Course overview Course overview
Learn the fundamentals of character creation
This course covers the foundation of creating an appealing, production-ready character bust from start to finish. From blocking in and sculpting your character, to retopology and UVs, to texturing and presentation—by the end of the course you'll have a portfolio-ready character render. This course is a precursor to Adam Skutt's "Next Gen Character Creation Mentorship."
Character Creation for Games WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
The more you know, the better.
Prepare to meet your master.
Patrick is a character artist currently working at Respawn Entertainment. He is a part of the Apex Legends character team bringing exciting content to millions of players world-wide. Before joining Respawn, he has had the pleasure of working on the Avatar Sequels at Lightstorm Entertainment. Patrick is a Gnomon alumnus and received a B.A of Fine Arts from UCSC.
Character Creation for Games Student gallery
Spring TERM Registration
Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021
Patrick was a great instructor. An excellent teacher and a very positive and enthusiastic motivator.
Patrick went above and beyond to give me the guidance and instruction I needed despite my difficult personal schedule
The course give me the opportunities to work on the correct production pipeline for a game character. All the process now is more clear
Companies that hire our students
environment design Benefits
What makes this learning experience unique?
Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.
1+ Year Access
Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.
Certificate of Completion
Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.
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Interview with Xabier Sevillano
Hi, my name is Xabier Sevillano, I am a 3D Artist from Spain. As far as I can remember, video games have always been part of my life. I remember a teacher asked me once, “What do you want to do in the future?”. Since in my town, there is not much choice and most people study some kind of engineering, I answered, ”I don’t know, engineering”. He replied, “Why don’t you study for making video games?” because he saw me playing on my PSP every day. Funnily enough, until that moment I never thought about it. Could one make a living making video games?
I studied computer programming for 3 years, but in 2011 Digipen Institute of Technology Bilbao opened and I enrolled aiming for the 3D Art bachelor. This decision was made because I got acquainted with ZBrush 4 while studying programming and I fell in love with it. I wanted to do 3D Character Art like all those guys from ZBrushCentral. My parents didn’t understand the decision, Digipen’s counselor didn’t understand it either, but I was happy.
In 2015, I finished university and joined Davalor Salud, a company that was doing VR video games for checking the health, as a 3D Generalist. In 2016, I decided to change my life a little, so I took a risk and went to Vietnam to work on VRnam, a project for teaching commercial airplane pilots in VR. There, I worked as a 3D Artist. After working for 3 years there doing 3D cockpits (hard-surface modeling 95% of the time) I decided it was time to chase my real goal to be a 3D Character Artist. So I decided to leave the company and start creating a 3D character portfolio. I wanted to do it the best I could, that’s why I joined CGMA’s Character Creation for Games course with Patrick Yeung.
Iko: Character Origin
At CGMA, they show you how to create a video game character from 0. There is not enough time to do a full-body character so they only require a bust from you. I knew I had the time and I wanted to make the artwork as good as possible since it was a piece for my portfolio, so I went for a full-body character. After looking at tons of designs on Artstation I decided to go for the one from Hou China. It was perfect for my purpose, simple but with a lot of big shapes. Also, who doesn’t like cool samurai demon warriors with huge swords?
Concept art by Hou China
I gathered lots of references for different parts of the concept and created a mood board. I tried to be as broad as possible, going bit by bit and thinking what information was missing, what I wanted to change or what else could help me in the future. This reference board was on my second screen 24/7.
The name Iko comes from Nariko from Heavenly Sword, one of my favorite games on PS3. Every time I see a red-haired girl it reminds me of Nariko - the same happened this time when I saw Hou's concept. Also, I was not sure what the name of his character was (his series was called Ji He Zi but I was not sure if it was the name of the girl or the story). So for that moment, I decided to call her Iko and find a name later on. As you can see, the name stuck.
As always, the first blocking is really important so I gave it a push and really put effort into making it work from the beginning. The approach to the blocking was basically using subdivided cubes to make everything. I used this method before but this time, the number of objects to model was way bigger. Anyway, I really enjoyed this part, since you start giving shape to your character and any addition looks like a huge leap forward.
Once I established the blocking, it was really easy to make changes and move things around. After that, I used Dynamesh, started adding details and kept developing the character. This is one of the slowest parts of the process and with so many details in this character, it was a little bit overwhelming. One of the things that helped me a lot was making corrections and notes to my future self. Before going to sleep, I took 10 minutes to analyze what I did during the day and made some corrections. When I woke up the next day I had already a guideline to follow. Sometimes, I disagreed with my past self, but it was a nice way of keeping track of my thought process.
In the beginning, I was planning on going a little bit more realistic, with a lot of cloth details, a realistic face and hair with hair-cards. After checking how much work I needed for the hair-cards, I decided to drop that idea, I had enough work already with the model. So I started looking for other looks that could match the hair like the one in the concept. I was somewhere between Overwatch and Apex styles (referring to the sculpts on Artstation by such artists as Sam Sun, Gary Huang, or Patrick Yeung, not the final look in the video game). I remember studying Gibraltar's stylization shared by Gary Huang helped me a lot at that time.
Overall, it was a really nice piece of advice from Patrick to change the face since, in the concept, the girl looks like quite a generic video game character.
Having the references always on my second screen or in PureRef was vital when trying to keep to stylization. My head tries to do natural modeling rather than stylizing the volumes, so I always compared my model to the references.
Clothes & Swords
Since I had some time for research, I wanted to try out Marvelous Designer. It turned out quite simple to use, although I didn’t do anything complex. I only wanted to make a base there, the rest was sculpted on top of it inside ZBrush. After importing the base into ZBrush, I did a Projection and a clean up of the pants. Later on in the process, I saw that the pants still looked too realistic, so I did retopology, reprojection and changed the proportions a little bit.
For the armor piece on the shoulder, I didn’t have any reference since in Hou's concepts, it was sketched only roughly. I looked at some other artworks he has done and tried to design the piece myself. I kept doing some variations until I found the final one. It was a hard task to decide which one looked better on the model and complimented the overall shape, - I really liked that aggressive shape in the concept, but my first tries were too realistic and didn’t match the leg armor style. In the end, I looked back at the concept and went for a less usable, yet closer to the concept look. Still, I tried to make the armor believable.
Different shoulder armor tests, the last one is final:
The swords were left behind until I almost finished the project. I was not sure if I was going to have time to finish them, so I decided to leave them for later on. Luckily, in the last two weeks, I had the opportunity to finish those props.
Baking & Texturing
Before this project, I used to bake in Substance Painter. I would create a file for baking the Normals with an exploded view of the objects so that they don’t intersect and another one for the AO. However, when you have so many objects it is really expensive to maintain. If you need to change an object you have to do it in 2 files and export it.
Following Patrick’s guideline, I tried baking in Marmoset Toolbag exporting each object into a .fbx and creating different Baking Groups. In the beginning, it might be slow, but it is way easier to maintain. Marmoset also lets you modify the cage in real-time, so I'll definitely use this software in my baking workflow from now on.
For texturing, I used Substance Painter. I used PBR for the whole model except the hair that has a SpecGloss shader to get red highlights. I use object ID to add a Base material where I need to, modify the color, metal, roughness, and height, and then add another material for some highlights in the corners usually. Then, I add more details, such as wear and tear, color variation, rust, dust or dirt.
The most interesting texture to work on in this project was the skin. I have never made “realistic” skin before, and it was really interesting to see how much different layers of micro details, skin pores, scattering, color variations, etc. can change the look.
Working on the hair was also quite interesting. I had to add a lot of color variation to the chunks of hair for which I used HSL Perceptive filter with the ObjectID map. Then, I added more variation with the thickness map and some gradient filters, and finally, I manually painted some hairs to add another dimension. Still, the hair looked like a helmet or a part that didn’t belong to the character. In order to merge the hair and the head together, I painted a shadow line on the head and darker strands on the hair.
Last but not least, Anisotropic which is probably the most important map for the hair. I used Krita, a program I've never used before, in order to create a direction map. It is incredibly easy to use and I'll now use it in my workflow, too.
It is also important to go back and forth between Substance and Marmoset (or any other rendering tool) to test the textures since there are going to be a few differences. This was more obvious with the objects that had subsurface scattering or transparency, such as the skin and hair.
Presentation & Improvements
I tried some crazy lighting situations with different moods, but in the end, I always went back to common 3-point lighting. I wanted the character to speak for itself.
The most important part of the presentation was the feedback. Apart from Patrick’s feedback, I talked to some friends with different specializations (concept art, 3d art, and animation) and their feedback changed Iko completely. I think the pose was the biggest improvement. Some other changes I did were the saturation of the hair and eyes, the makeup and the shape of the face.
Comparison sheet with slightly different hair tones:
After texturing, the shape of the face flattened a little bit and didn’t look as sharp as in ZBrush. So I went back and changed the geometry. I thought it was going to be tricky to change it at this stage, but it was easier than I expected. I exported from ZBrush, and Substance handled it perfectly - I didn’t have to do any fixing, just baked the textures again. Funnily enough, this is a small detail that nobody would have probably noticed.
Pose comparison; on the left - before feedback, on the right - after feedback:
Studying at CGMA helped me a lot to improve. I already followed a similar workflow before, but thanks to this course, I had someone giving me feedback and advice on how to work better.
Biggest lessons learned are:
- Document your process and reflect on your work.
- The blocking stage is sacred. If you put effort here, your future self will be happy about it.
- Bake in Marmoset.
- Even at the later stages of the process, don’t be scared of changing core things.
- Feedback, feedback, and more feedback. Get it whenever possible!
Xabier Sevillano, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
Efreet: Creating a Stylized Character in ZBrush and Maya
Interview with Ramy Lam
Ramy Lam did a breakdown of the project Efreet, a stylized 3D character made primarily with ZBrush and Maya and rendered in Marmoset Toolbag.
In case you missed it
Hello, my name is Ramy Lam and I am a 3D character artist from Las Vegas. I went to school to learn about game art and design but ended up taking a long break after so I am largely self-taught. I joined the CGMA class Character Creation for Games to learn new techniques and help solidify my workflow. There are a ton of resources online to help you learn and practice, but nothing beats having a mentor who can guide you and give you useful feedback. Patrick Yeung was the instructor and I loved his work on Apex and wanted to learn how someone in the industry would approach a stylized character today.
Efreet: Goals and Concept
I keep a folder of cool/interesting concepts and art I want to create and model so when I signed up for the class I already had an idea of what I wanted to go for. I wanted to work on skin, cloth, and metal for this project, so I went with a tiefling concept by Angel Huerta. I wanted to create her in a style somewhere between Apex and Overwatch, so not too anatomically exaggerated in style but still stylized. The cloth was a bit tough as well and I went through several passes in order to get the right balance of wrinkles and style.
Angel Huerta's concept art:
Starting with the blockout in ZBrush, I keep as many parts of the sculpt separate as possible so I have greater control over them. This applies to the body as well; separating the limbs and major landmarks individually. Usually, for the head, I start sculpting from a sphere but Patrick’s approach separates all the facial features as well. In this phase, he’s just worried about the proportions and tries to do as little sculpting as possible. I thought it was a really interesting approach so decided to give it a try.
In this phase, the most important thing I pay attention to is the proportions. I referenced a lot of anatomy books and resources to make sure everything looks right, and then I go in with the stylized changes and exaggerations. If I’m not happy with the proportions now, then it could become a huge pain in the future if I decide to change the proportions and have to adjust all the subtools to accommodate the changes. I also make sure I’m not “cheating” with the excuse of stylization. That is, being sloppy and ignoring correct anatomy. I think the best stylization comes from a better understanding of anatomy; knowing what and how to exaggerate to get the best possible outcome.
After I’m happy with the proportions, I begin merging the body parts and limbs together and dynamesh them into one mesh. I usually just do a quick ZRemesh to save time, rather than completely rebuilding the geometry so it’s perfect. I still try to keep them separated as much as possible so it’s easier to manage and I can pump up the subdivision levels without worrying too much about performance. For example, I keep the head separate from the torso and arms since she has a neckpiece covering the transition. Since her legs are covered completely I leave them as spheres and just keep it for reference to double-check my proportions and clothes every now and then.
Head and Horns
For the face, I referenced Hamel Patel, a model. I didn’t want to do an exact likeness but she had a lot of the facial features and direction I wanted to go in. The face went through many iterations, but eventually, I was able to get it where I wanted. I usually get frustrated easily here when sculpting the face because it’s not easy nailing the look I want, but I have to remind myself that it’s a work-in-progress, and you need to keep working on it, double-checking anatomy, proportions, and the reference to make it shine. These are things that get easier with time and experience, and the only way to get better is to sculpt and practice more!
The horns were made in Maya real quick so I would have good topology for sculpting, but you can achieve similar results using the Curve Tube brush then adjusting the Curve Modifiers under Stroke. Using the ZModeler I crease the edge loop where the horns change direction and set the Crease level to 3 under Tool > Geometry > Crease. This gives me a defined edge, but not too hard. I want the horns a bit blunt to show the wear of time. I use Crease quite a bit to get nice clean edges.
The horns were originally a lot more simplified, but Patrick pushed me to add more detail, and I ended up defining the grooves in the horns a lot more. I wanted them a bit more worn down in the front and closer to the tip to indicate the wear and tear over time, and to showcase some of the battles she’s gone through since I imagined her as a sort of traveling mercenary or bodyguard.
For the clothes, I wanted some nice, defined folds, but not too many. I try to keep in mind what kind of material I want the fabrics to be made of and how they fold in real life. I also make sure they crease and fold to the body sensibly, such as near the joints like the crook of the elbow. The black portions of her sleeves are softer and silk-like so naturally, they have more wrinkles and folds. Her cloak and pants are a bit thicker so I try to reflect that when sculpting. The leather wraps on her calves are bound tightly, but besides at the knee and near the ankle, they don’t deform much so the wrinkles are less pronounced. Instead, I try to slightly emphasize the pull of the material around the buckles.
I usually create the armor blockout in Maya for more control, but sometimes I start in ZBrush if it’s more organic. In this case, I created the pauldrons and greaves in Maya and the chest and hip armor in ZBrush. In Maya, it’s just good, old poly-modeling, where I can control the symmetry more easily. In ZBrush, for the more organic parts, I create a zsphere and adjust it to the character’s body, then mask out the armor shape. I Extract with a thickness of 0 to get a single-sided mesh, adjust the shape if needed, ZRemesh to my desired poly count, QMesh using the ZModeler, then finally crease the edges for a nice, clean look. This gives me a solid base to work with.
Eventually, I take it to Maya to clean up the topology and add more detailed parts. A lot of the pieces are just box modeled with clean topology, then brought into ZBrush and once again Creased. For some armor pieces, like the hips, I just use pieces of the base geometry to create the panels and simply Qmesh and Crease again.
I saved the skin detailing for last because I’ve never done this level of detail before, so this was a very new experience for me. I used Rafael Souza's ZBrush skin textures to slowly layer the pores and wrinkles with Patrick’s help and direction. Rafael’s textures are meticulously separated by facial area so they’re very easy to use and approach. I separated the lips, base layer of pores, and bigger pores and wrinkles using Layers so I could control and adjust the strength of the textures. I left the details a bit strong since I could adjust the baked normals easily and turn them down later if needed.
Retopology and Unwrapping
I used Maya’s Quad Draw to retopologize everything. It’s very intuitive and straight-forward. I like using Headus UVLayout to unwrap because it’s very fast and will automatically scale everything to each other and fit them together. Then I bring it back to Maya to optimize and scale things up that I want to have more detail. I also learned the importance of maximizing your UV space for games since they have a limited budget for textures.
This was also my first time using Substance Painter to texture. Before that, I had used dDo and nDo but Quixel had stopped supporting them a while back. The power of Substance is amazing and the results you can get are incredible. It was a bit overwhelming, but Patrick showed me several ways to approach certain surfaces like cloth, metal, and skin. I like the randomness that Substance can generate, letting you focus on the details. Since my character has red skin it was a lot more difficult to approach, but I just followed the basic color zones and adjusted the hue and saturation as needed. As Patrick said, even if the character is a fantasy creature, it’s still based on real life.
Lighting and Presentation
To render, I used Marmoset Toolbag since the goal was to create a game-ready character. I usually like to pose my characters in a relaxed default pose and an action pose. One of my art teachers once told me, “a good frame can make a bad painting better, and a bad frame can make a good painting worse.” It stuck with me and I always make sure I display my work in a way I can be proud of. After all, why go through all that work just to make a boring or bad presentation? I don’t think you need to know advanced rigging as a character artist, but some basic knowledge goes a long way in giving your character some personality instead of a basic A or T pose. Even just having them lean to the side with their hand on their hip or hunched over gripping their fists ready for action can add a lot of personality and attitude.
I use Maya’s HumanIK rig to pose my characters since it makes the process faster and gives you some decent control options for posing and animation. For lighting, I started with the basic 3-point light set-up. Drawing inspiration from the concept art, I placed a warm orange light and cool blue light for rim lights as well. Smaller omni lights were placed near her face to emphasize it more and to bring up the rim light around the head a bit. For the action pose, she’s winding up a special attack so I turned down the sky and main light and added an omni light with the shape adjusted to the weapon for the main light since it’s the focus. Another smaller omni light is placed above her head to get some shine on her hair for contrast. The special FX are just planes with an alpha and the emissive pumped up.
I learned a ton of stuff thanks to this class and looking back at this project now, I can still see areas I could improve on. Getting feedback not just from my mentor but also from my classmates was also invaluable. Being able to see the ways other artists approach things is also very enlightening and can open you up to new techniques you wouldn’t have thought up by yourself.
I feel my biggest challenges were with anatomy and texturing, but Patrick helped me throughout the entire process and reminded me to start with a strong base and foundation, then slowly build up. Overall, this class was awesome and I’m eager to apply what I learned to future projects!