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Father Gascoigne: Cinematic Character Production
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Introduction

Hi, my name is Charles Peckstadt, and I’m a junior Character Artist currently working at Cyborn.

Halfway through my first year of IT studies, I realized that programming wasn’t really something I had a passion for. One of my friends was studying Digital Arts & Entertainment at the time, and looking more into it, I realized this is something I could actually get excited about as I always loved to draw. I enrolled the next year, and that’s how I got into 3D.

At Cyborn, I’ve worked on several commercial projects for apps and mini-collectibles, as well as an animation movie (Dragon Rider, forthcoming 2020). Currently, I’m working on Hubris, a VR sci-fi game. I also teach Character Modeling in a one-year program for 3D artists at SyntraAB.

Speaking of personal projects, I just wrapped up an écorché study which I plan to use in another artwork.

Goals

I decided to take a course at CGMA because I wanted to push my skills further and take the time to make another personal piece. Skin shading was always something I was a bit intimidated by, so I wanted to take a class where this topic would be discussed. I’ve always preferred realistic stuff, so I decided that Character Creation for Cinematics course would be perfect for my needs. It’s also pretty hard to get in touch with industry professionals like Pete Zoppi without having the feeling you’re bothering them. By taking this course, I knew for certain I was going to get valuable feedback from the right person.

Father Gascoigne Bust

Choosing a Character

I’m a huge fan of everything connected with SoulsBorne, so after looking through some art books in search of a concept, I eventually settled on Gascoigne because he was not overly complex, had some nice details, and allowed me to work on the full face, even though his eyes are covered with cloth. He’s also the first SoulsBorne boss I fought, which makes him more special to me.

When recreating the character, I tried to stay faithful to the game model and original concept but had to make some creative decisions because there was some difference between the two. Also, the game model is not super high res, so there were some things I had to establish for myself, like the material for the straps on his chest, for example.

Tools Used & Blockout Stage

The blockout was done in ZBrush, as it’s super fast to lay down the basic forms and proportions of the character there. It’s a good guideline for the clothes and how they lay on top of one another before jumping into Marvelous Designer. The face sculpt was also done in ZBrush, starting from a basemesh to save time, as it wasn’t my goal to practice topology or basic head anatomy. For all basic hard-surface things, I used 3ds Max (sometimes, I make a quick blockout sculpt in ZBrush before jumping into Max, so I can retopo it there). I also use Max to lay out UVs. Maya is used for the scene assembly, shaders, and rendering. I also tried out some rigging for posing, but I have not fully fleshed it out as it’s quite time-consuming. Often, it’s best to just pose it with ZBrush Transpose Master or Maya’s modeling/sculpting tools. The clothes were done in Marvelous Designer, except for some basic stuff like the hat and the shirt underneath, which I just quickly modeled in Max.

Below is the blockout mesh. The clothes are zremeshed after being dynameshed, so they’re strictly placeholders. Other things like the straps on the chest and the necklace were modeled properly already at this stage because they are pretty basic and don’t need a blockout mesh.

Face

The face was a bit experimental. I tried to recreate what I could see in the concept and game references, but the picture wasn’t very clear, so I decided to have some fun with it and do my own thing. Looking back at it, I maybe could have pushed some secondary shapes a bit further. I first modeled the neutral face and then used a blendshape to expose the teeth and make the character look angrier. It’s nice to work with a blendshape because you can switch between the two versions at any time and try out different things to find what looks better.

The pore details are done with maps from texturing XYZ projected in Mari. To push them further, I sculpted a bit on top to make some wrinkles pop more. It works especially well with older characters.

The skin texture was made by following this awesome tutorial by Magdalena Dadela (the workflow consists of painting a large number of layers blended on top of each other):

It’s a great way to combine the colors with your existing geo as you can use curvature maps to fill in the tiny pores and wrinkles. I also like to blend everything with some scanned face textures, so it’s not all hand-painted, but it’s important to match your geometry details with the color, so don’t overdo it and keep it subtle.

Clothes

The clothes were laid out in Marvelous Designer and then sculpted on in ZBrush. I didn’t really look up any patterns as it was a fairly straightforward coat. I just jumped in and started making patterns. When I settled on some basic simulation, I went into ZBrush. I was considering doing a manual retopo but in order to save some time, I used Zremesher with Keep Groups and Panel Loops to get decent topology.

For details, I added some folds and changed the ones I didn’t like, then tried to break up the smooth edges so that the coat looked heavily used. The layer system is great for adding some smaller wrinkles and folds and still preserve control after that (although it’s pretty buggy sometimes). I also used some cuts and scratches alphas to make the cloth look more worn. Maybe I went a little overboard with them, but they gave me some cool details to work within Substance Painter.

I also used a torn fabric brush I purchased on ArtStation. It’s pretty subtle in the final render, but it gives some nice details to look at.

The look of the leather was established in Substance Painter as I have more control over everything there and can make faster iterations than doing everything on the model in ZBrush. I combined a lot of smart materials and selected the things I liked, like specific dirt and wear or the basic leather pattern, and then painted on the masks to get a result that met my needs. After that, you can add more layers of color variation or details like stitches. It’s also important to tweak the maps in your render engine, as it’s not going to look exactly the same as in Substance Painter. It took quite some iterations to get it to look right, and the feedback provided by Pete was really helpful in that regard.

Presentation

Presentation is usually done when you’re getting finished with all the shaders and textures, and maybe already have a pose in mind. I blocked my lighting setup pretty early on and kind of stuck to that, but I wish I had done it differently. It’s better to check if everything works in different lighting situations, so be sure to test your shaders and textures with multiple HDRIs. I didn’t do that and as a result, if I now put my character in another scene, my shaders won’t work well. I guess it was due to the deadlines that I thought of it as an unnecessary step, but I was very wrong and I’m regretting the decision pretty hard. Once again, be sure to test these things thoroughly.

Posing is another important aspect of your presentation. Characters in a T or A pose are very dull while a posed character looks a lot better straight away. It’s the reason I haven’t posted a full character yet and only showcased a bust.

It’s really important to always keep the whole picture in mind and manage your time accordingly. After the course, I got a feeling that I spent too much time on sculpting little cloth details while not giving enough attention to the lookdev and lighting iterations. It’s a tough balance to achieve, and you might fail in the beginning, so don’t get demotivated if it happens. Look at it as a lesson and improve in your next project.

Afterword

The biggest challenge was, as said before, managing the time according to the weekly submissions. I feel that if I’d spent more time on the project after my job and during the weekends, I could have gotten a better result. Finding a balance between my job and personal work is still something I have trouble with. The course made me realize this and taught me how to manage my time more appropriately.

The course also helped me enhance the workflow providing me with new tips and methods. There’s a lot of valuable information in there, and Pete’s feedback made the course absolutely worth it. Without him, I would never have noticed some things on my own, and I feel that I have a better artistic eye now. During the Q&A time, you could ask almost anything and Pete would provide an answer, be it related to the workflow or the industry. It was a very enjoyable and insightful experience overall.

For now, I’ve put this character aside to work on my écorché study because I sometimes need a little variation, especially when it comes to personal pieces. But I’m hoping ll be able to find the time to finish everything and come up with a cool pose for the render. Right now, it looks like this:

Thank you for reading!

Charles Peckstadt, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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