About the Artist
I am Marcel Brynard, an artist with a background in architecture. I have worked some years at a bronze sculpture studio in Cape Town and have worked as draftsman & set-designer, 3D modeling sets for popular series such as Netflix’s One Piece. In my personal art, I am inspired by my visits to various archeological sites.
My love for sculptural forms intertwines with a fascination for the chimeric and arcane, resulting in art that exudes story-telling and mysticism.
Embracing digital tools, I intend to explore new possibilities, intersecting architecture and sculpture. Fueled by a love for these things, I am working on an animation project titled “Transcendental Rebirth,” narrating the transformative journey of two shamans on a pilgrimage. One of the main characters for this project is featured in my following workflow.
The art of character animation has witnessed a remarkable transformation in recent years, thanks to the integration of advanced software tools and the creative synergy of various platforms. This article explores a comprehensive workflow for crafting a stylized and emotive humanoid character, focusing on the creation of detailed facial expressions.
By harnessing the combined power of Character Creator 4 (CC4), ZBrush, Adobe Substance Painter, and Blender, artists can unlock new possibilities in character animation, resulting in characters that truly come to life.
For me, the animating of a rigged character has in the past seemed a daunting and tedious task, especially when it comes to realistic, mathematical movement. Having been introduced and acquainted with CC4 however has made the process far speedier and far less laborious. Now it is super simple and quick to rig my character, most of the weights have been automatically painted by CC, and I have access to a large range of complex human movements which I can sync to my stylized character in a relatively easy process.
I. Character Sculpting and Modeling in ZBrush
Creating a compelling humanoid character begins with ZBrush, a digital sculpting software known for its powerful and intuitive tools. In this initial stage, I breathe life into my character by sculpting and detailing the character’s form, from head to toe.
I start the process by sculpting the character’s base mesh, establishing the character’s anatomy and overall proportions. With multiple subdivision levels I can add details, and ZBrush excels at capturing them. I can add subtle features like wrinkles, blemishes, and scars, making the character’s face more realistic and believable.
A very useful feature from CC4 is the GoZ compatibility with Zbrush. I can export all low-res versions of my subtools directly to CC4 with the click of a button, then in CC4 I can very quickly & easily rig my character and access various poses & animations in the CC4 library. Then, again with the GoZ button in CC4, I can send a posed version of my character back to Zbrush where I can maintain all the high-res details on the newly posed model.
I could for example send to Zbrush from CC4 a version of my T-pose character as holding a staff or a weapon, or with, for example, a frightened facial expression. This is a very powerful workflow for 2D concept art, 3D renders and figurine design for 3D printing.
II. Texturing in Substance Painter
Once the character’s form and details are sculpted in ZBrush, it’s time to move to Adobe’s Substance Painter, a tool that specializes in creating stunning and detailed textures for characters and objects. I can easily export my high-res version of the sculpture as FBX as well as the low-res version, and in Substance Painter I can bake those high-res details of the high-poly mesh onto the low-res mesh, optimizing the performance of the software while maintaining the sculpted details. The FBX export plugin for Zbrush makes the transition seamless.
I use Substance Painter’s extensive texture libraries and tools to apply realistic textures to the character. For the skin, clothing, and any other materials I use a combo of smart-materials and various generators and masks. For this specific character I want it to have the look of a ceramic sculpture that has come to life.
III. Character Rigging and Animation in Character Creator 4
With the character’s textures applied, it’s time to prepare it for animation. CC4 is an invaluable tool for rigging and animating. In CC4, I establish the character’s rig, using AccuRig mode to define bones and joints that will control movement. I place the facial bones roughly into position, as I will further manipulate and prepare them in Blender.
IV. Further Bone Manipulation in Blender
Blender, an open-source and versatile 3D software, is where I further manipulate the rig generated with CC4. I export from CC4 an FBX with its rig, and import it into Blender. Here I can add additional bones for example the Ear bones. Once I’ve created the extra bones and placed the facial bones in their positions, I check the Weight Painting for the various vertex groups and make appropriate changes and additions in Weight Paint Mode. I then reimport the FBX into CC4 where I can review and assign the new bones as spring bones (in the case of the ears) and I download an HIK expressions profile from CC4 which I then load onto the character. I export a new FBX this time “with facial expressions” and when I import it into blender it comes in with Shape Key information.
V. Shape Keys in Blender
Using my Expressions Frame Map as reference (generated from CC4), I can start working on the expressions along the Timeline in Blender’s Dope Sheet. I read for example “Brow Raise Inner Right” for frame number 16 and appropriately sculpt that expression, making sure to change the value of the Shape Key from 0 to 1 before sculpting the change. I can sculpt as well as use bone animations and weight painting to achieve my various expressions. For some expressions only sculpting is needed, for others, for example “Jaw Open” bone animation works well. I create Shape Keys to define a variety of facial expressions – from smiles to frowns, and everything in between, checking through the list of expressions as found in CC4’s Expression Map, checking inside of CC4 what the different expressions should look like on a human, for reference when needed.
Once I’ve sculpted, animated and weight-painted the various Shape Keys, I export a single FBX from Blender and import it into CC4 again, this time it contains all the Expressions information. I can check the results using the “Edit facial Expressions” function in CC4. If there are any mistakes or flaws I can revert back to Blender and improve the Shape Keys.
VI. Animations in CC4
When I am happy with the expressions results, I can choose from an extensive library of animations within CC4, I can preview these animations in the animation previewer and see that all my facial expressions work along with the various body motions. I can easily export any animation of my choice in FBX format, with the model as well as the animation included.
VII. Render in Blender
In Blender I can then import the FBX with full animation included and set up my camera and lights as desired. I render it out in Cycles and export my frames to Adobe Premiere where I can compile the final video.
The integration of Character Creator 4, ZBrush, Substance Painter, and Blender into a comprehensive workflow has transformed character animation. I can now create my stylized humanoid characters that convey a rich range of emotions through facial expressions with a relatively easy workflow. Especially since I can download a whole range of animations from CC4 this saves me a lot of time and frustration.
The result is a character that comes to life with vibrant facial expressions, adding depth and authenticity to storytelling, gaming, and other forms of visual media. The possibilities are endless, and the evolution of character animation continues to astound and captivate audiences and artists worldwide.
More Info about Character Creator 4: https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator/