Character Artist Juras Rodionovas wanted to add a unique character to his portfolio, not only to challenge his own skills but to help his work stand out to potential employers and clients. If you’re looking for a tattoo-focused breakdown, be sure to read Juras’s process, which includes:
- Course Goals
- Soulless: Inspiration
- Initial Modeling
- Face Sculpting
- Lighting and Presentation
- Final Render
Hello! My name is Juras Rodionovas. My interest in 3D art started about 10 years ago when I was a kid, and got into modding games such as Fallout 3 and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I suppose you could say that it was an introduction to game development and the varying type of work that existed within it. I currently work as a Character Artist at Fatshark, in Stockholm, Sweden. Previously, I worked at Avalanche Studios where I got to be part of the projects Rage 2 and Generation Zero.
1. Course Goals
My main goals with the course were to update myself with the latest workflows and pipelines when it comes to character art for games. I also want to push my quality bar across various areas within the craft, including anatomy, realism, texturing, getting shaders to look good, and presentation. Finally, I wanted an insight into what is coming up on the horizon of real-time character art, since next-generation games are just around the corner.
2. Soulless: Inspiration
My character was based on a Korean fashion model and tattoo artist Marely Hong (also known as Kim Wooyoung). I found a portrait photograph of him on Pinterest while I was looking for inspiration/references. His look really stood out to me. I loved all aspects of this person and his style. He had a really intimidating facial structure, a really cool taste for fashion, and contrast in fabrics- plus jewelry and piercings to accent it. Lastly, he had unique tattoos which I thought would be a lot of fun to try and recreate on the model.
Another reason why I went with this person as my main reference for the project was that I really wanted to add some diversity to my portfolio. I personally believe that there is quite a lot of generic-looking characters in the world of game art and video games. Creating a character of the non-caucasian race with so many tattoos is very uncommon to see in a portfolio, so I was excited to get started.
Read “6 Steps to Create a Realistic 3D Character: Mursi Man” to see another incredible breakdown.
3. Initial Modeling
When it came to modeling this character, I used ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, Wrap, and Maya. For the texturing, I relied on Substance Painter.
I started out by using a base mesh in ZBrush to sculpt on, which gave me decent topology to start with. The base mesh had a body too, which was important for me. It provided the ability to match my reference’s body type and get the clothing to sit the right way in Marvelous Designer.
Modeling the clothing was quite a bit of a challenge, and it took me a few tries to get the jacket just right. Marvelous Designer is obviously huge help, but you still have to do research on how the patterns look and are sewed together to make them look believable. Getting the biggest folds and shapes is the hardest part in my opinion, and the detailing process is usually very straightforward. That is why I usually spend most of my time in the first stages of character modeling. Even if the detailing work is really good, it won’t save the model if you have a bad foundation. The sooner you can realize that the sooner you will be able to plan your work, and have a clear oversight in your head ahead of time.
To get my final geometry on the head, I used a base mesh that the class received from Adam Skutt and adapted it to my sculpt using Wrap3D. It is a very intuitive software that made it really easy to re-use geometry on heads and even bodies. Once the new geometry was applied, I could go back to ZBrush and re-project all the work that I had done on the starting geometry. This meant that I could start working on finalizing the forms on the face and start with the detailing work.
As for clothing, since this project wasn’t made for game production, I used the quaded geometry that you can get from Marvelous Designer, then simply used my 2D patterns from the software as UVs. This also made sure that the tiling of the fabric details behaved as expected.
5. Face Sculpting
Sculpting faces is one of the most fun parts of building characters for me. In this case, my character had some really subtle overlapping forms that were tricky to get right. My reference having a lot of face tattoos also made it more challenging. I had to rely on my anatomy knowledge to fill in the gaps.
I began by working with relatively low subdivision, and solely focused on the primary shapes and proportions first, without getting distracted by details or smaller forms. This was a very important step because it laid the foundation for the upcoming stages. However, since I always preserve my subdivision history, I could always come back and make “bigger stroke” changes, even if the detail has been laid down.
Getting all the big shapes and proportions down on the first try can be really hard, so I like to take a small break after this initial process, and come back with a fresh perspective or after getting some feedback. It always helps me see areas that can be improved, and push the face further.
I believe a lot of people think that it has to be this very locked down process and that each step needs to be final before moving on to the next one, but when it comes to a production environment and reaching the best possible quality, iteration is key.
Tattoos on 3D characters often tend to look very fake and “projected”. At first glance, it can seem that a tattoo is a layer on top of the skin, and only has a black color (unless it’s colored). But in reality, tattoos are scars, and the pigment is under the skin. This means that once a tattoo is healed, you no longer see the outer layer of the pigment within the skin, and the underlying ink that is visible, is even deeper under the skin. It becomes more blurred out because of this, so when texturing tattoos, it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t just be a layer on top of your skin layer with a clean and sharp projection.
You want to reduce the opacity and blur out the tattoos quite a bit. Hand painting helps because you naturally produce variation in the opacity and sharpness of the tattoo with your own brush strokes, leaving areas where the skin is more visible and where the ink is deeper. Tattoo artists are not machines, and when they are tattooing someone, imperfections are bound to be made, so you want to reflect that in your texturing work as well.
When it comes to color, you also want to make sure not to saturate the hues too much, because again, the ink is under the skin, and eventually the color of the skin tone will overlap the colors of the tattoo and make the saturation feel more muted and faded.
Before I began clothing work, I collected references and research to get the best understanding of materials and how the garment is structured. This step helped me understand what kind of 2D patterns I had to create in Marvelous Designer later on, and how those patterns would be sewed together. This was probably the hardest part of learning how to create clothing inside Marvelous since the actual program itself was quite simple and easy to understand.
Sometimes it was hard to find references of how 2D patterns should look. But once I had a few garments, I could somewhat guess how the patterns should be constructed just by looking at garments and finding stitching lines on the references.
Once the initial patterns of the garment were laid down, I made sure that the silhouette and the major folds look tailored. I tried to stay at the initial particle distance of 20 and avoid adding details and fancy stitching lines. Eventually, the simulation inside the software will start to get heavy (especially with more patterns) and when it does, it can be frustrating to make bigger changes to the garment. My advice is to stay at low geo density as long as possible, and only start to gradually increase the density once you are 100% confident that the garment is how you want it. Another tip is if you have a lot of different layers of clothing, split them up into different files right before you start increasing the amount of geometry, and doing the final simulation. This helps increase performance and reduces the chance of getting nasty simulation artifacts that can be a pain to fix.
8. Lighting and Presentation
For the presentation of the character, I chose Marmoset Toolbag, mainly because it gave me the ability to focus on achieving as realistic presentation as possible, without having to worry about the technicalities of setting up a good rendering scene and shaders. I do enjoy working in game engines like Unreal Engine 4 sometimes, but I do that mainly when I’m trying to improve or learn something more technical.
When it came to choosing lighting, I wanted to present multiple scenarios that could showcase the realism of the character in various ways, and also portray the kind of emotion and feeling I felt from looking at the reference – clear, bold, and confrontational.
9. Final Render
Scroll through these incredible results!
- I was always interested in taking a course at CGMA to improve my skills since I knew the courses were being taught by world-class industry professionals. There were quite a few courses to choose from within character art, but I always have been a big fan of Adam Skutt’s work and the quality of it. So I decided to go with Next Gen Character Creation Mentorship and try to get most of it. By learning Adam’s thought process, workflows, and getting feedback throughout the course to push my abilities further.
- The biggest challenge during this project was definitely the accuracy and patience required in getting all the elements of the character just right. Having an iterative process and not being afraid to take a step back in order to move two steps forward definitely helped. This requires quite a lot of patience but asking and receiving feedback from my mentors helped me get a new perspective every time I felt that there was nothing more I could push further. This is crucial because these last small steps and adjustments that get squeezed out of you is what in the end makes you wrap a project in a good way, and also level up your skills.
- At some point, you become comfortable in being able to reach a certain level of quality and consistency in your work. What makes you push your work further is either surrounding yourself with great, more experienced people with different perspectives or having a really good mentor. That is why I decided to be part of this mentorship, and it’s something I will keep doing in the future to keep pushing my work.
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.
Read “6 Steps to Create a Realistic 3D Character: Mursi Man” to see another incredible breakdown.