Making Of 'Demon Hunter' by Brahim Azizi

Brahim Azizi takes us through the methodology behind his creation, Demon Hunter, inspired by artist Mike Butkus.


In this 'making of' I am going to show you the steps I went through to create the final render of my image: Demon Hunter.

My first goal in this project was to develop my own skills and to learn more techniques to achieve a more realistic effect in my work.

I have a drawing and painting background, and am used to dealing with artistic colors, lighting, mood, value etc, though now I have moved into the world of 3D, I need to learn both artistic and technical skills.

Step 1: Motivations and objectives

This character was inspired by a design by Mike Butkus, one of my favorite artists out there. His character really captured my imagination when I first saw it, and I decided to do a 3D version of it. He actually really liked my render, so I want to thank him here for giving me the chance to sculpt it.

With Mike's concept, I had to think of a story behind the character and focus on the overall look I was going to give him. The character reminds me of an ancient Chinese culture, so I had to go from there and think about the style or mood of fantasy characters. The style of online MMORPG game Asura Online was really a great source of inspiration for me.

I then started to gather some references that could help me in this project. The most important thing I had to focus on was the anatomy and form, because the first thing that captures the viewer's attention is the big muscular hand. I wasn't planning to create the exact same proportions as the concept, but started with a general idea and went straight from there.

Step 2: Sketching in ZBrush

I started sketching inside ZBrush with a basic base mesh, as the character was in a human form. If the character is something else, I tend to start from scratch.

So from that basic humanoid shape, I tried to make a simple rough form with good body proportions, without focusing on the anatomy at that stage, because I would be working on it after posing.

Sculpting the basic form with a ZBrush base mesh

Sculpting the basic form with a ZBrush base mesh

Step 3: Retopologizing with ZRemesher

After the rough sketch was done, it was then time to do the topology with ZRemesher. This tool is very useful, quick and powerful, and with a few parameters you can get a nice topology. Before ZRemesher, I used to work with Topogun, and I still use it for tweaking because ZRemesher is not 100% perfect so it's necessary in this case to use a different software to get what I want.

I used PolyPaint in the areas that need more topology in it, like the hands and the face, and also played with the Color Density. I also used the ZRemesher Guide to start drawing lines that guide my topology flow.

Then I did some tests with the other options until I got the right parameters for the target polygons and AdaptiveSize, and then let ZBrush do its magic. After that, I exported my model to Topogun to do some tweaks in topology.

Tweaking the topology with the ZRemesher function in ZBrush

Tweaking the topology with the ZRemesher function in ZBrush

Step 4: UVs in Unfold 3D

I used Unfold 3D to cut out the edges to get the job done nicely. I started the refining, relaxing and tweaking after posing because I needed my UVs to be symmetrical and after posing it was harder to unwrap.

After cutting out, I took the model back to ZBrush to project the high level from my DynaMesh sculpt (always keep your DynaMesh sculpt). I then had a new model with 5 subdivision levels and PolyGroups with UVs ready for more levels and detail.

Using Unfold 3D to cut out the edges of the UVs

Using Unfold 3D to cut out the edges of the UVs

Step 5: Posing and sculpting the anatomy

The pose, of course, was based on Mike's design. It was done in ZBrush with Transpose Master, which was simple to do, but then I had to work on the anatomy.

The hardest part was the anatomy, so to make it easier I started to do some studies of references and work on some sketches to understand the pose and how the body should look in that position. For me, doing some practice beforehand is a great way to improve my anatomy skills (though I'm still learning!)

Working on the anatomy with the use of references enabled me to create these poses

Working on the anatomy with the use of references enabled me to create these poses

Step 6: Posing and sculpting the hair

I created the hair using FiberMesh in ZBrush, but my way of working with that is by masking small areas so I can handle the style I want for the hair. This takes some time but you get some nice results.

I used specific brushes for that process: GroomHair Short and Toss, the Move brush, and the Pinch brush.

Using a set of specific brushes and masks to create the hair style

Using a set of specific brushes and masks to create the hair style

Step 7: Textures in ZBrush and Photoshop and rendering in Keyshot

Texturing was done with PolyPaint in ZBrush. I started with a clear blue as the base color for my model, and then I started to paint with a Standard brush using different Alphas (like alpha 22, alpha 58...). I also start adding some more colors; dark blue, clear red, etc on specific areas of the body (looking into references can help a lot here). I also added a Surface Noise with 0 strength because I just wanted another color to mix with the base color.

After finishing with PolyPaint, I took the Diffuse and Displacements maps into Photoshop. Here, I overlaid the Displacement map over the Diffuse map (as gravity), and also added some hand-painting over my texture just to add some more detail. I left the tattoo until the post-production stage because I didn't know what tattoo design would fit him.

This was the first time I'd used Keyshot in a project like this, as I used to work with Maya/mental ray, but wasn't all that good when it came to parameters and render options. Keyshot allows you to put more focus on the artistic side more than the technical side, and is very easy to use, which is a good thing because all you want is your final image to look great.

I imported my model in a high subdivision level with the maps, as Keyshot can handle huge amount of polygons and still works really well.

For the shading I used Translucide (Human Skin 2) material for the body and did some edits (translucency, specular, contrast, luminosity etc) to get a convincing look while looking at some references.

For the lighting I used the two Panels and rotated them to get a back and fill light.

Using ZBrush and Photoshop to texture the model, and Keyshot to render the figure

Using ZBrush and Photoshop to texture the model, and Keyshot to render the figure

Step 8: Compositing in Photoshop

After everything was done in Keyshot (including the knife, fibers, pants, and so on) I then moved onto the final stage in Photoshop. I used some dirt textures on top of the render layer in SoftLight and Overlay mode and made some adjustments in different areas such as the brightness, shading, and contrast. I painted over the hair fibers, added some hairs over the body and also added the tattoo after trying a lot of different dragon designs.

Finally, I added a Dirt on Glass texture on my layers as the background, and with some light color correction I got everything done.

I've learned quite a lot from the project as it gave me more confidence to make better art in the future. I just want to mention that everyone can learn the technical side, but the hardest thing is the artistic side; to achieve that you need to do more studies and practice and learn from your mistakes – those people who can't progress are the ones who believe that they don't make mistakes.

The final image of the Demon Hunter

The final image of the Demon Hunter

Related links
Brahim Azizi
Mike Butkus

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