hair strands if it doesn’t look good.
I went back a couple of times when I started laying out the fur and remade some strands completely.
My basic workflow for placing out the fur cards is to use the clumps I have made and place them by hand. I start building up the hair in layers, starting with the most inner layer of fur.
No special tools, just a lot of patience.
Texturing and materials
For the texturing I use a lot of fill layers with masks and generators, I try to use as little manual painting as possible.
I use manual painting as final details on top of everything.
As I have said a lot in this article, use reference and think about the story behind the object is. This will help to push the textures further.
Here is a short breakdown of the cloak texture in substance painter.
For the lighting, there were a lot of iterations and back and forth.
I like to do the lighting in unreal since I have a lot of control over how I want it to look.
My step to doing lighting in unreal:
I start by adding a cylinder or a box into the scene so that the area is closed off. This will help and create a totally dark scene.
Then I add a key light, here I look at the shadows and what shapes I get.
After that, there are rim lights to make the character pop out from the background.
The fill lights are pretty dim lights just to get rid of the darkest shadows.
Projects like these take a lot of time and effort, at some point in the projects you might have your ups and downs but keep going and don’t give up.
If you struggle a bit that means that you are learning.
Remember to always ask for feedback when working on a project. You will probably miss things others won’t.
Thank you Games artist team for giving me this opportunity to give some insight into my process! And thank you for reading!
You can find more of my artworks here:
Thanks to Sonya for allowing us to have such an in-depth look at her process. If you liked this character breakdown and want to see more like it from other inspiring artist’s make sure to follow us on :