80s Cassette Futurism Apartment - Character Production Part 1

Making Of / 01 September 2021


This post details my process through Module 11 of my BA in Video Game Digital Art in Birmingham City University.

This Module is the production stage of my Final Major Project, where Emily Evans, Jack Degville, and myself worked as a group to create a 3D apartment environment in UE5. I was the sole character artist in the group, and I decided to create two characters to sit within the shared apartment.

Our environment setting is in 1985, but within an alternate timeline where technology has had a boom, without optical media being invented. Our two characters, Edie and Melissa, share a run-down apartment in New York. The girls are not wealthy, and Edie does what she can to tinker with technology and create fun gadgets. Melissa enjoys fashion, and creates her own clothes in her room to keep up with the latest trends on a budget.

Our final aim was to deliver an engaging video that showcases their day to day lives.

Edie - Generating a Metahumans Basemesh

Not long before we began the project, the Metahuman Creator Beta became available. As an aspiring character artist, I wanted to ensure I was using all of the tools available to me, so I used Metahuman Creator to give me a base mesh to work from.

I spent a good deal of time on this step to make sure I was getting my generated mesh as close to my concepts as possible.

Edie - ZBrush sculpting

Following this, my next step was to import the exported mesh into ZBrush. I altered the base mesh to fit my needs, and created my own normal and displacement maps by adding fine skin detail on a higher subdivision level using alphas, and exporting via ZBrush's Multi Map Exporter. Unfortunately, this process deleted Edie's rig, but I felt confident I could create one later on in the process.

Edie - Marvelous Designer

My next step was to create clothing for Edie using Marvelous Designer.

I quickly realised that I needed to learn more about how clothes patterns work to be able to make convincing garments, so spent a great deal of time at this point looking into pattern design and how that can be applied to Marvelous Designer.

Some resources I accessed were:

Madehow.com. 2021. How clothing pattern is made - material, making, history, used, steps, product, industry, machine, History. [online] Available here [Accessed 30 June 2021]. 

Youtube.com. 2021. Daniel's MD Tutorials. [online] Available here  [Accessed 1 July 2021]. 

After exporting my garments from Marvelous Designer, I added some additional creases using ZBrush. I find that whilst Marvelous excels at  getting an overall shape for folds, more inticate fold detailing is best added by hand. I used a low particle distance during my Marvelous export to get as much detail as possible, as my aim was to make a high-fidelity character for a cinematic, as opposed to a character that would be performant in a realtime game setting.

Edie - Hair Creation

To create Edie's hair, I decided to use the Blender Hair Tool addon by Bartosz Styperek.

Gumroad. 2021. Hair Tool for Blender. [online] Available here [Accessed 11 April 2021]. 

The addon generates hair cards based on a guide mesh, allowing the user to alter parameters to dictate how the hair falls. I ultimately did not use this method for the cinematic, but getting experience with such a powerful tool was valuable. I would later decide to go down the route of using an Alembic hair groom as it looked better in engine and allowed for easy physics simulation.

The below video shows the different layers of hair cards used. Getting them to not intersect with each other was very difficult.

Edie - Texturing

I then took Edie into Substance Painter for texturing. As my goal was to achieve a high fidelity, I focused on getting the skin and textiles looking as realistic as possible. Edie is someone who is messy and distracted, which I aimed to reflect in her clothing dirt and makeup smudges. Importing Edie's cavity map from my ZBrush sculpt gave me extra detail on her face pores.

I used a boot mesh from an external source, but textured them myself.

CGTrader. 2021. Dr Martens 1460 Boot | 3D model. [online] Available here [Accessed 20 July 2021]. 

At this point, I generated some renders of Edie for my portfolio that can be viewed here. Creating these renders made me realise that deformations may not work entirely as planned in the main cinematic and that I would have to spend a lot of time refining them.

I then moved on to creating my second character, Melissa.

View Part 2 here