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See How to Create a Character Inspired by Love, Death & Robots in ZBrush

Franco Diego has told us more about the Virgilio XVll model inspired by Love, Death & Robots and explained in detail the modeling and texturing pipelines.

Today, Franco Diego, a talented 3D Artist from Argentina, has joined us to share his path in the 3D universe and tell us more about the latest work created.

Since his school years, Diego has been passionate about drawing, sharing that it was his constant companion and a refuge in the midst of daily hustle and bustle. Even though Diego never imagined art becoming the core part of his life, that's exactly what happened.

"You may wonder how I came to the art of character design. It's a lengthy story, but allow me to summarize it for you. At one stage of my life, I worked as a bricklayer's assistant in the construction industry, a physically and mentally exhausting job. By twists of fate, I found myself involved in the construction of a studio where characters for AAA video games were created. Fascinated by what I witnessed and envisioning the possibility of making a living from art, I began to delve deeper into this universe. Years later, without knowing about my past as a bricklayer's assistant, the same video game studio contacted me due to the modeling and texturing work I shared on my social networks.

Since then, I have immersed myself in the world of 3D, something that I can now say I love and greatly enjoy. Currently, I work for Studio Collider Craftworks, creating character models and supervising textures for the exciting Mortal Kombat 1 project. Working with a great team of colleagues who share their art and vast knowledge day by day, I continue to learn on the artist's journey, something I am very grateful for.

However, I found in personal projects a wellspring of growth, where I can navigate oceans of diverse styles, away from my daily routine. This intimate journey immerses me in art and nourishes me with new experiences, shaping my being according to my inclinations. This personal path inspires me to sculpt not only forms but also to explore the essence of the image, unraveling the emotions that arise when contemplating my creation."

Examining the various intricate and beautifully crafted artworks on ArtStation, we were fascinated by Diego's latest project – the model of Virgilio XVII. So, we asked him to tell the story behind it.

"I am a big fan of the art direction of Alberto Mielgo, who helped in the art direction of Spiderman into the Spiderverse and was the Director of the episodes "The Witness" and "El Jibaro" in Love Death and Robots.

One night, I felt like doing a very quick sketch in ZBrush, mixing some resources that I had been mulling over in my mind and wanted to capture in 3D. I'll explain the methods I used below."

The concepts from Spider-Verse and Love, Death & Robots episodes "The Witness," "El Jíbaro," and "The Windshield Wiper" served as the main references for Diego, which featured a hand-drawn 2D texturing aesthetic.

"A widely utilized resource in both "Arcane" and "Spiderverse" is the shader play to manipulate lighting, creating distinctive strokes in both shadows and illuminated areas.

On the other hand, in "El Jíbaro," a realistic texture serves as a base, followed by extensive hand-painting work on various maps. Upon closer inspection of the models, numerous hand-painted strokes can be observed, distinguishing them from conventional models. In addition to the textures, asymmetry in facial features stands out, with marked differences in the shape of the nose, ears, and iris of the eyes, none of which are identical to each other, reinforcing authenticity and detail in the design."

When we asked Diego about the modeling approach incorporated in the latest artwork, he shared that he had already been using these methods in two other modeling projects, but had some additional workflows featured in the Virgilio XVII model. If you wonder what these are, here's the answer:

"To model the character, I opted to use ZBrush. I searched for detailed references to human anatomy and, if available, other angles of the character to gain a comprehensive understanding of its shape and structure. The first step was to find the desired reference, in this case, I chose the concept of Virgilio XVII as a starting point for creating the model."

"By pressing (Shift + Z), we'll access all the available options for our reference that we'll be following. These options include scaling, adding opacity, desaturation, increasing contrast, or adjusting the exposure of the image. Before starting to sculpt the character according to the concept, I modified the camera to 50 mm, as I felt it better suited the concept's style. Fearlessly, using a base mesh or whatever you find most comfortable, we began sculpting the character with a low topology, ensuring that the silhouette closely resembled the concept."

Once the base model is completed, Diego's next step is addressing the textures, which is one of the most important parts of the process. For this task, ZBrush and its polypaint tool were used.

"It's important to note that, as mentioned previously, this process was done as an initial sketch, so no specific UV mappings were generated. However, in the event of having UV mappings, we could apply the same method using Substance 3D Painter."

"Let's switch the material to a flatter one to minimize the effects of roughness and lighting. Modify the brush from Standard to RGB and open the Lightbox to start painting. When we pass the brush in RGB mode over the image, the texture we loaded onto our mesh will begin to appear above.

Even though I did mine directly in ZBrush, I'll give you the steps to do it in Substance Painter: - Import texture - Base material - Layer - Projection (add concept in base color and project) Seems easy, right?

As a tip, when starting any material in Substance, whether it's metal, plastic, or skin, it's advisable to begin with a roughness and a base color. This will provide you with a good direction for any texture you're creating."

"Of course, this initial step provides a solid foundation upon which to build. Next, I'll share a video of how I carried out the texturing using brushes created by "Pierre Rogers" during the Polypaint stage."

When texturing is done, it's time to proceed to the final render. Here's what we can do:

"We have two options: the first one is to export directly from ZBrush the composition, mask map, and depth map. Then, we import these elements into Photoshop to work with them. We use the mask to remove the background and add a new one in Photoshop. The depth map allows us to add depth to the image by leveraging the grayscale values provided by this map, using Photoshop's blending modes."

"The second option, which I personally favor, is to bring it into Maya and render it with Arnold. How do we do this if we don't have UVs and want to transfer the polypaint from ZBrush to Maya? It's simple:

  • First, we'll reduce the polygon count of our model (decimate), and it's important to enable the "use and keep polypaint" option.
  • Next, we export the model with the settings shown in the image.
  • Import the model into Maya.
  • In the Hypershade, create a Standard Surface material and assign it to our model.
  • In Arnold, under utilities, we'll find the "UserData," connect it to the "Base Color," and load the current color set of our model. In this case (Color set0).
  • That's it! You just need to copy and paste the material onto all the elements that need it.
  • Head to Arnold to see the render."

"Let's add some lighting, the choice is entirely up to you.

Three-point lighting: This is one of the most popular and widely used lighting styles. It consists of three main light sources: the key light, the fill light, and the backlight. This setup provides balanced lighting that effectively highlights the character, creating contrasts and enhancing scene details."

Render 3/4 for Arnold:

"I started this project in March. After my workday, I spent time studying references on hand-painting techniques and closely examining scenes from the aforementioned movies, reflecting on methods to achieve similar results. Although the execution time was relatively brief, the experience was very enriching and satisfying.

One of the main challenges lay in interpreting hand-painting and integrating it into my usual production process, which is based on a more traditional approach to physics-based rendering (PBR)."

"The advice I'd like to share with those starting on this journey or even for those who have years of experience in the industry is this: don't despair if things don't turn out as you expected. The real reward lies in the effort and perseverance you dedicate day by day, not necessarily in the final result.

Take the time you need to grow and learn. Never stop exploring, experimenting, and learning. Art is a journey of self-discovery and continuous growth. Keep your mind open to new techniques, styles, and perspectives. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, as they are learning opportunities. Find your own artistic voice and stay true to yourself. Cultivate passion and perseverance, and never give up in your pursuit of creative expression. Remember, art is a process, not a destination; enjoy the journey and the creative process.

Currently, I've already begun my next personal project. Not only will I use the textures I've learned during my recent modeling endeavors, but I'll also explore more of the shader aspect to fully leverage the possibilities of combining textures and shaders.

Additionally, I'd like to share an additional piece of advice: remember the importance of collaboration and exchanging ideas in the artistic community. Don't hesitate to share your work with other artists and receive constructive feedback. Critique and collaboration can open up new perspectives and help you grow as an artist. Furthermore, participating in artistic communities provides an opportunity to establish meaningful connections and find support in times of need.

One of the most beautiful aspects of this journey is the opportunity to meet other people in the world of art, who help you improve and understand yourself better.

I appreciate the 80 Level team for giving me the opportunity to share the knowledge of my latest project. Thank you!"

Franco Diego, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

Join discussion

Comments 6

  • Anonymous user

    Wait. He just projected concept art on a simple 3d-sculpt and got an article on 80lv about imposible secret pipeline of texture projection?


    Anonymous user

    ·a month ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Love the artwork and the pipeline, he’s a great artist and an amazing person!


    Anonymous user

    ·a month ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Really creative pipeline! love it. efficient with time and the end result is awesome! Cheers!


    Anonymous user

    ·a month ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Nice pipeline! its always nice to know the workflow for anothers artist! love it!


    Anonymous user

    ·a month ago·
  • Anonymous user

    I love this article! Well explained and i really liked the Artist Journey advices and wise words.


    Anonymous user

    ·a month ago·
  • Diego Franco

    Thank you for sharing what I do, and I'm very grateful to share my knowledge with you in the world of 3D. I hope it serves you well! Hugs!!


    Diego Franco

    ·a month ago·

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