Andrii Karpylenko has shared with us the Emperor Cat project, which was made with the help of Blender, ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, and Substance 3D Painter, detailing the modeling, texturing, and grooming pipelines.
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Hello. My name is Andrii Karpylenko, and I am a 3D Character Artist from Ukraine. I liked to paint on paper some characters from school. Back then, I painted portraits, and caricatures in small notepads during lessons. My classmate told me about 3D, and it interested me. I immediately decided to create characters. I simply created spheres and cylinders as hands and assigned a photo of a face on it. These were my first characters. It took a long time before I learned how to create complex characters. At that time, there were not so many YouTube tutorials, and I learned from articles. It was my hobby, and it took years before I started to think it would be my work.
I think I started to improve my skills much faster when I got a job and had a Lead with useful feedback. I think this is one of the most important things to grow fast – to have a mentor who gives you feedback and tips. I think the most recognizable project I worked on currently is Mavka: The Forest Song. The rest projects were small ones, and the current projects I am working on – I can't share them with you because of NDA.
For personal work, I usually use Blender most of the time. In this project, I did a rough blockout and modeling there.
I did a cloth simulation in Marvelous Designer. Later, I exported the result to Blender and did the correct topology, UV, and thickness there.
For details on the armor, I modeled and sculpted ornaments in Blender to create depth alpha. I then utilized this alpha in ZBrush.
And I started grooming in Blender.
The first thing you need is to carefully place guides and follow references. You can turn on and off interpolated guides while you place and adjust them. When you are more or less satisfied with the result (not final), you can add clump, noise, and trim modifiers. Adjust them to your taste and add Vertex Color Masks to control where you want to have less effect. Now you can go back and forth to adjust guides.
I prefer to have an interpolated modifier and hair radius separately but clumps and noise in one modifier, and adjust all in nodes.
This is the final result:
I created a modifier that collides hair from his crown. So there are no hair intersections with it. Also, in this modifier, I deleted hair on his scars.
Here are the main nodes for head clumps and noise.
Additionally, I used some Procedural Masks, some painted using vertex color on the scalp mesh, and some painted on the hair curves. The same principle was applied to the tail and hands.
I also created collision objects for the tail to minimize intersections with cloth and the floor once the noise nodes were applied. I painted the groom color texture within Blender. By having a window dedicated to the groom and another for the scalp, I could paint in either view and observe the results in the others.
For cloth and armor textures, I used Substance 3D Painter. There was nothing special, just a classic pipeline.
For rendering, I used Cycles Render. I employed classic lighting techniques, incorporating a key light, fill light, and a few rim lights. During the turn animation, these lights followed the camera. Some minor compositing was done in Blender, where I added effects such as bloom, vignette, and denoising.
Final Words and Pieces of Advice
I think it took me a few months to complete this artwork. It was my first experience with the new Blender hair curves system, and I learned numerous fascinating features. I encourage you to give it a try and experiment with it. Thank you for your attention, and please remember to donate to foundations you trust. With love from Ukraine.
Andrii Karpylenko, 3D Character Artist
Interview conducted by Gloria Levine
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