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Studying Hand-Painted Character Workflow 80lvl

V Squad studio prepared a details breakdown of their character workflow from concept to animation and presentation and gave advice to junior artists.


Hi everyone. Let’s introduce ourselves.

V Squad studio was founded in 2015 by two 3d artists Volodya and Aliona Lyubchuk.

Soon we were joined by another artist. At that time the studio had a big project, and it was a miracle because at that time the studio didn’t have a portfolio. Since 90% of the work happens remotely, self-organization and motivation are very important for us, and we value our reputation. During 4 years V Squad has grown, and now in the studio, there are 3 people who work constantly, plus 5 in a part-time job.

Today, the V Squad studio team will share the experience of creation Horned Plague Weaver from Little-Orbit, project Unsung Story, from concept to publication on Artstation. The character was made by several people, so each part will be explained by an artist who was responsible for the task.

Concept Art

2D Art by Dmitry Barbashin

One of the main tasks of the artist is to make characters in the same style of the game. It is also important that the modeler could “read” the shape and the silhouette of the character. The more detailed the concept is, the easier it is for the 3D artist to get started.


3D Modeling by Vitali Koziuk

The next stage of the work with the character is modeling. I want to tell you how to create a good low poly shape for hand paint. For example, we have a character head-mask. Usually, I create a character model in Modo, but the shape of this mask seemed complicated to me, so I made a sketch in ZBrush. Don’t spend too much time on it, as the final model doesn’t require baking details. This is just a sketch.

I do the main work in Modo. Personally for me, one of its advantages is retopology tools. There are several “rooms” in Modo. In this case, I use the “room” Topology. High poly and low poly will have different shading, it will allow not to get confused between them. We’ll need Topology pen. It is very convenient, knowing only a few key combinations you can re-model the model only with this tool.

Very often I use Pureref to work with the concept. In this program, you can adjust the transparency of the image and put on top of the model.

A few words about UV. Since the mask is symmetrical, I create UV only for one half. The important point is that the seam along the line of symmetry is straightened vertically. Since in the future the textures will be drawn manually, we make the UV shell as large as possible and avoid turning them upside down.

Always think the model over so that the other person can work with it easily!

I’d also like to mention the book Anatomy for Sculptors – Uldis Zarins and Sandis Kondrats which might be interesting to read.


3D Art by Aliona Liubchuk

And now it is time for texturing. I’ll tell you about my pipeline using the example of a blade.

First, prepare mesh in Maya. Let’s divide the blade into parts: we will have a skull, a hilt and a point. Take a look at the Outliner, there shouldn’t be any “rubbish”. Click on the buttons Unlock Normals and Soften Edge. There are two ways to load a model from Maya into 3d Coat. The first way, we save the blade in the .obj and open it in 3d Coat. Or you can download the applink plugin, then you will have a magic button “To Coat”. You can also bring up useful buttons in the Marking Menu.

Now, in 3d Coat, we put the model in the angle of the concept and click Edit – Edit Projections in Ext. Editor. Projection is such a technology when a part of the image is copied onto the model as a texture. This will be our basis, the main sketch. A few seconds and the blade is already in Photoshop. Using the Lasso Tool, we cut out the parts of the blade from the concept and place them over the model. Using the tools Warp and Scale we customize the parts of the concept according to the shapes of the blade. Save it. The project will be displayed in 3d Coat.

The technical part is finished, now it’s time to show creative skills. To make the texture realistic and interesting, I look at the properties of the material. For example, how the glare glows on the surface, why the bone is dull, the properties of the folds on clothes and so on.

More interesting details on this topic can be found in these books:

Sometimes in the process of work, UV shells change a lot. In this case, you can make a rebake,  transfer the texture from the old UV to the new UV. It is important that the vertices match. Click Transfer maps. In Target Meshes we attach a mesh with a new uv, and in Sourse Meshes with an old uv. Test maps 512×512. In Filter size, choose 8.0. Click the button Bake. While it is being baked you can go make hot tea and eat some donuts.


Animation by Dmitriy Yavorskiy

After the concept is artfully drawn, the model is expertly modeled, and the texture artist has put their soul into the work, it’s time to breathe some life into it. Animation Time! In order to come to life, the character needs an armature, just like in life, – the skeleton with some meat and skin on it. So, the animator got the character model. What’s next?

Let’s create the skeleton! Knowledge of anatomy will come in handy here, because many things depend on the way the skeleton is built: where and how the limbs will bend, where the joints will be, how many bones in a limb there will be. All of it is very important and it affects the way the character will eventually move.

But it’s only half of all work to create the skeleton for the body. The body also has clothes, hair, weapons, all kinds of trinkets, and it all must live and move together with the character, plus, of course, bones. In the end, the character looks like a mess of bones with little sense.

Now, all this skeleton is supposed to influence the model. Binding the model to the skeleton is the most boring part of the work, you need to tune up the way each bone influences the geometry.  I use the “Paint Skin Weights” in Maya to do it. I draw the zone and the extent of the bone influence. It looks like a colored gradient.

After the model is tied to the skeleton, we need to create the managing elements the animator will use to move all this stuff. I used an auto-rigger that really simplifies work when it comes to creating the controllers. It’s simple, quick and reliable.

Now everything is ready for the animation. For simple idle animation, we should first choose an interesting pose for the character to really shine in and create a looped movement for it. The main technique used for such animation is creating a sequence of several changing poses and moving various body parts by phases.

Once the main animation for breathing is created, I put another animation layer with some additional movements, like turns of the head, etc. Then, the character goes to rendering.

Posting the Work on Artstation

Let’s talk about the design work and how to make it “tasty.”

Do not be lazy to make the background. Look for design examples from different artists. Even a simple shadow from the character will create a feeling that it’s standing on the ground and make it more attractive. It would be also nice to put the character in a pose. The fastest way is to use automatic animation from Mixamo. It is only necessary to load the model and choose the most beautiful frame. There is one drawback, however: if a character has oversleeves, a skirt or so on, the mesh will be strangely bent, especially on the knees and shoulders. This can be fixed by adding a few edges. If you have money, it’s better to order the animation from a professional animator. The difference will be huge.

Take time to make the avatar, it is like a photo ID. This is the first thing that people will see in the news feed.

For Junior Artist

I would like to say a few words about the most common mistakes of juniors artists:

  • inattentive reading of the assignment and feedbacks
  • lack of texture under clothing and armor elements
  • lack of knowledge about working with the projection
  • lack of knowledge about working with reference
  • incorrect construction of the grid for characters, taking into account the animation functions, pentagons, extra faces and polygons
  • unwillingness to independently seek additional references and examples
  • inadequate price
  • e-mail letters without a portfolio web page
  • very quick burnout
  • panic

V Squad Studio Team with Best Regards!

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In the future, it would be possible to use these brushes in Substance Painter as well. The customers will get access to it automatically once the update is released.

Check the full description

Contact Jonas Ronnegard


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Post tags: 3d art, animation, character, gamedev, indiedev, Maya, Modo, sculpting, stylized, texturing

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