The making of Zero Suit Samus
Character artist, Allan Lee, shares how he made Zero Suit Samus using
Maya and ZBrush...
Hello everyone! My name is Allan Lee and I am currently a character artist working at Bungie, Inc. I want to share my process on my personal project Zero Suit Samus. I am a big Metroid fan and have always wanted to make a re-imagined version of her. I hope you can find some useful tips while reading this. Thanks for your time.
Step 01: Gathering references
Gathering references is one of many important aspects of starting a project. I try to gather all my images and put them in order, so I can find them easily as I work. I also purchased 3dtotal's Female Anatomy Figures for this project and I find it extremely useful to have something physical to look at as I work.
Step 02: Samus anatomy figure sculpt
I like to think about what is underneath and build on top of what I consider to be the base. I tend to start in Maya with a base model and finalize the sculpt in ZBrush. This project was also an anatomy practice session for me; I wanted to have a better understanding of female anatomy. I went through many iterations of her proportions and different hair styles.
Step 03: Character concept
Once I had the base figure, I took a screenshot and started to paint on top in Photoshop. I try to get the look I want in 2D before going back to ZBrush. I feel it is very important to have inspirational images to help me get the visual quality I want to achieve.
Step 04: Sculpting the suit
After some back and forth between Photoshop and ZBrush, I finally got Samu's suit to look how I wanted. I try to think about the function of her suit and maintain interest for the eyes and also resting areas. I used KeyShot Bridge to get the model into KeyShot for the final render. I will go over a bit more of my KeyShot process in a later step.
Step 05: Posing
I used Transpose Master to pose her in ZBrush. I won't be going over on how I used Transpose Master since there are a lot of good resources on Pixologic's ZClassroom. I have a few iteration poses below along with the final pose. I also went through a few different poses before deciding to go with this one. It's very important to have some photo reference and getting friends' and co-workers' feedback as well.
Step 06: PolyPaint
After finalizing the pose, I used Jon Troy's Hazardous Skin Matcap as a starting point and painted on her skin. I have my color palate handy as I paint to keep things consistent. I also have some of the brushes I used throughout sculpting in the image below.
Step 07: KeyShot & Material Separations
I used KeyShot Bridge from ZBrush to transfer all my meshes, poly paint to KeyShot. This is such a time saver especially if you name your SubTools in ZBrush.
My goal was to have good material separations in order to have the viewers look at the entire image. I have some material samples below to help give you an idea on the material types I was trying to achieve. I find that by using KeyShot, it really helped me to not have to think in the traditional way of having UVs and think about texturing differently. It's more thinking about different materials and creating visual contrast between them.
Step 08: Composite final image in Photoshop
Having a color selection pass (clown pass) is very helpful for quick adjustments of value and contrast. The gradient pass is also a good way to ground the character from top to bottom. It works as a very subtle ambient occlusion. I also render the backlight (rim light) pass and use it as a lighten layer at 50% opacity. Finally the color lights pass I used to add some colors to the lighting. It's very subtle but this way the lighting doesn't stay white.
Step 09: Final Images
I used some overlays and noise to lessen the gradient artifact you get when creating a web ready image. I kept the background simple to create contrast and to attract more attention to Samus. I hope you enjoyed my process, thank you!