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'Alejandro Verdú - Character Artist 2024'

'Alejandro Verdú - Character Artist 2024'

Alejandro Verdú Albero
by Veralbe on 21 May 2024 for Rookie Awards 2024

Hello everyone! I'm Alejandro Verdú, a 27 years old artist from Spain. My entry is a compilation of workd I've been working on during the last year at Animum Creativity School. This is my first time participating so I hope to be able to entertain you and show you all what I have learnt!

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                                        'Troll' - VFX  Creature
                                 Concept by Caio Monteiro

I always start my projects by analysing the concept: proportions, different materials, props, anatomy, hair... once this is done, I start looking for references that are close to the final look I want to achieve. This is not a final step, I will continuously add new references during the project.

In general I look for almost all my references based on real images, in nature and handmade objects is where I find the best results. Although I also have other references from experienced artists, to see how they solve specific things.

My projects always start by the same way, 4 steps:

Blockout: Here is where I calculate and adjust the proportions, shape and the shilouette of the character. I've done this step in several ways through my projects: ZSpheres, Blocking with basic geometry or using a basemesh and adjusting it.

Primary shapes: I merge all the blockout and then, start to sculpt. I stablish the bony landmarks. Sculpt the muscles and the big features of the anatomy. 

Secondary Shapes: probably the most time consuming part of all. What I do here is to sculpt more finely over the primary forms imitating what the skin would do in reality, looking for the flow that would follow. I study which parts are closer to bony areas and the points of tension they generate on the skin.

I create new folds over the ones I already had and reinforce the ones I like the most. Always looking for those 'happy incidents'.

Tertiary shapes: or also known as detailling the final sculpt. 

When I'm texturing in Substance Painter I usually work on each channel separetly, Albedo, Roughness,Metallic... This helps me to focus only on what I'm doing at that moment.

Using the baked maps (Cavity, Curvature, Occlusion..) is the key of success haha. I use them a lot combined with smart masks and generators.

The Roughness map is for me, probably the most important one when we want to achieve a 'realistic' result. This was my first complete project and I didn't realize how much important it is until I set up everything in render and saw how the light affected on the model with a good roughness map.

So when I'm working on it, I set up a scene in the engine with a simple set of lights and a black material to the model to see how it's working.

Breackdown hair braid: First I created a braid with geometry inside ZBrush and imported it into Maya. Then I selected the edges and converted them into curves. Those curves can be easily converted into guides with the XGen function 'Curves to Guides'.

When I had the guides all that's left is to start building the hair and adjusting the modifiers :)

The lighting part will make our project shine or spoil everything..

For projects like this a bit more complex I use a set of 3 lights: Key light focusing on the face trying to get that 'Rembrand' effect, generating one side more illuminated and the other in the shadows. A fill light on the opposite side to the Key to fill in and for the back 1 or 2 RIM lights to separate the model from the background.

Finally I will use spot lights to highlight details or to emphasize areas I want to make more visible and guide the viewer to the important point. 

                                                                   Concept by Caio Monteiro.

                              'Angler Boy' - Cartoon Character
                                     Concept by Michelle Ang

Let's continue with this nice guy, a cartoon character for cinema. If I'm honest, at the beginning I didn't really like the cartoon style altought I have to admit that after all the way surrounded by professionals like Moisés Ojeda and Juan Solís, they gave me the love for this style. So thanks a lot to them, I learned a lot!

In this project I would highlight the amount of knowledge I acquired about topology, shapes and silhouette.

To begin with I present a rough blocking and step by step I build the final high poly, always keeping in mind the proportions, the silhouette and the "negative space". This last one has a special importance in the final render, it will help us to understand better what we are watching.

                                                     13 UDIMS - 4.096 x 4.096

Topology is always of special importance in any project we do but in characters, and in particular in cartoon characters with their exaggerated facial expressions, it is even more important.

I spent a lot of time learning which loops are the most imporant, how they affect squash and stretch, where to put the inevitable n-gons and all the main features that a good topology should have.

                                                Concept by Michelle Ang (Orchidfoxart).

                           'Freybjorn' - Game Ready Character
                                    Concept by Ivan Dedov

As I said before in every project there is a lot of reference work to do, very important!

Here you have some preparations I do before open ZBrush to make my life easier once I start sculpting, texturing, or with XGen..

                                                 Some High Poly ZBrush renders.

It's time for the fun part, the reference research is done, let's sculpt! I try not to go too far with the details like pores, scars and so on with ZBrush because I have more control of it inside Substance Painter. Besides, if you need to, you can always go back and forth and redo the baking of the high poly.

I do both the retopology and the UV unfold in Maya, it has very cool tools for that. Now I want to give a try to Topogun, I saw a lot of artist using it and seems to be a supper efficient tool.

                                  All the UV sets are using more than 85% of the space.

                                                         4 UV Sets of 4.096 x 4.096

                          Total tris 70.946: Character 38.918 Hair 18.186 Fur 13.842.

Talking about hair creation I want to mention Andre Pires, Lead Hair Artist at Cloud Imperium and tutor at Animum. I followed a great tutorial of his and it was really nourishing and straight to the point, I'll try to explain some of the most imporant parts.. 

First of all, creating the hair cards: Softwares like Fibershop works very well for this, but with this workflow you have absoloute control over every hair. It takes a bit more time but once you have your first set of haircards it's really easy to adjust for future projects.

I created the hairs with XGen inside Maya, then exported as a MEL file to ZBrush. This way we'll have a real geometry. Now I can use the function 'autogroups', masking tools and the move polygroups brush to adjust them as I wish. When it's done, export again the geometry to Maya and prepare for the bake.

I baked the maps with XNormal. It's a free software and easy to use.

Now it's time to prepare our 'Haircards Library'. By interweaving the haircards with each other, as you can see in the image below, I created 'chunks' of hair. This allows us to save geometry and time. 

Then, I just need to start placing the cards and chunks using the Bend Curve and move brush.

                                                          Concept by Ivan Dedov.

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