Ladislas Gueros talked about the way he worked on his stylized Aloy and tried to adapt her for the Overwatch style.
Introduction & Career
My name is Ladislas Gueros (and Ladislas, as weird as it is, is my first name) and I’m from Paris, France. I’ve been living in Montreal, Canada, for the last two and a half years. I’ve been working as a character artist for the last 3 years, and previously I was mostly working on the environment modeling. I graduated in 2013 from George Melies School in France, and since then I’ve been really focused on 3D modeling! I wanted to be a 2D Animator at first when I was in the first year of school. I had teachers from Disney and they really gave me that passion. But I have to admit that when I discovered 3D modeling with Maya and then ZBrush, I fell in love with it, and focused completely on it! I’ve never been a designer though, and I’m always struggling when I have to design my own characters. I can manage to imagine pieces and parts that are not visible on a design (some design only show the front view), but it’s something completely different when creating a whole character from scratch.
I have worked on several feature films, mostly for kids, as well as on cinematics/trailers. I love stylized characters, and I try to find projects that would involve that kind of art style, but it’s rare! The best one I’ve ever worked on was at Fortiche Prod. in Paris, just before leaving for Canada. The project is still unannounced, but you can check out their latest video they did for Riot Games called “K/DA – POP/STARS” (below). It’s one of the best studios out there, regrouping so many talented artists. It’s challenging, inspiring, and intimidating to work among people like this, but I learned so much in such a short time. I’m really excited to move back to Paris in September and go back to them!
My current work at Mikros Animation Montreal, as a lead character modeler on Spongebob SquarePants 3, is also super amazing. Same as at Fortiche, I’m surrounded by many talented people. It’s like a big family, and the project is SO challenging. Transposing the characters from Spongebob into 3D while keeping their essence is a difficult task, not mentioning all the facial blendshapes involved, and all the various body transformations that happen to them…! But it’s also super fun, and gratifying when we see what the animators do with our characters. I can’t wait to see the final movie expected for May 2020!
Love for Stylized Art
I know the term ‘stylized’ is becoming really trendy, and sometimes used to excuse any flaw on characters, but I’m really focused on creating stylized characters. I love focusing on the silhouette, shape, and appeal of a character. I’d rather spend a day trying to find the perfect balance of chunkiness, smoothness, sharpness, good use of straight and curves, rather than spending a day applying XYZ alphas on a face to make it look photorealistic. I’m absolutely not saying this to devaluate the work required to create great realistic characters, I’m just not having fun doing this!
I don’t think my style is really remarkable, other than the fact that I’m only doing girls and that I’m trying to keep pushing the same style to get better at it. I still need to learn much, obviously, but I’m getting there and I learn a lot with each project. I can be lazy sometimes regarding personal projects, but I keep doing it to get better and better.
Working on Aloy
I’ve started to work on Aloy a long time ago. I had just gone through Horizon: Zero Dawn and fell completely in love with this character. I asked myself what she would look like in Overwatch. After weeks of having the idea in the back of my head, I started by doing some 2D sketches of a possible outfit that would match the Overwatch style while keeping the spirit of Aloy. It was a real struggle, as I’m not a designer. Designing great characters is a full-time job and a damn hard one! I tried my best by looking closely at Horizon and Overwatch artbooks and adding pieces I liked from different outfits from HZD on my character, all while stylizing them in the Overwatch way. It was not really successful, and my first iteration that went into 3D was meh. I received great feedback from the community on Polycount and from Anton Yakovlev who found exactly what was wrong with my design and what could improve it. I’m also constantly showing my work to my good friend Jeremy Baudry who has a fantastic eye for the appeal of a character. After that, I went back into a designing stage, and then into 3D until I finally found the design that would be final.
Regarding the body, I’m working with a basemesh that I created some time ago, and I try to improve it every time I can (that means every time I use it again). I learned a lot in my previous work, and that helped me improve the base body of the character. For the face, I studied Aloy a lot and tried to keep her likeness all while stylizing her with Blizzard’s typical aesthetics: bigger eyes, big and long eyelashes, sharp nose… It was really hard to make her look different from the already existing characters of Overwatch and to get Aloy’s feel. That’s the important word I kept in my mind: even if I tried to have the same facial features that Aloy has in HZD (close to each other eyes, strong and defined jawline, squarish face, high cheekbones), all I wanted was to feel Aloy. There is something really amazing with that girl when you see her move and talk in HZD, and I really wanted to get that feeling.
Other than that, the way I sculpted her is pretty basic. Clay buildup, move, smooth, dam_standard. That’s pretty much all the brushes I ever use when I sculpt! All that with some ClayPolish here and there helps me get that look.
For the folds sculpt, I just use dam_standard in ZAdd and ZSub, and then I hit “Clay Polish” to have something clean and sharp. What I try to do is always to be sure that the folds, even if they are simple, are logical and coherent with how a fold should be at that specific place in real life.
As I said before, it was a real challenge to get some pieces and outfits from HZD and combine them all into one character that would be readable, interesting, simple yet complex – all of what makes the strength of Overwatch’s designs. I know my character is not perfect, but I really tried to have something with the same amount of detail as in Overwatch, the same stylization and the same amount of detailed vs rest areas. It was a real challenge! The bow’s design, I have to admit, is one I found on an image of Aloy, and I just modeled it with the Overwatch stylization.
For the modeling itself, I really love doing it in Maya, as it gives me such perfect control over the size of my bevels, the sharpness of my edges, and the smoothness of the mesh. So most of the outfit is done in Maya, with sometimes the help of ZBrush.
Once I was done with the High Poly and did a fancy beige Keyshot render as they do at Blizzard. I had fun posing her, and got really motivated by how the community reacted to her! So I worked on the textures and the rendered scene as soon as I could.
Then Harry Houghton from Axis Animation contacted me in order to rig her. I received it recently, he did a great job and it allowed me to pose Aloy and finally be done with the project!
This was the first time I did a game model. I’m used to creating characters for production for movies, not real-time models. Game model topology is really different from that. I tried to apply my knowledge about SubD characters, and where to put my edge loops so the character can be properly rigged and animated… But I get the impression that (I might be wrong, of course) with game models, you have fewer restrictions regarding the topology. As long as you have some proper edge flow on certain important areas (like the articulations or, of course, the face), and as long as you are within the poly budget, you’re good! So it’s less of a puzzle. When I’m struggling to find how to connect my edge to have quads in my usual SubD characters I sometimes just create a triangle on the next vertex. It’s a bit hard to explain, and I’m sure I need to learn a lot of new stuff regarding game topo.
The biggest problem was to stay within the poly budget of Overwatch. Someone online posted some info which is pretty unofficial as he didn’t work on the game but I tried to keep in line with that. The character is 39k tri (including the hair) and the bow is 7k tri (including the arrow). I think that I could have done much better in certain areas to make them look less polygonal and to make better use of the polys. That’s the fun part of retopology for games in my opinion! I’m sure I’ll do better when working on my next model.
For the textures, I watched a lot of tutorials. Basically, I bake the AO, Curvature, and Position, and I use them as a base greyscale. Then I add some gradient maps in PS to create the base colors, with (thanks to the curvature and AO) already some lighting information in the colors. I try to keep them not too visible though, as this is not hand-painted but PBR. When I’m happy with the color palette, and that was a long and complex process for her, I sent this as a base color in Substance Painter. Then I just added some fill layers to deal with Roughness/Metalness of each piece of the character, some subtle fake shadows on some pieces, highlights here and there and it’s almost done!
Then I created two brushes. One is a little hard square brush that I use to paint the edgewear. The other one is to create the stains that are visible on each piece made of fabric.
For the scarf, I just added some metalness on it to create that satin look!
For the armor materials, it’s roughly the same treatment as the other pieces.
First, in Maya, I try to have nice bevels, with smooth surfaces. Then, instead of using floaters, I created some Sci-Fi alphas in ZBrush to add details. Some of those details are then just baked in the normal map, some others are retopo’ed if they impact the silhouette.
Then in Substance Painter, I just play with the metalness and roughness sliders until I have something that looks nice! I also added a bit of height and change of roughness on the edgewear.
Face & Hair
I’ve already talked a bit of the face sculpt previously. For the face colors, it’s really the same treatment as the rest. Bake, then gradient maps over greyscale. Then in Substance Painter, I added some redness on the cheeks, the tip of the nose or the ears, a bit of purple around the eyes. Then I worked on the lips and tried to change the roughness so it’s not the same everywhere on the face. Finally, I added her freckles, but I think I should have made them a bit more visible.
Creating sculpted hair is something that I really love doing. I think that’s one of the reasons I like doing girls. I love creating intricate long hair strands. It wasn’t that hard or that long to do her hair though. It was a bit daunting at first, especially as Aloy’s hair is so important to get the character right. I tried to study how her hair was done online (Grooming artists at Guerilla posted some hair shots on Artstation) and tried to have the correct flow and landmarks, but simpler. Basically, I create a tube, use a lot of smooth/relax/inflate/move to position it well. Then I just use dam_standard in Add and Sub and ClayPolish to create those sharp edges. For the braids, there is a braid Brush (I don’t remember if it’s already in ZBrush, or if I downloaded it on BadKing), then I sculpted it the same way.
Regarding the colors, I honestly didn’t do much on the hair. Same as before, and I almost left it “as is” right after the gradient maps. I also added anisotropy, and that was a long process. I had no idea about how to deal with anisotropy, and I had trouble finding a good clear tutorial online. Jonfer Maia gives some super interesting insight into this, and I basically followed his explanation. To sum it up, you create a flow map based on the normal map of a cone, then you paint small hair strands in Photoshop that you add in your Normal Map with XNormal to get the zigzag effect.
The project was really difficult. The hardest part, as mentioned before, was to get Aloy to look like Aloy but in the style of Overwatch. I had to study a lot the overall style in order to get all the subtleties of it. I had to understand how they organize the outfits to be appealing, incredibly detailed (look at Lucio’s legs, for example) and in other places super smooth, clean, and without any detail. I learned so much doing this, but it was a bit discouraging sometimes when I couldn’t get it right.
I think I could have done a whole lot better. The whole character could be better. The design itself could be 100 times better I’m sure. Some people pointed out that the silhouette is a bit ordinary. Also, I’m sure I could have done a better job with the topology. I see some places on the arms that are a bit too low poly, and some places are probably too high. Now that I look at it, I’m not perfectly satisfied with the poses I did for those POTG shots… Finally, I think I’m not there yet regarding the Overwatch look, but well…. I could go on like this forever, detailing every little thing that I don’t like in my model! I think that it was an amazing experience, and I really grew as an artist throughout the whole process. The next model will be much better I hope, and the one after that even better ! I’m planning to continue doing characters with this style, as it is something I really love.
Ladislas Gueros, Lead Character Modeler at Mikros Animation Montreal
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
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Post tags: 3d art, aloy, Blizzard, character, character modeling, gamedev, Horizon Zero Dawn, indiedev, overwatch, stylized, ZBrush