Tips for editing normal maps; Never paint out errors in Photoshop, using the Clone tool is a big no-no.
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The concept of Space Worker has both mechanical and organic shapes. I remember this was a very tough time for me as I had no idea about the workflow of making a game character. But! Nothing is impossible if you have the burning desire to make it possible.
In this making of, I will share with my workflow for making this Next-Gen game character “Space Worker”. The process is divided into 6 main parts: Concept, Base Mesh, High-res, Game Mesh/UV unwrapping/Baking Maps, Texturing, and Rendering.
First thing for me is finding a concept that I love to work with. I wanted to do something a little bit stylized, exaggerated, and funny. After a long “Google”, I ended up with the drawing “Space Worker with Robotic Suit” by Kai-S (http://kai-s.deviantart.com/)
Once I found the concept that I liked, it was time to gather references as much as possible. I was surprised that this concept has been already made in 3D by another artist, Guillaume Tiberghien. Honestly, I wasn’t happy with that because you don’t want to make a character that someone has already done before. But really did love the concept and I also didn’t have enough time to find another good one so I chose to go ahead with it! At least, I had a good reference to refer back to.
I mockup all the large shapes before getting started on the details. I used basic primitives such as Sphere, Cube, and Cylinder to block out the main shapes of the character. I found this stage very important, it helped me visualize the silhouette and also get a good base to use for modeling.
After blocking out the main shapes, I then started modeling the Monkey Robot in Maya. My modeling skill have improved a lot since doing these hard surface pieces.
Once I was happy with the robot, it was time to sculpt the chimpanzee! In this case, I used ZBrush to sculpt the chimpanzee. Started with a simple sphere with Dynamesh is turned on. I primarily used ClayBuildUp, Move, Dam Standard, Standard brushes to block-out his proportion and muscle. Before going into sculpting details, I always use Zremesher to retopologize the mesh. A good topology helps a lot when sculpting fine details.
After finishing the sculpting process, I decimated it to make a lower-res of the final sculpting and send it into Maya. Now I have a high-res mesh which is ready to make the game mesh.
Once I finished the game mesh, it was time for baking. This is the most challenging, frustrating, and time-consuming part in the whole process of making this game character. As for baking normal maps, I was having a tough time because this character has so many organic hard surface pieces and that was pain to learn how to bake properly. Baking normal maps for hard surface shapes is way harder than organic shapes because you might get a lot of artifacts if your game mesh and UVs are not good enough. You also need to know how to optimize your high-res to make a game ready low-poly but not losing the details and silhouette of the high-res.
This is hard to explain in a few sentences since it was a very long process and required a lot of reading, it took a lot of testing going back and forth. However, I have some tips in editing normal maps. The rule of thumb, never paint out errors in Photoshop, some people usually fix normal maps by using the Clone tool in Photoshop and that is a no-no! Normal Map is not a regular texture map, it stores mathematical values, not just color information so editing this information directly modifies the vectors. Baking with cages would help to reduce artifacts. Another good method is to bake object space normal maps, then using Handplane3D to create tangent space normal maps based on your object space. This way might solve some weird shading on the surface.
In the baking process, I used XNormal to bake most of the maps: Tangent Space and Object Space Normal, Ambient Occlusion, Curvature, and Cavity. Photoshop to create color ID maps which are very important for texturing later. Finally, Substance Designer to bake Thickness, and Position Maps. Actually Normal, AO, and color ID maps are all you need, they are standard maps for basic texturing in Photoshop. In this case, I used Substance Painter for advanced texturing so I need other maps in order to create fine details. Once I was happy with the baking results, I used Photoshop for compositing the maps and fixing some errors to produce the final maps. Sorry, there are so many maps and I can’t show you all.
Once all the maps are ready, it was time for texturing! This is always my favorite part of the whole process! Photoshop and MARI are the common tools for texturing workflow, but I decided to choose Substance Painter (which was still in the closed beta phase at that time). That was a risky decision because, at that time we were not taught Substance Painter so I had to spend a few days to learn the tool, but it was worth it! I highly recommend Substance Painter to any game character artists.
As a game character, it should be rendered in real time so I chose Marmoset Toolbag 2 for rendering. It’s the most straightforward tool for game artists to quickly produce presentation renders for game assets
I used the three-point lighting setup which has a key light on the right side of the character, a fill light opposite from the key light, and a rim light behind the character.
If you would like to interact with this character in real time 3D, check it out here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/spaceworker-marmoset-viewer-test
That’s it! I hope this breakdown is helpful, and a big thanks to CGSA for giving me the opportunity to share my work to the community.