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Create photoreal sci-fi characters

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Date Added: 13th May 2015
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Teruyuki and Yuka Ishikawa shared how they modeled, detailed, textured and lit their incredible character Courir in Maya and ZBrush

In this project overview, we will go through our workflow and creation process when creating characters. The first thing we do before creating a character is look for references to inspire the piece. For this image we were inspired by Namco's 1985 game Metro-Cross. Another important early step when designing characters is collecting references of the right type of anatomy of and high resolution skin references.

Sculpting with DynaMesh

We began with sculpting with DynaMesh in ZBrush. DynaMesh is very easy to use and is great to work with. For the base mesh we used a Clay and Clay Buildup brush, Move brush and hPolish brush.

A rough DynaMesh sketch of the character and her armor in ZBrush


We always like to fix the topology of the model before moving on to sculpting the detail.
To do this we exported the face object to Maya using GoZ and retopologized the model using the Modeling Toolkit in Maya.

We then used Quad Draw to interactively place points and polygons across our model's surface. Following which we created a UV map for new, lower poly mesh. Next it was time to import the UVed mesh back into ZBrush, again using GoZ.

Retopologizing the face in Maya 2014

The UV maps created in Maya


The next step was adding details to the skin and face in ZBrush. To do this we used a Standard and Dam brush, Clay and Standard with the Spray alpha brush.

Then it was time to export out the displacement maps of the head from ZBrush. It is best to turn symmetry off at this stage of sculpting the character as humans are not symmetrical.

Adding detail to the face model in ZBrush

Painting textures

We then moved onto painting in MARI which is a very important part of process.

To do this we applied different texture maps to the model including a diffuse map, bump map, secular map, secular gloss map and a subsurface map, all of which were hand painted in MARI. We find this method to be the easiest way to control the look of skin cells.

Texture maps created in MARI: color, bump, secular, secular gloss, displacement, SSSamount, SSS, Mari view

Creating the scene

To create the model scene, we used V-Ray Materials. We imported the low models into Maya and enabled V-Ray Render from the Render Setup panel. The skin shader materials were then set up with the basic V-Ray SSS shader and the metal shader materials were set up with the basic V-Ray shader.

Adding the map to the V-RaySSS2 for the skin shaders


We created the final scene with V-Ray Lights, by creating a new scene file and bringing in the reference model scene and materials from the model file as this makes it is easier to change the environment.

The final lighting set up was quite straightforward, with one HDR image plus key and fill lights in a couple of scenes.

The model scene and setup a physical V-Ray camera

The settings for the final scene lighting


Finally, to composite the final image I rendered a beauty pass with a ZDepth pass, self illumination pass, ambient occlusion pass with extra V-Ray dirt textures. Using NUKE I blended all of the passes and finished with some color corrections.

A beauty render with no composition above the final image with the addition of the composite elements blended in NUKE


Related links

Check out Yuka and Teruyuki's portfolio site
Read our interview with the duo on the 3dtotal website
Work through the entire character creation process in Maya with our books

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Julian Ibanez on Thu, 14 May 2015 2:43am
This workflow was very inspiring and interesting. keep up the good work.
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