Dmitry Osipenko (Lead Character Artist 4A Games) talked about his journey to the gamedev and how he creates characters for Metro Exodus.

Tell me about you. How did you come to modeling?
I’ve been modeling characters since 2013. In general, I met 3D while studying at the Academy of Architecture in 2006. I didn’t have a computer at the time. I was such an orthodox opponent of computer graphics that I drew my hands. But the future was approaching and nothing could be done about it. In the penultimate or final course I decided to do a project in digital. I bought myself a book on the book market on 3Ds Max and began to read it. But two weeks later I realized that I still need a computer to study software. After buying it, I intensively taught 3Ds Max for seven months, successfully made the project and passed it.

How did you get interested in the character?
After graduating from the academy I worked in an architectural workshop for five years. He was engaged in interior visualization and took part in the development of projects. In 2009, there was a crisis that also affected the architectural industry. There were few orders and I realized that I had to look for something new.

After two years of sales and business, I realized that it is not mine and decided to look for a sphere that would be related to creativity, but not architecture, which I was not interested in then.

I got a job as a modeler in the Dnipropetrovsk VFX company, which made special effects for foreign advertising and clips. That’s where I met the brush. I’m so hooked on it that I’ve spent more time on foreign projects related to its study than a specific haul of company. In the end, I had to get away from them because the problems associated with sculpting were not enough.

I realized that I wanted to delve into sculpting and character, but I didn’t know where to look for work or how to move on. On one of the sites I saw the work of a guy from Dnipropetrovsk. I found his contacts, called and asked if he knew about the studios in our city that use zBrush and where you can prove yourself? He said there were a couple of them. One of them was BWF Games. I contacted them and was told that the man would need a month in four.

I spent the time trying to pull up my skills. I woke up at about six in the morning and until eleven o’clock in the evening i watched the tutorials and repeated some features for the authors. I watched everything I could. Then in this regard, it was easier, because there were not so many useless lessons as now. This is my personal opinion, but now 80% of educational videos on the Internet – it’s complete nonsense. It is very difficult for those who are now starting to learn to dig up useful information.

In those four months, I’ve done a couple of final work on tutors. I didn’t just copy them, I added some moments from myself. Basically, this is good advice. If you’re doing something about the lesson, don’t copy the author’s work. Use the tools it shows and the basic elements of its work. But try other shapes and proportions. Such work will be more unique. You can safely put it in your portfolio and no one will guess that it is made by lesson.

In March 2013 I was hired. The company was developing mobile applications and the models there were quite simple. After working with them for two and a half years, I went freelance. A good friend of mine, who was a character-like person in the same firm, pulled me up for the Belarusian project Godlike. This is where my experience of freelancing began.

Having worked on several more foreign projects, I got into 4A Games and have been working here for 3.5 years. At first it was on the remote, but now moved to the office. This is the best company I’ve ever worked for. Everyone is very friendly. I like that there’s no bureaucratic model where you’re got a bunch of managers and lids standing over you, who are always walking in circles and watching you not open a YouTube to watch a tutu, and forced to write reports about your work every afternoon. Creative initiative is encouraged here. The work goes to the result.

Let’s talk to your work. How does modeling work?

First, I’m analyzing the concept. I’m looking at what elements you’re going to need to create this character. About a day goes in search of references for each element. For example, for pants I had several references – mostly Scandinavian and ancient Slavic gloves. Options for skins, real bird skulls. I try to do it myself, and I advise everyone not to invent anything from the head, but to look for analogues in the real world.

After I’ve assembled an extensive library of refs, I turn to rough sketch. We have an avatar that’s tied to a skeleton. I’m throwing this avatar at Marvelous Designer and pretending to be very rough clothes. Just to see the proportions, move the elements. At this stage I do not particularly steam on the details, the main thing for me is to get the total volume and shape, to understand the ratio of elements to each other.

Then I throw the project in zBrush, add new elements, without getting attached to topology. It’s still a rough mass, in rough form. Draft sketch, so to speak. I don’t even call it a model. Searching for forms takes me about two days.

When I am satisfied with the proportions and I am satisfied with everything, I begin to work out the details: sculpt the folds, add buttons, stitches, belts – so that everything was neat. Some solid state elements, such as buckles and axes, I make in 3Ds Max. It’s easier to draw an image of an axe there with splines, for example, and then add all the cracks and chippings that can form in life.

After that, there is retocology. I’m making the grid as easy as possible with the “Brush Decimation Master” plug-in. It reduces the number of landfills well without losing detail. To make it convenient to do retopology, I compose all the elements logically. For example, I combine my legs into one bag with boots and swaddles. I keep it in obj format and export to Topogun.

I do so with all parts of the model: legs, torso, head, props on the character. When everything is ready, I collect the model in 3Ds Max, check for errors, correct if you need and do UV scan. I used to use the brush for a sweep, but now I like Unwrap pro, the 3Ds Max script. Then I check that all objects have the same or as close to each other the value of texel density, because it can affect the quality of the texture, and then move on to texing.

I used to have a zuixel suite, but it was very glitchy, so I moved to Substance Painter. For textures, I also collect references from the real world. On resources such as interest or antique sites you can find photos of items in good resolution. Once again, don’t come up with a head, look at the real references.

I mostly use standard materials. And also try to avoid smart materials. Because there’s a lot of layers that I just don’t need. It is easier to create what you need, than to clean and remove unnecessary layers of other people’s materials.

What do you think is the hardest thing about modeling?
For me, it’s a blocking phase. At this stage I choose the general shapes, and the model is draft and not detailed. Visually, I don’t like her. I need to repeat to myself that this is just a rough sketch, and then everything will look like I need and the model will not remain in the same unsightly form.

There are also technical points that sometimes strain. Let’s say when you need to do a retology of some inner cavity. Climb between two pieces of cloth, for example. In such cases, I cut the high poly into several parts, retopolog each part separately, and then sew them into 3Ds Max.

What do you like most about character modeling?
When I see how you can improve a good concept. I like to be creative so that the conceptr didn’t expect his concept to be even better. I like to be proactive and have my vision.

Do you have any secret tricks?
There are no secrets. Just a lot of perseverance and perseverance. Remember that good work can be done with the simplest tools. The main thing is to try to see the end result as early as possible.

Tips for beginners
From the very beginning of the creative way to determine the direction. Do not spray into different directions 3D, and concentrate on one thing. Modeling has two aspects: artistic and technical. It was easier for me in this regard, because I have an art education. Many things I already knew. Those who have not encountered this need to delve into the canons: color theory, composition, anatomy. And those who are familiar with this, you need to pay attention to the technical part. And also filter information, see the right lessons.

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