My name is Alexander Vasin and I’m a 3D Artist at Plarium Kharkiv Studio and a trainer of young designer padawans in unit artwork creation. In this article I’m going to reveal some of the secrets to making the “Dailamite” Persian Warrior unit. This unit was created for our latest strategy title, “Sparta: War of Empires”, but I hope this article will be useful for anyone learning character animation and design.

I started my work by finding references for this unit. According to the technical design specification, this unit had to be an archer. On the one hand this unit had to be historically correct, and on the other – he had to be cool. From the first sight of the Persian archers I could tell that they are indeed cool.

I had to think through all the details thoroughly in advance. I dug through hundreds of references and ran into a decent movie “The 300 Spartans” (1962), and that was where I found some of my key references for my future archer.

My friend who was sitting next to me looked at my screen and got extremely excited about the new unit. I started modeling off the top of my head. I knew that this pattern would be used in making of the cinematic trailer “Sparta: War of Empires”® Moment of Glory, and that is why I had to take into consideration all the suggestions, remarks, and criticism from my colleagues, such as: “Make the face speaking!”, “Make the eyebrows solid!”, “Get rid of blend shapes!” etc.

I didn’t do anything fancy while creating the Dailamite’s head – just a Zbrush modeling. Here’s our final version:

After this, I started to work on clothes and armor.

I already had greaves and bracers, as I had made them for another cinematic – so to save time I used those.

I made them with ZBrush and placed rivets and threads with the help of Insert Mesh (Curve mode).

I will describe the process below.

I put the ready parts into Marvelous designer and simulated the clothes (not a difficult process).

I transferred the clothes without any changes to Maya and ZBrush – this gave me a lot to work with. After this step I started modeling parts of armor in Maya. I made the first main forms in low- poly…

… then I transferred to ZBrush and started to sculpt high-poly.

I always try to stay away from simple forms in Unit design; which is why I made an unusual shoulder piece with three different layers. I made this specific form because the unit was an archer and the shoulder piece would protect his head while shooting. I made the exact same thing with a belt.

You can place all the small bolts and rivets directly in Maya with the help of the Snap Together Tool.

A click on the necessary part of the rivet, another click on the helmet, the “Enter” button – and you’re done! If a rivet does not have a bottom – this process will be very difficult to implement and the result might be unsatisfying.

Then I placed everything in ZBrush and started to work on high-poly. Usually I do not have a direct pipeline, and prefer to work more organically – I’ll transfer geometry parts from ZBrush to Maya, and then back to ZBrush, and tweak it by adding something new or importing different stuff.

I also simulated the cloth in the helmet and imported it to ZBrush in addition to the current geometry.

This is how I made threads:

  1. Make a model in Maya.
  2. Import it to ZBrush, even it with Preview.
  3. Create Insert Mesh Brush.
  4. Switch on the Curve Mod. Here you can set the curve, its step, lock the beginning and the end.
  5. Set the necessary depth, menu Brush – Depth. In the Modifiers menu you can also set some brush settings.
  6. Done!

Now it was high time to save our brush.

If you click on the “SelectIcon” button while pressing the Alt button, the brush icon will be changed into what is currently on the scene.

One more useful trick:

  1. Created a polygroup.
  2. To hide all unnecessary stuff, click Stroke – Frame Mesh. As a result, you will see curves around the selected geometry.
  3. Take the brush (which we made above) and click with it on the curve. Wow! Now you can change the size of your brush and click on the curve – the size of the thread will change accordingly. I placed rivets, X-shaped threads and rings with the same manner. While putting rivets, I click Ctrl – it allows me to save the same Insert Mesh Brush size.

Here are a couple of transitional screenshots:

And the weapon!

Almost every sub-tool has subdivisions, which means that we do not have to make retopology. If you lose the subdivisions, you can easily use the Zremesher. Some small things can be baked with a normal map. You can also paint threads with some color and then make a Color Map, which will be a base for Photoshop later. It will ease the process of making textures. Sometimes I leave threads and rivets as they are – meshed. If at the end I’m getting a picture instead of an animated unit, or a part of geometry where I place rivets and threads (e.g. metal shoulder piece) won’t be deformed while placing the unit in his initial position, then I leave the small pieces as they are.

Then I export sub tools – high-polies and low-polies separately. I’m going to bake maps via xNormal.

Collecting low-polies in Maya.

I’m doing the UV-mapping in Headus UvLayout. A big advantage of this version is that UvLayoutcan be combined with Maya (a lot like plugin GoZ for ZBrush). I can directly export mesh from Maya to UvLayout, make UVs, than update UV models in Maya without any export/import geometry operations –which make the whole process more convenient.

I usually make 2-3 uv-coatings (4k for a model). For our unit I made:

1 – head and arms; 2 – clothes from Marvelous Designer (Marvelous created ideal uvs); 3 – everything else

After this I baked the Normal map, ambient occlusion, and cavity.

I made textures in Mudbox.

Here’ one trick, which allows you to make textures on the whole model at the same time, if you have a couple uv-coatings:

  1. Choose standard material for the Maya model.
  2. Export one geometry piece (opened in one uv-coating) in *.obj or *.fbx. format.
  3. I export other parts, one by one, yet all in *.fbx format.

Now all I have to do is to click on different parts of model – making layers for texturing, choose materials, etc.

At this point I’m getting into “pseudo-chaotic mode” – I often switch from Mudbox and Photoshop, working in one program, and then in another. Mudbox is very good for texturing, yet it has its disadvantages, and let me tell you: you need nerves of steel to cope with them.

I make textures by layers in this order:

  1. Color
  2. Metal, leather, cloth texture
  3. Light/shades
  4. Dirt
  5. Off-pattering at the edges
  6. AO maps
  7. Cavity

That is how the map looks like:

The last map I’m going to use as a mask for Blend material in V-Ray. I chose the VRay-materials for the model and place textures. That is how the shader of one geometry part looks like

The diffuse map I usually choose via Dirt – that allows me to add contrast and ambient occlusion. Sometimes I don’t do this. I add base materials and metal via map to blend-materials.

After this I make the shader for the face:

Shader turned out to be quite complicated: in VRay Fast SSS2 the built-in specification does not work properly, and that is why I chose specification map for additional material, and then I plugged it in via blend-material with active Additive mode. In VRay Fast SSS2 the spec is black, and in the additional material – diffusive.

But this is just a testing render. We still have final pose and render ahead!

By the way, at this point of work we decided to change archer to swordsman. Luckily I had arms, which I had modeled for Persian warriors for our cinematic trailer, and that is why my work didn’t suffer.

Now it was time to make rigging. Personally, I consider rigging to be unbearable and I refuse to understand how my friend from the animation team copes with it. Nevertheless, we needed a pose for a warrior.

Having received a skeleton from the animation team I started to work on skinning.

Now, the fun part – clothes from Marvelous!

If you decide to make clothing in Marvelous, you can have three different results:

  1. Simulate clothes in T-pose, and then choose a pose with a Maya skin.

Advantage: speed of this process (on condition that the clothes net is not too solid).

Disadvantage: after making a final pose, the cloth will have wrinkles, will look physically wrong and stick as if there was no gravitation whatsoever.

  1. Choose a pose for a unit, and then simulate clothes in Marvelous.

Advantage: decent wrinkles.

Disadvantage: It’s difficult to create clothes without symmetry , and it’s even more difficult if the pose is complicated: for example if the arm is bend.

  1. Use point cache.

Advantage: perfect wrinkles. You can use point cache to simulate clothes on animated units.

Disadvantage: extremely difficult and complicated process.

For my work I chose the third way because at that moment we were making tests for the cinematic and I started to understand this process better. Unfortunately, the in-between scenes got lost , yet I’m going to describe everything to you.

So, I had a low-poly pattern, where I simulated clothes in Marvelous at the beginning of creating this unit (in T-pose). I skinned it in Maya and created a short animation of getting from a T-pose into a rendering pose.

The animation shot takes almost 30 separate shots. After getting to the final pose we needed a couple of additional shots (when the unit stops moving, the clothes continue moving)

After this: Maya – Animation Menu – Geometry cache – Export geometry cache options:

Click “Apply”. In the chosen folder you will see *.xml и *.mc files. I exported pattern in *.obj formatting in T-pose. It’s crucial that geometry at this stage was “clean” – no history, no connections.

Now let’s go back to Marvelous. I imported the pattern.

Then – Simulation, “record” button.

Cash export from Marvelous and import to Maya.

After this step we had the simulated clothes.

These are the first and the last shots:

Now I had to combine all the other parts of geometry (they have been screened).

I imported camera, sources of light and dome light for rendering.

I also had to tuck a skirt a little with Lattice deformer.

I rendered this with passes: AO, reflect, shadows, spec, etc.

I also post effects and back cloth in Photoshop.

And we are done!

Thanks for your attention, and good luck with your artwork!