By Nick Resa  

Lately I have been doing a ton of stylized hand painted characters so I figured I’d share some bits about my workflow.

My current process:
1. Reference
2. Zbrush
3. Retopo
4. Uv’s
5. Bakes
6. Painting
7. Xform
8. Checking final look In-game
9. Prep for hand off to animation.

1. Reference – Really helps to have a finalized concept. Usually there are areas in the concept you’ll need to make up, like the back of a character or what the neck line behind that shoulder pad looks like. Sometimes you need to simplify the concept to make the detail readable at in-game view and to fit style. I should mention that reference checking doesn’t end with this phase. Its technically ongoing as your art director sends you back marked up screen shots.

2. Zbrush – This is where I spend most of my time. For my current project I do all high poly work in Zbrush. This stage is where most of the problem solving happens, along with stylized forms and volumes there are other issues such as whats going to mirror on the mesh or will character need separate arms.This is also where I start pulling in parts from previously made characters we call this kit-bashing. I can usually get 80 percent of the way in a few hours its the final 20 percent that takes the longest…you know, the whole 80/20 rule.

Even at this stage, knee deep in highpoly we are able to check and see what it looks like in-game. After decimating the mesh to a super low poly count we’ll then Import the decimated mesh into Unity. Its also pretty easy to take it one step further by adding a quick 2 minute painted texture. After decimating I’ll use Zbrush’s Uv master to generate uv’s then take the mesh into 3d Coat for a quick paint bucket paint with a few strokes here and there.

3. Retopo – I started out using Zbrush for this, but after a few crashes and the increasing complexity in our characters I use 3d Coat now, which hugely speeds up the process.

4. Uv’s – Pretty straight forward process in 3ds max, making sure to leave enough space for any possible mipping that may happen.

5. Bakes – We render out several different maps for our current workflow(maps listed below). Depending on the character we adjust the opacity levels of each texture or in some cases may not use a certain map. Just to be safe we render them all out at once.
ao high
ao low
base diffuse
tangent space
object space(use the green channel in this).

6. Painting – I made a photoshop action that will take all the bakes and rename/group/organize/set layer blending and a few other things at the click of a button. This quickly gets me to a point where I can actually start painting…. finally:)

7. Xform – Xform is something we artist all love and hate. Used for more function than form. Its the consistently colored parts of the character. These xformed parts aid in identifying what team that unit belongs to. For example if you are the red team you will have read highlights on your character. Through out the painting process certain areas are experimented with as to which have the most visual impact without being overbearing.

8. Checking final look In-game – This is where I pop the psd file into Unity and hook everything up in the material. Usually making small adjustments and checking that xform coverage is plenty visible.

9. Prep for hand off to animation – This is a pretty quick phase were I clean up the 3dsMax scene file removing anything unnecessary, rename mat/meshes with an appended “_final” to the final name, collapse all modifiers, make sure everything is at 0,0,0 world space.

Yep so that’s mostly it. Of course there are a few differences here and there depending on what character/weapon/prop I’m working on.