Art by Zhang Xiao

Zhang Xiao: How I made The Orc

Meizi Yan on December 21 2017 | Substance Painter, Stories, Tutorials

I come from Changde, a beautiful city in China. In university, I majored in film animation and specialized in hand-drawn animation. I started to discover the computer graphics industry in 2007: I loved the cutscenes after finishing a game level so much that I began to teach myself to use 3D software while I was working part-time.

At the beginning, I used to create a new artwork every month. I don’t have as much time now. I still collect garage kits, but my budget is really small, so I hand-carve figurines and paint them myself. Mud carving is one of my favorite types of 3D art.

Art by Zhang Xiao
Art by Zhang Xiao

I have a lot of favorite artists, there are many domestic talents in China as well - we must continue to learn (▔^▔). I like prototypes a lot. Takeya Takayuki is one of my favorite sculptors: his work is consistently amazing, and he is good at making asymmetric, hands-on models that are uniquely charming.

How I made the orc

The Orc project has been in the back of my head for a long time. At work, I use the Chinese aesthetic style, so in my personal time, I love to do different things, like monsters. I played World of Warcraft when I was a student, and I am such a fan of the game that I have always wanted to reproduce its characters. I chose to portrait Hellscream: he represents the extraordinary physical power of orcs and the fighting spirit of someone who refuses to become a slave.

Unfortunately, I ended up having little time for the realization of this portrait, so I had to simplify the schedule:

  • Finish the high-poly mesh UVs in ZBrush

  • Paint only a half body

  • Finish the texture in Substance Painter

I spent almost 90 hours on the high-poly mesh and inserted some my own ideas for accessories and other elements. The most complex part definitely was the hair: I made it in ZBrush.

Art by Zhang Xiao

As soon as the UVs were finished, I began painting textures in Substance Painter. All the elements are much too complex without topology, that's why the naming was extremely important. I finished the baking in Substance Painter as well. And here’s a sweet tip: after your optimized high mesh export, rename all the high- and low-poly meshes in your 3D tool, with the suffix _high and _low, then export them separately in FBX format. After that, you can bake all of them in Substance Painter without any intersection problem in your normal map.

Open the baking panel, choose the maps you want to bake, the texture size, and import all high-poly meshes. The trick is to use the Match By Mesh Name option.

Art by Zhang Xiao

For the texture process, let's take a closer look at the orc’s facial skin.

I like to begin by looking for references. After so many fights, the skin should be very rough and weathered. The detail spots and wrinkles need to have small, medium, and large variations to avoid looking uniform. Furthermore, the color of the forehead, neck, and back tends to be much darker.

Art by Zhang Xiao

Once the planning is finished, we can start painting.

First, fill a base skin color, then add a Fill layer with baked lighting to get a subtle lighting effect.

Keep adding more Fill layers with Ambient Occlusion, using the Soft Light blend type.

Next, add a layer - I prefer using Brush Dirt 1 to paint different colors on the face and to get the big picture of the texture direction.

Art by Zhang Xiao

In order to add details to the skin, start by creating a folder, then add a Fill layer with a black mask. I use Fill for the black mask, with Gaussian spots, and tweak the parameters until I am satisfied with the result.

Art by Zhang Xiao

For the tattoo, begin with a Fill layer, add Paint to paint the pattern, keep adding Warp to make it look natural, with some edge variations.

Then add MG Dirt to achieve a peeling effect.

Then copy/paste, change the color a bit and add MG Dirt to make richer details.

Art by Zhnag Xiao

Time to add some veins, large patches, and some color gradient.

Art by Zhang Xiao

After I finish the facial textures, I can create a smart material in the library, so it can be applied again on the body. The hand paint part cannot be reused, but for this project, it’s already a great feature.

My final layer rendering was in ZBrush, but the Substance Painter default real-time rendering is stunning. The Iray rendering is also great, fast, and easy to tweak.

Art by Zhang Xiao

Why I chose Substance Painter

I loved the awesome promotion videos. After I tried the software, I was quickly taken by its excellence. I began with BodyPaint, transitioned to Quixel Suite, and now use Substance Painter. It's intuitive, convenient, speeds up the project progress, improves work efficiency, and it’s easy to learn. The layers are similar to Photoshop, particularly after the Substance Painter 2.5 update. The digital pen pressure controlling and opacity of the brush helps a lot, and it works for both hand-painted and realistic styles. It's an essential software for me right now.

Art by Zhang Xiao

Actually, I like all the Substance Painter features, since they are very practical, especially the recent features update.

Substance Source for Painter lets me directly access the Source library from the Painter UI, downloading materials to my library without having to exit my project. Also, the anchor point feature from Substance Painter 2017.2 is useful. It offers infinite possibilities for layering materials. I truly look forward to every update from Substance Painter, as it brings me surprises every time.

Art by Zhang Xiao

My "Princess Mononoke" artwork

Art by Zhang Xiao

This is inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's animation "Princess Mononoke". I really like his animation; his work conveys asian mysteries with historical inspirations, his characters and scenes are always excellent. Princess Mononoke is one of my favorite characters – an abandoned child raised by the wolf goddess. She is violent and wild, yet beautiful and kind. I really wanted to make this character, but it took a while before I found the time (there is never enough time!  ̄︶ ̄).

Art by Zhang Xiao

My next project will also be a girl. Actually, female characters are more difficult to create. I tend to get tangled up in the project. Especially the face (≥﹏ ≤).

Art by Zhang Xiao
Art by Zhang Xiao

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