Author Riccardo Morgia
Title: I believe in life after work
Modeling: zBrush, Marvelous Designer, Maya
Texturing: Substance Painter
Rendering: Marmoset Toolbag

Hello, my name is Riccardo Morgia, and I pizza pasta so good that I bring back the dead am a Character Artist. I have a history of small indie productions and aim my work towards the game dev scene, with a focus on characters although I have a knack for hard surface modeling.

Today we'll be talking about the latest piece in my folio, "I believe in life after work". Big thanks to the admins of treddi.com for giving me a space to talk about it.

This started as an exercise in Marvelous Designer. A lot of the stuff I'm gonna explain was learnt along the way, so bear with me if the workflow isn't perfect – hopefully you will find something of use.


Modeling


The Character


I am not ashamed to admit the project started when I noticed MD was on sale, so right after buying it I got the first base mesh I had available, in this case a piece I had made a while ago to practice anatomy.


First thing first, I started working on the face to give her a unique look and to practice likeness a bit (in this case, basing her on Sayuki Matsumoto, a japanese gravure model). First step was gathering enough reference before getting to sculpt, trying to just get her general look without going too far, and tweaking proportions a bit. Afterwards, I separated the head from the body on a different tool (I like doing it so I can focus on the detail, and let's admit it, because of hardware limitations) and went to work.

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In the end it wasn't a perfect likeness, but I liked the point I got and she was different enough from my other work to appease me, at so I called it a day.
Skin detail was added via the texturing.xyz alphas with some manual tweaking.
The abdomen and the hands were hand detailed. No shortcuts here.

After getting a good mesh going, I exported it at the lowest resolution possible and went into Marvelous.



The Clothing


I wont lie, Marvelous Designer is an amazing program. Getting the hang of it is a bit tricky at first, but it produces amazing results in very little time.

As usual, I gathered some reference, although in this case my focus was more on finding a sewing pattern for the clothing and to get a working base for detailing in zBrush, so I focused a bit more on finding good ideas for textures, colors and patterns.  I'm giving you just a small example of what I found to avoid filling the page with stamp-sized reference images.

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The hoodie was pretty easy to figure out on my own, the pants however were a bit more difficult and the patterns I had weren't satisfying, so I had to contact a seamstress friend to get one.

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The pins (the orange dots) allowed me to keep the shape of the folds around the knee and let everything else resimulate around it. 


Once I got a good flow, I quadrangulated and exported everything, imported into zbrush, and added some thickness to it - I avoid the Remesh function as it tends to create triangles around the mesh borders, which are not great for sculpting. Exporting the garment as Welded and Thin allowed me to have a mesh with a constant polygon flow and without interruptions.


After some cleanup, some shape fixes and a good round of detailing this is what I got. The seams were added in zBrush following the original patterns. Marvelous uses patterns to create Uvs, so a simple Group by UVS in zBrush did wonders here and produced some really clean cuts I used as a base to add my own seams.

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The belt was made with a different approach. Once I had the pants in zBrush I quickly modeled the shape of the belt and the buckles in Maya, UV unwrapped them, and painted in Photoshop the pattern I wanted to use.

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After applying them as textures on the unwrapped model, Mask by Color -> Mask by Intensity let me to use them as proper mask. At that point it was pretty easy to build a detailed looking belt.

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The accessories

For the bag, I started in Marvelous as well. I imported the lowest subdivision of the hoodie, created a pattern for the bag, made the strap, and quickly realized that I should have pinned the thing to the shoulder.


After picking it up the floor and playing with the pattern a bit, this is what I got. Strengthen allowed the fabric to keep the shape better, but it still looked pretty empty.


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In order to simulate volumes inside the bag, I placed cube-shaped patterns in it, gave them a different fabric material, and used the Pressure option to inflate them while making the material heavier. As a result this pulled down the bag pattern while filling it up quite nicely.

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As per the clothing, it was given a round of detailing in zBrush before being sent off for retopo. For this one, I took advantage of the UV created via the Marvelous pattern to quickly create a lowpoly by taking advantage of Maya's Transfer Attribute option – by creating planes with the same UV as the pattern, it can be used to conform them to the original shape by using the UVs as reference. In this case it proved to be crucial as some parts were too crumpled to be retopoed by hand.


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The hedgehog plushie was an afterthought and was quickly done in zBrush basing myself off an existing plushie. Again, I didn't go for a complete replica.


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The Hair

I had the hair texture already laying around, made via Xgen in Maya for an older project. After fixing it up a bit, I went to work. 

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Each plane was placed by hand, starting from the closest to the scalp and adding volume by overlaying gradually sparser hair cards as I got further. Once I got to the outer layer, I added a final touch of thin, individual hair strands and subdivided everything to smooth the shapes.

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It ended up being one of the heavier piece poly-wise, with a whopping 35k tris by itself, even after clearing up unnecessary edge loops.

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Retopology

Retopo was done in Topogun,  with animation in mind. The mesh is mostly quads, with triangles used to keep shapes in place and avoid concave faces.

One tip that I often hear is to never use triangles in your retopoed mesh. This would be true if your model was made for subdivision smoothing, but once in a game engine everything is triangularized, so this tip falls flat, and triangles are a good tool to keep shapes.

The character with all the accessories ended up being 88k tris. 






Texturing


Baking

Bakes were done in Marmoset Toolbag. Right now it's one of the best bakers available, with the chance to choose exactly what you need to export in the format you want and to set up groups on-the-fly without the need to go back and move models around to prevent baking artifacts. For this projects, besides the standard set for Substance Painter, I made sure to export the Cavity map – I will explain why later on.


Since she was intended as a Hero asset, I didn't hold back on the texture sets and ended up with 6 of them on her body and an extra 2 for the accessories:

  • Hair
  • Eyes
  • Head
  • Body parts (hands, abdomen)
  • Top + hair clips
  • Bottom
  • Bag
  • Glasses



Substance Painter

Both the head and the abdomen/hands use a variation of the standard Human Skin material, again detailed using the texturing.xyz normals that come pre-packaged with Painter, which helped a lot in adding extra detail. Various layers of color variation were added in key zones on the face to break the monotony, using the Dirt 1 and Veins brushes paired with the Spots grunge to create them in a more uneven, realistic way and overlaying different layers of the same color to add more randomess; the hair cap was painted via the Fur brush, with Fur 3 as a way to put some quick and dirty detail over it. The eyebrows and the fading zones of the hair cap were painted by hand while using reference, the eye is a texture I made for my Cyberpunk Skater project. A very subtle touch of makeup was added to evoke a natural look.

UV weren't the best, but I tried to get as much surface as I could.

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And here's where I used the Cavity map; it's really helpful when adding very thin details like pores, and can help in adding depth if your surface variation wasn't strong enough in the original sculpt. I like to apply it over my skin materials with a verysubtle reddish hue and some variation in Height/Roughness in order to break the surface even more and add imperfections.



The hoodie and shoes materials are standard Substance Source materials with some tuning and manual detailing. The denim material is done from scratch, using the Fabric Denim standard material to give it texture, and building layers of color over it before diving in and adding variations. The wear and tear was done by layering some materials via Anchor Points. I forgot the leather patch on the back when sculpting, but thanks to the tools in Substance adding it in over already existing detail was not hard.

Some extra UV space was given to the belt and the buttons in order to capture the details as much as possible.

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Same process was done for the bag, although the denim rips are much subtler to give the impression of a "burner" bag that is worn due to frequent usage, instead of coming out pre-ripped like the jeans. In fact, the materials are built the same way – adding layer over layer of color variation, with the bag being darker and less washed out.

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The presentation


All renders were done in Marmoset Toolbag


Rigging and posing

I usually do all of the rigging myself. In this case, however, I ended up using the Mixamo autorigger and clearing up the result, as the character had a very simple silhouette and didn't need much in term of custom bones. Besides, playing with the pre-built animation on the site is a good way to check if your mesh performs right under stress.

I wanted to show off a feeling of cuteness and confidence at the same time while making sure that all the work I made on the character would come across.  I tried a few poses but couldn't settle for one so I went with two – one with the glasses, and one without, 1 and 3 in the following picture.

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Lighting

I used two separate Rim lights to replicate the color motif from the hoodie/shoes, docking them to the camera to always have them in the background. The main light comes from two Spotlights, with two Directionals providing movement and ambient lighting.

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The HDRI I used was the Narita Plaza panorama that comes with Marmoset. It gives some very good lighting/color variation while also being dark enough to not oversaturate your reflections.




Rendering tricks


So here's a couple interesting things I picked up during the years that might help you when rendering your model.


The eyes are exported with very little specular – the reflections are given by a separate Cornea model, which is the same as the Eye but inflated a bit directly into Toolbag via Displacement. 

A separate model was also used to add some AO and some shadows to the eyes, and a third small mesh was used to create the "wet line" effect where the lower eyelid meets the surface of the eye.

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The hedgehog "fuzz" effect is done by layering mesh shells over a base model with an increasingly darker Cutout alpha. In a game environment this could be done directly via shaders, but given that I had chosen Toolbag for my presentation I had to improvise.

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The hair has a Secondary Reflection and an Anisotropic shader. One way to make sure that reflections look right without resorting to a Flow map is to align all the hair cards in the same direction when making the hair texture, which lets the anisotropic reflections move correctly along your model's normals.

Instead of Metalness I used a Specular workflow to have better control over the color and intensity of the highlights.

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Final words


Well, there you have it. Hope somebody finds this useful, and if you do feel free to throw me a line via mail or on my Artstation.

I'm leaving you with this turntable and a link to check all the pictures at higher res:

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/gJ9nne





Ciao!

-Riccardo M.