Project Overview: Rat Catcher

by Gloriya


Posted on January 28, 2019 at 10:16 PM


Character model (sculpting, retopology, animation, texturing) exported to Unreal Engine 4.
50 993 triangles.
By: Gloriya Gostyaeva
Tools: Unreal Engine 4 Blender 3DMax4 Zbrush Photoshop Marvelous Designer Speedtree

Video of the final project:



Images (click a preview for the full size):

(concept art)

(wireframe)

(character model)

(close-up screenshot)

Motivations and Objectives

The character was created as a personal project with the goal of learning more about 3D modelling, sculpting, rigging and creating a basic scene in Unreal Engine. One of the main ideas was to make a modern 3D video game character inspired by japanese computer games such as Dark Souls and Final Fantasy.

I was hoping to make it as challenging to me as possible.

I would like to present a step-by-step guide covering what I did to create my final character. It's a very large process so I won't go into as much detail as I would wish, but I'll respond to any questions you have by email.

I will be covering the following areas:

  1. Concept art
  2. Base model and sculpt
  3. Re-topology
  4. Clothing
  5. Poly-paint and texturing
  6. Rigging and animation
  7. Unreal Engine + effects
  8. Conclusion

But first I would like to show you the results of the project:


Results


The following image (fig. 1) shows the real-time renders of the character model in Unreal Engine.

fig. 1

Character model - 50993 triangles (fig.1, fig.2)

fig. 2

fig. 3


Concept Art

I started this project with drawing a couple of sketches and coming up with the idea of "Rat Catcher" (fig. 4). It's a grim, Dark-Souls-like character who was doomed to hunt giant mutated rats in the sewers. He used to be a knight or a soldier but now his armor is decayed and rusted and his clothes are torn. He is elegant and quick, of a thin frame, adapted to moving through narrow spaces. Sewers are very dark but he has a light on his helmet just like the miners although in his case it is a candle. Originally I was going for a zombie-like appearance, but later I changed my mind a went for a character design that is more similar to the Final Fantasy look.

fig. 4


Base model and sculpt

I used Blender to create a very simple low-poly human body and a face that would serve as a base for my future sculpt (fig. 5). I thought that it would be a good idea to start with the body because it would help me to get a better feel of the character and express him through his constitution. I started creating my own character from scratch without using any pre-made human body assets because I wanted to extract as much knowledge as possible from this exercise project. The resulting body would also serve as a good base for the clothing design in Marvelous Designer.

fig. 5

Further on the body was sculpted in Zbrush (fig. 6). Drawing the muscles with clay buildup brush helped me to define a more anatomical figure. This process was lengthy and I went through several stages. The resulting face was still far from what I wanted to achieve and had to be tweaked in the later stages of the project.

fig. 6

As an art student I was inspired to incorporate an exercise in human anatomy into this work in order to improve my drawing and sculpting skills for future projects.

fig. 7


Re-topology

It was necessary to do the re-topology of some parts of the model so the polygons would form better loops which are really important for rigging and animation at the later phases. Even though it was not my intention to animate the face of the character in the current work, I still thought that it would be a good exercise to work on the face topology as well (fig. 9). I used 3dMax this time because Blender didn't seem to have any tools that would allow me to do this as easily.

fig. 8

Some body parts were far from perfection but I've learned a lot in this process.

fig. 9

At this stage I also worked on the improvement of the face sculpt. I generally like to pay a lot of attention to faces in my work, both 2D and 3D, so I wanted it to be as close to what I imagined as possible.


Clothing

The metal elements like the kneepads, pieces on thighs and arms and the helmet were done through modelling them in Blender (fig. 10). They were created in this phase to aid with making realistic clothing.

fig. 10

I used Marvelous Designer to create clothing. I went for a victorian-style shirt, a harness, horse-riding trousers, belt, military boots and the hood (fig. 11). The harness was the most difficult part to work with. I also had a few discarded shirt and trousers designs until I settled with the final idea.

fig. 11

For the cloth to interact correctly with the straps of the harness and the hard elements such as the knee-pads and armor pieces I had to create an "exploded" version of the model (fig. 12) which would then morph into the normal position pressing down the simulated cloth elements and creating a realistic effect.

The morphing didn't really work for the harness as it is very tight fitting and narrow. Fig. 13 illustrates the clipping issue. As a result I had to find an alternative way of making it.

fig. 12

fig. 12

The issue was solved by creating the harness directly in Marvelous Designer like any other cloth element (fig. 14). Playing with different values and the shape of the pattern helped me to achieve the look I was going for.

fig. 14

The output of Marvelous Designer is a high-poly model which wouldn't work efficiently as a game or animation asset. Therefore further retopology of the clothing models had to be done using 3DMax and Blender. Additional elements such as the belt-buckle and soles of the shoes were modelled in Blender. The candle for the top of the helmet was sculpted in Zbrush.

fig. 15


Polypaint and texturing

After that I proceeded with the polypaint process using Zbrush tools.

fig. 16

fig. 17

fig. 18

The additional detail was added to the textures using Photoshop. I've also added roughness, specular and normal maps (fig. 19). An alpha mask was added to the hood material to simulate the torn fabric.

fig. 19


Rigging and animation

The model was rigged using Blender. Inverse Kinematics was applied to the arms and legs to make the animating more straightforward. Initially the Blender deformer shapes were used for rigging the clothing, but later I found out that they are not properly interpreted by the game engines, so I had to re-do some parts of the rig using a regular armature.

fig. 20

In this step I added some more elements to the model such as hair, the spear and the pouch. The hair was made out of polygons in Blender. The spear was done in Blender and the piece of cloth attached to it was created in Marvelous Designer, the pouch was sculpted in Zbrush. After that I painted the elements in ZBrush and modified the resulting textures in Photoshop creating the normal and specular maps.

I made 2 animations: running and idle (fig. 21 & 22). I chose these because they provide a sense of movement to the character and they are the basic actions essential to almost every game character. My main concern with the animation was to make it look as interesting as possible without it looking overly exaggerated. The idle animation is the character standing in a combat pose while breathing. The running animation is fast while armed with the spear. The hand holding the spear barely moves and stays slightly behind the character in order to maintain the weight of the spear.

fig. 21

fig. 22


Unreal Engine scene + cloth physics and other effects

I had to prepare the scene for the character in Unreal Engine 4. A couple of gnarled trees were made in Speedtree and positioned around the scene. Some rocks, grass and ferns from the Open World Demo Collection in Unreal Engine Feature Samples were used. To make the resulting scene look like a dark forest I had to increase the density of the distance fog, lower the scene lighting intensity and tweak the colours and saturation in the post process volume. To make the composition a bit more united I had to increase the levels of greens and yellows. The directional lights were added in order to create interesting shadows. I was going for a Bloodborne-like dark forest feel. (fig. 23)

fig. 23

When the character was positioned in the environment a couple of changes were necessary to enhance the character and make him more interesting and dynamic. Cloth simulation was added to such elements as the hood, hair and the piece of cloth hanging from the spear. Additionally the flame had to be created for the candle using the particle system (fig. 24). In Unreal Engine 4 the light from the particle system is not correctly interpreted by the subsurface scattering that I used in the skin and candle materials. Because of this I had to create a separate light source on top of the candle to make it look more realistic. Wind sources were added to interact with physics elements (fig. 25).

A bit of a simple code was added and the character could switch between the two animations and move when the control keys were pressed.

fig. 24

fig. 25

While simulating the cloth physics I ran into several problems. The biggest problem was related to exporting the assets from Blender. The exported meshes scale was always bugged when importing to Unreal Engine and the cloth simulation never worked correctly, so the scale had to be tweaked in Blender and the process was not straightforward at all. Many people seem to have had this problem and on the web it seemed to be unsolved. Subsequently I figured out the solution myself and posted the way of overcoming the problem on the Unreal Engine forums. Unfortunately with my workaround I had to remake my animations in a different scale because it broke all of my rig actions. The end result was worthy of the effort.

For the screenshots and some parts of the demo video I had to add some additional light sources that would allow the viewer to see the details of the character.


Conclusion

The primary concerns of the project were: learn the process of creating a 3D character, maintain the stylised feel of the character, keep the number of polygons low enough for smooth real time rendering, keep the animation simple and add dynamics through the use of cloth and hair simulation.

In my next projects I would like to pay more attention to the materials in Unreal Engine 4, I think that it is a very interesting subject which I could have explored deeper. The same applies to UV mapping.

I've learned alot during the making of this character, it was a big step because most of the things I did were new to me.

fig. 26