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Female Viking Production: Working on Clothes, Skin, Fur

Manu Herrador did a breakdown of the character Viking he made during the CGMA’s course Character Creation for Film/Cinematics and drew a couple of parallels between the character art workflows for video games and cinematics.


My name is Manu Herrador, and I live in Madrid, Spain. I am currently working as a Freelance Character Artist with Share Creators and Out of the Blue Games.


I have been working in the video game industry for 7 years, and I have been at several studios, such as MercurySteamVirtual ToysPlaystark. I have had the great opportunity to work on such games as Metroid: Samus ReturnsSpacelordsAgents: Biohunters, and Phineas and Ferb: Day of Doofenshmirtz, among others.

Before starting my career as a 3D Artist, I worked as an illustrator and occasionally a comic artist. There was a time when I considered taking a turn in my career and began studying 3D modeling. A few months after finishing a Master of Animation and 3D modeling, I had my first job at Freedom Factory Studios, working as an Environment Artist on the Kick-Ass 2 game.

Over the years and the projects, I changed my position to Character Artist.

In Search of Improvement

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to stop working and take a few months off. I wanted to take advantage of this time to improve my skills and learn new methodologies. I found the Character Creation for Film/Cinematics course at CGMA, and it was a perfect way for me to improve because I wanted to develop a realistic character, away from the limitations that I had always encountered in the video game industry in terms of polycount, number and size of textures, etc.

I also wanted to practice anatomy, especially facial anatomy. To achieve it, I collected a multitude of references from both photographs of female faces and 3D models made by other artists that I thought were going to be useful to me. I also collected tons of references for the athletic body, clothing, armor, etc.

Viking: Initial Modeling

I started modeling the character from a base mesh that I usually use for my characters. First of all, I adjusted the proportions according to the concept and integrated all the elements of the model, such as clothes, armor, hair, mace, etc.

Unlike in the video game workflow where at first you partly disregard clean topology in the high poly, this time I made the topology with the highest possible finish from the beginning as well as the mapping of the UVs that I did before exporting everything to ZBrush. Of course, there were several iterations between 3ds Max and ZBrush since the volumes and shapes of the mesh were evolving and had to be readjusted sometimes.

Once I had the definitive blockout I began to sculpt all the fine details.

Face Details

I dedicated most of my time to sculpting the face. In my opinion, it is the most important and distinctive part of a model.

I started shaping with DamStandart and Move brushes mainly from a fairly low level of subdivision. As I was satisfied with the result, I leveled up and put more details like wrinkles and skin imperfections. After this first sculpting pass, I started working on the high-detail sculpting pass, in which I used several XYZ maps.

The method involved using the Spotlight tool, projecting all the details of these textures onto the mesh.

To be safe, I used several layers of detail, just in case I detailed the model too much or if the details were very strong. If that happened, I could regulate it as I pleased and avoid wasting time redoing work.

Clothes: Sculpting & Texturing

Once all the sculpting work on the face and body was finished, it was time to work on the rest of the assets such as clothing.

For other characters that have pants, jackets, or stuff like that, I normally would use Marvelous Designer. However, in this case, the clothes were not excessively complex, so I decided to work on them in ZBrush to advance quickly.

Since I already had a polished blockout of these objects, it didn’t take long.

The only thing I did in this part of the process was to sculpt the wrinkles, some details like wear on the edges, and little else. Most of the work would be done in the texturing part in Substance Painter, where I would put additional details like stitches as I have more control there.

To sculpt the metal parts of the armor I mainly use the Trim Dynamic brush and ClayTubes to give that eroded appearance to the metal. I also use DamStandard to make scratches.

Now, it’s time for Substance Painter. For leather, I started by using a leather preset as a base. I modified it until I saw it worked well. After that, I gradually introduced new layers of wear and dirt to give it a more realistic appearance according to the character’s story – she is a Viking warrior, and all the elements such as clothes, armor, etc., have to be dirty and worn out in battles. Some of these textures were generated using smart masks; Others – made by hand to put all the details in the necessary places.

To texture the armor, I used a base metal material to which I added layers of dirt, rust, wear, and scratches. It had to look very worn out, dented and with many imperfections. I wanted to put a lot of emphasis on the dirt and have little glossiness so that it broke the shine and gave the armor a very interesting touch and dirty appearance.

I knew that I had to differentiate the character’s hair from the fur on the armor. The fur on the armor is more coarse, I imagine it belonging to some animal. It has to be thicker, dirty, and matted. For shading, I used VRayHairNext hair material.

Skin Texturing

To texture the face, I again used the Spotlight in ZBrush to project a texture of a high-resolution female model.

With this, I had a base texture for further development in Substance Painter. In SP, I corrected some parts and added details and tonal variety.

Then, in Photoshop, I worked on the glossiness and specular maps. It is somewhat tedious since you have to iterate a lot between Photoshop and renders in V-Ray until you find the desired setting.

Before starting the shading, I set up a bit of lighting to see how the material works.

For skin shading, I used the VRayFastSSS2 material. I started from a Skin (Yellow) preset, which roughly matched what I was looking for. Once I linked the maps of diffuse, normal, specular, glossiness scatter, etc. I began playing and adjusting values ​​until I was happy with the result.

Preparing Final Renders

I didn’t want the final renders to be in a T-pose, so I decided to give the model the same pose as in the concept. To do it quickly, I used ZBrush and the transpose tool.

Once I was happy with the pose, I exported the model to 3ds Max and prepared a new lighting set, the final one.

For the footing, I wanted something that would fit the Viking atmosphere. I didn’t want to spend too much time on this part, so I used resources that I had already collected before.

Once I rendered all the images I wanted, I imported them into Photoshop and worked a little on post-production by adjusting levels, saturation, and adding elements such as embers, smoke, etc.


Through the course, I have learned new methodologies and discovered things that I can take to my modeling workflow for games. When working on the model, I had to pay close attention to the level of detail because the course was for Cinematics and Movies, and in such characters, it is necessary to work hard on the details to achieve exceptional results.

Manu Herrador, Character Artist