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Creating characters for triple-A titles

By 3dtotal staff

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Date Added: 9th July 2015

With over 11 years in the games industry and a portfolio full of amusing designs, Eric Spitler knows a thing or two about creating incredible characters. He shares some of his insights with us.



Eric began his 3D career over 11 years ago as a modeler on /Quake II/ by id Software and seeing his creations come to life in a game made Eric determined to make it in the industry. Inspired, he became involved in mod groups and online communities, and eventually one of the works he posted online landed him a job at a startup game studio in Austin TX. He went on to work at NCSOFT, Vigil Games, and now Crytek USA and contributed art to the games Tabula Rasa, Darksiders I and Darksiders II, as well as Ryse: Son of Rome.

When he's not working on art for games;he's playing games for research. Although this is great for professional development, it means he spends rather too much time in front of a computer! To remedy this, Eric makes sure he get away from the desk, jogging, skateboarding or going downtown and check out some live music.

3dtotal: How did you come to specialize in character art?

Eric Spitler: I actually started out my career as an environment artist, but I always had my heart set on being a character artist.I spent a lot of my spare time working on characters to build up a portfolio and I entered a lot of character art contests on the internet.

Contests were a great way to stay motivated, get feedback, and have a deadline to meet.I was always trying to create a balanced portfolio with characters I thought employers would want to see, and also some unusual characters just for fun.Often times those unusual characters were what stood out and helped me to get noticed.It was a goofy pirate character with a wheel instead of a peg leg that helped me get my first job.They said they were tired of seeing portfolios filled with space marines, and were glad to see something different.

A ZBrush sculpt and PolyPaint based on work from my sketchbook

Another piece based on a sketchbook work created as a ZBrush sculpt and PolyPaint with a fair amount of paint-over in Photoshop

3dt: Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

ES: A lot of the time I'm just trying to create something that will make someone laugh, or gross them out a little bit.Maybe both at the same time if I'm lucky.When I'm working on a creature, it's always great to look at nature to find inspiration, watching a David Attenborough nature documentariesalways reminds me how strange and amazing nature can be.

I often find myself looking to 2D artists for inspiration.It's amazing how many 2D artists there are with their own unique visual style, but it's rare to see a 3D artist with their own recognizable style.I hope to someday have a unique style that people can recognize as my own.

Low-poly model created in 3ds Max, and textured in Photoshop, 3DCoat, and CrazyBump © Nordic Games

A close up of the Mad Smith's ZBrush sculpt © Nordic Games

3dt: We've noticed that your personal works are often humorous and light-hearted, while your professional works are often serious and dark. Is this a reflection of your personal taste or does one remedy the other?

ES: I guess a little bit of both.I do enjoy working on art that is goofy and light-hearted, though it's often a little twisted.But if I was working on cartoony art at work, I'd probably do really dark, detailed work at home.Generally I like to do different art at home than I do at work.It's always a good thing to have some variety in your portfolio.I also like to research new techniques and programs at home.I often look at what kind of new techniques are being used in film since those techniques will soon find their way into video games.

ZBrush sculpt and PolyPaint of a guy getting drunk. Each pose was sculpted on a different layer in ZBrush

A creature based on the star nosed mole that I designed and sculpted for the fantasy art book Substrata

3dt: We are big fans of your cartoon-like PolyPainting – any tips for how to achieve this effect?

ES: When I'm PolyPainting a face I'll often use the skin4 material, and I'll start blocking in the base colors with the standard brush set to "rgb”.I really like to emphasize the colors in the face, such as the red in the nose and cheeks, the yellow on the forehead, and cooler tones on the jaw.Something I learned about at Vigil Games was to paint a lot of gradients into my textures.Don't just paint something red, have it start red, and then blend in some orange or purple as you move across the object.

ZBrush doesn't have a traditional specular map, so I've created different versions of the skin4 material with different specular intensities.I'll change my brush to "m” so I can paint a high specular version of my material on the lips for instance.You will want to turn up the "materials blend radius” under the render properties to blend the border between the two materials.

No one's skin is perfect, so I like to add some splotches using the "spray” stroke, with alpha 07 or 08.I also like to use Zapplink to send a screen cap of my model to Photoshop to projection paint using some spatter brushes I have in Photoshop.

A ZBrush sculpt based on a sketchbook drawing. It was one of the first models I did using DynaMesh

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
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