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Peruvian Woman: Creating Realistic Character Art

Neysha Castritius talked about the production of a realistic female character made in Maya, ZBrush, and Marvelous Designer during her studies at CGMA.


Hi, my name is Neysha Castritius, I am 33 years old and I live in Germany. I learned the basics of 3D some years ago in the EAD academy in Peru. Some time afterward I visited the Cologne Game Lab in Germany where I did my bachelor of Arts in Digital Games. Today, I live in Cologne and work as a 3D artist freelancer, I have been involved mostly as an animator or modeler for different Indie game projects.


I have always enjoyed studying human anatomy by sketching and painting people in the past, particularly faces, however, mostly in a more autodidactic way. I have already done some courses at CGMA and I learned a lot with them, but they were about animation and rigging. I had the feeling that I really needed a boost to my 3D modeling skills since I wasn’t moving forward anymore. So, I decided to take the course Character Creation for Film/Cinematics with Pete Zoppi given that it offers skills and techniques I wanted to learn faster and in a more professional way. And it was really worth it.

Peruvian Woman: Idea

The entire time, I had an idea of doing an older male character but ended up deciding on doing a younger female character instead. I wanted to create a character with a Peruvian background since it is something that I haven’t seen rendered in 3D that often, and of course, also because I am ¾ Peruvian. I started by collecting a lot of references and then blocking her out in 2D and 3D. I wanted her to be a person from the mountains, with a mixture of traditional clothes and assets but with a rather simple look.

Modeling the Body

I used a human base mesh that I created some years ago. I separated the head/torso from the body and started sculpting it and reworking the proportions, often using the book ‘Anatomy for Sculptors’ recommended by our instructor. This time, while sculpting, I paid much more attention to details that I would have neglected in the past, like the ears or the shape of the head. After that, I started reworking the topology in order to have a nice and clean poly flow that would also be a good base for adding different facial expressions. For this process, I mostly used Maya and ZBrush. When I was happy with the base head, I added a subdivision level since my head was originally modeled for indie games and its polycount was too low. Then, I started breaking the symmetry, which is something I now find absolutely crucial but didn´t practice back in the day.


Skin Texturing

Substance Painter was mainly used to texture the clothes and accessories; it is great for quickly achieving very realistic results. But for the skin, I actually worked mostly in Mudbox and ZBrush – Mudbox for the painting and ZBrush for the sculpting. As a base for the displacement map, I used XYZ textures, which are amazing. Then, I customized some alphas for the pores and added all little wrinkles with the Dam Standard brush or some alphas from Texturing XYZ. The scar was also easily sculpted in ZBrush.

The eye area was the one that gave me the most trouble since the base I got from Texturing XYZ didn’t really match, so I spent some time working with alphas and smoothing it to make it blend correctly with the rest of the face. The base coloring texture came from 3D Scan Store; it was a great time-saver, although the skin looked too uniform and unicolored. I added a lot of little veins and red and yellow patches to make the skin look more alive. A wonderful reference for the color and skin structure was Daniel Boschung’s Face Cartography website. I studied the skin there extensively and had it always opened while I was painting or sculpting.

Raw base from Texturing XYZ:

Creating Eyes

Creating realistic eyes was something I always had trouble doing, especially because I have mostly worked for video games, and depending on the project, there can be a lot of limitations. However, for this type of project Pete Zoppi showed us a wonderful method to create realistic eyes. The eye is divided into 5 parts:

  • The sclera that can have the tear duct attached to it, it has a mixed shader for the color and the cornea.
  • The shader and the placement of the iris behind the drop-like form of the cornea, it also gives that volumetric look to the eye.
  • The pupil is actually a face-inverted sphere with a hole, with the aim to look black when you look through the iris.
  • The iris wrinkles were sculpted in ZBrush and the color was hand-painted with a multiply layer of the displacement map on top of it.
  • And finally, a mesh is modeled around the opening of the eye, to create that wet line look.


This was my first time using XGen for the hair. I used XGen Interactive Groom for everything except for the braid, which was made using XGen Core. I was surprised by how moldable the hair could be and how much the entire process felt like sculpting.


Nevertheless, I ended up starting the head hair from scratch like 3 times, the same for the eyebrows. I guess I needed some time to understand the logic behind the software but also to understand what the details that make it look more realistic are. I would say in my case, having small loose hairs and breaking the hairline made the most of the difference.


Marvelous Designer is an amazing tool to create clothes. I used it pretty early in the project, already in the blockout phase. The details for the knitted pattern of the sweater were a real challenge. Luckily, I had a sweater like that one at home so I could closely examine it and then recreate the pattern in Maya with a tiling technique. Once the modeling was finished, I imported the mesh into ZBrush, and I extracted from there what would be the displacement map and AO. After getting the tiling texture for the knitted pattern and rearranging the UVs, it was then easy to work with it in Marvelous Designer. In Maya, the clothes have an XGen fur layer on top to help break the silhouette and let the fabric look more like cotton.

Preparing the Renders

The rendering process was for sure the most time-consuming part of the creation of this character. Each render took between 8 to 10 hours. I used Arnold in Maya. The lighting was a combination of HDR images from HDRI Haven together with some Area lights to enhance the main light sources coming from the HDR images. I tried out many different settings, some would look very nice while others were rather boring. I tried to look out for contrast and rim lights if possible. I let the HDR images decide for the color tones mostly.


I would say my attempt at making this character look like a person from the Andes caused going back and forth the most. Since most of my anatomy books and references are more leaned towards a Caucasian look, I was ending up making her look more European than South-American for a long time during the project. Pete Zoppi helped me with analyzing some pictures and gave me valuable tips on how to make her look the way I intended.

There are so many lessons that I learned from this course, artistically and technically, in such a short period of time. I think that the methods for using Texturing XYZ were for me one of the most beneficial takeaways, and also the ways to create the eyes and hair. The course was tough due to the amount of new information but really worth it! And next, I am planning to create an old man!

Neysha Castritius, 3D Artist