Little Leaf, a young Native American

~40k tri's

3 x 2k maps for body, hair/eyes, and clothing
4 x 1k maps for axe, dagger, satchel, and water skin

This is my first pass at this character. He will be getting additional ornamentation and clothing items later, and I think I will redo the hair with proper hair cards to get more apparent layering at a later time.

Any general advice to make him look better is appreciated. Not just the model, but I don't know much about rendering and presentation, and I'm sure this probably looks amateurish n that regard. I want to do the rendering in real time, either in UE4 or Marmoset though, as I don't see a point in game character presentation that is not representative of the actual working product.

Little Leaf is about 17 years old, lives in the 15th century, belonging to the Blackfoot tribe around the Canadian Rockies. He should be physically fit, but not to an idealized extreme. The goal is a style that is 80% realistic, 20% stylized. So the eyes are a bit oversized, just for a little more personality.

I feel that the obsidian axe and dagger do not have the correct specular properties. I may look into Substance Designer later to see if I can do something better about that. Any tips for getting that to look better are greatly appreciated.


    I spent some time on Artstation to see how people are displaying their characters. I made some new shots, which hopefully look a bit more professional.

  • Brian "Panda" Choi
    Do you have color zones applied to the skin?  Right now it's reading overall as prety flat.

    Do you have color zones applied to the skin?  Right now it's reading overall as prety flat.

    I did a bit, and with roughness too (without a little shine on the abs and pecs, the body looked very tube-like). But I had a hard time finding that subtle line between fit but realistically soft, and generic muscle man video game character. Also, he is a person who lives his whole life outdoors, and so his skin is thicker, rougher, and darker (compared to similar pigmented people not living in the elements) than your typical modern person. At the same time, he is pretty young, and even though a 17 year old in 15th century North America would probably look much older than a 17 year old today, I want him to still look kind of teenagerly.

    But yeah, I think some more variation on the skin is in order.

  • Brian "Panda" Choi
    What reference were you using for a  muscular late teenager?
    Here is one I looked at a lot. 

  • Brian "Panda" Choi
    What about a real photo reference?  Paintings tend to be poor references for anatomical accuracy.
    Sorry for slow reply.

    Got caught up with some other work, but now I'm coming back to this to completely redo the skin and also the hair. 

    I think I tend to rush through texturing, although I do enjoy it almost more than modeling. But when I get close to the end, I guess I start to lose perspective and just want to see things finished. But yeah, the original models skin textures were almost cartoonishly simple compared to the hide leggings. 

    I think I am pretty happy with the body here. I've had a tough time matching the reference I like the most -- in terms of color -- but there is no reason I have to match it precisely. I haven't touched the face yet. I'll do some more work on the hands. Dirt and stuff under the nails and in the lines. 

    I like the tone of Latin romance novel dudes skin here a lot. My skin is a bit more olive, and perhaps less rough. But then the reference is under a specific type of lighting, and my character should have a certain amount of sweaty dampness as he will be running around outdoors. Also, the reference, I believe, is central or south american, whereas my character is Blackfoot -- and from what little I have seen it seems the Blackfeet are usually portrayed as being more olive and less red, which kind of makes since as they were at a much more northerly latitude. 

  • Brian "Panda" Choi
    What's your target render goal?  Are you planning to keep this cartoonish looking, realistic, or some other art direction, Alex?
    Well, it is for a project that is not my own. The project began with a stylized art style, but the dev's changed their minds and wanted to do a more realistic style. So I took the original model and used it as a base mesh to start from. Hence, the proportions, specifically the eyes are a little larger than real life, but I talked with the team and we decided it was kind of nice to keep it a little stylized in that regard. 

    So the idea is to be realistic looking, but not photo-realistic or pain-painstakingly accurate. As far as a render goal, I want to keep it realtime, and basically just set him up to look his best for a portfolio that will eventually be geared towards game studios.

    Besides making this model as nice as possible as he is to be used in a cinematic heavy game, I want to start putting the models I'm building into a portfolio, so with that in mind its just kind of about getting the most performance I can out of them, but at the same time not spending more than like 2-3 weeks per model, as I am still in a constant state of learning more intermediate techniques, and not really into anything advanced yet.
    Playing around I found a few things that make a better result. 

    1. Slap down some colors like your warm colors and your cooler colors, and just layer them on heavy. You can adjust the layers overall influence in the layer stack -- this gives more ability to play around with things rather than trying to paint things correctly on the first go. This isn't something new I learned, but I've been realizing that the more I work with modularity in mind, the better results I get once I get the base down and can just sit there and tweak things.

    2. I messed around with some "Levels" filter on some of the accenting color layers, and although this might not be perfectly realistic skin behavior, I got it so that under brighter light the cooler colors show more, and in shadow those dark colors are more prominent. Not to a very noticeable degree so that he seems like a chameleon, but as you move the lights around wherever they settle, you generally have a more photogenic look.

    Also added a bit more height information, particularly in the chest and little things like feint veins. I don't want a rippling olympian here, but I think just a touch more stuff like this does help bring the body more to life. 

    Right, onto the hair and eyes then. Unless somebody brings something up that is really game changing, I think this will be the final redux of the skin textures for this character, at least for a little while. 


  • jacopoS
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    jacopoS polycounter lvl 3
    it looks like this project is shaping up nicely.
    I was wondering: is there a specific reason why you went for a T-pose instead of an A-pose?
    In most situations, A-pose is better both for modeling and for rigging. And if this character will be used in a cinematic heavy game, that would very likely help making his shoulders look more relaxed and believable...
    I used the t-pose because the base model was that way, and there had already been an animator who was working with it, so I didn't want to mess with that. But yeah, I usually would do the A-pose. I have made the shoulders and arms a tiny bit bigger -- volume wise -- because when brought down and bent they lose some volume. 

    About the cinematics, that was the original idea, but I've been slowly talking the team into bringing the scope into more indie friendly proportions, so cinematics will likely be trimmed down to short shots of the face just to show emotions at key points, rather than lengthy dialogue scenes.

  • jacopoS
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    jacopoS polycounter lvl 3
    Cool. That sounds reasonable. :)
    Ok, I redid the body textures (and the hair completely).

    I think it definitely looks better, but my real time renders lack a lot of the finer variation details you can see in Iray renders. Of course I understand that these are totally different types of renderers and results won't be the same, but I still feel like this skin texture reads a bit flat. I wonder if I need to exaggerate some things a bit more, but that seems like a janky workflow -- exaggerating colors and roughness to hopefully get a more realistic result in the end. I'll continue to experiment with future models to try and get a better handle on getting final real-time results to end up how I want them.

    Anyway, despite all of that, I am overall pretty happy with how this guy is looking now. Thanks @Brian "Panda" Choi
    for the advice.

    This character is going to get some cool goodies later on, so there will probably be further opportunities to touch up some things should I find some new solutions.

    All of these renders are using SSAO and global illum, but I'm not using any other Post Process effects.

    Moonlit light

    Daytime, on a forest path

    daytime in the sun

    just some random lighting
  • Brian "Panda" Choi
    skin is too shiny
    Yeah, something about my roughness map isn't translating. 

    It looks perfect in Substance. There is actually a lot of attention I put into it.  I export as packed Unreal maps. I set the gloss channel in Toolbag to read the green channel of my occlussionRoughnessMetallic map. And that makes it totally rough. So I invert the channel, and it becomes like glass. Then I have to play with the slider to get it somewhere decent. Whatever the issue is, my roughness map isn't behaving the way I expect it to.

    But the thing is, I had very carefully created my roughness channel in Substance Painter so that some areas, like around the eyes and lips, were a bit shiny and other areas were less so. So I'm not sure what is going on. I am going to test it out in Unreal once I get it updated.
    Ok, this makes me happy. The roughness map is looking exactly how it looked in Substance Painter inside of Unreal. I was thinking I may need to adjust the levels in Photoshop, but it seems I need to figure out how to display the map inside Toolbag if I will use that for my renders. But I will probably just do them here in Unreal as I need to learn more about working in this game engine.

    Nevermind the hair and eyes hair, I haven't learned how to set opacity materials up yet in UE, but this is how LL is supposed to look. It will be a little while, but I'll set up some renders in UE once I make some headway on my next projects.

    Been learning a lot about lighting and rendering in UE4. Studied the photoreal human project and I think in the future I'll be able to update some of my current textures and make some new ones, and that should get this model closer to photorealism -- or at least looking a little better than it is now. 

    But first order of business is to learn more about lighting and post processing and see how much I can do for this scene before I go back and do new textures for those more advanced shaders. 
    Been getting distracted lately, but took a day to make some final touches and now making this character the first official presentation for my portfolio. I'm still learning, as always, and not producing models that are up to the quality I envision, but my wife, with her infinite wisdom, keeps reminding me that I don't have to be the best to get a job, and so it's time to start shaping up some of the better models I've done with new textures and getting them presented as best as possible, and also starting some new things.

    Of course, there is much to be improved, but it's time for me to take everything I have learned from this model (and it's like, alot) and start a new one. For the next human character (got some furry critters to do first), I'm going to follow Unreal's photorealistic character guidelines and see what I can do with that.

    I've learned how to make Material Instances in UE4, and I really like the flexibility this allows. There is so much you can do in engine. 

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