Creating a character concept and assets

Santiago Betancur dives into the workflow behind the design of some of his awesome character concepts, exploring costume and asset creation in ZBrush, Keyshot, and Photoshop...

In this making of I will talk about the creation of characters with a costume from scratch, mixing real life references to get a believable design in terms of anatomy, texture, costume/armor, props and so on, starting with a basic 2D sketch to the final render using 3D tools.

Step 1: Gathering references

This is one of the most important steps when you want to create something. I always try to get real life references, this helps a lot to achieve a realistic concept with great anatomy, textures, material separation, costume, armor, and props.

Mood board with real life references

Mood board with real life references

Step 2: 2D sketching

I'm not great at drawing, but in this case I start to explore with the design of the character, trying to solve the design as much as I can. When I'm happy with the overall look I jump in to ZBrush, and I do a base mesh of the body. After that I overpaint it in Photoshop and keep exploring with the costume and general shape of the design.

  1. Sketches created from the references
  2. Sketch in two views of the chosen design
  3. Overpaint on top of 3D base models to resolve the costume more

Step 3: Blocking out the character in ZBrush

After I'm happy with the 2D sketches I jump again into ZBrush to start blocking out the rest of the character, adding more details on the anatomy, skin texture and so on. In this stage I resolve new problems that I didn't notice in the 2D part, this is one of the advantages of using 3D in the design process.

3D blocking

3D blocking

Step 4: Prop creation

In this part I used a mix of several tools inside ZBrush like, Zmodeler, Dynamesh, Alphas and the amazing live Booleans that it is a great game changer to the workflow for this kind of stuff.

Live Boolean process

Live Boolean process

Step 5: Texturing and Final Details

In this step I apply some Polypaint to the character and add the final details to the base mesh, like cut-lines to his armor, stitches on the cloth, straps, buttons, and so on.

Step 6: Posing

In this process I use a mannequin to block out some possible poses for the character. Sometimes I combine some elements from the different poses and I can get a new improved pose that I can use for the character.

Pose options and combined poses for the final result

Pose options and combined poses for the final result

Step 7: Render settings for the beauty shot

In this step I show you the render settings that I use for most of my projects. I don't really mess too much with settings and stuff like that because with the standard configurations I get everything resolved and I can polish the rest of the render inside photoshop.

Render settings

Render settings

Step 8: Render passes

Here I show you some of the most common render passes that I use for my renders. I also use this method to apply material separation on his costume elements, rendering the regions that I need in different materials, then I use masks in Photoshop to paint this maps onto the costume – this saves a lot of time too.

Step 9: Material painting

In this process I use several render passes with different materials from Keyshot, using region render on the parts that I need the material. This way is much faster.

Material painting

Material painting

Step 10: Final touches

This is the final stage of my process. After I have everything resolved I start to add color corrections, mood and some visual effects to the images for the final presentation. I use the plugin for Photoshop called Magic Bullet Photolooks, this is a powerful tool for colorizing and making color gradients on your images. I also use some tricks inside Photoshop like adjustment layers, explore with fusion modes using flat colors over a solid layer, and so on.

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