Alyson Adam's Guide to a Perfect Character Pipeline
My name is Alyson Adams! I’m currently in my final year of study at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My focus is on 3D character modeling and character pipelines, though I love doing all kinds of 3D and 2D art. I have been doodling ever since I was a kid, but I didn’t take art seriously until my Senior year in high school when I applied to SCAD and instantly fell in love with 3D art.
I prefer characters over environments because living forms have so much potential kinetic energy that you can use to add interest to your work.
I’m going to take you through a brief overview of my creative process for creating an awesome character!
I had two things in mind when I began concept design for this character: I wanted to do something science fiction, and I wanted to create a compelling and dynamic scene. I hadn’t yet done a vehicle for my portfolio, so I decided a character riding some sort of machine would be a good start.
You want to pick references that will guide your design and inform you
My biggest references came from existing game and movie characters to see what had already been done, and how cybernetic characters are constructed. My concept booklet for this project also included an array of mechanical engines, hydraulic joints and different types of metal.
You want to pick references that will guide your design and inform you of the visual language that is used in the style and subject you’re working with. This part of the process is incredibly important because good reference will give you, a better understanding of your concept and can help inform your design decisions once you begin the modeling process.
Once I have a solid picture of what I want to do in my mind, I jump into 3D. I begin by roughing out all of my basic shapes, both for the character and the hoverbike. For the character’s hard surface metal plating, I use a combination of ZBrush‘s move tool and panel loops to get nice, hard-surface edging. I rough the bike out in Maya then bring it into ZBrush to begin adding more detail.
You’ll notice the models are a little different from the concepts. You want to keep as close to your concept art as possible, especially for portfolio work, but I felt like my style shifted across my process, so I adapted my work to fit better with my creative vision.
You can also shift from the original design if the work isn’t translating well from 2D to 3D, which tends to be more of an issue with stylized work than things on the more realistic side.
Remeshing and Uvs
After getting both of the models’ silhouettes in good shape and all of my volumes correct, I go ahead and remesh and UV the entire thing. This process is tedious, but if done well, it will save you tons of time when it comes to texturing and rendering.
Related Link:*** Mechanical Bug by Cati Grasso***
I mostly use the ZRemesher function in ZBrush with polypaint enabled to get a clean, quadpolygon mesh. For larger or more important parts of the mesh, I use Topogun to recreate the polygon mesh over a highres sculpt by hand.
The hands and face are the most important part of a character, so those you definitely want to remesh manually. After remeshing is done, I UV my new lowpoly meshes using Headus UV Layout. For this project, I had nine separate UV maps in total. Once they’re all good to go, I double check my mesh in Maya before projecting all my detail back onto my clean meshes in ZBrush.
Going from a traditional A or Tpose mesh to a posed model without using a rig to control the character’s joints might seem tedious, but thanks to the Transpose Master plugin built into ZBrush, it’s much less painful. The Transpose Master allows you to work in one lowres mesh with all your pieces, then transfer all your changes back to your original highpoly sculpt. This tool is essential when posing any character in ZBrush; that isn’t rigged. You also have the option of creating a Zsphere rig if you so choose.
Texturing for this project was actually fairly simple. I used a mixture of handpainted textures done in ZBrush with some spotlight projection for surface detail and noise. One of my favorite texturing techniques are edgepainting, where you paint slight highlights or lowlights along an edge to give the appearance of wear. It’s very subtle but when applied all over a model, the difference it makes is stunning.
Once you’re happy, and you’ve fixed any lastminute tweaks, it’s time to render out your scene. I use Keyshot to bring my models to life, and after all my maps and meshes have been exported out of ZBrush, I quickly set up my materials and determine a panoramabased lighting scene that fits well with the overall work.
I love Keyshot because it can handle incredibly high polycounts
I love Keyshot because it can handle incredibly high polycounts compared to other renderers, like Marmoset or Unreal 4. The trade off is you have less customization with your materials, but if you’ve created your scene in a way that allows you to apply multiple materials to your models, then this isn’t a big deal, especially if you’re like me and don’t specialize in tech art.
That’s my pipeline for 3D character creation or 3D modeling in general. Hopefully, this gave you all some insight into my process, and maybe even gave you an idea of something you can add to your Character Pipeline!
If you have any questions or comments for me, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
Thanks for stopping by!