I initially created Charlie to teach character modeling during a master degree of computer graphics at the BigRock training center (http://www.bigrock.it) here in italy. Since I really liked the design, after the course I decided to develop him into a personal piece by adding more details and giving him a context that fits his personality.
Concept and References
The original concept was created by Corrado Colleoni (http://colleonidesign.blogspot.com/
I took his idea as a starting point and I tweaked the character's volumes a little to make them work better in 3D Finally, I created his equipment, helmet, weapons and the helicopter from scratch.
Looking for references was the longest part of the project. I wanted a cartoony but realistic character, so I spent several nights after work creating a big inspirational library (Fig.02). Since I had already completed the early version of Charlie for the course, I decided to create the rest of the props around him. Thanks to ZBrush I was able to figure out what was working for him directly in 3D, with a few little study sketches on paper.
Charlie was modeled twice. As mentioned before, the first model was created for my character modeling class and was fairly simple. The second was much more detailed and had a number of props. I'm going to talk about the creation process behind each model.
For the first version I started from a cube. From the beginning I modeled the head and the body separately; this way I could add more details to the face without worrying about how to make the loops flow on the torso. Then I created a very simple mesh for the body, which I used later to extract the vest and the shirt. In this early step I took great advantage of the GoZ plugin for ZBrush: it eliminates the time-consuming process of exporting and importing meshes from various software packages. By using it I was able to jump back and forth between the software, using ZBrush to tweak the volumes and relax the vertices, and Maya to add details and redirect the loops when needed (Fig.03).
To make the bullet belt I firstly created a NURBS circle around his body, then modeled the belt straight without any deformations, and finally created a joint for every bullet. After creating a bind skin I used the IK Spline Handle tool function (with Autocreate Curve unchecked) to link the belt to the circle: this way I could dynamically modify the position and scale of the bullets directly on Charlie's body (Fig.04).
For the second version of Charlie I sculpted and refined the meshes I had already created (Fig.05). I also added new details and increased the topology where needed to support the sculpting. I tried to lower rendering time using only Normal maps, instead of a Normal and Displacement combination (Fig.06).