Creating a Samurai Chess Character in ZBrush, Blender & Substance 3D Painter

Aymeric Rondol has shared the workflow behind the 3D Samurai Chess Bishop project, detailed the process of creating materials, and spoke about the advantages of working in Blender.


Hi! my name is Aymeric Rondol, I’m a 3D generalist Artist from France. I never had a preference between modeling, surfacing, lighting, etc. I have always found all 3D aspects very interesting – this allowed me to work on many kinds of styles and types of production (games, movies, TV series).

I was lucky enough to work for a large range of companies such as Digital District, Mikros Animation, or Fortiche production, on projects like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutant Mayhem or League of legend Arcane. Thanks to all of those years of work, I've gained solid professional 3D art skills.


I started learning Blender after a friend told me that some limitations with Maya could be overcome with this software. After I completed multiple projects using it, I was sure that Blender is software with great potential. I have been a long-time user of Maya, but Blender gives me a sense that anything is possible. Its shading system is so advanced that I can create materials similar to those made in Substance 3D Painter or Designer directly within Blender.

The same is true for procedural modeling, whether through the Modifiers system or the Geometry Nodes. Blender is a versatile tool that is suitable for all kinds of procedural projects.

For example, in this project, I used only four or five textures, everything else is procedural materials done in Blender.

The Bishop Project

I really liked the concepts of Thaigraff Nat, this mix of street art, mecha, and Japanese style was fantastic. It has been a while since the "samurai chess" concepts caught my attention. However, after working on several projects in Blender, I finally felt ready to embark on this big project.

Base Mesh

I chose Bishop because I was drawn to his super shield and armor. After making my choice, I had to first learn how to turn the concept into a 3D model. This involved finding a pose that both respected the 2D concept and functioned well in 3D, as well as determining how to interpret the character and selecting the appropriate materials to give it a believable appearance.

To translate a 2D pose into 3D, I use the same approach as when creating a prop or environment, which involves blocking out the model. For the armor part, I prefer to use a slightly different method that works well for me. I like to use the Crease function, as it provides a low-definition model that can be easily manipulated, allowing me to achieve complex results with ease.

Thanks to the Crease function 3D models keep a very nice modeling curve.

The Crease function offers a fast and effective method for controlling and conceptualizing armor, complex models, or other objects.

Rope-Like Edging

Once the base of the model was completed, the biggest challenge was creating the rope-like edging. The trick that I found was to apply the Screw modifier to a simple circle, then apply that to a curve, and with the proper settings, the result was successful.

The Blender cloth tool was a delightful discovery for me. I didn't expect it to be so easy to sculpt cloth, but it was surprisingly enjoyable to use.

After working on the cloth, I returned to the metal modeling aspect. I wanted to achieve an obscure lighting effect, so I aimed to give the character a menacing and damaged appearance, which would enhance its cool and combative look.

Temporary Lighting/Materials

When I have a model that works properly, I like to quickly set up lighting to solidify my vision. For this project, I had a clear idea of the desired lighting from the start. I rendered using the powerful and efficient Cycles rendering engine. After setting up the temporary lighting, I added procedural materials created in Blender. This allowed me to get a general idea of the final result and helped me make color decisions in Substance 3D Painter.

Substance 3D Painter

With the temporary lighting and shader being set up, I had a clear understanding of the main colors. My goal was now to create a believable metal and fabric feel for the character. In Substance 3D Painter, I began by applying an old metal material that would give the character a damaged appearance. Then, I added a layer of color that I refined to give it a metallic look.

Substance 3D Painter has an excellent layer, mask, and procedural generation system that allows for fast results. For example, to create the scratches, I built upon the old metal shader and added a black mask with a "Fill" using a grayscale Grunge Map.

By playing with the masks and grayscale settings in color, roughness, and metallic, I was able to achieve the desired metal look. For the fabric part, I applied a base denim material that I modified. I didn't spend too much time on it because I planned to add some fur to maintain a worn-out feel.

Furry Parts

In Blender, one of the tools I like the most is Geometry Nodes, which was clearly inspired by Houdini. With this tool, you can perform many actions on meshes, curves, etc.

It's worth noting that each geometry node created can be assigned to different objects with custom settings, and it can be less expansive than actual fur. That's why I chose this solution for the furry parts. The aim was to distribute the curves I created on the whole mesh. The advantage of this method is that I can create output parameters that can be customized (density, scale, color, etc.), which allowed me to apply it to other meshes and save a lot of time.

After some testing, I realized that some curves disappeared during animation. After conducting some research, I found the cause and a solution thanks to a video by Joey Carlino titled The Softest Fuzz You Can't Touch: Geometry Nodes in Blender. The Blender community is very active and helpful. After additional testing and improvement, I was able to successfully apply the geometry node to all parts.

Final Lighting

I’ve always liked photography and I think that’s why the look dev and lighting part is often my favorite part in my projects. This is where the technical part is finally over and I can relax by seeking the atmosphere and tone of the image.

What I like about the lighting is how it guides the viewer. Although I'm not an expert in this area, I make an effort to do my best. To achieve this, I aim to not illuminate non-essential areas. To accomplish this, I adjust the lights. Once that's done, I like to add a ramp color on the roughness node, which gives me better control over the final material brightness in the rendering

In my WIP image, we can see that the red areas distract from the character's narrative elements. In the final image, the shield is better emphasized and the difference in intensity values between the shield and helmet creates a better balance.

I always strive to enhance my lighting as much as possible. Once the lighting is complete, I try to give my projects a cinematic touch – it allows me to show what it would be like in a film or a game.

I mainly use Glare to create a bloom effect on glossy surfaces, Color Balance and Color Correction to adjust the colors and lighting of certain parts, the Ellipse Mask for a vignette effect, and Lens Distortion to finalize the cinematic look. Depending on the project, some of these nodes may be used differently, but these are the ones I use most frequently.

And here is the final result:

Advice for Beginners

My advice for beginners would be to continue to try new things and apply them to concrete projects. I like to test new things and watch random tutorials on all 3D aspects.

Finally, if you are a Maya user, I strongly recommend you give a chance to new tools like Blender, Houdini, and Unreal Engine, do not focus on what you mastered, stay curious. 3D is like any other art, it’s just a great adventure, sometimes it can be quite difficult, but most of the time it’s really pleasant and fun.

Aymeric Rondol, 3D Generalist Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    I would love to 3D print this.


    Anonymous user

    ·a month ago·

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