Alexander Kosachev has told us about the working process behind the Vile project, shared an easy way of tweaking shapes while blocking out, and given some tips on how to make the surface look softer.
Hello! My name is Alexander and I’m a Senior 3D Character Artist at Lesta Games. I have 10 years of experience working on AAA projects. Although I mostly work on hard-surface elements at work, I try to push myself to learn anatomy and sculpture at home and practice both methods in my free time. Let me share with you some steps of the Vile project creation.
The Idea for the Project
Since childhood, I have been a huge fan of metal bands' album covers, and I decided to create something unique based on the music theme. This is where Vile came to life, inspired by Cannibal Corpse's 1996 album cover. My decision was to take the dark and evil mood of undead zombies and infuse it with a mechanical touch. As you can see, I incorporated teeth, wide-open eyes, and a half-body concept.
Before starting any project, especially at work, I try to find as many references as possible. It's essential to learn from other artists' styles and not forget to observe real-life objects. However, this time, I gave myself the freedom to rely on my own observation skills and background experience.
I began by drawing simple shapes in Photoshop and then transferring them to Adobe Illustrator's image-to-image slot. Then, I added some prompts such as "evil," "skull," "mecha," etc. I generated several versions, chose one, put it back into Photoshop, made some corrections, and repeated the process, modifying some parameters until I was satisfied. This concept may look messy and raw, but it's enough for me to get a starting point.
I started blocking in ZBrush. It's really easy to tweak shapes using the Move brush, rather than manipulating vertices in polygonal modeling. I just use simple brushes like Move, DamStandard, and ClayBuildUp to get the base forms and understand where the mid forms should be and how the silhouettes work.
In my project, Seeker Drone, I created all of the hard surface models in ZBrush using Marco Plouffe's (Keos Masons) quick tips. For this project, I decided to use Maya for modeling. I imported a decimated sketch mesh from ZBrush and then created a new topology for the larger pieces (helmet and armor parts).
First, I focus on the most obvious elements to help me understand unresolved components. Once the surfaces and details around them become clear, it's easier to connect them with new elements.
At this stage, you need to take your time and model piece by piece, then connect them into one cohesive part afterwards. This is how I was able to create complex shapes like this.
After I finished with the low-poly model and separated it into three materials (Armor, Skeleton, Inside), I created UV maps using 2x4K and 1x2K textures, with a 500px per meter texel density.
Then, I duplicated the low poly model and created a high poly mesh using the support edge loops method.
Tip: use the EditEdgeFlow command for some edges to make the surface look softer and try to avoid triangles (you can place them on flat areas).
Baking in Substance 3D Painter
Before baking, you should check that all meshes have the correct names (the same name for both the low and high elements, but with the suffix '_low' or '_high' at the end). The baking process is very fast. You simply need to set the path for the high-definition mesh, antialiasing, match, and max distance parameters, and that's it!
Now it's time for texturing. I divided this into two SP documents: Details and Materials. Starting with Details, I created several fill layers with black masks and added paint layers to them. I named each layer according to its purpose, such as Joints, Details, Shapes, Welds, etc., and started drawing in height maps only.
On top of that, I created a group of fill layers with different colors and drew an ID map for the different types of materials in black masks. This method is completely non-destructive and allows for experimentation with lines and details as desired.
After I am satisfied with this part, it's time to export the created ID, normal, and baked maps into a new Substance 3D Painter document for Materials. Starting with a simple fill layer, I added different generators, grunge, and curvature maps into black masks of each material and played with roughness parameters to achieve a nice contrast between the painted armor, steel, and plastic. Then, I assigned colors to each material using the ID map.
When all of the base materials are ready, it's time to create a Weathering group with different types of damage, dirt, and scratches. This is where the model becomes more believable and realistic if you combine procedural masks with hand-painted methods. Finally, I added the Post Effect group over everything to sharpen the image a bit and add ambient occlusion from the details.
I used to render in Marmoset Toolbag, but in the Vile project, I achieved such good-looking results right inside Substance 3D Painter! I rendered some shots with Iray and added backgrounds and contrast corrections in Photoshop, and that was it!
Big thanks to all the people who gave me such good feedback on social media and in real life! I hope my article wasn't too boring and helped someone who is interested in how it was made.
Alexander Kosachev, 3D Character Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie
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