Michael Robson takes us through the process of creating a fantastical character with ZBrush, Maya, 3ds Max and other software...
Hello everyone, my name is Michael Robson. I'm a 3D character artist living in Curitiba, Brazil. In this tutorial, I'm going to show you my approach to making a 3D character for a cinematic animation. The character is based on the concept art by the talented Tianhua Xu. The concept is a representation of the Hindu god Garuda, and the moment that I saw this concept I told myself that I had to reproduce it in 3D.
Analyzing the concept and gathering references
This step is for sure one of the most important when we start to model a 2D concept: the goal of this particular project was to achieve a realistic look. Try to collect good references as much as you can, reference with good lighting, texture and of course a decent resolution, so you can see the little details that will make a huge difference later when we are going to render the character.
Blocking the character
Here we start sculpting the character. In this first step we don't need to concern ourselves with the details, our main goal is to get the proportions right. Don't rush this step because if your base here doesn't look right, you're going to get problems later trying to fix it. My personal preference when I start the blockout of any character that I'm working on, is to sculpt a single object, get the right proportions first, and then I cut the parts to work more isolated, so I could get a better focus on each element (this is not the detail phase, just my personal preference).
Blocking the secondary elements
When I'm happy with the body of the character I start to work on the secondary elements, such as the clothing and the other accessories. For the cloth modeling, I mask a part of the character's body, extract and Zremesh it. After that, I basically start sculpting the folds using a combination of masking and more brushwork (Standard, Clay Build Up, Pinch) always work big to small, sculpt the bigger forms first and then go to the secondary and tertiary forms.
For the other accessories such as the chains and earrings, I poly modeled in Maya using the standard primitives.
This step is one of the most important steps when you're doing a character for animation. Some people like to use Zremesher to rebuild the topology, but my personal preference is doing it all by hand, this way I have total control of the loops. The tools that I use for retopology is the Quad Draw from Maya.
I exported a decimated version of the mesh from ZBrush and bring it to Maya. Using Quad Draw, I start to rebuild the quads on the mesh in a logical way for animation, generally, the face, joints of the arm, legs, and hands, are the areas where you need to pay more attention distributing the quads.
I also did the same process for the fabric that was sculpted earlier.
After you've done all the retopology on the character, it's time to unfold the UVs. Good UVs are crucial when we start to paint the textures in the character, and if you did a good retopology before, you're not going to have a hard time opening the UVs. For this particular character, I separated the UVs in UDIMs to have a higher texture resolution and by object, for some objects, I used the same UV island (the smallest metals for example).
Now that we have opened up and arranged the UVs properly, we're going to start detailing the character back in ZBrush. Here I imported the clean mesh with the UVs and start the detailing process, generally at this point I always work non-destructively, to do so we're going to create layers in ZBrush. I also used a standard alpha in ZBrush and start to give some more detail on the surface.
For the other parts such as the cloth and metals, it is not different, we'll work non destructively with layers. For the shoulder armor detail, I use a very common method to make ornaments. Just import your geometry with UVs, subdivide a couple times until you get good resolution, and create a new layer. After that use the masking technique, similar to the one we used earlier on the cloth, then just draw your ornament, invert the mask, and after that you can use the INFLAT brush or the INFLATE option under the menu deformation to make the design stand out of the surface.
Extracting the maps from ZBrush
Now that we've done all the finest details on our high poly model, it's time to extract some maps from ZBrush to help us achieve those details into our low poly model.
in this particular project, I extracted only two maps from ZBrush, which was the displacement map and the normal map. We're going to use the displacement later only for the body because I want to achieve a better quality of the details of the skin and the normal map was not enough for this task. Also, the displacement map is very heavy when we start to render our scene so we need to keep in mind that and use this map smartly.
To extract the maps I used the multi map exporter from ZBrush