What is important in making high quality characters for cinematic and film purposes?
Making high quality characters is about finding the right balance between the art and the technical aspects. The art obviously needs to be good, and many times this can only be achieved by having a solid understanding of the technical limits and restraints of working in a production environment. It requires clean modeling, efficient UV layout and good scene management.
The first step I take is to surround myself with appropriate reference material so I have a very clear understanding of what it is I’m trying to build. The reference isn’t purely for visual reference but it also allows me to understand the functionality of what I’m building. I try to learn and understand the purposes and uses of various pieces of gear, clothing and accessories. With solid reference and this level of understanding, the artwork can be approached and executed properly. I don’t usually dive straight into a project, I try to mentally figure out what has to be built, which order it should be built in and how best to approach various pieces of the character. Spending a little bit of time up front, thinking about these things, can be a real time-saver later in the process.
Equally important are observation skills and research skills. I spend a significant amount of time researching and surrounding myself with appropriate reference. I also think the ability to observe and translate what you see is extremely important. This is certainly something that can be taught, but also requires a significant amount of time repeating the processes over and over.
"I’ve typically used Painter for game assets and was curious to see how it would function with more of a film / cinematic pipeline. It ended up working out extremely well."
How did Substance integrate into your workflow in this project?
I used Substance Painter to texture paint just about everything on this character except for the skin. Going back to what I had mentioned earlier with regards to planning and having clean organized meshes, I was able to do the bulk of the modeling in Maya. I did UV layout on all of the pieces and I was able to bring all of these pieces into Substance Painter. This character doesn’t rely heavily on displacement mapping and therefore the polygon mesh of the character has everything accounted for. Displacements are added detail on top which help to make things look better.
This workflow allowed me to easily bring meshes into Substance Painter, including meshes that weren’t extremely high resolution. Once I get the meshes into Painter, the first step is bake some textures. In order to get the most out of Painter I baked curvature, ambient occlusion, world space normal and position maps. I’ve typically used Painter for game assets and was curious to see how it would function with more of a film / cinematic pipeline. It ended up working out extremely well. Having the baked maps in Painter allowed me to add edge wear, dirt, dust, grime and a variety of other details very quickly. The real power here is being able to not only preview the textures in real time, but to also be able to work on a variety of texture channels at the same time. There was a slight difference in what I was seeing the viewport compared to how it rendered in VRay, but the difference was quite small. This workflow allowed me to work through a large amount of meshes and textures very quickly.
Using the mask-based workflow that Painter offers also allowed me to easily output these masks and use them in VRay Blend materials to blend a variety of shader types. For example, I was able to output masks from Painter to control the blending of a bare metal shader in VRay with a paint shader on top. All of my custom scratches and edge wear came across perfectly.
"I don’t think Substance Painter has changed the way I texture paint, it allows me to texture paint the way I always thought it should be done."
How did your use of Substance change your approach to texturing?
I don’t think Substance Painter has changed the way I texture paint, it allows me to texture paint the way I always thought it should be done. Having the ability to paint multiple channels at the same time while seeing it all in real time is an amazing advancement in the 3D painting workflow.
There was a certain level of unpredictability in the ways that I had previously texture painted. I would address the bump map first, then move to the diffuse map and then work my way through the gloss and specular maps. Working on these in isolation without really seeing how they were coming together always felt strange to me. Sure, you could see how it was coming together by doing a test render, but it was difficult to get accurate feedback on your gloss map with regards to how light rolls off the surface and how the gloss map breaks up the surface. These types of effects can only really be seen in real time, or with a pre-rendered turntable, where you have the ability to move the light around and really see how all of your maps are contributing to the look of the surface.
Substance Painter has solved this for me and allows me to get better results in a much shorter amount of time. Second to that, though, is how enjoyable the program is to use. Some software can yield extremely great results; however, if it isn’t fun to use than it can be a struggle to use. This comes down to UI, the intuitive nature of the program and overall ease of use and functionality. For me, Painter yields great results while being fun to use