Our thanks to Andreas Hopen for this tutorial. For more of his excellent work, head to andreashopen.com.
This tutorial first appeared in issue 82 of 3D Artist.
To be able to create a dark knight character you will need to be familiar with ZBrush.
Start by gathering a lot of references from the internet, create a collage, and then you can start sculpting! In ZBrush we will show you how to go from DynaMesh to a low-poly extraction that works really well.
We will also be showing the normal sculpting techniques for sculpting a big form and the more detailed areas. It is always important to think of the big form first, and always check your silhouette! By doing so you will refresh your eyes, helping you to see the model differently which might help you in your character development.
This tutorial will show you some insight into how you can go about creating a dark knight. We will be using a base mesh to get the general proportion and go from there. In this case, a 2D concept has not been provided so we will have to create a new concept from this mesh.
Step 01 – Set your goals
You can put a lot of time in the beginning into gathering as many pictures as possible on Pinterest
, or anywhere else, of your preferred elements from fantasy and real knights. We decided to go for a female dark knight, but before designing this specific character, there were several concepts created where different types of armour were added to the design. It is also important to ask yourself questions during the creation process. We wanted to create somewhat realistic armour – something that will actually protect the character in battle. Many female characters out there on the internet are not suited for battle. They have been designed with aesthetic in mind and not practicality.
Step 02 – Start designing in ZBrush
When starting with a new character, use a base mesh with correct proportions. DynaMesh your model and mask out the armour pieces. Convert your masks to polygroups. When you have made several polygroups on your model, hide the polygroups you don’t want to extract. Duplicate your base mesh before extracting polygroups. In the Geometry menu, click on Edge Loop and go down to Panel Loops. Make sure the Loops are set to 1 and that Double and Append are active. Choose your desired thickness and click on Panel Loops. This will convert your polygroups to new individual meshes which you can split out from your mesh. Convert your parts to DynaMesh and start shaping pieces.
Step 03 – Work with big shapes
Work on the whole model while you are designing. This is important to get consistency in the armour and to help you visualise the model that you are creating. By using DynaMesh, you are able to quickly produce 3D models and pieces without needing to think about the polygon count. This is a great way to constantly be able to make changes to the models you’ve already made and also, when using DynaMesh, you can go crazy if you want to! Check your silhouette often to see how it reads and to neutralise and refresh your eyes. It is easier to see where you need to make changes to the big form after you have switched back and forth, having taken a break in-between.
Step 04 – Model the armour
When you are happy with the blockout, start refining each piece. We used TrimDynamic, ClayBuildup and Dam_Standard. If you need more details, add more DynaMesh resolution to the piece you’re working on. However don’t exaggerate the resolution as the mesh can get very dense and heavy to work on. Only do small steps at the time, like starting with the shoulder pauldrons first. Start by masking out the shoulder area, extracting and enabling DynaMesh for greater freedom, and from here start designing your ideas in Clay. You can work on both the x and z axis to achieve a quicker result for the shoulder pauldrons. The key here is to have good reference when trying to create a believable result.
Step 05 – Create the hands
Here we’ve started working on the hand that ships with ZBrush. You can find it by selecting IMM BParts, clicking M, and choosing the female or male hand. By using IMM brushes, you can quickly get a base model to work from. Since we have sculpted the design in an earlier stage, we have now moved on to refining the hand armour. By using Move and TrimDynamic, you can easily achieve some great-looking armour plates. When the finger plates are done, we used ZBrush 4R7’s new feature ArrayMesh to duplicate them to the other fingers. When you make changes to the finger plates you can see them across all ofof your fingers since they are instances.
Step 06 – Create the helmet
To create the helmet we went back to the original base mesh, masked the head, and extracted it to a new subtool, converted it to DynaMesh and started to shape the form using Move, Dam_Standard and ClayBuildup. For the ClayBuildup brush, change the intensity to a value between 4 and 10 – this way you will have more control over the form.
Step 07 – Scale the mail
You can use Surface with a scale Alpha to visualise the scale mail armour, but we ended up using Alpha, the Standard brush and DragRect to place them manually. Since the scale mail is covered severely by the rest of the armour, you don’t necessarily need to make the scales fit throughout the whole scale mail as you won’t see it.
Step 08 – Create material surface
It is important to sculpt the microsurface details on your armour to make it more believable, as leather and metal have two quite different surfaces. To create the leather, use a leather Alpha and Surface to apply the details over the leather piece you want to work on. Sculpt in scratches and damage by using Dam_Standard at a low setting. To create a metal surface, use the Clay brush, Intensity at 1, at a large size and choose Alpha 27. For the stroke, choose Spray. This will give you random distribution of the Alpha on your mesh. To add microsurface details, use the texture in Lightbox>Texture>IMG488.jpg and convert it to an Alpha. To apply it to your mesh use the Standard brush with DragRect, select the converted Alpha and apply it across your model. We tend to add some radial feather on the Alpha in Alpha>Modify and change the RF slider to something between 10 to 20. When you are happy with the surface details, use Slash3 or Dam_Standard to add cracks and cuts. To accumulate the effect of it being hammered by by the blacksmith when it was made, use TrimDynamic with the Spray stroke and Alpha 48 with a low intensity.
Step 09 – ZModeler
Prior to 4R7 you had to use a traditional 3D package like Maya or 3ds Max to attempt box modelling, or you had to do box modelling in ZBrush by using the Transpose brush, which was a real hassle. However, with the new ZModeler brush in ZBrush, you can do box modelling without any technical constraints. ZModeler focuses on you as an artist so that you can focus more on being creative.
Step 10 – Make the weapon using ZModeler
To create the flail, you will need to choose a new tool. In Make PolyMesh3D, click on Initialize which is located towards the bottom of your Tool menu. It is important you do it in that order, otherwise the Initialize will show you a different set of options. Choose QCyl Y and choose the ZModeler brush via the B-Z-M shortcut. Then hover over the poly, drag it and it will automatically start extruding the polygroup. To add more edge loops, hover your brush over the edge, make sure the Insert button is active and right-click, if you don’t release the right-click, you can slide the edge loop to your desired location between the two other edge loops. This way you can create some intricate forms.
Step 11 – Topology
After you have finished the modelling, it is time to clean up the scene and prepare it for UVs and retopology using ZRemesher and Maya. When retopologising hard surface parts, like the armour plates, GoZ can be very efficient for use between ZBrush and Maya, and back again to ZBrush when the topology is done. If the piece you are working on has too many polygons, a great way to reduce the count is by using the Decimation Master which can be found under ZPlugins.
Step 12 – Prepare UVs
Decide how many UV sets you need for the model. We ended up with four for the armour, and one for the head, mouth and eyes since we haven’t focused on the face in this image. For the UVs, we mainly used headus UVLayout and for some parts, UV Master in ZBrush. For the UV straps, headus is great! UV Master on the other hand is a really quick way to get new UVs. By using polypaint you can guide ZBrush to where you want the plugin to apply UV cuts.
Step 13 – Export from ZBrush
Now export as high-poly models from ZBrush with your polypaint. Make sure to have Colorize active, this way you can bake a Colour ID map in Substance Designer. Also, make sure Grp is turned off under the Export settings. If you have any UVs on your mesh, delete those too as it will speed up the entire exporting process.
Step 14 – Bake
Import all your maps to Substance Designer, like your low-poly mesh, and start the baking process. What we like about Substance Designer is the control and overview of the whole process. Before, we used to use xNormal to bake, Photoshop with NDO (Quixel Normal map creation plugin) to merge the maps together and to view the final result on the model, we used Quixel 3DO. You can still get a good amount of control with this method but Substance Designer is more efficient as you can do everything in one program.
Step 15 – Texture in Substance Painter
After you have created all the necessary maps for Substance Painter, go to File>New, select your mesh and all the maps you need and click OK. Check if your maps are imported correctly. You can check this under the TextureSet Settings, where you can also choose the tool to input material manually. When all the materials are in their correct slot for all the texture sets, you can start texturing. Start by adding a fill layer already filled with material. This fills your whole model, and you don’t want that so right-click on your fill layer and choose ‘Add Mask with color selection’. This brings up your Colour ID map. To add effects like dust and scratches, add a new layer and paint them in using either the particles and/or the normal brushes. This way you can build up intricate and believable textures.
Step 16 – Pose your character
For this project we posed the dark knight in ZBrush using Transpose Master. This is a relatively easy way to pose your model using a masking and transpose tool. However, it can be very tedious and time-consuming. Under ZPlugin you can find Transpose Master, click the big TPoseMesh button. ZBrush will then go through all your subtools, take it to the lowest subdivision and merge everything together in a new tool. We like to use ‘Mask By Polygroup’ which you can find under Brush>Auto Masking. Move the slider to 100 and your brush will only affect one polygroup. We recommend you to have it on the side, that way you can turn it on and off quickly.
Step 17 – Render in KeyShot
With the new ZBrush to KeyShot Bridge, you can easily send your model over to KeyShot without any hassle. You can activate this by going to Render>External Render and finally pressing the BPR render button. By assigning the textures to your subtools in ZBrush, the Bridge will send them over to KeyShot as well. Then, when you’re inside KeyShot, you can import your Specular and Normal map to each material. Just make sure that you turn on Normal in the Bump channel. As for the mapping, remember to choose UV Coordinates. Here we have used an HDRI map to light the scene and for the reflections – this way you can change your lighting mood by just changing the HDRI map.