Crafting a Stylized Character: ZBrush-Maya Workflow
Hello, my name is Nabil Chequeiq, I’m originally from Morocco and I love 3D character art. For someone like me, it was hard to specialize in character art in Africa, especially since there’s no one to learn directly from, so I spent the last couple of years developing skills on my own. Recently, I had the chance to move to the USA to learn more and after that, I moved to Canada to work at ReelFX.
Working with someone from the industry and having the chance to talk to this person is a really great experience, especially if you enjoy what this person does. Before CGMA, I didn’t have an established workflow, but during the course Stylized Characters in 3D, Hannah Kang showed us the way she works and I enjoyed it. Now, every time I want to start a new project, I use the same workflow learned at CGMA. I recommend this class to everyone who wants to learn stylized character art.
Start of the Character
I chose to work on my own design, so Hannah told me to do work on shapes to develop a better idea of my character. Then, she chose the most appropriate shape that would serve my design best. When working out the idea, I started playing with cylinders and other forms – I found them to be easy to manipulate as you have more control over them. The biggest problem here was to envision the final result in my head and try to transfer it into 3D.
Most of the accessories were either created in ZBrush and retopologized in Maya or made from scratch directly in Maya. I’m a traditional box-modeler so if I want to start an asset in Maya, I choose a plain or a box with low resolution and then keep iterating as I go. If I want to do something in ZBrush, I use a simple curve brush, then export the result into Maya with a plugin called Styx to add holes and edges. Styx is a really a good export-import tool that makes my life so much easier.
For UVs, I really like to utilize the UV tool in Maya 2018. The biggest challenge with UVs is to know where to put your seams, plus don’t forget to add holding edges to your geometry so that if you smooth the object you don’t have stretching textures. It took me some time to figure out the right places for my seams because I wanted to use Substance Painter for texturing instead of Mari. I had to be careful with the cuts.
For detailing, I used Substance Painter and Arnold (for rendering) and for the small cloth details, I used XGen’s hair generation system. Then, I applied a hair material with the same texture I have on the object to make the overall colors uniform.
For the leather, I looked for a lot of references on the internet to learn how the leather is made. After the research, I jumped to Substance Painter and began exploring and testing different custom and smart materials to match the real-life references. For the stitches and seams, I used a MultiTool Pack for Substance I found here. It’s really a good painter brush that has all the seems and stitches I needed for the project.
I started using XGen only recently but I have found it really good and easy to work with. As a beginner, I don’t start directly in Maya and always use ZBrush to create my hair base. Then, I go to Maya to extract curves and convert them into guides. During the process, I faced a problem as I didn’t know how to give the hair multiple color gradients. What I did is create separate groups and then give each group its own gradient with some variety which worked perfectly as I had more freedom in terms of colors and control. For those who want to learn XGen, I recommend Tarkan Sarim, he is a really good teacher.
For me, every project has its own challenges from defining shapes to rendering or material and I learn new things every time. A good way to test your character is to ask people for feedback and always try to work outside of your comfort zone to learn more and more. During this particular project, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to talk to Hannah Kang and get feedback from her. And don’t be afraid of re-doing things!