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Women of Power | Anastasia Kukosh
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Women of Power | Anastasia Kukosh

Anastasia Kukosh
by anastasiakukosh on 1 Jun 2024 for Rookie Awards 2024

As a passionate artist with a Fine Arts degree, here is my milestone of one year studying 3D at Think Tank. I want to show two unique real-time characters: Dragon Warrior - a powerful Ming Dynasty Gunner, and Rasheeda - the Holy Maiden. In this entry, I walk through the very beginning to the final renders.

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Project 1 of 2: 

DRAGON WARRIOR | MING DYNASTY GUNNER

I created a real-time character, "Dragon Warrior: Ming Dynasty Gunner," which originates from the Ming dynasty in China (1360–1424).
Concept art by Ningbo Jiang
I've experimented with different textures, such as leather, metals, silk, and other organic materials. Some of the texture maps have 4-8K resolution. Textured in Substance, Sculpt & Posed in Maya & Zbrush. Rendered in Marmoset Toolbag 4.

Concept art

Concept art by Ningbo Jang

Analyzing and collecting references.

To ensure authenticity, I conducted extensive research on historical items and materials, organizing my findings in PureRef. I tried to find as many different examples of the same material as possible, to avoid relying on memory which may distort reality. I also found a helpful website dedicated to ancient & medieval Chinese military history.

Blocking out

Using ZBrush, I sculpted the character's general shape, size, and potential appearance to visualize all the details before recreating them.

The Outfit 

After sculpting the defined body, I created the clothes in Marvelous Designer and used them as a base for further sculpting. I let my imagination guide me in placing the fabric to achieve a beautiful look while ensuring some "air" or "space" between the layers.

Sculpting

I sculpted all the props in Maya, including the katana, rapid gun, axe, helmet, and bottles, while the character was sculpted in ZBrush. Here are some key elements of my sculpting approach:

   ● Leather Vest The edges of the vest is made of softer leather, I framed the mesh borders with curves and inserted planes using the CurvFlatSnap brush, then extruded slightly and sculpted the details.
    Silk Belt Made from a simple cylinder shape using ZModeler, allowing me to create different polygroups and extrude them separately. After a few subdivisions, I added soft folds with a ClayBuild brush, using a negative focal shift.
    Chain mail size depends on the mesh topology - the faces must be of equal size to allow for a uniform scale chain. In dynamic SubDiv mode, I used the MicroPoly function to see changes dynamically and apply them when ready to work on them, saving memory.

Leather Details
Slight but unique differences between materials are vital to making viewers believe in what they see. I used specific brush settings to create memory folds in the leather, following this tutorial.

Skirt
The skirt is similar to an accordion skirt type. Modeled and quadrangulated in Marvelous, then Exported with Particle distance set to 20mm into ZBrush, it results in correct topology due to the many straight lines, which I could then use in ZBrush to add decorations at the ends.

Dragon sculpt
The dragon scales were made the same way as the chain mail. In the belly area, I cleaned up the existing topology and extruded it. After sculpting the head and claws, I added fur using the CurveTube brush.

Weapons
Hard surface elements were created in Maya, then exported to ZBrush for adding more design details and sculpting.

Head 
I sculpted the head while studying different Asian faces with strong facial features. Then I wrapped a displacement map of a head from  3d scan store onto my model using the ZWrap plugin in ZBrush.

Retopology and UV

To retopologize my character, I used the quadraw tool in Maya.

Texturing

My goal was to display the concept as expressively as possible, paying attention to various seemingly minor elements that enhance expressiveness. Here are some of my key texturing principles:

●   Setup: In Substance Painter, I change my environment to "Studio 03" and tone mapping to "ACES" for the most true-to-life render view.
●   Material Complexity: Each material has its own color variations and roughness, with organic materials being especially colorful and artistic. To achieve realism and color depth, I use complementary colors in the primary material and surroundings.
●   The focus area: The place immediately attracts the eye's attention. I achieve expressiveness by combining some of the principles (below an image for clarity):
      -    Light: This is the area where the color looks more washed out and whiter.
      -    Contrast of the texture surfaces: I combine small grains with big or smooth ones with uneven surfaces, etc. Small or micro details affect light scattering.
      -    Contrast of light and dark. Contrast in a visual setting can make objects appear closer. I use the belt to create contrast so that the eye is drawn to that area.
      -    Complementary color. Since the leather piece is red/orange, its complementary color would be green/blue. I made the collar of the shirt a bit bluish.

Head texturing
I first fixed areas where the projection didn't work well, then made the texture more vibrant and colorful. Using masks with cool/warm colors, I created anatomically correct areas to make the skin look more alive. Finally, I added veins and beauty spots.

Texture breakdown
Below, I showcase some breakdowns of the leather, metal, and silk texture to illustrate my approach.

Posing

I posed the character in ZBrush using the Transpose tool. I determined the figure's position relative to points B and D (center of gravity).  Points B,D in front of the middle line indicate an attacking pose, points behind the line suggest a defensive posture, and if the central line is exactly in the middle between points B and D, it shows a static or neutral position.

Rendering

I rendered the character in Marmoset Toolbag, using Anisotropic Reflection for the silk and SSS maps for wood and leather. The material and shader breakdown is shown in the pictures below. I found helpful the breakdown of the silk for Marmoset here.  

Render Settings

Lighting setup
I demonstrate below two different lighting setups - one for showcasing all the materials and another cinematic setup that provides depth and emotion to the scene.

Project 1 of 2:

RASHEEDA | THE HOLLY AND THE FALLEN MAIDEN 

In the project "Rasheeda - Holy Maiden,"  (real-time characters) I had the creative freedom to explore and showcase beautiful details in 3D. The concept artist Maisie Mei describes her as: "The queen's daughter. Her father was the best priest in the region. At night, her character is very different from that of the day."

After seven months of studying 3D at Think Tank, this was my final project, accomplished in one month. I created two characters that share UV assets and textures, primarily using Maya and Marvelous Designer for creation, Substance Painter for texturing, and Marmoset Toolbag 4 for rendering. 

See my article for a deep dive on Marvelous Designer Magazine 2024

Concept art " Agony" by Messi Mey 

Collecting References

When starting a project, I create a mood board containing lots of visual information. I conduct research using platforms like Google, Pinterest, and Artstation, with a dedicated section for clothing where I gather patterns, textures, and information on garment movement.

The Outfit

In Marvelous Designer, I imported my custom model and created garments using simple shapes inspired by real clothing. This ensures accurate folds and avoids errors. I sometimes use frozen mesh parts to achieve specific shapes.

Sculpting

The quickest method was to export garments with UVs from Marvelous Designer and reconstruct them in Maya before working on them in ZBrush. This preserves the UVs for baking. I also created most fine details, like seams, fabric structure, and micro folds, in Substance Painter.

Texturing

For faster results, I created a low-poly hat and achieved a fabric look through texturing alone, without using high-poly geometry. The process was significantly faster and produced great results. 
I used Marvelous Designer to create folds on a piece of fabric, then used RGBZGrabber in ZBrush to create an alpha, which I used as a height mask in Substance Painter.

Below are some texturing examples where I achieved details using the height channel without needing high-poly geometry.

Retopology and UV

Both characters have shared UV sets, so I used one character as a base for texturing the other.

Render

I rendered the characters in Marmoset Toolbag 4 using ray tracing for the final output.

I want to express my gratitude to my dear friends and mentors, David Kuo, Mieszko ŁacińskiLuis Omar Lucas Silva, and Karam Chahalfor their invaluable tips and tricks guiding me throughout my 3D journey. I'm very grateful to Think Tank Training Center and its community, which has provided me with a nurturing environment to learn and grow my professional skills. To all who have taken the time to read this far, I also want to express my sincere gratitude. I hope you find this information helpful and inspiring.

If you ever need advice or want to know more about my personal 3D journey, please don't hesitate to reach out! Here is my Artstation!


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