Demon Chaser - Chapter 1
My name is Tamara Bakhlycheva and I'm a freelance character artist also known as First Keeper. This is my first tutorial about making an "old school" low poly 3D character. But what does "old-school' exactly mean? Simply put, it means the model is not going to contain many triangles and it will have full hand-painted Diffuse textures, Specular maps and Glow maps but no Bump or Normal maps.
My tutorial will start with the basic modeling steps and I'll try to show the tricks I use for creating good looking models, hand-painted textures and for presenting the image well upon completion. It may be different from your own pipeline and I don't claim to be 100% right on all aspects, but I'll share my workflow and I hope that some of these tips will be useful for you.
Here is a list of software that I'm going to use:
4) Deep Paint
5) Marmoset Toolbag
6) Adobe Premiere
The first step in creating a character is an idea or concept art. Unfortunately concept art isn't my strong point, so I think you would be better off learning about this from a different artist. If you're going to create a non-commercial character you can use another artist's concept. Most 2D artists would be happy to see their character made in 3D, just don't forget to ask the author's permission. So I did. I decided to use a gorgeous series of concepts of a character called the "Demon Chaser" made by Slipgatecentral (Vadim Bakhlychev - slipgatecentral.deviantart.com). These were made for Dominance War III but were never created in 3D (Fig.01 - 07).
These concepts have a perfect detailed density and also provide a good reference for human anatomy. Before I start working on each model I try to analyze the concept carefully. I think about how I am going to build it step by step. How many parts are there? How will these parts be connected to each other? Sometimes I color-fill the concept and each different color shows a separate part of the mesh (Fig.08).
If you make models to help yourself practice, try to give yourself some technical limits: an approximate poly-count and amount of textures and their resolutions can be limited fairly easily. I decided to make this model within the 7000 triangles limit, and with 3 textures: weapons (1024 x 512), body (1024 x 1024) and face (512 x 256). That's actually a little too old-school, but why not. Another point here - this guy wears a coat and the coat needs to have duplicated polygons because most game engines don't have double-sided materials, so areas like the coat with double faces can add polygons to your count.
ZBrush is a great tool for creating simple human or monster structures. I made a simple base using ZSpheres and the Move, Scale and Rotate tools. Don't forget to switch on Symmetry (X) while you build your rig. You can always check how the structure will look in Polygonal mode. To do this just push the A button or click Preview in the Adaptive Skin menu. All tool menus are usually placed on the right side of the viewport (Fig.09).
After I had done this I made an Adaptive Skin with a Density of 1 and added two additional SubDivs (Ctrl + D) (Fig.10).
The next step is the polygroup settings. Polygroups allow you to hide things easily and check the body silhouette. Make a mask by hand by drawing while holding Ctrl (you can erase by holding Ctrl + Alt) then blur it and create a group for masking. You can then clean the mask in the Masking menu. The PolyFrame button on the right side of the workspace allows you to see colored polygroups along with the wireframe (Fig.11).
Next I made a rough sculpt of the human body. It's very useful to find some anatomy references at this point. The main task here is to recreate correct forms, proportions and silhouette. Keep the mesh simple; don't go too far with details as it's not necessary at this stage. Good tools at this point are the Move and Clay brushes. Press Shift + Ctrl and click on body if you want to hide the arms and just work on the body. To unhide everything just press Shift + Ctrl and click on an empty area. This is how you work with polygroups. When you are satisfied with your base mesh you can repotologize it in ZBrush or Topogun, or just export your model into Maya in a low Sub-Division level like I did (Fig.12).
I use hot keys, some of them custom. I strongly recommend using hot keys and the main Maya menus for comfortable and fast work. Maya works perfectly with a Wacom pen tablet, all you need is to bind the middle mouse click on to the top button of the pen, which is by default a left mouse double-click (Fig.13).
After importing the model into Maya go to Hypershade and create a new Blinn material. In the Attribute editor (Ctrl + A, or double click on material) change the color to a dark color. This kind of material is nice for the early modeling stage because it shows the silhouette well and, at the same time, you can see the hard edges of the topology (Fig.14).
I also deleted the left side of the model and made it a Duplicate special (in the Edit menu), but before doing that be sure that the model's pivot and model is located at the center of the grid. You will be forced to edit the pivot position often. To do this press and hold X to activate Snap to Grid mode and move the pivot to the cross (press Insert to exit this mode) then apply a Freeze Transformation to the model (Modify menu) (Fig.15).
During this stage I keep in mind two things: silhouette and topology. The silhouette is a very important thing for 3D characters. It's like the foundation for a future house and it has to be strong. I put topology in second place because in the block-out stage it's not very important, but you still need to be moderate and make sure you don't add too many polygons. When you finish the block-out you'll need to pay more attention to topology (Fig.16).
Here are a few hints as to how to keep good and clean topology:
- Try to keep the mesh in similar size quads. At the same time feel free to use triangles. Actually we'll convert our mesh to triangles for texturing and rendering because a triangle is the true form of a polygon and game engines see only triangles. Quads are just for human comfort.
- Every polygon should work for silhouette - don't add too many polygons.
- Add additional loops to bending areas (elbows, knees).
- Some polygons can be extruded in new objects later. Place edges loops in some places as a future base for extruding a new object. For example, if I know that a specific polygon row is going to be extruded as a belt, I make sure that the thickness of the base row will be the same as the thickness of the belt.
Here are the tools that I used to create the model:
- Soft Selection. Press B and move the sub-components. To adjust the influence hold B + the left mouse button and move the area.
- Split Polygon tool and Split Selected Edge Ring. These are in the Edit Mesh menu or in the Shift + right-click menu. It's much better to bind it to your own hot keys. These tools add new edges.
- Sculpt Geometry tools (Mesh menu). This works like some of the brushes in ZBrush. The most commonly used is the Relax tool. I like it a lot because it's a quick way to make your topology smooth and consistent (Fig.17).
When the rough body base was done I started to add new details, like the pants and sleeves. To do this you need to refer back to the concept (Fig.18).
The next step is extruding the new details. As I mentioned before when talking about the topology, try to place edge loops in places where you're going to extrude new details. On the picture you can see what I mean (Fig.19).
First, you need to duplicate the right part of the body and select the belt faces. Next invert the selection (press Shift + the left mouse button and select all of the model using the Marquee tool). Delete selected polygons and slightly scale the belt and extrude it. I also assigned another material and made a duplicate special. I added new details and used Snap to Points (press V) to attach the belt to the body even if they are separate objects. This is the most common type of snapping and you'll use it all the time (Fig.20).
As soon as you are satisfied, start assigning soft and hard edges (Shift + right click the menu in Edge mode). That'll help in the future when texturing. For example, hard edges on the toes will look great with a metal texture (Fig.21).
Another way to add new objects is to create a simple primitive plane (Fig.22).
The creation follows the same pattern from here onwards. You need to add the details step-by-step. Now it's time to put our belt straps on their own layer. Layer systems are very helpful if you want to keep things in order. It also helps you to hide objects or switch Transparency on and off (Fig.23).
Always make sure that you have a picture of your concept open. I have two monitors and put my concept on my second monitor (Fig.24).
I used the same tools as I have already mentioned to model the trench coat. I didn't delete the faces from the back of the character yet as I'll do it later. I also merged extra polygons on the coat, because in the next step I'll add another trench coat plane above this one (Fig.25).
I added to the trench coat around the neck, collar and back. After this was done I could delete the original back polygons from the body mesh. I also stressed folds by creating hard edges (Fig.26).
Now it's time to make the hands. I started with a simple mesh and did the thumb and palm first. I used box primitives to make the fingers. I split the phalanges and added additional edge loops. After that I duplicated the finger three times and scaled and attached these fingers to the hand (Fig.27).
Here is a simple block-out of the shoulder pad (Fig.28).
A good starting point for a hat is a simple cylinder that you can then scale and extrude. I also used the Split Polygon tool here to add new vertices on the hat rim, because it was too angular (Fig.29).
I started with a plane to make the neck scarf (Fig.30).
Here is the workflow for the character's right hand. As you can see here that the left hand is finalized. I used this mesh for both hands, but according to the concept it should be a little thicker. The shoulder and hand armor geometry is pretty simple since most of the detail is going to be painted on the texture later. Pay attention to the hard edges as they will work well texture the texture in the final render (Fig.31).
Another thing to keep in mind is the polygon count. The main parts of every humanoid model are the head, shoulders and upper torso. Especially in games with a first- and third-person view. Each time people take a look at a character they focus their sight on the head area. So if you have additional polygons, don't hesitate to use them for a nice, smooth silhouette in that area (Fig.32).
It is worth doing another proportions check after assembling all the details. I created a plane with my concept in the background to create this accessory.
This type of concept is pretty easy to turn into a model. I've created a plane and assigned the concept as a texture. You can switch on the opacity in the layer options as I mentioned before or use X-Ray mode (menu button on the top of the viewport window). I made the rifle with a single mesh, except the belt which was made separately. I try to plan all edges before extruding. After extruding I scaled the orange area and added a few details. It's a pretty simple way to do low poly weapons (Fig.33).
The same way works for the scatter gun. I just extruded different edges for the top part (Fig.34).
Now it's time for the most interesting and important part of every humanoid character. You can build a beautiful model, but all the attractiveness is ruined if you fail with the character's face. I always give special attention to making a head. Don't be too lazy about fixing areas that look wrong and use references a lot. My base mesh didn't have any triangles, only quads, because I'll import it to ZBrush and triangles can cause topology issues in this program after subdividing. In the first phase I worked on the lowest sub-division levels and used mostly the Clay and Move tools. Too many polygons at this stage will slow your working process. Forget about details, only think about basic shapes. I made a rough sculpt because I only needed large details here for the low poly shape. You can also repotologize it in ZBrush or Topogun, or export the base to Maya and fix it there as I did with the body (Fig.35).
This is a shot of the almost-finished model. Now we are ready to unwrap it (Fig.36).