The Fullmetal Alchemist
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The Fullmetal Alchemist

by MariaMoreno on 30 May 2022 for Rookie Awards 2022

This was my 5-week final project for the intermediate term at Think Tank Training Centre. A beautiful character created by Hiromu Arakawa. Based off an illustration by Whoareuu.

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A rendition to anime character Edward Elric, from Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. He was one of my favourite characters growing up, so it was a real pleasure working on this project as my intermediate term final with Think Tank Training Centre. I was lucky to have the valuable advice of my supervisor, Alex Sizov, who helped me with every bump in the road. The pose and scene were based off the beautiful fanart created by Whoareuu (check it out here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/v1ze66) but I also tried to put my own style into it. The goal was to make him as a game-ready character, optimizing the geometry as much as possible while keeping a semi-realistic look.


This was my first full real-time character so it posed a big challenge, especially since I only had 5 weeks to put everything together. The arm was a good hard surface practice, and the hair was also pretty interesting to figure out. At first I thought it was a much simpler project than it really was, but it turned out to be hard, mostly because of the dramatic pose and because I had to break symmetry from the blockout stage to fit the arm and leg. But it was such a great experience and I learned so much from it.


The first step was of course to block out the character in A pose inside zbrush. Some elements like the hair and clothes were blocked in a very rough way, and I focused on getting the anatomy right before moving out to anything else. His face started out as more realistic, as I worked with a reference of a model from pinterest, and I stylized it later on. His metal leg was originally going to be exposed, even though in the original concept you could only see the knee, because I wanted to also showcase my hard surface skills, but in the end I had to leave it out because of lack of time.


Then I moved on to blocking out the weapons in maya. I did a very simple base by polymodelling and I took it to zbrush to add detail. I needed a break from sculpting the body so I decided to get the weapons done so I could have them out of the way as soon as possible. I came out with an approach to create the dragon scales using a displacement map. It consisted in unfolding the UVs completely straight by using the Unitize tool and then stitching the edges together. Then I laid the resulting UV vertically across multiple UV tiles and I used a tileable scale texture to create the displacement. Since the UVs were totally straight, but the dragons' tails kept getting smaller closer to the tip, it created the effect of the scales getting smaller. Then for the head, I just sculpted one in zbrush and used the same displacement as an alpha to make it blend a little with the bodies.

After I was done with this I focused on the rest of the hard surface, namely the arm, the belt and the shoes. This was a long process since it had so much detail, and I used many references of his arm that were sometimes a bit conflicting. The concept I took as reference wasn't super clear in some of the arm's shapes and it didn't show the shoes. But I was able to somehow make something coherent taking inspiration from here and there. It was also difficult to make the arm functional in terms of movement. For all of these parts I used a combined approach between maya and zbrush, creating a low poly version in maya and then subdividing and sculpting details inside zbrush, while keeping a good low-res mesh that would make it easier for me in the retopology stage.

Then I used marvellous designer to simulate the pants and the shirt. I created the tears in the clothing inside marvellous, and later sculpted tinier detail into it with the purpose of baking an opacity map later that could fake the torn fabric in a plane. I also used wind to simulate the shirt being blown away, following the concept, to give a more dynamic impression.


After this came the turning point of posing the character. This was really difficult because of the dramatic pose and all the mechanical parts and asymmetry going on. I used Tpose mesh inside zbrush and a lot of isolating and masking individual parts. I had to iterate over the pose a few times before I got to a result I liked and resembled the concept. I also had to do quite a bit of reesculpting to make the anatomy fit the pose. Once posed, I got the mesh into marvellous to morph the clothes into the new position. I used maya's transfer attributes and retopology tools to create both a low-res and a hig-res version with quad topology that could be used in real-time. I had to add some extra topology to accomodate the folds of the pants, because they break the silhouette quite a bit, and I wanted a clean bake with no artifacts.

I finished retopologizing everything that was left in Maya (shoes, belt, arm, knee) and also gave a little touch up to the body mesh, which had good topology from the beginning, but displayed some artifacts in the face and after the posing. When everything was ready, I dived into one of the most challenging parts of the process: making the hair. I decided to use a tube hair approach because I'm most familiar with it. I kept it a bit higher res than I would have made it if this was for an actual videogame, but since nowadays even particle hair is making its way into the game industry, I thought this was a very valid approach that offered good results in a relatively fast way. Blender was my software of choice for this process, because the curve hair workflow allows for great control and flexibility over each strand, its thickness and rotation. I used curve paths with a bevel profile, and styled it to follow the wind's direction.


After transforming the curves to mesh I took them to maya to create smaller strands that would enhance the volume of the hairstyle. For this, I used a wonderful tool made by my instructor Alex, called Tuber. This tool allows you to choose an edge and automatically extrudes a tube along it. I did this with a couple of edges from each of the hair clumps and then used soft selection and Maya sculpting tools to move them around. I unwrapped all the clumps and called the mesh ready for baking and texturing!


The texturing was done using Substance Painter. Texturing is always my favourite part of the process, but I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to devote to it. I focused on getting the materials to look right and physically accurate, while still keeping a little bit of stylization. Adding break up and wear and tear was very important for me, since the character seems to be fresh from the fight, with all the torn clothes and destroyed arm parts, so I needed him to look a little bit dirty and tired. For the skin, I started off with a substance base material and then built upon it, basically hand-drawing details and using layers with masks to create breakups, pores and veins. I wanted the skin to feel realistic enough to fit the rest of the textures. I also added a couple of wounds to enhance the battle feeling.


I think the most interesting part of the texturing process was how I textured the hair. I took some tips from the way I used to texture hair in blender, and also used the same trick that I did for the dragon's displacement, unfolding each of the clumps using unitize-stitch together so that I could later create the impression of smaller hairs. To achieve this, I used several masks filled with anisotropic noise textures, playing with the tiling and balance to fake creases in the height channel and create color and roughness variations. I also used a gradient to darken the roots a little bit and give a more natural hair color look. The eyebrows were sculpted, baked and colored inside the skin material. Here is a peek at how the textures for the hair looked in the end.


Lookdev in Marmoset was also very important to achieve the hair look. To get to the final result, I combined subsurface scattering and fuzz, which made the hair look less rough and plasticky, with anisotropic reflections, that looked pretty close to how hair reflects light. I also tinted the specular a little bit with a golden tone. That way I was able to achieve a silky look in the hair. I also paid a lot of attention to the subsurface scattering of the skin, using a cavity and specular map to create the impression of pores not bouncing the light back. This is the approach we used at school to create realistic skin, so I adapted it to the level of realism I was aiming for. Lastly, the eyes were also a challenge. I used XYZ textures in substance painter to create the normal and albedo maps, and then used parallax mapping in marmoset to give them depth.


I had a couple extra days so I dediced to create the lighting bolts to give the final render a better presentation and visual impact. For this, I followed the same approach than I did for the hair, using curves in blender, but I set them to the lowest resolution possible to achieve the spiky look. Then I used an emissive material and adjusted the render properties to give it some bloom and flare.


And that's pretty much the end of the process! I hope you enjoyed reading my journey and liked the final result. I put all my heart into this piece and I'm very happy with everything I learned along the way. Thanks for making it to the end!



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