Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Character art

I've been working on high resolution 3d models of the main characters. The models are built mainly for story & dialog screens but also for marketing purposes.

We have four characters for the storyline. Of these four, two are the main protagonists which are the playable characters.


I'm not an expert and this is not a tutorial but here are some of my favorite features of Blender regarding character art & animation workflow:

Shape keys (New Shape From Mix)

I can create a new shape key from a mix of several keys. It's a very useful as a starting point for a new expression which you can then start sculpting and editing.

Some shapes in progress. There's about 20 of them now and another 20 in the works.
I use sculpting quite a lot when creating shape keys. Smooth & grab brushes especially are in heavy use. Inflate is also very useful for fixing problems and getting back form where it's lost.

Animation tools (Mirrored Pose Copy & Paste)

This is done so well I can't even tell you enough. I use this all the time for animating walk and run cycles. Just select the bones you want to copy the pose from, hit CTRL+C and then CTRL+SHIFT+V to paste it mirrored on the other side of the rig at any frame. Combine this with auto-key.

Rigify addon

Rigify creates a professional rig quickly from a guide rig. Very easy to use. I haven't used this for animation because my in-game-rigs for Island Delta are very minimal and specific. I use Rigify for posing these high resolution characters though. Such a time saver!

Mesh Deformer

Solves some tedious vertex weighting problems of complex geometry that contains separate pieces such as pockets, buttons, zippers and so on.

2 separate mesh deformers; #1 for upper body, #2 for the legs

I used this deformer on the torso and legs for Zoe character. The jacket contains many separate geometry pieces which would be a complete pain to weigh manually but by using the mesh deformer, the pockets, buttons and zipperline geometry were nicely captured along with the torso.

I limited the deformer to work only on the torso so it doesn't affect the arms which are weighed traditionally with weight painting to get more accurate and controlled results.

Modeling the hair

I really liked this technique for ZBrush:

... and wanted to achieve something similar with Blender and figured it would be easy to do with path curves and it turned out to be the case.

The curve tools are quite nice in Blender. You get good control over radius and tilt.

I first created the hair profile curve which determines the shape of the hair strand.

The profile curve is then extruded by the hair curves themselves:

I then just adjust the curve radius at points and tilt them to follow the shape of the head and avoid overlapping. I'm happy with the result.

After I'm done, I tweak down the curve resolution for viewport use as they get very dense. I keep the original resolution for rendering. It's like the separate subdivision surface settings for display and rendering.


I'm using Blender's Cycles for rendering all the dialog images and cutscenes. I've used the internal renderer for years, but recently I've been experimenting with Cycles and while it is quite cpu hungry, it's also flexible. Also another reason: nodes.

As I'm a big sucker for everything nodes and proceduralism, there's no way I would composite any images with layer-based software if I have a choice. Luckily there is choice these days!

The test image of this post was composited in Blackmagicdesign's Fusion 7 which is a program that I love deeply and try to use when ever I can (it's free btw!).
The color correction tools and filters just behave beautifully and produce quality that I've never seen in any other software. I can get beatiful'ish color correction results even from 8-bit source material and I don't know how Fusion pulls that off.

Blender has a node-based compositor included and I use it at times, but as Fusion is free, I prefer to use it for all my comping and post-processing.

Anyways, that's it for this post. More character art will be shown in the blog as things progress. Thanks for reading!

-Sami Kuronen