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Gynoid Anna
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Gynoid Anna

Ilia Momen Toussi
by IliaMomenT on 11 Jan 2024

For my final project TFM for the Master in Rigging and Character FX course at U-tad, I aimed to enhance my sculpting, texturing, and grooming skills by creating game-styled character. I focused on improving my sculpting skills for hard surfaces and organic modeling and creating animatable grooming!

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Project Overview

I'm glad to present you my latest creation, Gynoid Anna, a lively 3D character based on the captivating concept art by Jingwei Qiu. Anna embodies a mix of modern technology and classic beauty. She's a fresh take for me, combining futuristic elements with a timeless charm. I hope you enjoy the simplicity and elegance she brings to my latest work!

The transition of Anna from a 2D concept art to a 3D model posed a challenging task, demanding a variable skill set and a focus on adaptability. The goal extended beyond creating a finely detailed digital sculpt; it also involved ensuring that Anna could be fully animated, combining mechanical legs with the organic body, and ensuring accurate movement posed a unique challenge, involving an in-depth study of mechanical motion.

Software: ZBrush, Maya, XGen, RizomUV, Character creator4, Substance 3D Painter, Arnold, Blender Cycle, Photoshop.

Creation Process and Techniques

When developing Anna, my primary emphasis was on ensuring her full animatability, adhering strictly to industry standards. Additionally, my objective was to identify and address any areas of pipeline that required improvement to bring it up to the highest industry standards.

This chapter goes through the specific measures taken to accomplish these objectives, highlighting the improvements implemented to seamlessly animate Anna and refine the overall character creation process.

1. Reference Exploration

I initiated the process by examining the references shared by Jingwei Qiu on her Artstation. Subsequently, I undertook thorough research to gather additional references related to various aspects, including art direction, anatomy, hairstyle, mechanics, and clothing textures.

(Below is a curated selection of the references I used.)

2. Modelling

In the modeling phase, I used ZBrush and Maya. Anna's anatomical features were carefully sculpted to stay true to Jingwei Qiu's original concept.

2.1 Blocking and Retopology

I began the project with a ready base model that I found on Artstation and refined the shape of Anna's body using ZBrush. After that, I focused on creating her robotic feet and detailing the mechanical back spine.

For this character, my goal was to create a model that meets industry standards. I received invaluable help from Adel Vaez Ghaemi, a professional modeler, who greatly supported and contributed to the process. I am sincerely grateful for his assistance.

Once I achieved the desired topology for the entire body and ensured its complete symmetry using the abSymMesh script in Maya, I exported Anna to character creator 4 and began the rigging process.

2.2 UVs

The UV unfolding procedure was executed in RizomUV, offering a more precise and efficient layout in contrast to Maya. To optimize effectiveness, I utilized the ODZBrushRizomBridge plugin to seamlessly transfer my meshes between ZBrush and Rizom.

Afterward, I performed a rapid validation using Substance Painter to uphold texture uniformity and mitigate any blurring issues. The final layout consisted of 7 UDIMs for the mechanical components, three for the clothing, two for the eyes (one dedicated to the cornea and another for the iris), one for the teeth and tongue, and one for the body. This approach guaranteed a heightened resolution for every segment of Anna's model. To optimize efficiency, I replicated the mirrored portion from the left side to the right, ensuring that all analogous meshes referenced the textures from the left-side UV parts.

3. Texture

I initiated the texturing process by painting the body, eyes, and clothes in ZBrush using polypaint. The polypaint maps were subsequently exported. In Substance Painter, I employed smart materials to obtain the desired textures, making adjustments to each parameter to align with the original concept art and my references for clothing and art style. For skin details I downloaded a 3dscan face from the 3dscan store, and wrapped the 3d face by Zwrap inside Zbrush, and then baked the high poly to low poly using substance Painter, this method has given me faster and higher quality detail result in the end.

4. Groom

I used XGen for grooming, specifically focusing on creating Anna's distinctive hair. the main hair was divided into 5 deterrent descriptions containing front hairs, 2 sides, and 2 back of the head, considering their unique shapes, positioning, and growth direction. I referred to the 2D concept art to ensure the hair perfectly matched Anna's arrogant personality.

I achieved the entire spiky hairs using blocking meshes. I converted the edges to curves and then transformed them into XGen guides. I also observed that the outcomes were greatly improved when the blocking meshes accurately replicated real hair, extending from the roots to the tips.

For rendering purposes, I learned that the entire scene is rendered faster if it is rendered inside the blender, although it has its disadvantages of not being able to simulate the hair, it has more benefits for me. I make all the hairs in Xgen and then convert them into alembic cash and export it inside Blender for the animation and rendering.

5. Look Development

After finishing the grooming process, my next step involved preparing the model for rendering. Using blender and Cycles, I focused on fine-tuning the textures, colors, and light interaction to achieve the desired visual outcome.

For this project, I opted to utilize CAVE Academy's lighting setup, which provided a convenient way to quickly establish an appealing environment for an engaging turntable animation.

6. Rigging Process

I experimented with Character Creator 4 for the first time during the rigging process. It's essential to note a few considerations before using CC4, particularly separating non-deformable meshes from the body to enhance the rigging outcome. This separation is crucial due to the less-than-ideal weight map system in CC4. Certain mechanical areas that won't undergo bending were isolated and attached to bones as rigid, non-deformable objects to address this.

To enhance weight painting capabilities, I exported the pre-rigged character to Maya. I then used the Ngskintools plug and applied weight painting to specific areas such as ankles, shoulders, and neck. Afterward, I imported the character back into CC4 for animation testing. One advantage of the CC4 rig is its compatibility with animations from Mixamo. However, unlike Mixamo, CC4 allows for rig customization.

To streamline the clothing rigging process, I've discovered a more effective approach. Instead of rigging the body separately and then transferring skin weights to the clothes, I've achieved superior results by merging the clothing with the base body mesh. By employing the auto-rig feature in CC4, the software treats the combined body and clothing as a single entity. Consequently, CC4 applies identical skin weights to both the body and clothing meshes, simplifying the rigging process.

7. Clothing Simulation

Undertaking the clothes simulation presented its challenges. Initially, I attempted to utilize nCloth in Maya for this task. Despite several attempts, the results were not satisfying, and the processing time was considerably longer compared to Marvelous Designer. Consequently, I shifted my approach and opted for Marvelous Designer to simulate the clothing, even though I had already completed the retopology, UV mapping, and texturing for the coat, It was challenging to use the same mesh and UV inside Marvelous because the software tends to change the topology and UV. 

I simulated the clothes inside Marvelous and wrapped the result in the original file. To facilitate this transition, I duplicated a version of the coat and separated the mesh likewise patterns in Marvelous Designer's clothing processing. Subsequently, I created a new UV map based on these separated components. Importing this into Marvelous Designer, the software recognized the separated meshes as clothing patterns but with different topologies. I then proceeded to sew these distinct patterns together and conducted the simulation within Marvelous Designer.

Once satisfied with the simulation results, I exported them back to Maya. Using a combination of blend shapes and wrap techniques, I seamlessly applied the simulated version from Marvelous Designer onto the original clothes. I attached the bottoms to the clothes by setting a locator on the desired area and parent the bottoms into them.

8. Hair Simulation

For the hair simulation, I employed Maya's Nhair and Components. I exported curves from Xgen guidelines and generated Nhair strands from them. These strands were then attached to the scalp using components, with careful selection of desired curves. After fine-tuning the settings to achieve the desired outcome, I integrated the simulated curves into Xgen using guild animation.

To enhance rendering efficiency, I chose to utilize Cycles over Arnold, despite the drawback that emerged during the export of Alembic cache from the simulated hairs. It became apparent that exporting the simulated version as an Alembic cache for use in Blender was not feasible. As a workaround, I parented the non-simulated hairs to the scalp, resulting in the final presentation.

Final Thoughts

The journey of crafting Gynoid Anna has been incredibly fulfilling. It enhanced my understanding of character design and sharpened my troubleshooting skills.

This project marked my second venture into character creation and my third time using XGen for grooming. The knowledge gained from exploring CC4 just a month before starting this project played a crucial role in bringing Anna to life.

While staying true to the original reference, I made subtle adjustments to infuse the character with my unique style. This artistic freedom allowed me to express my creative ideas, resulting in a version of Anna that authentically reflects my vision.

This undertaking not only represents a significant milestone in my growth as a character artist but also provides me with valuable expertise that I intend to apply in future projects. The journey with Gynoid Anna, driven by a strong desire to learn and excel, has left me excited to explore new territories in the realm of 3D character creation.


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