Designing a Mysterious Bloodborne-Inspired Hunter in Unreal Engine 4

Dmitry Radushinskyi tells us the twisted dark backstory of a hunter named Eldritch Gunslinger Grimwald who got nearly insane in his search for wisdom, shares some great tips on working with references like a pro, and explains why Unreal Engine is one of the best tools for cinematic rendering.

Introduction

My name is Dmitry Radushinskyi and I am a 3D & Cinematic Artist, Animator, Filmmaker from Kiev, Ukraine. Since my last article for 80 Level, I have been working a lot. I filmed a few music videos, participated in a few art contests (ArtStation’s CosmoOpera and Imagining Bloodborne 2). Currently, I'm working on some really interesting titles for one of my most loved IPs. I'm hoping to find some time and finish my other cinematic works and one project-in-progress soon. 

Also, I’ve been working on my work/life balance. I had kind of a burnout because of the long period called "Every Day There is a Deadline And I Might Not Make It". Now is the time to slow down a little and live. Enjoy some movies, books, games (I have a little tabletop collection which I haven't touched for almost a year now). The best decision I’ve made so far is to stop working on weekends. Highly recommend.

Creating Eldritch Gunslinger Grimwald

This Bloodborne-inspired project happened thanks to Vaati’s "Imagining Bloodborne 2" art contest. As a huge dark fantasy lover, I was not able to say "no" to this opportunity to create something for this great universe. Vaati’s channel has been inspiring me for years, so even the fact that I had not recovered from the previous contest didn't stop me and I decided to try my best and use the remaining months as efficiently as possible. 

So, I've decided to make an NPC/Boss character. His background is described mostly in the items’ descriptions, so I recommend you to read those and try to figure out all the clues, details, and homages. It’ll be more enjoyable to read the breakdown after this.

I’ve decided to make a hunter from an early unknown covenant of gunslingers. A very old hunter lost in eternal nightmare and seeking higher truths. I started digging into some stories and Cthulhu myths. The lore background that I formed at the beginning was almost the same as the finished one. It is mostly a mix of Mythos, Dream Cycle, Bloodborne universe, and some features from literature. 

The visual part was the hardest to design. At the beginning of the challenge, I intended to make some archaic designs with an emphasis on general shapes, so I would be able to finish on time.

I ended up with a pretty detailed character with only the key features left from the original design. How has the original concept of a weird warlock with a sword, book, and guns turned into some crazy machine for unformattable slaughter? Let’s find out.

I decided to make the design more Bloodborne-ish/Victorian. I studied the old outfits and Bloodborne characters' garbs, so the final design is some mixture of the Old Hunter set plus my redesigns and adjustments.

The bunch-of-weapons design was imposed by the wandering nature of the character, which is similar to the Witcher (not to mention Boba Fett's first outfit in the second season of The Mandalorian). Every item has its own purpose, every weapon is intended for different use.

Gunslinger’s covenant is mostly inspired by the Dark Tower’s gunslingers, who also have a peculiar codex and philosophy regarding weapon art.

Roland takes his path with family relic revolvers, reforged from King Arthur’s Excalibur. This detail in the Osthryth and Ekkehart description is pretty obvious for everybody familiar with the Dark Tower lore.

The idea of specific herbs which can defend the keeper from the magic harm came to me after reading Blackwood’s "Willows". So I developed the idea, found some interesting magic-active herbs, and put them in Pomanders.  

The book Grimwald is reading is the last one before he loses his sanity completely and attacks the player. You can read more about his in-game behavior in the background description: "De Vermis Mysteriis, or Mysteries of the Worm, is a fictional grimoire created by Robert Bloch and incorporated by H. P. Lovecraft into the lore of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Lovecraft, who enjoyed sprinkling references to his friends' fictional creations in his own Cthulhu Mythos efforts, repeatedly mentioned De Vermis Mysteriis in his stories."

The idea of someone who stalks the cosmic unknown for forbidden knowledge is at the very base of most of Lovecraft’s works.

Hounds of Thindalas by Frank Belknap is a part of Mythos and was a huge inspiration for me. It’s a story about the man who, by using a very old psychoactive drug, traveled to the past to see the creation and rise of humanity and even beyond — the creation of our world. He finished badly, however, being stalked by creatures who were hunting him for his journeys into the dark corners of the time and realms. This very Lovecraftian motive of the hunter being hunted is what he and Guts have in common.

Let's mention the path of the Big Hat Logan from Dark Souls, who had become insane in his searches for knowledge (which is also a very Lovecraftian and Soulsborne motive). 

About the names — I've picked the old Germanic ones. Grimwald means helmet, mask. Ekkehart means sword, blade. Osthryth means Goddess, which I interpreted as the Great Ruler to honor the character (Arthur).

Let’s mix up all of the above and we get Eldritch Old Hunter, a composite character, member of the peculiar hunter’s branch, skilled and experienced half-cultist, half-hunter, whose thirst for eternal forbidden wisdom lured him into being almost insane and hunted. 

Designing and Modeling

I started with modifying the base mesh by making the character a bit slender. I sewed cloth parts in Marvelous Designer. It took some time to find and play around with patterns. I’m not a Marvelous Designer magician, so it looked pretty ugly in comparison to all the beautiful outfits people were making in it. I exported the cloth to ZBrush, refined the shapes a lot, and detailed it. 

I designed the basic shapes to be in harmony in different poses and camera angles, then I started modeling the final pieces. All hard surface parts and bandages were modeled in Maya (I use ZModeler from time to time but I do not quite like it) and then polished in ZBrush. It was a straightforward process of redesigning and modeling using a lot of references.

I got the final geometry looking pretty dense but clean. I reused as much geometry as possible for baking because of the lack of time. Some pieces have bigger density for a better view in close-up shots. 

Each weapon was based on a bunch of references. I’ve studied a lot of old guns, pistols, swords, etc. The long-term question was what ignition system to use. Matchlock/wheellock/flintlock types are too slow and not useful in the Bloodborne universe, so I decided to use the percussion ignition system (which is similar to what was used in original Bloodborne too I suppose) which is a great combination of usability and overall aesthetic.

Blunderbuss was made using real model refs, but with a little bit of redesign. The rifle is a combination of old flintlock-revolver rifle prototypes from the 15th century and pill-lock ignition systems. The revolver is based on the Miller Pill-Lock Revolving Rifle.

The sword design is the most unique part. I invented the mechanism myself, using the real gun swords (ahem-ahem, Nero sword...) and percussion ignition system as reference. This idea of a trick weapon and some visual hooks were taken from Bloodborne.

The belt and the holsters are here to carry all this beauty and enough ammo to shoot! I focused on making them believable and usable. 

At some point of the designing process, there were more of it, including scabbards for the sword, but I decided not to over-complicate the character even more. 

Texturing

Texturing begins with unwrapping and packing the UVs, which I always do by hand to maintain the best space usage and texture quality. I like this process because of its meditative flow.

Baked maps have a major influence on the texturing workflow and the final result so I would recommend trying to boost your AO and Curvature map by mixing them with cavity and concavity maps (read this to learn more).

Gathering references can take some time but it will definitely boost your work and save you time later on. Google, Pinterest, and all of those cool collections/retro marketplaces are your best friends in this task. 

I texture all of my works using Substance Painter. It’s a very good software for procedural texturing with a big library of great materials to work with. 

I started with some really rough mats looking for a color scheme and a nice rhythm of materials and color. I work with Albedo maps a lot, giving the materials an expressive, almost stylized look.

Then, I worked on detailing the materials, tweaking all layers and channels to make it look as I wanted it to. I added ornaments and cloth folds to keep the workflow procedural and creative. When it comes to texturing, always have fun and don't be scared to experiment!

Rendering and Presentation

The process of rigging and animation is no different from my previous article, so I won't concentrate much on this topic.
 
Always use references. If you cannot find good ones, make them yourself! Grab your camera, a stick, pretend it is a sword, and go for it!

I animate from different camera angles to maintain a strong character silhouette and composition.

In this project I switched to Unreal for the final cinematic render (turntables are rendered in Marmoset though) for a few reasons:

  1. To make cloth, physics, and particle simulations. Making good smoke and physics simulations were crucial to maintaining the right atmosphere of the project.
  2. To gain more experience with Sequencer. Sequencer is a very powerful tool for building your scenes in UE.
  3. To make an anamorphic bokeh. Unreal Engine plugin is the only way to achieve it for now (as far as I know). There is simply no way of doing it in Marmoset without writing your own code.

Unreal Engine is definitely a more complex environment in terms of setup and render, but learning it is worth it. UE4 is a very flexible and powerful tool not to mention the value of such experience when it comes to commercial projects.  

I work a lot with lighting and composition. It can take hours to build a perfect shot, so don't rush it. Build the light wisely and study the use of different camera angles and focal lengths.
I enhanced the silhouette and details by using multiple light sources of different colors, brightness, and types.   

The Sequencer setup is something you need to get used to, but it comes in handy while setting up scenes with a lot of animation.

Post-Processing, Editing, and Sound Design

After I rendered UE sequences I composed them with smoke using After Effects. I did this in post-production and not in the Engine to gain more control over smoke shapes and composition.

Audio design is a very important part of the overall user experience. I worked on audio rhythm and ideas first and only then made some video edit variations. 

I edited and graded footage in DaVinci Resolve, added glow, vignette, camera shake, and chromatic aberration effects to guide viewers' attention and make shots look more real and artistic. All these actions can be done in Unreal Engine, but I like to have more control over the image in post-processing.

That's what my final timeline looked like:

Conclusion

I think the main challenge is to not burn out and do your best, as always. The second challenge is to find really good ideas and references. If you do not have ideas try to read some books, manga, watch movies, play games. Let it sit for a bit. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s OK if things don’t go as planned. Inspiration can come from unexpected places.

In this project, every detail is a part of a puzzle. Without a lore background, half of the character is gone and you don't know who he was or who he’ll be someday, why he is doing this or that, why he is dressed like  ̶a̶ ̶c̶l̶o̶w̶n̶  this?

To present your character well you need at least basic knowledge of composition and lighting, the basics of visual storytelling. Also, photography/cinematography can be very helpful in developing the taste of it.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me and good luck! 

Dmitry Radushinskyi, 3D & Cinematic Artist, Animator, Filmmaker

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 1

  • Marlow Adam

    Great article and great final words! Cheers!

    1

    Marlow Adam

    ·6 days ago·

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