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As an Environment TD at Framestore, Masao Hieno didn’t necessarily need to improve his character sculpting skills. But every great artist knows to keep adding tools to their belt! Don’t miss out on Masao’s thoughtful breakdown on how to create the most bad-a**, armored lizard, including:

  1. Working With References
  2. Modeling In Layers
  3. Posing With No Interference
  4. Optimizing Brushes
  5. Texturing on Metal
  6. Designing Skin Workflow
  7. Tackling Armor Creation
  8. Choosing Lighting

Hi, my name is Masao Hieno. I’m an Environment Artist and work on pre-rendering cinematic trailers for a bunch of different game titles. I started out studying painting at the Tokyo University of the Arts. Around that time, a friend of mine started working at Polyphony Digital as a 3D CG artist. Their work and the quality of video game graphics piqued my interest. Before long, I applied and was hired as a part-time 3D CG artist assistant. After working on the Gran Turismo series, I moved to my current company as an Environment Artist.

1. Working With References

In this course, students choose one of multiple concepts available. After choosing my concept, I gathered different photo references for armor and skin. I think it’s very important to refer to real-life references in order to design a convincing model.

Watch Blizzard Senior 3d Artist Ben Erdt give a sneak peek into this course and what you can gain from it.

One issue that I faced was choosing a concept art that only showed the front of the character. I had to come up with the hard surface armor on the back and details myself. At that time, I designed it with reference to the internal structure of various machines. Inner panel of printers and an engine of the aircraft were very good inspirations!

Scroll through some references below!

2. Modeling In Layers

First, I roughly sculpted the creature’s body on ZBrush. I cut out the armors with the shape of the base body. I mainly used Mask Curve, Clip Curve, ClayTube, and Move brush to create large shapes, and also use hPolish to make shapes smooth while maintaining a large shape of armors. I also added small holes and lines using those brushes.

Scroll to see the layers of modeling.

Enroll in CMGA’s Hard Surface Modeling for Films course to hone your passion for modeling into skill.

3. Posing With No Interference

After creating the body, clothes, and armor shapes, I made some poses on Maya. I checked to make sure the hard-surface armors didn’t interfere with each other, and that there would be enough space for the arms and legs to move. Whenever I found interference, I fixed the shapes of the armor on ZBrush. After that, I made the armors smooth and added details more on ZBrush.

Scroll for some armor-ready poses!

4. Optimizing Brushes

After posing my character, I created alphas from the models created on Maya and used them to create brushes for hard-surface details. I was able to add mechanical details easily by using these brushes.

Then, I brought the armors back to Maya for retopology and refining shapes of the hard surface armors. Mechanisms around the wings were modeled on Maya. After finishing retopology and refining shapes, I brought those models back into ZBrush. And I added damages of small scratches and dents.

Scroll to see these changes from different angles.

For sculpting surface damage, I created alphas and used them to add detail. I created a height map using BitMap2Material from photos of metal scratches. In the end, those are about 400 parts including the body, suit, armor, etc.

Regarding anatomy, I referred to the human body and the legs of birds. The book “Anatomy for Sculptors” has greatly helped me understand anatomy. It was a very easy-to-understand and useful book for me. Also, the instructor Laura Gallagher helped me improve my anatomy. Some of the advice through the recorded feedback videos helped me fix some unnatural parts of the base body in the early stage of sculpting.

5. Texturing on Metal

I had to texture a lot of the armor, so I used Substance Designer. I can change the geometry and UV after texturing by procedural texturing using SD.

First, I unfolded UV on Maya and placed them for each UDIM tiles. Then, I textured a part of the hard surface and applied procedural texturing to other parts. I used textures of Substance Source and simple single color textures as a base. I layered them using baked maps from geometry and output maps from ZBrush. Also, I used SD’s noise, scratch, Mask Generator, and so on.

Each texture is very simple. I think I can create a complex and convincing texture with simple materials by layering using Generators with some maps from SD and ZBrush. In addition, I used the vertex color on Maya to create masks for each material of metal, plastic, rubber, and so on. I applied each texture for each part using those masks. Moreover, I used Polypaint to paint the rough area where I wanted to apply oil stains and used it on SD as a mask.

For the dirt and rust on metal, I used a combination of Ground Dirt node and Dirt node on SD. The closer the parts are to the ground, the more strongly the parts have dirt and rust. I also used SP to create masks of small stickers. Basically, most of the hard surface armors were textured on SD.

6. Designing Skin Workflow

As for the creature, I took it to Substance Painter and projected the displacement maps that I purchased at Texturing XYZ  after finishing sculpturing a base body.

Then, I combined displacement maps from SP with the displacement maps from ZBrush in Maya. I chose this method because I thought that this method was faster than modeling all the fine skin details on ZBrush. This workflow is based on the tutorial in Texturing XYZ.

I also added sculpting considering the projected displacement by using Layers of ZBrush. Regarding texturing, I painted the base color of the skin on ZBrush. Then, I added details to skin color textures on SD by using occlusion and curvature from projected displacement maps and color maps from Polypaint.

I used the Gradient Map node and some maps that I blended the output maps from SP and ZBrush as an input of the node. I was able to add complex colors according to the geometry to the diffuse map by picking a color in the Gradient node from the photo.

I also modeled nails and teeth on ZBrush. After creating the shape of the base, I added details using alphas of scratches and dents. I also used SD and textured it in the same way.

7. Tackling Armor Creation

Designing hard surface armor was one of the big challenges for me. It was a great learning experience for me to analyze the design, shape, and details depicted in the concept art and extend it to the back armor which was not depicted in the art.

A particularly useful part of the design process was a balance of shape and detail. I occasionally added too much detail to models in a modeling process. I learned that placing the right amount of detail and paying attention to negative space and balance is important for creating a high-quality model.

Scroll to see refined textures.

From a technical point of view, creating hard-surface armor on ZBrush was also one of my challenges. I usually use ZBrush for rocks, ground, destroyed buildings, etc. However, I have not used it for hard surface modeling until this course. So the process of shaping and adding hard surface detail while maintaining a smooth shape was a very useful experience. I learned so much from each process that they were helpful.

Read “6 Stages of Hard-Surface Modeling Characters: Cyborg Monk” to see another armor-centric breakdown of hard-surface characters.

8. Choosing Lighting

For lighting, I modeled and placed a roof and window grids and placed a spotlight on it. The models were very simple because they were blurred by defocus.

In addition, I put some Arealights as fill and rim lights. Then, I added aiVolumeScattering to this scene to create dramatic lighting. This allowed me to create very atmospheric God Rays. I referred to this helpful tutorial by Arvid Schneider.

The rest of the lighting for images of the creature standing on the ground was rendered using IBL with an HDRI map of a sunny day. Finally, I tweaked the lighting a little bit and added a vignette and DOF.

The part I wanted to highlight most is the hard surface armor. I was particular about the details around the shoulders and chest, and the design of backside armors.

Scroll here to see the final renders!

Final Thoughts

  • The main reason I decided to take Hard Surface Modeling for Characters was that I can receive interactive guidance such as individual feedback and Q&A from an instructor every week. I was also happy because I was inspired by the works of other students who attended at the same time. Another reason is that the work of Ben Erdt was very attractive for me. I wanted to improve my skills of design, sculpting in ZBrush, and hard-surface modeling. Moreover, I also wanted to create high-quality work for my portfolio. After considering CGMA’s style and format, I decided to take the course because I thought it matched my aim.
  • As I mentioned above, designing hard-surface armor was one of the biggest challenges. The process from concept sculpting with ZBrush to creating the final details was a great learning experience for improving my design and modeling skills.
  • Another challenge for me was creating this model at a production level. So I was also conscious of keeping models clean. Creatures, weapons, and hard-surface armor are made with all quads without any geometry errors.
  • The course at CGMA taught me the entire modeling process including concept art analysis, sculpting hard surface armor and creatures with ZBrush, checking the range of motion, and retopology.  The instructor, Laura, gave me accurate feedback on anatomy and the balance of shapes and details. Her feedback was very helpful because there were many points that I wasn’t aware of and familiar with. I was able to understand those points accurately and deepen my knowledge from the feedback of individual recorded videos each week.
  • I enjoyed designing very much from this work. I would like to improve my 3D skills and deepen my knowledge of design more through my personal works in the future. Finally, I am very grateful to CGMA for providing a wonderful course.

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Enroll in CMGA’s Hard Surface Modeling for Films course to hone your passion for modeling into skill.

Watch Blizzard Senior 3d Artist Ben Erdt give a sneak peek into this course and what you can gain from it.

Read “6 Stages of Hard-Surface Modeling Characters: Cyborg Monk” to see another armor-centric breakdown of hard-surface characters.