Michael Robson - 3D Sketchbook


Hey guys I just finished the orc character … for the full project please visit my main page in CGS and leave a comment, let me know what do you think :wink:



Hey guys, I would like to share with you a little step by step process of one of my personal projects … I hope you enjoy

Garuda Steps

  1. Analyzing the concept and gathering references

This step is for sure one of the most important when we start to model a 2D concept: the goal of this particular project was to achieve a realistic look. Try to collect good references as much as you can, reference with good lighting, texture and of course a decent resolution, so you can see the little details that will make a huge difference later when we are going to render the character.

  1. Blocking the character

Here we start sculpting the character. In this first step we don’t need to concern ourselves with the details, our main goal is to get the proportions right. Don’t rush this step because if your base here doesn’t look right, you’re going to get problems later trying to fix it. My personal preference when I start the blockout of any character that I’m working on, is to sculpt a single object, get the right proportions first, and then I cut the parts to work more isolated, so I could get a better focus on each element (this is not the detail phase, just my personal preference).

  1. Blocking the secondary elements

When I’m happy with the body of the character I start to work on the secondary elements, such as the clothing and the other accessories. For the cloth modeling, I mask a part of the character’s body, extract and Zremesh it. After that, I basically start sculpting the folds using a combination of masking and more brushwork (Standard, Clay Build Up, Pinch) always work big to small, sculpt the bigger forms first and then go to the secondary and tertiary forms.

For the other accessories such as the chains and earrings, I poly modeled in Maya using the standard primitives.

  1. Retopology

This step is one of the most important steps when you’re doing a character for animation. Some people like to use Zremesher to rebuild the topology, but my personal preference is doing it all by hand, this way I have total control of the loops. The tools that I use for retopology is the Quad Draw from Maya.

I exported a decimated version of the mesh from ZBrush and bring it to Maya. Using Quad Draw, I start to rebuild the quads on the mesh in a logical way for animation, generally, the face, joints of the arm, legs, and hands, are the areas where you need to pay more attention distributing the quads.

I also did the same process for the fabric that was sculpted earlier.

  1. UVs

After you’ve done all the retopology on the character, it’s time to unfold the UVs. Good UVs are crucial when we start to paint the textures in the character, and if you did a good retopology before, you’re not going to have a hard time opening the UVs. For this particular character, I separated the UVs in UDIMs to have a higher texture resolution and by object, for some objects, I used the same UV island (the smallest metals for example).

  1. Detailing

Now that we have opened up and arranged the UVs properly, we’re going to start detailing the character back in ZBrush. Here I imported the clean mesh with the UVs and start the detailing process, generally at this point I always work non-destructively, to do so we’re going to create layers in ZBrush. I also used a standard alpha in ZBrush and start to give some more detail on the surface.

For the other parts such as the cloth and metals, it is not different, we’ll work non destructively with layers. For the shoulder armor detail, I use a very common method to make ornaments. Just import your geometry with UVs, subdivide a couple times until you get good resolution, and create a new layer. After that use the masking technique, similar to the one we used earlier on the cloth, then just draw your ornament, invert the mask, and after that you can use the INFLAT brush or the INFLATE option under the menu deformation to make the design stand out of the surface.

  1. Extracting the maps from ZBrush

Now that we’ve done all the finest details on our high poly model, it’s time to extract some maps from ZBrush to help us achieve those details into our low poly model.

in this particular project, I extracted only two maps from ZBrush, which was the displacement map and the normal map. We’re going to use the displacement later only for the body because I want to achieve a better quality of the details of the skin and the normal map was not enough for this task. Also, the displacement map is very heavy when we start to render our scene so we need to keep in mind that and use this map smartly.

To extract the maps I used the multi map exporter from ZBrush

  1. Creating the scene and light in 3ds Max

In this step, I exported the low poly model to 3ds Max and started to set up the scene with V-Ray lights and some different HDRIs, to see which one fits better what I’m looking for.

  1. Texturing the model

After we’re happy with the light, it’s time to paint the textures for the character. There are a lot of software for this such as Mari, Substance Painter, Mudbox, and ZBrush. I used Mari to paint the body textures and Substance Painter for the other elements. Those software are easy to use and there is a lot of content online for study.

  1. Shaders and map setup in V-Ray

In this step, we are going to set up the shaders and maps for the character in V-Ray inside 3ds Max. The SSS shader is one of the most difficult shaders to set up, at least for me; it was a huge struggle at the beginning, for this shader to work well you have to make sure that your model is in the correct scale, that’s why we always work with real world measurements, otherwise the SSS will not work correctly.

Clothing and metals For the other elements of the character, I used VrayMtl, and the setup for each one is very similar.

Quick Tip: When you are setting up the normal map in 3ds Max, make sure to flip the green channel and override the gamma, so the map will work correctly.

  1. Displacement settings

To correctly do your displacement work in 3ds Max, you usually will have to find the right balance between the Amount and the Shift options, otherwise your mesh is going to inflate.

Quick Tip: To load UDIM textures inside 3ds Max, go to the material editor and create a VrayHDRI map. Make sure that your UDIM textures are named correctly and located in the same folder, after that load one of the textures on the bitmap slot inside the HDRI map, now you have to rename the end of the texture where it says the number of the UDIM tile (Ex. Displacement_1001.tif for Displacement_.tif). When you do that the HDRI map will load all the UDIM textures located in that folder at the same time.

  1. Hair

To make the hair I used the Ornatrix plugin from Ephere. First of all, you’re going to need a base to grow hair, and to do this we can select a couple of polys on the top of the head and detach then as a clone. I usually detach only half of the polys in the head and further apply a symmetry modifier.

  1. Posing the character using ZBrush

The final step is to pose the character like the concept reference. To do this, I imported the mesh from 3ds Max to ZBrush, and used the transpose master to move the parts and pose the character. This step is very important, so be patient and pay attention to the silhouette of the character as you are posing him. (Since we have done the hair before, I didn’t move the head, I rotate the body instead. Do not move the head, otherwise, when we export the mesh for the final render in 3ds Max the hair geometry will not match the model).

  1. Final render

Before we hit the render button, there are a few things we need to do. First of all, let’s create a dummy helper; this will help us rotate the model easily so we can have some renders around the character.

Finally, we can render multiple views of the character.

Thanks guys


Awesome Breakdown Ill get this featured this week!


thank you very much Travis, awesome!


Hey guys how are you doing? I finally got some time and decided to post here another step guide of my first character, I hope you like it and learn something :slight_smile:

Gathering references

Gathering references is one of the most important steps of any creative process; in this case, we are going to look at some real photographs that will help us to reproduce a believable representation of the concept art. Here for example, as you can see in the concept art, the character is covered by clothing, so take your time to analyze the various types of materials to collect the right references.

Blocking a Base Mesh

In this step we are going to start blocking a base mesh for the character. I used a base model from ZBrush and with the move tool and Clay Buildup brush, I started to pose the model until I get a nice silhouette that matches with the posture of the concept art. Do not rush this step, take your time and it is always good to check your silhouette in a solid color, this way you will not be distracted by the details.

Blocking secondary elements

When I’m satisfied with the base mesh, I jump into the secondary elements such as the clothing and accessories. The method that I use here is very simple, basically masking, extract, move and zremeshing. At this point, I’m not concerned about details. For the accessories such as belts, chains, lamp and other small features, I poly modeled in Maya.


Making the clothes in Marvelous Designer

I decided to experiment with Marvelous Designer and see if I could use the software in my favor to extract a very solid base for the clothing. The key to achieving good-looking clothing in Marvelous Designer is to see how real garments are sewed together. The measurements must match to each other so when you simulate the cloth, you will not get a weird looking stretched fabric. Once I’m happy with the base, I clone the pattern and paste it as a second layer of fabric, decreasing the particle distance and adjusting the shrinkage value to a number higher than the first layer of fabric.

Quick Tip: in Marvelous Designer, it is always good to work with layers, this way your garment will be more organized and the simulation will be more successful avoiding artifacts.


[/b]Once I’m happy with the character in general, it’s time to do the retopology, some people are used to use zremesher but my personal preference is to do it all by hand, this way I have total control on how the quads will be distributed over the mesh. I exported a decimated version of the mesh from ZBrush to Maya, and using the Quad Draw I started to recreate the surface of the mesh on top of the decimated version.

After I finished the retopology of the entire character, I used Maya to unfold the UVs. If you plan the retopology you’re not going to have any problems to unfold them. That’s why I think the retopology phase is one of the most important steps to pay attention and not rush it.


After the UVs are ready, I imported those meshes with UVs to ZBrush and started the detailing process. When it comes to detail my approach is to work non-destructively, so I always work with layers inside of ZBrush, paying attention to the references. To add an interesting look to the surface, I use surface noise and in this case, I loaded a seamless fabric texture.



After all the details are done in the entire character, it’s time to texture him inside Substance Painter. I imported the low res mesh into Painter and baked a hi-res mesh exported from ZBrush. After that, I started to paint the materials, as always keep your references even close to you in this step. Once the textures are finished and exported properly to use in V-Ray.

Light and render tests

When all the textures are finished I start to setup my scene in 3ds Max with some lights, different HDRIs, and then it’s time to do some render tests to see if everything is working right.

Quick Tip: Take your time to do some research about how lights are positioned in a real world photography studio.

Posing and finalizing the character

Now that everything is working properly I brought the model that I used in the 3ds Max scene to ZBrush, and started to pose the character just like in the concept art. To do that I used a very simple technique with masking lasso and the transpose tools. When happy with the pose, I exported the model again to the scene in 3ds Max, and rendered the final shots.


Final thoughts

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they are creating or reproducing a character, is trying to finish it as fast as possible or jump straight into the detail. I know the first steps are pretty boring but trust me, they are crucial to get a nice result in the end. Do not jump or rush any step of the process take your time and keep the focus, delete, and start over if necessary but do not rush it. I really hope this article helps you to understand a bit of the process that I use to create my artwork, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


Ill have this moved to the cover this weekend nice breakdown thanks for taking the time to post it all!


Hey guys, here is a WIP of my most recent personal project, Naked Snake from Metal Gear Solid 3

I still have a lot of work but I like to do some renders to see how the model is in the scene :slight_smile:

Hope you like


Hey guys, here is an update for the skin shader in arnold, ignore the other stuff I’m more focused on the skin at the moment :slight_smile:


Hey Michael. This guy is looking amazing ! Thanks for all the tips you shared.

Next step is to push the realism in the sculpt of anatomy even further. You’re doing amazing so far. Love your breakdowns, texturing and look dev are really on point !


Gael ,Michael good seeing you both here cheers


Thanks for sharing your process and your work Michael. I’d love to see your 3D/2D ideation sketches as well in the future!


Thanks Gael, yeah I have to work more on the forms … this thing is very difficult hahahaha, the more I sculpt the more I mess HAHAHAH, I hope this thing get good in the end :slight_smile:


Dude, following your breakdowns is soooo effin helpful! Thanks for sharing the technical aspect, and for future projects I’d love to see some reasoning for the designs in your projects.

Take your plague doctor for instance, walking around with garlic might be a fun thing, but historically they stuffed their beaks with pleasant smelling herbs, because the superstition was that bad smell is what caused the spreading of the disease. So I’d be interested in hearing why you chose garlic out of all the things to carry along! It seems more like an anti-vampire thing.

Same with the divine bird entity. Granted, I don’t know enough to understand the meaning of hindu ornaments (which I assume is an influence), but it would be interesting to put some spiritual meaning into the items that he carries. If they regularilly perform some sacred rituals which require certain tools, it would be interesting to see him carry around those items, rather than having a collection of spheres and cubes around his neck, if you understand my meaning.

That said, it still looks great. So all kudos to you for creating visually appealing models!


hey Solmeyer, thanks… actually I didnt design those concepts… they were based on other artists designs … here I’m more focused on the translation from 2d to a 3d model, so I’m presenting my work as a 3d character artist not a concept artist, I have some personal designs here soon I will finish and post them :slight_smile: