Create a character with stylised realism
FlippedNormals is a site run by Henning Sanden and Morten Jaeger alongside their day jobs in VFX in London. They focus on making high-quality tutorials and assets based on the knowledge they have accumulated over their years working with high-level3D art.
At FlippedNormals we made an elaborate 11-hour tutorial series on how to use Modo and ZBrush together: The Complete Modo to ZBrush Workflow . This includes sculpting, retopo, UVs, in-depth knowledge of displacement maps, lighting and much more. This tutorial is an excerpt from the complete series. While we're using Modo and ZBrush together, you can replace Modo with any other application; the steps in ZBrush are identical, as the outputted maps can be used in any 3D software.
Setting up proper displacement maps can be really tricky for any 3D artist, and yet they are essential in a lot of cases. Professionally I use them every day. When dealing with ZBrush and other applications, knowing how to use displacement maps inside out is vital, and so we spend some time on it here.
Get all the assets you need here .01. Understanding the importance of design
Before you start with any kind of retopo or UVs, you need to have a well established design. The clearer your design is, the easier it will be down the line. If you have to do design alterations after you've retopoed, UVed and textured the character, it will become complicated very quickly. Try not to rush the design phase. A common issue is to skip the primary and secondary shapes and go right to the details. The better your design is, the stronger the final image will be. Take your time.02. Time to get to work with your retopo tool
Start off with big polygons then add more details
I prefer to retopo in Modo, but you can work in any application you prefer. I've also retopologised a lot in Maya, which is more than adequate for the job. When you're retopologising, make sure to start off with big polygons, getting more detailed as you get further along. If you start off too dense, you'll have areally hard time getting a clean model later on.03. Use UDIM UV mapping
Use the UDIM system to keep your characters clean
When UV mapping, stick to the UDIM system. This means that you're never working in the negative UV space; you're always starting at UDIM 1001 and working your way up. The UDIM number starts at 1001 with the U=0, Y=0 being 1001. This keeps your characters really clean and makes them easy to work with. You can also effortlessly export out all your displacement maps from ZBrush using the UDIM convention. In the example above the head is split over two UDIMs. How many tiles you split it over is entirely dependant on how close you want to get to the camera. In production, a fullcharacter might be over 50-100 UDIMs, depending on the asset.04. Reproject your sculpt onto the clean model
Use the Morph Brush to paint out troublesome areas
Now it's time to reproject our sculpt onto the clean model. To do this, you have to subdivide the model to the highest level. Ideally between two and six million polygons. Next, go to Store Morph Target (use the button on the bottom of the interface), and then Create Layer on the highest level. Make sure only the subtool you want to project from and project to are visible. If you wanted to, you could mask out regions that you know aren't going to project properly, like the lips, eyes, nose cavities etc, at this point. Then, go to Tool>SubTool>Project>ProjectAll. Make sure the PA Blur-Amount is set to 0 (default 10). You can find this in the top right of our custom UI too. This will project from all the visible subtools onto the active one. If it all projected correctly, well done! If you have errors, don't worry, you can use the Morph Brush (hotkey BMO or in the bottom of the UI) to paint out regions which are troublesome.05. Defining the features
Take time to define the eyes, nose, ears and mouth
At this point we have a clean model with proper sculpting on top. That said, the model still requires a lot of refinement. Really go in and make sure that all your features are tight and well done. You probably need to take a pass on the eyes, nose, ears and mouth, in particular. I prefer to isolate the mentioned regions and spend some time on each bit until they are as defined as you need them to be.06. Add the all-important detailing to the model
Much of a realistic model is all down to nailing the fine details
This is the stage everyone rushes to initially. While I'm adamant on the point that details shouldn't be rushed, this mustn't be confused with saying that they aren't important and shouldn't have been thought of before this stage. In order to really achieve the final level of realism, fine details are of paramount importance. They will really help to breakup the specularity on the model, giving you anatural and organic look.07. Use displacements maps
There's nothing better than a displacement map for extra details
The model now has proper industry-level UVs and topology which supports all the major forms. This means it's displacement map time! When it comes to creating additional detail for your meshes, displacement maps are king. Before we get any further, we have to briefly talk about what a displacement map (from here on referred to as a disp) actually is. In short, a disp is a texture map that contains all the sculpting from ZBrush. This can be applied in any render engine onto a low-poly model, making it render the sculpting at render time only. The advantage of this is that you can animate a low-poly model and still have the high-poly appearance at render time. It would be impossible to animate a 10 million polygon model in any 3D application currently out there.08. Proper settings for MME
Use all these settings and everything will be fine
You can generate a disp from ZBrush using its Multi Map Exporter. It offers a lot more settings than the traditional disp extraction process, plus it has UDIM export support. Neat!
The image above shows the correct settings, depending on your needs. Here are the various settings explained:
1. SubDiv Level: From which subdiv level will the map be generated from. Usually 1.
2. Adaptive: Slightly higher quality of the map, but takes a lot longer to generate. Leave off.
3. DpSubPix: A subdivision multiplier. Definitely leave off! A setting of 4 will subdivide your model four times during the generation, taking a LOT longer.
4. Smooth UVs: Does exactly that smooths the UVs.
5. Mid: Sets the mid value of your map. Usually set it to 0, but this depends on the pipeline.6. 3 Channels: Leave off. This puts the disp only in the red channel,