The Witch

Character Breakdown

Simon Sarmiento


Simon Sarmiento

Senior Character Artist


Hello there!
I'm Simon Sarmiento, a Senior Character Artist, most recently working as the Lead Artist at Teravision Games.
I'm always on the lookout for new sources of inspiration and exciting personal projects that allow me to enhance my skills and explore new technologies and techniques without any limitations.
It's my passion to continually expand my knowledge and challenge myself by creating captivating projects.


Let’s talk about the Art Station Challenge: Medieval Back and Forth. This particular challenge had a wonderfully intriguing theme, a seamless blend of the medieval era and the modern world. During the concept phase, I was captivated by Yuhong Ding’s exceptional work, which beautifully depicted a young, enigmatic girl.

As I delved into planning the character, I made the decision to adopt a pre-rendered pipeline. With the remarkable advancements of Unreal Engine 5, I embarked on a journey to learn more about Path Tracing and intricate details like material changes, which we’ll delve into later.

Additionally, given my aim to create a cinematic character, following a full ACES workflow became a crucial aspect of my process.


  • ZBrush
  • Maya
  • Marvelous Designer
  • Xgen
  • Rizom UV
  • Substance 3D Painter
  • Knald
  • Marmoset Toolbag
  • Photoshop
  • Unreal Engine 5


I thoroughly enjoy the initial steps of character creation. Conducting extensive research, gathering a multitude of references, and piecing together all the elements that breathe life into a character is an incredibly vital process.

By establishing solid foundations, crafting a believable background, and ensuring the presence of key elements, the character’s emergence becomes a smoother journey.

This approach provides a clear path to follow, where every decision made aligns harmoniously towards the same creative vision.


In my reference process, I prioritize building a solid mindset around the character. Even though Yuhong Ding provided a compelling story for her, I wanted to explore it further and connect all the ideas.

This allowed me to enhance the character’s story and create a more cohesive and captivating narrative.

Character Brief


She’s a striking sorceress with ethereal beauty. Her pale, porcelain skin contrasts with her short, snowy-white hair that falls in a tousled cascade. Her piercing sapphire eyes seem to hold ancient secrets, captivating all who meet her gaze.


She possesses an air of mystery and determination. She exudes a quiet intensity and carries herself with unwavering confidence. Behind her enigmatic presence lies a compassionate soul, driven to right the wrongs in a world plagued by darkness.


She is a master of the arcane arts. Her command of dark magic is awe-inspiring, and she wields a crystal wand with graceful precision. With her innate ability to glimpse the future, she navigates the threads of destiny, manipulating them to her advantage.


Born into a family of secret sorcerers, she was cast out from her homeland, condemned for her extraordinary powers. In her quest for knowledge and vengeance, she sought guidance.


Facial features hold immense importance for me as they define the overall mood. Since I’m striving for a digital human approach, achieving believability and realism in the features is crucial. With that in mind, here’s the following brief I have in mind:

Complexion: Fair, with a smooth and flawless texture

Eyes: Wide and bright, with a captivating gaze

Eyebrows: Delicately arched, enhancing her facial expression

Nose: Small and unassuming, adding to her youthful charm

Lips: Naturally pink and plump, reflecting her innocence

Jawline: Soft and rounded, showcasing her youthful features

Hair: Flowing in waves, framing her face with a touch of elegance


Her fair complexion, captivating eyes, and delicate features combine to create a charming and enchanting appearance.

Despite her young age, there is a sense of depth and hidden potential that can be glimpsed in her expressive gaze, having in mind famous references like Aurora, Avery Blanchard, Nastya Kusakina, and Olive Abercrombie.


As part of my process, I typically apply a grayscale poly paint pass to the face. This technique enables me to better perceive the facial volumes within the overall context and helps me assess the specular breakups.

I gradually incorporate these breakups layer by layer using displacement maps and hand sculpting. To accomplish this, I utilized VFace XYZ skin packages, assisted by R3DS.



Given that the character’s appearance is meant to embody both medieval and modern/futuristic elements, I placed particular emphasis on creating a striking contrast and layering her outfit elements. As part of my focus, I aimed to achieve an intriguing balance between specular/roughness and micro-detail values.

I meticulously added specific background and weathering effects to each piece, taking into account the contextual relevance of every element.

This approach allowed me to infuse depth and authenticity into her overall look.


Clothing and General Appearance


  • Gray-gold silk shirt (dyed red)
  • Matching pleated skirt
  • Black breeches
  • Big belt
  • Long gloves
  • Black leather boots
  • Black leather cloak


  • Numerous charms and necklaces
  • Magic Wand

Marvelous Designer serves as my primary software for garment creation, and I absolutely adore how it allows me to generate a solid and realistic foundation to work with. Achieving believability is crucial, and this often involves conducting thorough research, especially for complex elements.

One of the great advantages of Marvelous Designer is its ability to have true integration between various elements and simulate different fabric forces.

In this particular project, I utilized Marvelous Designer not only for the garments but also for the boots. I initially blocked them out in ZBrush and then proceeded to break them down into panels using Marvelous Designer.

This approach provided me with a fantastic base to further refine the boots within ZBrush, allowing for a seamless workflow and enhanced detailing.

In this project, I faced the challenge of crafting intricate pieces such as the pleated skirt and shirt. Certain elements, like the laces, required a realistic approach.

To achieve this, I opted to create them directly in Marvelous Designer, allowing for a natural interaction between the fabrics and the friction of the lace.

I designed the laces as separate pieces, which were then sewn together and attached to the garment using pins or fastened to the cloak eyelets. This technique added an authentic touch and enhanced the overall visual appeal of the clothing ensemble.

Once the overall design is finalized, my next step is transitioning to the low-resolution model. Prior to diving into ZBrush for detailing, I prioritize creating a well-structured topology.

My approach to retopology and low-resolution model production is somewhat hybrid. For this project, I utilized the retopology tools within Marvelous Designer, concentrating on achieving a smooth and cohesive base topology flow.

I aimed to maintain a low polygon density, allowing for easy modifications during subsequent stages of the process. This methodology ensures a solid foundation for efficient sculpting and detailing in ZBrush.


After exporting the retopology result and the high-resolution model, I proceed to work with Maya. In there, I subdivide the retopology model and transfer all the details from the high-resolution model back onto it.

This process ensures that I have a clean topology with a pleasing edge flow. Once the details are transferred, I focus on adding thickness to the model using ZBrush’s panel loops tool.

Afterward, I reconstruct the subdivision levels and begin the meticulous detailing process to create the final high-resolution model.

Low Res

Once all the elements are in place with subdivision levels, the next step is to choose the appropriate density that maintains a harmonious silhouette and matches the overall topology density.

Minor adjustments such as polishing edge loops or adding support loops may be necessary to modify vertex normals and prevent texture baking artifacts. These refinements ensure a clean and artifact-free final result.

UV Mapping

I split up the full model into 10 UDIMs. During this process, I prefer to group the UV shells based on material types and their relationships. I believe that surfacing begins with thoughtful UV planning.

By organizing the UV shells in this manner, it becomes easier to manage the layer organization within Substance 3D Painter. This approach streamlines the texturing process and ensures a smoother workflow when applying materials and textures to the model.



Starting with the base texture baking in Marmoset Toolbag. I bake out essential maps such as Ambient Occlusion, Curvature, Cavity, ID, and Normal maps, which serve as the foundation for working in Substance Painter.

For my personal projects, I’ve developed a hybrid workflow that enables me to achieve intricate detailing on every surface. This approach incorporates the Unreal Engine Layer Material System, as the final renderings will be done in UE5.

The key aspect of this workflow is spending a significant amount of time within the engine itself. By doing so, I can achieve the desired results without excessive back-and-forth between Substance Painter and UE.

Consequently, I will only export a select few texture masks for material masking and weathering purposes, as well as a diffuse map for variation support and a normal map.

All the roughness, specular, and metallic aspects will be handled directly within the engine, allowing for greater control and flexibility during the surfacing process.


The Material Masks ID colors allow me to easily apply different material layers inside UE. These colors serve as identifiers and allow for easy assignment of various material layers using custom material layer blends.

By leveraging this technique, I can achieve precise control over the appearance and composition of materials on the model.
Additionally, I incorporate Weathering Masks, which are specifically designed to incorporate dust, heavy dirt, and other imperfections.

These masks utilize individual RGB channels to differentiate and control the distribution of different weathering effects.

This level of customization ensures that the weathering effects are accurately applied, enhancing the overall realism and visual appeal of the model within the final renderings in UE.

Hair Grooming

In order to utilize the Unreal Engine Hair Strand System, I used XGen for the entire grooming process. Initially, I placed the overall hair guides, following the shape of the hair proxy that I sculpted.

Once I achieved a nice result, I began incorporating modifiers to enhance the overall appearance. The layering of modifiers plays a crucial role in achieving the desired hair look.

I started with clumping modifiers to give the hair a natural grouping effect. Then, I proceeded to add modifiers such as cut, coil, and noise, gradually breaking up the hair strands and introducing subtle variations.

Through careful parameter adjustments, I aimed to create a natural and unique movement for each clump of hair, ensuring a more organic and visually appealing result.


Look Dev

Now it’s time to play in Unreal Engine, starting with the outfit. As I mentioned before, the Layer Material System helps me to quickly iterate each material assigned.


Indeed, working with Path Tracing can be advantageous, particularly when using Unreal Engine’s real-time feedback. While path tracer calculations may take some time, the ability to visualize the final results nearly in real time offers a valuable advantage.

It allows for a more seamless and immersive creative process, as artists can explore different possibilities and strive for the best possible outcome. Furthermore, it is worth noting that some materials may exhibit slight differences between path tracing and real-time rendering.

By having the opportunity to preview and fine-tune the materials in real-time, artists can ensure optimal visual results and make adjustments as needed.

This dynamic workflow enhances the overall creative process and empowers artists to achieve their desired vision with greater precision and efficiency.

For skin shading, I have a custom shader that offers a similar level of control. This shader allows me to finely adjust each parameter, taking advantage of various maps such as cavity, transmission, specular, and region maps for precise masking.

The cavity map helps enhance the depth and details in the skin crevices, while the transmission map assists in simulating light passing through the skin. The specular map aids in controlling the reflective properties of the skin, and the region map allows for localized adjustments.

This level of control enables me to achieve a high degree of realism and tailor the skin shading to the specific needs of the character or project, allowing for subtle nuances and variations that contribute to a more convincing and visually appealing skin appearance.

Final Presentation

To enhance the naturalness and mood of the character, I pose the model within ZBrush and then import the final mesh back into Unreal Engine. Regarding the set placement, I create a medium-sized sphere with a soft background.

This setup provides ample space to work with while also offering soft light gradients. It resembles a photography studio environment, which allows for better control and manipulation of lighting.

I prefer to keep the number of lights in the scene minimal. This simplifies the tweaking process and avoids excessive light overlap. I focus on utilizing bouncing lights from the background to fill in the shadows.

Beginning with the Key Light, I position it to highlight the character’s facial features and eyes. In this case, I opt for a slightly offset butterfly setup. From there, I proceed to place the fill light to recover some shapes within the penumbra and highlight the overall silhouette.

Additionally, I incorporate rim and detail lights to add depth and accentuate specific areas of interest.


I thoroughly enjoyed the process of developing this character, even though I may not be able to complete it for the challenge. It was a rewarding experience to push for nice results and test the techniques I wanted to explore with this project.

Furthermore, I am delighted by the remarkable advancements of Unreal Engine 5. It provides us with a strong foundation to freely explore and create incredible pieces.

Thanks to for this nice space to share and learn knowledge! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to my ArtStation. See you in the next one!