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Breakdown: A Vivid 3D Model of Arsenal's Former Manager Arsène Wenger

Tingwei Liu demonstrates techniques for likeness sculpting and enhancement, like rendering tests, skin detailing, and Unreal Engine facial setup in creating a realistic 3D Arsène Wenger model.

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Hello everyone, I'm Tingwei Liu from Shenzhen, China, and I currently work as a character artist at 22 Studio Inc. in the United States. My academic background is in traffic engineering, yet my passion has always been game art, a field I've been drawn to since childhood.

Supported by my parents, I moved to the US to pursue this dream. Initially aspiring to be a 2D concept artist, I expanded into 3D to enhance my skills and competitiveness. This eventually led me to specialize in digital sculpting and become a character artist. Additionally, I take on commissions from Japan and China in my free time. 

I owe a great deal to industry veterans and friends like Zhelong Xu, Johnny Xiao, CrazyJN, Spyro Alexander, Lukas Kutschera, and Simon Lee. Their mentorship helped sharpen my critical eye, enabling me to assess my abilities accurately and learn effectively. Their advice has been instrumental in my steady growth and skill development, encouraging me to address my weaknesses and engage in mentorship programs and online learning without embarrassment. Importantly, I strive to complete all work independently, avoiding reliance on others' edits for quick satisfaction.

My approach to art differs from many artists who focus heavily on fundamental sculpting and anatomy from the very start. This is not to say that this approach is wrong — fundamental training is a very important aspect, of course. However, in my personal projects, I prefer to complete a piece that truly reflects my own vision as an artist rather than engaging in repetitive practice. Repetitive practice can certainly help us improve work efficiency in a targeted manner, but if we want to expand our capabilities, I believe it is essential to undertake projects that approach real creative work. 

I set specific goals for each project, whether they involve creating realistic creatures, stylized armors, original hard surface designs, or likeness projects, pushing me out of my comfort zone and helping me master various techniques. Dedication to my projects is vital; the challenges I overcome with each project fuel my progress. My methodology is heavily influenced by insights from the ZBrush Summit and the seasoned professionals I consult.

About the Arsène Wenger Project

Soccer has had a significant impact on my life and personality. I was once a women's soccer coach during my undergraduate years, and that experience taught me to interact better with others and helped develop my work ethic. Arsène Wenger, the best coach of my favorite team, always went all out and paid attention to every detail, setting the right values for both the team and the fans. It's thanks to him that I have had the opportunity to create work that caught the attention of 80 Level, for which I am profoundly grateful.

I usually use PureRef to organize my references, prioritizing front, side, and 45-degree views as core references for likeness. Additionally, I search for references under different lighting conditions, especially natural lighting. Photos taken under studio lighting often undergo enhancements like smoothing and liquifying, which do not accurately reflect reality. Furthermore, using tools like Pexels and Google Advanced Search to find ultra-high-resolution photos is essential.

Creation of Lifelike Eyes and Hair 

First, I start by processing references, accurately tracing the main features and primary wrinkle patterns of my main reference through line drawing. This serves as a critical reference for subsequent likeness sculpting. I personally recommend using a clean, well-organized base model like MetaHuman for sculpting.

For this project, I used the XYZ base model Stanislav #37, which closely matches Wenger's skin tone. In ZBrush, I smooth and symmetrize the first subdivision level of the original model before beginning the sculpting process.

Next, I start the initial sculpting. I strongly recommend using only the most basic Move and Standard brushes on the low subdivision, low polygon model to match facial features, proportions, and the silhouette of the face. This stage sets the lower limit for the entire project, and adjustments will need to be continually made, even as we move into asymmetric sculpting and rendering tests later on.

After adjusting the facial proportions with levels 1-3, it’s time to identify the main volumes using references. I sculpt the basic volume relationships clearly using basic brushes like Move Standard, Dam Standard, and Clay Build.

Then, I conduct initial rendering tests. At the project's outset, I hadn't decided on the final rendering software, so I used Marmoset Toolbag, set up a camera angle that matched the main reference, and applied the XYZ texture's base color to help construct the initial test. For the normal details, I used a leather detail normal to break up the highlights.

The most crucial aspect here is to simulate lighting similar to the main reference as closely as possible, ensuring likeness within the scope of the primary reference. Of course, I also compared different facial angles to ensure likeness in three-dimensional space, but sometimes compromises and choices must be made due to subtle expression changes and the perspective brought by different focal lengths, which can significantly affect the character.

Once the rendering test reaches a reasonably matching level, we can start asymmetric sculpting to make the model more closely resemble our main reference. Wenger's face is very asymmetrical, and observation from references shows that, even at different angles and under different lighting, his lips, nasolabial folds, cheekbones, and periorbital wrinkles are highly distinctive. Thus, it’s crucial in the final asymmetric sculpting stage to portray these consistent characteristics across different environments.

When the initial rendering tests reach a satisfactory stage, we move on to processing skin details. Here, I use XYZ and ZBrush’s built-in ZWrap plugin to transfer skin details. It's important to utilize ZBrush's Morph Target and Layer features to manage the intensity and scope of the details based on the transfer. Since Wenger's skin texture is not like that of an ordinary woman, as he is an older man, different facial areas have varied textures. 

After the ZWrap, I manually adjusted and sculpted the skin details for the nose, lips, and forehead using various alpha brushes, including those from ZBrushGuides. I set up the eyes and hair for my character in Unreal Engine, leveraging the mature shader solutions available for both. By experimenting with different parameters and understanding their artistic effects, I began meticulously comparing references to achieve as customized a restoration as possible. 

The eyes, sourced from MetaHuman, benefit from Unreal's highly customizable default materials, which allow for adjustments to features such as veins, as well as the shape and color of the pupils. Moreover, the structure of the eyes involves more than just the eyeball and eyelids; the portrayal of the lacrimal caruncle and tear ducts is also crucial, as their structure and the shape of the reflections they produce significantly impact the realism of the eyes. 

The hair was created in Maya using XGen, which has strong connectivity with Unreal, facilitating seamless import and export processes. For this project, Wenger's hair was relatively simple to model. The main task was finding references. As I mentioned earlier, I looked for general references on male hair growth patterns and specific references for Wenger’s hair to study its silhouette and growth characteristics, which helped me create the guide curves in XGen.

I also want to thank my friend Zou Lin, who provided invaluable advice on the realism of hair growth patterns in XGen. Additionally, the tutorials on XGen by Hadi Karimi and J Hill on YouTube were extremely helpful. I gained a lot of inspiration and learned about the effects of each parameter from these tutorials.


I initially construct the basic silhouette and obtain initial folds using Marvelous Designer, then move directly into ZBrush where I use a combination of ZModeler and ZRemesher to create the tie. I sculpt the stitching details using a basic stitch alpha brush, and on top of all the previous work, I sculpt secondary details, including small folds on the collar. 

Next, I proceed to texture painting in Substance 3D Painter. I often collect various types of material textures from websites like textures.com and analyze the relationship between the materials and the character’s persona. For instance, whether his character is sloppy or elegant significantly impacts the fabric materials and wear of his clothing. Following this approach, I progressively deconstruct the character in terms of the environment he inhabits and the textures needed to convey the right feeling in the texture.

The most crucial parameters are usually the base color and roughness; I spend a significant amount of time developing inherent colors and roughness variations, striving to showcase a rich interplay of points, lines, and surfaces. Points correspond to small prominent spots, lines to trend lines and guidelines, and surfaces to larger areas that demonstrate what the material is. This method of texture painting ensures that the material textures do not appear monotonous.

The focal point of this work primarily revolves around likeness sculpting and enhancement, as well as demonstrating my use of Unreal Engine. Therefore, I primarily use models from ZRemesher as the low poly base. Correspondingly, the use of ZWrap and other aspects are detailed in question 3.


I realized that my updated portfolio lacked a project related to Unreal Engine, so I decided to seize this opportunity to create a piece rendered on the UE5 platform, while also deepening my understanding of UE5 shading and lighting. In the front view of my setup, I used a primary light source and a catchlight (spotlight), a faint rim light from the side-back, and a backlight that outlines the character's silhouette, along with a plane created in UE5 as a reflector. 

From different angles, additional rim lights ensure the silhouette is well-lit. For lighting references, I am greatly inspired by Peter Lindbergh’s photography, which has influenced the presentation of this project. I aimed to give this character a more fashion photography feel rather than a passport photo look, so I minimized the rim light to allow the facial shadows to blend more into the background without losing detail. 

For post-production, I primarily used a 3000×4000 resolution render along with some basic rendering settings in UE. It's worth mentioning that there's a minor bug in UE that might affect the rendering sequence of images; remember to check the camera's exposure settings.


It took me three months of my spare time to complete this project. As I've mentioned before, my deep respect for Wenger fueled my desire to challenge the limits of realism in facial likeness with this work. Daily, I engaged in meticulous adjustments of wrinkle angles, structures, and silhouettes, repeatedly refining my artistic judgments. This method of repeated evaluations suits my learning and practice style best.

From a technical standpoint, the greatest challenge was managing perspectives in relation to references. Different photographs often imply various perspectives, and choosing the correct angle in ZBrush to capture accurate silhouettes and structures posed a significant challenge. 

On a psychological level, the process of completing the artwork was daunting because the pursuit of likeness can be endless. When you think you have achieved a high standard, comparing your work to real-life photographs or to those of renowned artists like Ian Spriggs and Marco Di Lucca can reveal significant gaps. Nevertheless, this project allowed me to achieve my representation of Wenger and to refine the workflows I sought to improve, which was a substantial accomplishment.

My advice to fellow artists is to broaden your artistic perspective by engaging with a variety of art forms and learning about the history of art, games, and animation. History is enchanting, and the pieces that endure are truly exceptional. While it is crucial to sharpen our technical skills, possessing a broad range of soft skills is vital for continuous growth and satisfaction. Moreover, maintain a thirst for learning; avoid comfort by continuously challenging yourself with projects that stretch your capabilities, akin to how one progresses in physical fitness.

Maintain both humility and confidence — believe in your potential to improve and become an excellent artist. Engage continuously with other talented artists and educational platforms (such as ZBrush Summit, LightBox, and traditional sculpture) to learn correct and scientifically sound methods and workflows. Effort without the right approach can be fruitless, as seen when novice artists focus too much on details without understanding the importance of silhouette and overall proportions.

Lastly, take care of your physical and mental health — good nutrition, adequate sleep, and regular exercise are crucial for sustaining effort and creativity.

Tingwei Liu, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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