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Reimagining the Demon from the Doctor Faustus Play

See how character artist Maxine Lugg brought to life the demon Mephistopheles, made his horns look organic, and played with hue variation to complete the look.

Introduction

Hello! I’m Maxine Lugg, I’m from the UK, and I’m a Junior Character Artist at Expression Games. I’ve been working in the games industry for almost a year, having graduated from university last year where I studied 3D Game Art and Design. I first ventured into 3D art around four years ago, shortly before I started university, where I soon fell in love with using ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, and Substance 3D Painter to create 3D characters. Before learning 3D, I was a 2D artist, with some hobbyist and student experience in illustration and character design both traditionally and digitally.

Personally, I like the idea of capturing essence and verisimilitude in a character model. If I can communicate the presence and personality of a character while also staying true to their identity and role within a narrative, that counts as a success to me. I especially like to take inspiration from literature, folklore, and mythology, as this kind of source material has so much narrative richness to pull creative inspiration from. Aiming towards these kinds of goals is where I find a lot of fulfillment in my personal projects.

At Expression Games, I am currently contributing to Hell Let Loose.

Mephistopheles

The idea for the Mephistopheles project occurred to me long before I first started it. I studied a 16th-century play many years ago, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, and the two main characters of the play stuck with me.

The play tells the story of a Renaissance man (Doctor Faustus) who seeks out dark, necromantic power after exhausting all other intellectual pursuits. He sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for these forbidden secrets, and this power is provided to him by a begrudging demonic servant – Mephistopheles – who takes the form of a Franciscan friar/monk. Faustus is consequently dragged to hell for this, after enjoying 24 years of frivolous bliss.

Around a year ago, I drew up some concepts based on these character descriptions but shelved the idea not too long after as I wasn’t sure if I could yet execute it to the level I wanted. 

After playing Baldur’s Gate 3 a few months later and seeing the fantastic demon characters in that game, I was reinvigorated by the idea and soon got to work figuring out what I wanted from the project. I would also later seek inspiration from the character designs and models in Diablo 4.

As you might notice from the difference between my initial concept art and the final outcome, the design of this character was a continually evolving process. Below is my reference board for the project. 

Face & Head

Of all the components of this project, the face proved to be the most arduous challenge, especially as I wanted it to be a focal point in the final renders. I slowly adjusted the face alone for a couple of months, sometimes tweaking things slightly day by day to see how each incremental change looked with fresh eyes in the following days. 

I sculpted the face in a neutral position in ZBrush, with plans to pose it at a later point (I eventually used a lattice modifier to do this in Blender). I used 3D Scan Store displacement and diffuse maps as a base for surface details, using the Blender addon SoftWrap to project their face base mesh to my existing face sculpt. This technique is useful for getting surface detail quickly, but I find that it can be easy to become too reliant on the high-frequency information scans can provide. It’s important to remember that a face sculpt needs to read well on the level of primary and secondary forms before diving into the tertiary details of fine pores and wrinkles. 

I later used a lattice in Blender to pose the head, but I know Maya has a similar tool. The advantage of the lattice is how non-destructive it is, and it made making adjustments to the head (such as changing the arrangement of the hair cards) really, really easy. You’ve just got to be careful to try and preserve the volumes of the mesh while you’re distorting it.

For the horns, I wanted to create the effect of some kind of dark, unruly, organic matter having sprouted out of his face, as if the demonic spirit of Mephistopheles had possessed the body of a human monk, and this was that unholy presence sort of breaching the form of the human vessel. To sculpt the horns themselves, I ended up using some close-up photography of wood bark and rocks as a reference to capture the sense of an indiscernible organic material.

For the eyes, I used Jared Chavez’s Marmoset eye shaders, with an emissive channel added to the iris shader in Marmoset Toolbag made to make them glow. 

Clothes & Accessories

One of my initial goals with this project was to understand more about the process of using Marvelous Designer to create simulated cloth to fit a posed rig. Where I had used Marvelous Designer before, it was to fit a body in neutral A-pose in preparation for a game-ready character model. My intention for this project was to create a model for more presentational purposes than to be game-ready.

I started by creating the garment within Marvelous Designer, fitting it around the A-pose of my base mesh. I then used the Rigify addon in Blender to rig the base mesh and pose it as a short animation going from neutral to posed, then exporting it as an alembic file and importing it back into Marvelous Designer. I then slowly scrubbed through the animation frame-by-frame, adjusting the simulation as I went to fix issues where the cloth would start to clip into the body.

As for the book, I started with a loose blockout to help with placement during posing, then added more detail at a later stage in ZBrush. During sculpting and texturing, I used public domain scans of historic books for the sigils and page textures.

The chains, cincture (rope belt), and beads were all created using Blender’s curve system, with repeating meshes set along the curves with an array using modifiers. As this is a non-destructive method, I was able to iterate easily with the exact placement of the elements as needed.

I also used a similar curve system for the hair, setting flat, subdivided hair cards along bezier curves using the curve modifier and adjusting as needed. For the hair textures themselves, I used FiberShop.

UVs

Moving forward from the simulation, I used a technique utilising the transfer attribute function in Maya. This tutorial by Oliver Couston outlines the process better than I briefly can. It essentially involves retopologizing the flat Marvelous pattern pieces in Maya and projecting the new topology onto the simulated mesh, using shared UVs to transfer location data between the meshes. I really like this technique as it means that you don’t lose any simulation detail moving between Marvelous Designer and ZBrush. The result is a mesh with cleanly subdividing topology and decent UVs. 

Within a game production setting, this topology and UVs would likely not be used in a character’s final low-poly model as they would not be optimal for rigging or texture packing, but given my goal with this project was to create a more sculptural/presentational character model, I used this as my low poly, which therefore gave me some useable UVs for texturing moving onwards. The accessories were retopologized and UVed in Maya, and for the face, I used the topology from the 3D Scan Store base. 

Texturing

For texturing, I used Substance 3D Painter, after baking my high-poly information to my low poly’s UVs in Marmoset Toolbag. I textured the head, hands, wings, and body/clothes separately, later combining the exported texture maps into my Marmoset scene. 

For the face, the aforementioned 3D Scan Store displacement map also included a diffuse map, which I used as a base for my face texturing.

Especially when texturing something organic, I find that it is important to add both large and small-scale hue variation. It is also essential to study reference imagery closely, as I noticed that, typically, the skin tone of older people is more uneven and sometimes blotchy.

I find that sometimes artists overlook the power of the roughness map while texturing. The roughness of a surface is one of the most important factors influencing its readability, so it is definitely worth investing time into refining. Sometimes the roughness map might look more detailed than the diffuse map.

Moving on to the clothes and accessories, texturing these was pretty straightforward. I began with the weave base, then added layers of fibres and damage on top. For the holes in the cloth, I utilised the material’s alpha/opacity channel and stencils I had created by editing photographs of torn cloth.

One thing I like to do during texturing is add a bit of hue variation to the diffuse, as can be seen on the chains. In the case of the chains, this replicates how metal might rust and discolor with time and deterioration, though even on a non-metallic surface, this hue variation is a nice way to add some depth and a painterly quality to a material. I was first inspired to try this after seeing an example by Ali Eser, as detailed in this X thread. I created this texture in Clip Studio Paint using the hue jitter brush function, though a similar result would be achievable in Photoshop.

For the wings, I realized that they would be a good opportunity to use subsurface scattering to add the detail of veins that would show through a backlight to the scene. I studied my reference imagery of bat wings closely and painted the veins by hand.

Rendering

This project was presented in Marmoset Toolbag 4. Lighting the scene was an iterative process, where I ‘shot-sculpted’ through a fixed camera that would be my main final key shot. I was thinking a lot about my focal points and how to use lighting in a way that would direct the viewer’s eye to, most importantly, the face and the book.

The fire effect on the book was made using a masked emissive layer, utilizing an anchor point fill layer on exclusion blending mode to create the impression of spreading flame. 

Especially given the goal for this project was to create a presentational (not game-ready) piece, I wanted to display the model clearly, but also try to tell a story. Therefore, learning and thinking about illustrative rules of composition (such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, focal points, etc.) proved helpful in figuring out how to best present this piece. 

Conclusion

From the blockout to the final renders, this project lasted around 9 months, though I should note I was not working on it consistently every day. I wanted to figure out what it was like to take my time on a project and push a visual quality bar as far as I reasonably could while taking time to reflect between stages, so that I know how to produce the highest quality results, faster, in the future.

I haven’t thought much about an extended universe, but I do want to create an interpretation of the other main character, Doctor Faustus, from the same source material play. I will probably paint out a final 2D concept earlier than during this project, as concepting in 3D has limitations in how slow iteration can be.

Having only recently been a student, I know first-hand how much sometimes conflicting advice there is around online for beginner character artists. When it comes to building a portfolio, some helpful advice I received was to focus on creating 2-4 high-quality portfolio pieces when starting out. Additionally, I feel that knowing how to present your models is an important skill - you’ve spent so much time working on a piece, so let your final presentation show it as best as possible!

Otherwise, I’m definitely an advocate for encouraging artists to look far and wide for inspiration. I know that if I only look to social media for inspiration, my visual library will be limited to what other artists in my immediate sphere are making, so it becomes difficult to create something that doesn’t feel derivative. Therefore, I think it’s valuable to broaden your visual library and imagination by looking to find inspiration around you, even if its relevance isn’t always obvious. Going to museums, reading fiction and non-fiction books, pursuing a hobby, watching documentaries, watching fashion shows, and visiting art exhibitions – these are all things that can spark your imagination and creativity in unexpected ways.

Thank you for reading! Any questions, please feel free to message me on my ArtStation or LinkedIn

Maxine Lugg, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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Comments 1

  • Sufiya Zahra

    Love how detailed this breakdown is, super inspiring❤️ This is such a gorgeous project!

    0

    Sufiya Zahra

    ·a month ago·

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