Are you ready to show your skills? Rookie Awards 2023 is open for submissions!
Fantasy Character Portfolio

Fantasy Character Portfolio

Vanessa Mai
by yaluri on 30 Apr 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Since I was a little kid I have loved fantasy characters like orcs, trolls, goblins, elves, dwarves and so on. That’s why I really wanted to include them into my portfolio. So below you can find two of them. Hope you like them!

5 500 1
Round of applause for our sponsors

Hi, I'm Vanessa and this is my entry for the Rookies 2021 in the 3D animation category. I recently graduated from PIXL VISN media arts academy and I'm super excited to finally enter the Rookie Awards this year for the first time!

So below you can find two of the projects I made during my education at PIXL VISN.

Goblin Chef

This character is based on a concept from Johan Grenier that I found a few months ago in an online d&d forum I think. 

I loved how all the details made him so authentic and interesting and gave him his own characteristics and story, For example you could think about why he looks so grumpy or why on earth he carries around almost a whole kitchen?! And what about this tentacle... is it still alive? Why is he skewering it? And so on...

Below you can find a rather detailed description on how I approached this project if you’re interested.


First I made a very rough blockout in Maya. That, and the references I gathered, helped me to figure out what the objects, hanging on his backpack could be, which you can’t see on the concept. I tried different shapes and objects until I came up with the garlic and the soup ladle, which I think fit the character very well.

Another challenge were the ropes that tie the kitchen supplies together. You can’t really tell from the concept how they work so I had to find a solution that looks at least a bit believable.

I imported the meshes into ZBrush and started working on the shapes in more detail. I started with the body and worked my way to the smaller accessories. Especially all the wrinkles and stuff were a lot of fun. The ropes and knots I made in Maya though. For that I simply used four square arranged circles that I extruded along curves.

His clothing including the shoes I made using Marvelous Designer which I also used for the first time. For the chef hat I found a quite useful tutorial on YouTube that used a mushroom-shaped mesh as a sewing doll in Marvelous what really made things easier. Making the knots fort he apron was a bit tricky but after a while I got the hang of it.

So when I was happy with the clothes I imported them into Maya and made a retopology. For that I retopologized a flat version of the clothes and transferred the attributes later to the simulated mesh using the UVs.

After adding thickness I brought the mesh into ZBrush too to make an oversculpt and adjust some of the folds and shapes. The retopology for the body and the accessories I made in Maya again.

I exported all of the low- and highpoly meshes and named them properly so I won’t get any issues with baking by name later in Substance Painter. I reimported the few maps I baked in Toolbag back into Painter and started texturing.

The new feature to create masks based on object names really made my life easier with this one, since I didn’t had to select all UV shells one by one. I tried to match the texturing with the concept as good a s possible while adding some additional finer details.

I also wanted to make them a touch more realistic than the concept but still keep the stylized look. At this point it was a lot of back and forth, testing the textures in Toolbag and going back to Painter to adjust some details.

So when I was happy with the textures I spent some more time on the shading in Marmoset Toolbag and refining the look. Especially the skin took me some time. I also added a coat for the skin with a bit more glossiness to let it look a bit more sweaty. Furthermore I noticed that the inverted thickness map I baked in Substance Painter is very useful as a SSS mask in Marmoset.


Because I didn't want him to be a static statue I also put some time into rigging and animating him. Especially the backpack and tentacle were a big challenge regarding that. I modeled the tentacle not straight but in pose which made it really hard to get a fluent motion... one thing on my big list of things I learned and will approach different next time. Instead of modeling the tentacle again I decided to uncurl the posed tentacle and bring it into a straight pose and rig it once again. The tentacle’s mesh looked a bit messy then but in the final animation you can‘t see it anymore.

Another challenge were the clothes because I first had to get used to Marvelous. But that was only a matter of time. And of course, there are also a lot of tutorials which helped me to get the hang of it.

Since I had a deadline for this project, time management and planning were very important to me. Writing down a to-do-list for every week and marking milestones in my calendar really helped me regarding that. It also helped me a lot to stay motivated and to keep an eye on the big picture.

In conclusion I think this one was the project I had the most fun with by now. I love how this character turned out! And I learned so much during it. I got much deeper into Marmoset Toolbag 4 since I have used it only once before. And of course I learned a whole new software with Marvelous Designer which I think is always super exciting. Also I learned some simple tips and tricks that will make my life easier with future projects too. For example the ‚bake by name‘ option in Substance Painter which is essential to get a clean bake. Can’t believe I didn’t know it before… 

Forest Troll

So this project was the first one I made for my Demo Reel and also my first real time project.

I stumbled over this concept from James Child on Artstation a year ago. At this point I didn’t even think about that I could use it for my Demo Reel. So when I started planning it some months later I remembered this one…

Additional to the Marmoset Toolbag renders of the character I wanted to create a suitable environment for him, since I wanted to get more involved with Unreal Engine, real time rendering and environment art. I may have overstretched myself a little, as I only had about 7 or 8 weeks to do it and had to learn a lot of new techniques and Unreal Engine on top of that. But somehow I managed to get it done in time!

Below are some screenshots of the environment.

I especially searched for reference material and inspiration for the environment this time to get a more accurate idea of it. But of course I also gathered references for modeling, texturing and the overall style.

My workflow with this character was quite similar as for the Goblin so I won’t talk about that as much. The only part that was different was the hair which I had to do with alpha cards.

Since I’ve never done any real time hair before I had to find out how to do it in the first place. I think the hair cards were also by far the most struggling part of this project for me.

At first I even thought about modeling the hair as meshes, but I really didn’t like how that turned out. So I took the time to learn how to make hair cards.

Below you can see two WIP screenshots of my first attempt in ZBrush with the mesh hair:

I ended up creating my own hair cards with xgen in Maya. With an orthographic camera I rendered out the albedo, normal, AO and alpha map. I have to admit that I’m still not happy how the hair cards look in the final result... definitely a thing I want to improve next time and spend more time on learning.

Another thing that took a lot of time was the texturing. When I started this project I didn’t know much about real time and UE so I didn’t really cared about how much UV space and UDIMS the character had. So I ended up with way too much texture resolution and UDIMS to work with in Unreal properly.

So I started unwrapping and texturing all over again and ended up with 3 UV Patches, one for the accessories and two for the body.

The Assets for the environment are all made in Maya, ZBrush and Substance Painter like the character. The foliage though I created in Substance Designer with a plane and the highpoly mesh.

The only thing I didn’t made by myself were the watertextures for the river and waterfall, because I ran out of time. (I bought them in the Unreal Engine Marketplace from James Stone)

Another challenge besides the hair cards was the eye shader in Unreal Engine. I have to admit that I simply didn’t understand the shader Unreal Engine provides for realistic eyes (perhaps it would have been too realistic to fit the character either way). So I tried to make a glass shader like I did in Marmoset Toolbag. But the eye kept looking ‘dead’. I ended up with an opacity map for the cornea with a fake highlight on it. And that looked so much better than any attempt I did before with creating a shader…

Overall I learned so much during this project. First and foremost about real time rendering in general and Unreal Engine. I created my first real time hair and my first big environment. In conclusion this was the project from which I learned the most so far I think.

Like with the goblin, planning was very important for me during this project. I would have never been able to finish this project in time without a good preparation and timetable.

So that's it!
Thank you very much for taking a look at my projects, I hope you liked them. Feel free to leave me some feedback and write a comment below.
And I wish everyone who is also entering the Rookies 2021 the best of luck!

If you would like to get in contact with me you can find some information below.


E-mail: [email protected]


Comments (1)