Riccardo Morgia discussed the way he creates and paints facial elements, how he creates clothes and models accessories for his character.
Introduction and Career
Hello, my name is Riccardo, and I'm a 3D Artist from Italy.
I've always had this huge interest in gamedev ever since I was a teenager. My interest in graphics as a whole was born from those early 2000s tools like RPG Maker and the MUGEN engine, quickly shifting into sprite art while still dabbing into 3D art with software like Truespace and Poser.
When Unity was getting more attention at the turn of the decade, I decided it was high time to move onto 3D art, so I took a Maya course to get the basics of the software, eventually getting into ZBrush and developing my own character modeling workflow, thanks to online artist communities and courses by more experienced artists.
Over the years, I've worked freelance on several small productions and proprietary VR edutainment experiences as a generalist, but I'm in love with character art, and I still strive to improve my skills bit by bit.
Gathering the Reference
Every time I make a new piece, I attempt to add something new to my workflow by experimenting a bit.
The original concept for The Hunter by Seesha Plekhanov caught my eye as it gave me a good chance to experiment with male facial and body anatomy, play with cloth layering, do some material study (especially the war paint and the ripped fabric), dabble with creature design and get some more Marvelous Designer practice.
My main inspiration for this piece was the character art from Horizon: Zero Dawn and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. I also took a lot of inspiration from Hossein Diba's wrestler characters, as this character looked more like a “strongman” than a bodybuilder.
Lastly, patterns, materials, and general feelings were heavily borrowed from Nordic/Viking culture. All of this ended up in my Reference folder as I worked.
On this project, I started with a base mesh, which I then proceeded to “buff” up and build my anatomy on in order to get a similar feel to the concept.
As soon as the basic forms were established, I decimated the body mesh, brought it in Maya and very loosely modeled base volumes for the cloth and the accessories. I used subdiv to smooth them out in order to avoid unwanted rough angles on the Marvelous simulation and got the garment to fit the body via a mix of elastic lines, pins, and overlaying geometry with the Animation feature.
Afterward, I brought the garments into ZBrush to give it some thickness and started adding secondary folds and detail using Orb brushes, Dam Standard and various alphas. I separated detail types by layers to finetune them during the baking phase in case some of it got lost.
All the cloth parts were done this way, including the slingshot tied to the belt and the boot covers.
The clothing as it came out from Marvelous → after adding surface folds, seams and redefining the flow a bit
The subdiv parts used as a reference were unwrapped and brought in ZBrush, where I added some irregularity and detail via alphas, noise, and manual sculpting. The horn and the pouch were modeled in Maya, and the detailing was literally drew on the surface via retopology. One quick extrude later, and voilà.
Most of the wear on the cloth and the leather were done via texture, adding some extra details where needed such as the frayed edges on the clothing and the seams on the belt. The Anchor Points feature in Substance was really handy since it let me handle all of the ripping and the transparency via a single mask, saving a lot of time.
The whiter the mask, the more ripped the cloth is.
The straps on the left arm were modeled and overlaid in Maya, then unwrapped and brought into ZBrush, where a quick Crease allowed me to smooth them while keeping the border shape. The unwrap was very important for adding detail – basically, what I did was creating a tiled texture with the V detail and use it to mask the wraps. A negative Inflate deformer was then added in order to create the cuts.
This saves the trouble of sculpting detail manually and is a good way to overlay a texture on parts like bandages or wraps while avoiding the 'tiled' look you’d get by just applying the material in a texturing program. I finished it up by adding other textures, Surface Noise and a manual detailing to get the look I wanted.
Working on Facial Features
For the facial features, I tried to get the same feel as the concept without going too stylized and using reference. The face isn't a likeness or anything, in particular, just trying to sell the 'strong guy with a square jaw' idea.
The first round of detailing was added manually with Orb_Cracks, Dam Standard and a few alphas I have acquired over the years, in addition to breaking up the surface with some Surface Noise. Everything was, again, done in layers to finetune all the detail via opacity.
The next step was to use XYZ Displacement maps to add pores and skin imperfection. I exported and unwrapped a mid-res version of the head and loaded it into Substance Painter, which is my to-go texture painting program.
The Displacement and Tertiary maps of the XYZ set were combined into different color channels on a single picture, then loaded into Substance and projected as skin detail on the head. Each channel was then exported on a different texture to be used as Displacement in ZBrush and projected on the main mesh.
For more information on XYZ’s work, you can check their site.
Lastly, I finished the detail by filling the gaps by using both the XYZ and the Flippednormals skin alphas. Further skin detailing was done directly in Substance during the texturing phase with the Substance Source skin materials.
The braid was modeled straight, put into place on the back of the head, and later posed via spline for the renders. It's made of separate shells layered onto each other, with the lower layer being almost completely solid and the upper really sparse plus a few flyaways – especially when closer to the head.
On this particular hair mesh I tried a different approach than usual for the hair texture and used Robert Ramsay's Hair Strand Designer. It’s really easy to use and allowed me to whip out a hair texture very quickly.
The eyes... it's just a rectangular texture containing both irises. The brown one is projected from XYZ again, the blind one is just a solid color with a bit of Galvanic on it. In the end, it looks the part, and that's all it needs to do.
The accessories were the part I experimented the most with, as most of the detail was sculpted in instead of being added in the texturing phase.
The shield was modeled as a single piece in Maya, then separated into different parts and brought into ZBrush, where each piece was detailed manually. In fact, the only details that were texture-exclusive are the paint on the parma, the surface damage and the notches on the wood – the so-called “story of the object” was mostly sculpted in.
It was one of the most interesting parts to work on as it was just sketched in the concept and allowed me to look all around for reference to make it plausible.
The axe was done with the same principle in mind – to add as much detail as possible on the sculpt and to use the texture to complement. Again, it was built in Maya and imported into ZBrush.
The rope guards are done in a similar way to the hand wraps – separate, unwrapped toruses with a texture overlaid to give each some individuality.
The handle was unwrapped as straight as possible so that the veins of the wood could flow correctly, when the material was added in Substance. In order to maximize UV space, I had to turn the longer piece sideways, but the rope guards helped in cutting the Uvs while preventing seams.
The head had the decoration and the damage added via alphas, the blood is a mix of manual painting and tiled textures.
And while we're on the topic of accessories... the head of the monster in the bag next to the character might not be the star of the presentation, but it was my favorite part to work on. The bag is a simple Marvelous simulation with alpha to give it a “ripped' look”. Adding detail to the monster head – both on the sculpt and the texture – was a pretty interesting experience, even for such a secondary detail. I'm definitely doing more in the future.
Working with Color
The war paint was definitely one of the most challenging parts, but I had good references on both 3D models and actual photos. Both, Mel Gibson's “Braveheart” and Hellblade's main character were amazing choices for the reference: they gave me a good idea of how war paint flakes and dries, how it reacts to dirt and sweat, and how it behaves on an elastic material such as skin.
As such, I put as many little details as possible to try to sell it – borders being bolder than the inner parts, breakups around wrinkles, the color is transferred to clothing or other body parts by rubbing.
In the end, the whole layer started from a solid color and became a stack of masks, starting from simple grunge to add some variation and ending up with various paint layers breaking the surface in a different way.
The lighting setup is a basic 3-point setup. All I did was add an extra spotlight to strengthen the Main light a bit, and a soft area light coming from below to emulate the reflection of the light on the snow.
I also added a bit of volumetric fog to blend the lights together and create a “halo” effect around the character.
If there's one trick I could share it's how I used a mesh to ease the transition between the eye and the head, right between the eyelids as opposed to being a sphere around the eye.
Let me show details such as the “wet line” between the eye and the skin and the shadow projected by the eyelids without using too much geometry, not to mention blurring the caruncle area a bit via Refraction, allowing for a smoother fade effect instead of a clear cut where the eye ends. It's such a small thing, but it makes quite a difference.
Transitional mesh OFF/ON
The Biggest Challenges
In the end, it was a pretty interesting piece to work on, with many challenges along the way: complementing the original design without straying from the creator's view was definitely the most important one. Adding more details on focal areas, redistributing detail, finishing up patterns and completing those parts that needed a touch-up were needed to make the piece more plausible and “sell” it better. As something little as a missing buckle, a pauldron sitting on a shoulder without any connections or a fold going the wrong way might make or break when it comes to translating an art piece to a different medium, it was quite important.
The material study was also important: getting the right look on the fabric both in ZBrush and Substance, making sure that all the materials looked the part and not going overboard with detail. The key to solving all of these was to look up a lot of references beforehand, focusing on the parts in the concept that were the most unresolved and looking for a more grounded approach.
But if I have to be honest, my biggest challenge yet was Marvelous Designer and its mysteries, a challenge I'm always up to take. I'm aiming to use it for more pieces in the future so I'm striving to improve my skills with it bit by bit.
Thanks for giving me an opportunity to talk about my work! Working on character art is such a joy to me, and I'm more than happy to share some of my workflow with others!
See you next time!