Five long months ago I started working on recreating my friend Captain’s character Bellamy from the Witchhunt series she runs from her Deviantart page, I urge you to immediately go check it out to get some context for this long post.
After feeling somewhat disappointed with another character I created earlier this year for a school assignment, I felt the need to continue working on character creation and get back up on the horse. Truth is, programming took most of my time and there was so much more potential to that character which I didn’t have time to discover. Luckily, this project gave me so much more.
Building the basic mesh
I started out with shaping the basic proportions for a female body by combining the techniques I learnt in the character creation course and the newly added sculpting tools in Maya 2016. It made the overall process quicker, without losing any quality to the topology of the mesh. Since they’re very similar to the ones in Mudbox, it worked out quite well for me to flip between the different approaches.
The basic design of the face took inspiration from Princess Zelda in Twilight Princess, as I considered it to be a good balance between the manga style and a more realistic face. I tried to stay true to the original style without adding to much “realism”, but it’s extremely easy to go back to the standards of body anatomy that we’ve been taught. Essentially, it’s a mix of everything I’ve tried so far in order to find new techniques and workflow.
To the part I might love the most, which is the UV-Mapping. On the last project, I kinda messed up the UV layout for the face so this time it was a major focus. I flattened the entire face with ears and everything, instead of separating all the different shells. This approach saved me a lot of space, but resulted in a lot of visible seams that were hard to hide. With the entire face flattened, it was much easier to draw the textures and color tones of the skin. The mesh was mirrored, but the UV-Mapping covers the entire body with its separate sides instead of using a “full symmetry” approach. Full symmetry is a term I’ve personally used over the years to define something that is fully mirrored in all stages leading up to the rigging.
I would love to write and research about UV mapping a lot more. There is so much complexity to it, you can’t cover it all in a book or any written material. I’m certainly not going to learn all there is to it, but do know that it’s one of my favorite things when it comes to graphic design.
This setup features as usual reversed foot controls and a cluster for the spine linked to a spline IK handle, but with more structured constraints all around the entire character. The big challenge this time was to create the dynamic hair rig, which constantly decided to mess with me.
Maya 2016 Extension 2 wasn’t that much in love with the nDynamics, and all though keeping a cleaned up scene it remained extremely unstable. Yet, the results were better than I expected them to be. Every individual string of hair is driven by a dynamic curve, constrained to the root joints that in turn was parented to the head control. Playing around in the connection editor enabled me to create a hair group control capable of bouncing and twisting the entire hairstyle. The same thing was done with the arms, as I connected the pole vectors twist attribute to the arm control and made it a controllable float attribute. I’ve been playing around with the nDynamics before, but never on a scale like this. The ocean of attributes…holy cow. For this character, I only focused on the Dynamic Properties section. The different face expressions will later be bound to driven keys, making it even easier to animate her.
But sometimes, it goes horribly wrong. This gave me nearly a heart attack when I accidentally opened the project in Maya 2015, rather than 2016. Whoops.
I continued on practicing drawing skin textures from scratch, but gave it an extra kick with some baked ambient occlusion to create a more accurate depth for the shadows. Otherwise I just tried to follow the coloring and the lines of the original concept art. So she was never a monster when it came to texturing, but the overall stature and attitude of the character is what makes it all come together in the end. That’s my opinion at least, it’s all up to the creator what to think about the final result. Very few maps have been used, some alpha maps for the jacket and hair, as well bump mapping for scars and wrinkles in clothing. Other than that, it’s just some tweaking with the blinn material and reflective colors to give more life to the skin.
I think I’ve landed on a good balance, here are the settings for the skin texture. You might have to add a specular map to further specify the shining surfaces of your character, which I did for the underwear. The “comic” style of the shorts was a bit enhanced by the “Cutout” filter in Photoshop, which I don’t really want to use that often, but the result was something similar to the grunge and dirty comic textures found in Telltale Games. I barely had to do any work for the t-shirt, since Captain already had many of the textures ready in the references. My only goal was to stay true to the original design without messing around too much with my own ideas.
The very last stage of the creation process and sort of a reward after all the hard work to play around with the lighting. I also finished off by further hiding some seams in the skin texture, and tested the stretching of both eyelids and the hair.
Here are some old poses I intended to use as references when the actual model was finished to test the rig. If you wonder where I got the test dummy from, it’s a rigged character from the visor menu in Maya. Believe it or not, but it’s actually a wrap deformer I’m using for the clothes while only the body is rigged. I’ve never used that deformer before and I must say it gives great result if used with caution. Important thing to remember is to keep a good topology so that the deformation looks somewhat acceptable.
So Bellamy landed on a total of 32 253 tris and I’m fine with that. I think my planning of polygons is getting better for each project, but I could’ve probably used a bit more for the clothes. There is always something, but hey, I’m happy about the final results. What follows now is a short period of tweaking and tinkering, but other than that, she is finished.
I want to thank Captain for letting me recreate the character in 3D and all the references I could borrow. They really helped a lot and I hope I’ve brought honor to your beloved Bellamy.
I’m probably not going to get much more time to work on any of my own projects as I return to school again by the 1st of September, which I have mixed feelings towards. I’m excited for sure, but as always, moving pixels on a screen was a lot harder than I expected. Failure will become the new normal.
I wish you all the best and good luck with your creative work 🙂