Project & Goals
In this project, my primary goal was to showcase my proficiency in creature design and provide insight into my creative process. I opted for the standard pipeline, leveraging essential programs like ZBrush, 3D Maya, Substance Painter, and Marmoset Toolbag.
These tools form the backbone of my workflow, allowing me to seamlessly sculpt, model, texture, and render my creations.
Throughout this endeavor, I’ll also introduce a few additional tools that played a crucial role in bringing my imaginative beings to life. Stay tuned for further details on these tools as I walk you through the intricacies of my creative journey, from concept to completion.
References & Inspiration
In 3D character creation, I have abundant ideas, but bringing them to life requires a link to the real world. It’s crucial to ensure that each idea for your 3D model has some connection to reality. This step is essential to guarantee your creations aren’t just imaginative.
Your idea has to be grounded in real-world references. Connecting your ideas to the tangible world enhances the authenticity and precision of your 3D characters.
Using references is a fundamental and invaluable aspect of 3D character modeling. References serve as a visual guide that helps artists capture the essence of real-world objects, anatomy, or specific characteristics, enhancing the accuracy and realism of their creations. This is particularly crucial when working within deadlines for freelance or professional projects.
The idea for “The Tuskarian” came to me through my love for animals and watching nature documentaries. I envisioned a character inspired by walruses, featuring their distinctive tusks and expressive chests.
I added imaginative details to make it more exciting, turning the character into a blend of real-world inspiration and fantasy. The result is “The Tuskarian” – a creation that combines the charisma of a walrus with a touch of fantasy.
I spent hours researching and gathering references for my 3D character. Mainly, I found photos of walruses, and along the way, I stumbled upon a few images of hippos and rhinos. This formed the basis of my reference board. As I progressed, I added more pictures, focusing on details like the mouth, tongue, eyes, feet, and armor parts to ensure an accurate and detailed 3D character design.
In the initial stages of sculpting in ZBrush, I began crafting blocks using a fish-based mesh as my starting point. Guided by the reference board I compiled earlier, I systematically identified and implemented shapes crucial to shaping the envisioned 3D character.
As I worked through this phase, my vision for the final block-out became clear. I wanted to highlight features like a muscular chest, noticeable tusks, sturdy feet, and rhino-inspired armor plates.
Mixing elements from both aquatic and terrestrial worlds aimed to give the character a unique look. I also added menacing spines to add a sense of danger, making the character visually exciting and rich narratively. After figuring out the overall body shape and adding all the details, I thought of including some unique equipment on its back.
The Highpoly stage is dedicated to bringing out intricate details in the 3D character model.
I invested considerable time sculpting the nuances of the skin and chest, aiming to strike a balance in the level of detail. The chest, being the focal point, received particular emphasis.
Observe below how I build up the details and the tools I use. Typically, while working on details in ZBrush, I employ the standard set of brushes. Depending on the character, I may also incorporate additional brushes.
I also enjoy using masking in ZBrush and playing with settings to get the look I want.
Using my Standard Brush Set and a few additional brushes for creating details on different parts of the 3D model, I created a highly detailed HighPoly mesh.
I recorded the sculpting process separately to demonstrate how I work with it.
I want to showcase one of the methods I often employ for detailing elements such as coins and other jewelry.
I spent a lot of time specifying all the elements, but in the end, it was worth it.
Topology & UVs Regarding UV creation and retopology, I usually turn to 3D Maya tools. Depending on the situation, I might use additional plugins or scripts.
In the case of crafting “The Tuskarian,” I employed UV Editor tools and Quad Draw.
For certain adjustments to UV shells, Nightshade UV Editor came in handy. I didn’t spend much time in retopology for “The Tuskarian.”
I retained the rough topology from the initial ZBrush division for specific parts, and some parts were rebuilt using ZRemesher in ZBrush. Additionally, I reconstructed others using Quad Draw in Maya. Moreover, I needed two variations for the Baking and Texturing stages. Initially, I created UDIMs and applied materials in Maya.
For baking in Marmoset, I either used materials for individual parts or consolidated all UDIMs onto the first.
My approach could be more convenient. But I chose this pipeline. Here, avoiding confusion and ensuring precision are vital to prevent mistakes or omissions. Advice: To steer clear of issues and keep things clear at this stage and beyond, I find it handy to make notes using PureRef.
It’s user-friendly, not just for photo references. I created a summary of 20 UDIMS for the character while maintaining a unified texel density for more elements.
Moving on to the Texturing stage, I may realize the need for an additional map, such as a mask.
In preparation for such instances, I’ve saved separate scenes for Baking. This approach eliminates the need to create a new scene, configure the program, and organize all maps in slots again.
I absolutely love the Texturing stage! It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the pipeline. Even though I didn’t have a complete concept for my character, I had a general idea of what I wanted to achieve and which details I wanted to bring out.
I’m a big fan of the creatures in “God of War,” and I drew inspiration from their style. For my character, I aimed for a more realistic look, steering clear of any gaudy, neon hues. After uploading the baked texture maps in Substance Painter, I referred to my references and marked areas on the body with thin skin, such as the chest, the region around the mouth, the paw limbs, and the lower part of the tail.
I used a primary shade for the delicate skin and roughly filled in other parts with color, refining the finer details gradually. Finding the perfect colors for the back armor and spikes was tricky. I tried out different options before settling on the ones that you see now.
Initially, I aimed to highlight the spikes and back armor by playing around with their colors, but this attempt didn’t yield the desired result. Consequently, I made the spikes and armor plates more integral, seamlessly blending them with the overall body.
The unique dark spots on the chest of walruses in the references caught my attention. Interestingly, I didn’t add a photo of my dog’s mouth, even though it shares similar dark spots. I integrated this detail, reminiscent of vitiligo skin, to enhance the distinctiveness of my 3D model.
Rendering & Lighting
It’s important to keep in mind that rendering is equally essential. Just because you achieved a good result in the HighPoly or Texturing stages doesn’t guarantee the same outcome in the final image. It can be a bit disappointing, but it’s a straightforward truth.
To create the background with a piece of fabric, I used Marvelous Designer and added a touch of realism by conducting a simple simulation for natural folds. After that, I refined the mesh with folds in ZBrush, giving it a cleaner appearance.
I want to draw attention to the contrast between the first image with simple HDRi lighting and the final result featuring enhanced light and rendering settings.
Achieving the desired look takes effort.
I added light to emphasize specific areas, making it feel like revisiting the Sculpting stage, but this time, your sculpting tools are the light sources.
Eventually, I had a final set of lights and cameras with the needed angle of view.
I added a few new light sources to the primary set of lights for different angles of view. Also, I played with the background and rotated HDRI a little to show my creature in an alternative environment.
My unique style is heavily influenced by exploring various artworks online and discovering different techniques and tools used by talented artists. This amazing process helps me build a mental library of information that I can tap into whenever I need to.
This observation and learning journey is the foundation of my artistic path, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next! Thank you for reading! If you want to see more work in my journey in a new direction or ask any questions, you can find my ArtStation, Instagram, and LinkedIn here.