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Designing a fantasy character

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Date Added: 13th April 2017


Discover Tanvir Islam's in-depth character creation process for his image, Khlotharius


The purpose of making Khlotharius involved a few things, including testing my character rigging pipeline and transferring the whole light and shade pipeline from Maya to Houdini's Mantra renderer. In this tutorial I will try to explain how I started in ZBrush and ended up rendering in Mantra.

Step 01: Concept

Blizzard Entertainment's characters have always inspired me, and I'm a big fan of all The Lord of the Rings films, so whenever I plan a character these kinds of detailed ideas pop out from the back of my head. Keeping that in mind, plus collecting some shape references and design motifs of 'elements' such as wind and fire, I created these motifs. They'll be used to design the armor details later. For the character himself, I collected some anatomy references from the internet, using Google and Pinterest. I tend to use my memory for anatomy sculpting for a little stylization, but whenever I get confused I turn to references.

Designing some early motifs

Step 02: Starting from a sphere

If it's a personal project I always start from a DynaMesh sphere in ZBrush. Using the Standard, Move, Snake Hook, Inflate and Smooth brushes, I create the basic form of the figure, as pictured.

Building a base mesh up from a sphere

Step 03: Further sculpting

To build up secondary forms, I love to use the Clay Buildup brush in combination with Alpha06. Using this technique, I create all the secondary forms, like bony landmarks and muscle fibers.

Adding more form with Clay Buildup

The sculpted mesh so far

Step 04: Retopology

Now it's time to do the topology. For topology I primarily use ZBrush's ZRemesher for the body, and then take the mesh into Maya. But before exporting, under the 'Export' section of the Tools menu, deselect 'Grp'.

Retopologizing the mesh with ZRemesher


Step 05: Setting the scale in Maya

Now I import into Maya, one of the most important steps to do is setting the scale of the mesh. If the figure is six feet tall, then we should scale it to that measurement. I usually set the unit of measurement to feet and scale the figure to match the height I'm looking for. If I don't do this step now, I'll have trouble getting perfect displacement effects, lighting and rigging later.

Making sure we set the correct scale in Maya

Step 06: Making polygroups

Now I bring back retopologized mesh back into ZBrush and assign some polygroups for later use of the hide/show function and UV mapping. Make sure you also store the Morph Target. The model's now ready for adding micro details like skin wrinkles and pores!

The model split into polygroups

Step 07: Adding surface noise

Before going into fine details, I distort the model a little bit with some surface noise. Start with the higher noise scale and lower strength. Each time I apply the surface noise to the mesh; I lower the noise scale and increase the noise strength. It's best to start with a lower subdivision and increase it each time you add more noise, but this might inflate the model each time. So, in some places, I make use of the Morph brush and masked areas. To break up the secondary forms more, I use the Inflate brush with Alpha63 and Depth Gravity Strength set to 60.

Add surface noise to the skin before beginning to sculpt details

Some of the brush settings used for sculpting details

Step 08: Sculpting skin details

For skin pores, wrinkles and cross-hatching detail, I use the Dam Standard and Pen A brushes with ZSub on, and the Standard brush with Color Spray settings using various alphas. With the help of the brushes pictured, and some custom alphas, I create all the skin details.

The custom brushes used for

The finished skin details

continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Jeong Seo Park on Fri, 29 December 2017 7:11am
OMG. This is exactly what i've been looking for ! The whole pipeline!!!!! Thank you ! I appreciate it !!!
Vineet on Sat, 08 July 2017 1:57pm
Man,.........finally I got something for real ..... Thanks a million
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