My name is Paolo Pallucchi. I’m a 3D realtime character artist for videogames and I work for an Italian software house called Indiegala for the videogame Die Young on Unreal Engine 4.
In 1994 at the age of 9, I became fascinated with the world of 3D through video gaming.
Over the years I decided to develop this passion, making it my career. It has also become my biggest artistic relief valve.
How I present my characters
I believe that for a good presentation of a character you not only need good modeling but also the right lighting, the right music, effective animation and (most importantly) the right expression in the character’s eyes.
Combining these aspects you gain the satisfaction of being able to create an attitude and an interesting lore to your character.
Sketchfab is the only platform that allows me to combine and publish the aspects all together on the browser, in a real time engine to complete a character.
I want to share with you my workflow.
Usually I am inspired by music. When I journey back from work and I’m in traffic I listen to random playlists of environmental music. And I start to fantasize about possible characters to create, their world, their mood and their historical background.
In this way the character begins to take shape in my head and the work arrives naturally.
My method is similar when I create a piece of fan art. In this case, however, I took my inspiration from The Office, a popular sitcom. I immediately fell in love with the concept of the Dwight character and a similar developmental process started as though the music had begun. I started to research clips of monologues to help define the character, I studied what characterises him and started to imagine how these defining factors would form an animation. I also immediately knew as a designer that I must simultaneously focus on his expressions to add a sense of realism.
For this animation I sought a challenge; I wanted to create something inspired by a fan art concept and present it within two weeks. It was something different.
Cartoon, okay, but what style?
“Cartoon style” is much too generic. You need to research what kind of cartoon style you want to recreate and which style is best for your character.
I think Dwight is represented as an ambiguous, almost scary character. Creepy. And a style that gives me similar sensations is that of the “Gorillaz”. This style has had a lot of influence on the growth of my style and what better character to use it on? Never wishing to copy a style, I utilised the accentuated features and gloom, mixing their style and mine like when I was a boy who enjoyed making 2D characters.
Sketch your idea
After fixing the idea in my head, I tried to represent it with a 2D sketch or a quick sculpt in dynamesh on ZBrush. Do not be discouraged! Initially it’s a really tedious process but once you can fix the main features, the detail will be easier and fun to add.
In the case of Dwight I experimented with various shapes of the head trying initially to approach a proportion similar to reality. Once I found the resemblance (eyes and basic expression) I began to stylise.
Nice! Yes, but only on ZBrush…
At this point I have to choose:
- DONE. Pose, render and post on social network and hope for “big likes”.
- Complete your work. Retopology, UV, texture, rigging, animation and love what you have achieved.
Obviously I try to always aim for the second point.
For retopology, UV, rigging and animation I use Maya, for texturing and bake I used Substance Painter.
After these I used Unreal Engine 4 for testing and rendering everything. Then, for more interactivity I published everything on Sketchfab. I find this last platform very user friendly and I really love the fact I can upload music to accentuate the piece.
I think Dwight was particularly appreciated due to his resemblance to life and for his facial expressions. To make him animated I created only a few blendshapes… but only after UV and Texturing!
Retopology, Bake and UV
No excuse. Do retopology on your character. It’s boring? Maybe… but it’s more presentable, for sure.
In this case retopology was simple but the result of the bake was satisfying.
Before this step I had to consider what platform my project must be rendered in. In this case I chose Unreal Engine 4 and, like always, I chose to animate the character for a video presentation.
After I finished retopology I decided that 31k tris for the entire character was quite good.
In the case of Dwight I’ve wanted to use only two texture sets: one for the skin, the inside of the mouth and the hair, the other one for the clothes.
I used Marmoset Toolbag 3 to bake the normal map, thickness, AO, vertex color (from ZBrush) and curve map.
I always have a lot of fun with texturing! This style is fun! To better highlight the most important parts I drew some simple line art, like a 2D style and I used only a standard brush in diffuse map.
Hand painting takes a little more time but I think it is the only way to achieve a better cartoon style.
I made several attempts and in the end I realised I did not have to exaggerate too much with the details. It’s a simple model and I wanted it clean. I therefore understood that it is better to give importance only to the main details.
Blendshape and rigging
I decided to animate Dwight and focus my attentions on his face. So I made some blendshapes with ZBrush, then imported the rig into Maya.
For the rig I used the Art Tool of Unreal Engine 4. It is very useful and I customised it for a facial rig.
For a simple animation I modelled some “face expression keys” like smile, angry, sad, etc., but for a nice lipsync I needed to recreate some “phonemes”.
I had a lot of fun with this, however implementing the blendshape with the rig was a boring part.
- To import your animated blendshape into a realtime engine you need to add an attribute control to the bones.
- All the realtime engines (like Sketchfab) can read your blendshape but can’t read the animation key of your control’s rig (Curve/NURBS etc) because they import only the joint’s key.
- To let the animation key be read, you need to add constraints from controls to bones and from bones to blendshape of the mesh. Then bake all the animations on your joint, export in FBX and voilà!
Character complete! Almost…
Now the Dwight character is complete, it’s time for the most fun part! The presentation.
For me this is the most important step. I try to recreate all the “mood” of the character with animation, a good render, some key poses and a music theme.
For all this I choose two ways:
1. Unreal Engine 4 for a short movie on my YouTube channel
2. Sketchfab for an idle animation and to give you the opportunity to study the model best. The MODEL INSPECTOR mode is the best currently available for a model viewer on browser.
This is the video presentation for Dwight Schrute:
This is my last artistic part for any project. With this I hope to demonstrate the mood and the attitude of the character.
Obviously this is only my approach and maybe this step is unnecessary, but I think that modeling a character is cool, but not as much as giving it “life”.
At the very least I spend some time uploading an idle animation on Sketchfab. Only an idle animation is required as I think Sketchfab is very useful to inspect the model. So I think a simple animation (such as a walk animation) is good enough and less annoying than a chaotic animation.
Another quality of Sketchfab is the support for blendshape animation. As I said before, all the real time engine needs is specific steps to make them work but once you get it, it all works great.
Sketchfab is so user friendly that I did not have to set up anything in particular to get a satisfying result. If you work well with textures and with a linear workflow you will not have any kind of problem.
I really appreciate the post-process tab! You can control all the settings without problem and there are a lot of filters available! Very impressive for a web browser model viewer!
I hope I was useful and above all that I have inspired you at least a little.