The Making of “Iron Chief the Skull Breaker”
Yingbiao Han shares the process behind his latest 3D character concept...
Step 1: Research and reference-gathering
Hello everyone! It is an honor to present the making of a next-gen video game character to you. I decided to make an orc creature because I am a huge fan of orcs, especially the ones from World of Warcraft. While I was gathering references, I was thinking about the physical features of this character and what kind of environment he would fit in. The idea was that this guy served as a heroic warrior in an ancient orc tribe, and he was known for crushing his enemies' skulls with his bare hands. With that in mind, I searched for images of bodybuilders and weightlifters in all body shapes, also including animals, costumes, bones, and cinematic renders of other orc characters.
Step 2: DynaMesh and blocking out
I jumped into ZBrush and used DynaMesh to block out the upper body and then the lower body. After the primary form of the character was completed, I brought it into Maya to block out his leather garments and bone props, so that I would have an overall model of the whole design.
Step 3: ZRemesher and prop sculpting stage
At this point, I concentrated on dealing with the props that I'd added to the orc. First of all, I converted the low-poly meshes to DynaMesh, so that I won't need to concern myself with stretching the topology while sculpting. As soon as I was happy with the overall form of those props, I ran a ZRemesher command on both the torso and props, so I could add more details on them with subdivision levels. I tend to switch between DynaMesh and ZRemesher from time to time because it is easy to fix mistakes and change proportions. Using ZBrush's projection tools, the entire sculpting process truly becomes more and more convenient.
Step 4: High-res sculpting and additional props
So far, I was happy with the form of the character. I added some major wrinkles around his face and neck, and veins on his upper body. For the props, I sculpted some cloth folds and major surface details on the leather props and bones. Overall, the character didn't seem complete yet; there was a lack of visual impact. He felt more like a minion rather than a hero character. Therefore, I added shoulder armor with the combination of a huge carnivore's skull, chains, and old leather straps on his upper body to make him more intimidating.
Step 5: Resurfacing
As this was a next-gen game character, I set the polygon count up to 50,000 faces. I resurfaced the entire character with Quad Draw tool in Maya.
Step 6: High frequency detailing and texture maps creation
My workflow for texture map creation relied on tons of photo references, Photoshop, and Mudbox. I made all basic tileable diffuse maps in Photoshop, then exported those maps into Mudbox with the base diffuse maps applied onto the character. I used the photo projection technique to project additional features like wounds, dirt, stains, and damage on the character in order to make him more believable. When I was happy with the final result on the diffuse maps, I converted them to specular and gloss maps. In order to make the character's surface details pop a little more, I generated a high-frequency detail normal map and overlaid it on top of the previous normal map.
Step 7: Lighting and rendering
Due to the time constraints, I decided to render this character in Marmoset Toolbag. There was a lot of back and forth throughout the process between Marmoset and Photoshop; I needed to constantly tweak the shader balls in Marmoset and adjust spec/gloss maps in Photoshop in order to come up with more realistic materials. To achieve a good render result, I also made sure the lighting was not neglected - a default HDRI was far from enough. I added key lights, fill lights and rim lights to achieve my desired result. And that's it - I hope you guys like it!