Nikolay Sladkov is a 3D Artist from Russia and specialises in character development, however over the past 15 months, he’s been working on something rather remarkable and quite special: The Barbarian.
Introduce yourself Nikolay!
Hi! My name is Nikolay and I am from Irkutsk, Russia. It’s in the middle of Eastern Siberia. It’s a beautiful but harsh place, with a long winter and hot summer. I am a 3D artist and modelling is my primary activity. Unfortunately, I have not yet worked on famous projects, but I would like to. One day I realised that I need to take time to level up my skills a bit. And maybe, someday, I will finally get into the Cinematics Production industry, that is my professional dream!
Prior to this, I worked in the Social Games industry at PlayKot studio in St-Petersburg and at the Game Insight studio in Moscow. I appreciate what I learned there, I met many interesting people and have learned a lot from them. I still communicate with some of them.
How did you decide that games development was the direction you wanted to go?
About 10 years ago, my friend offered me the chance to take a part in my own game project creation, it was fun but doomed to fail. However, I decided to continue to work and get into the industry. Before that, I worked on television as a motion graphics designer. But from the very beginning of my meeting with 3D I dreamed about doing something for games or bringing my art ideas on-screen, to walk around something I made myself.
I inspired most of all by cinematics for games, and till now I still dreaming and do everything that I can to become a part of that fantastic and not easy industry.
I have to ask about the Barbarian project, how did this come to be?
Well, the choice to do exactly this barbarian is closely wired with base goals of the whole of my out of work vacation. To level up my modelling and texturing skills, and to try to get closer to cinematics techniques. To try in practice some unused knowledge like UDIM texturing, facial animation and dynamics. But all of this things are for strengthening main goal, the character’s presentation. In the end, the result should represent my skillset as 3D generalist.
There are many parts of the open anatomy, a wide range of different materials, a lot of medium and small stuff for dynamics, lots of fur and hairs and all of this things on one character, so there were a lot of challenges to conquer.
Your character art is amazing, what drew you to studying it?
When I came into the game industry I realised that I really wanted to do characters, there was a tons of inspiring and outstanding characters from very stylised to super realistic. But every time when I tried to do my own I failed, sometimes it seemed to me that I could never achieve that which I saw in my favourite cinematics. But I didn’t give up, and from one character to another they become better and better but my own criticism became stronger so I was happy with the result and that gave me ability to see more and more mistakes which I can fix immediately or to do not make them in future.
I haven’t taken special classes yet. But I would very much like to take the anatomy course of Scott Eaton. Once I watched a course “ZBrush Anatomy & Design” by Rafael Grassetti, and that was very helpful. To beginners, I can recommend that you be patient, and to keep your eye on details. Learning and practising is the key.
Do you think you could tell us more about the project? How did you plan such an all rounded piece of work?
Well, I always dreamed about doing my own cinematic. I knew that this is a teamwork-oriented task but I tried to do it on my own, that was one of the main ideas, the second one was to show the character in motion, not in frozen poses. Of course, that isn’t something I was able to do, but it is a wish. What gave me strength, only practice in all areas of a creative process which I got for the years of my work in the game industry.
I think that to plan something massive, first of all, you should have a basic vision. For example, when i see 2D concept even not finished, I can imagine the whole story in motion, what was happening before that frozen moment and what will happen next. So when I saw “Barbarian” the first time, my imagination immediately began to work. The very first version may be very different than what will you get in the end, but this is an art process, the creation of something that didn’t exist before. However, the plan was pretty simple. What should be done first? The character’s model. Then, animation and rendering. Each part of this plan has their own stages like a modelling, it has sketch sculpt, base mesh modelling, final sculpting, retopology, making UV, baking. So the other main stages have their own sub-stages.
What was the next stage of development? Base modelling?
The base or sketch model should represent all parts of the final model and their base forms and proportions. There are no details or well-modelled parts, except the body. When you do a character, the body’s anatomy is the most important. When you do the base you don’t think about how many parts will be in the final model, the main goal at this stage is to achieve a resemblance with an original idea or 2D sketch in common forms.
After a sketch sculpt, you should make a base model parts, and at this time, for all separate parts according to your just sculpted sketch model for props and clothes assets.
And for the final sculpt, what would you recommend here?
One thing which could be the key to high detailed sculpt is a real need. If some parts will never show in closeup view there is no need to add extra details on them and if some parts will definitely show in close up views, like a character’s face for example, that part should be detailed very carefully. Every character is a challenge for me, so in this project, I focused on anatomy and props. One main difficulty during all modelling process was a fact of a lot of separate parts and it’s groups management. So I decide to block all of the separate parts on to groups (body, pauldron, sleeves, belt, and boots). Every group contains several blocks which are a combined object gathered from different objects such as small belts, pins, buckles etc. So, in fact, I don’t know how much separate model parts in the character.
One thing that really stands out is the fur and hair, how was this achieved?
To build the haircut’s base and fur parts, I used a fibermesh in ZBrush. After that, I made hairs with Ornatrix’s toolset and hair and fur WSM (World Space Modifier). The biggest challenge in this process was dynamics. Honestly, I didn’t solve this issue, as I wanted. One day, I hope, I will find out how to do good dynamics for a lot of hair and fur in my future projects.
We have to talk about texturing. How did you ensure no detail was lost?
So as I said the whole character been separated into seven main groups body, belt, sleeves and so on. To save all details I bake every group into its own huge texture with 8K resolution. Each into its own one except body which I chose to divide onto six UDIM’s for face, chest, back, arms and legs separately, to achieve maximum quality which I have sculpted, to my textures, with the potential to add some extra details while texturing. That decision gives me the ability to show a character very close as for 4k HD as for 300dpi poster prints. For the texturing I used 3dcoat, it is simple and very powerful software for texturing with a huge range of abilities like a texturing different blocks with different UV’s at the same time, built in a smart material editor for PBR and spec/gloss workflow as well and many other features.
The Animation: This is what really brings the character to life, could you offer an insight into how you went about this?
It was a quite difficult decision to animate this character. I took some time to realise the aftermath of it. The simple way to finish the project was to build a simple rig, made few different poses and render it out. But I chose to try to animate it and to make the whole circle. It gave me a lot of experience, but also I realised, that same kind of work I definitely will do with a team next time. I’m not a professional animator and made the animation part as well as I can. Most of it is key-frame animation, except walking which is parametric CAT animation circle. And exactly the walk, the most people didn’t like, especially unnatural chest’s twisting ) There was a lot of challenges for me, as for a beginner in animation, and I can’t mark some special of them. The animation as is, was a challenge.
Finally, the video and presentation. This really ties the project together. How was this done?
I don’t know how film directors plan their work, but I can say how I have chosen to plan my film. For several days I looked for a free soundtrack, until I found it. I heard a lot of soundtracks but only few of them made me to draw a movie with my character in my imagination. After that when I had a base vision, I started to do animatic, the base animation with a simple proxy model. Then I have directed cameras and have set the order for them. After that, I got a draft movie with a sound and began to refine animation and so on.
Decoration, like a drum for the beginning I made after all. I thought that the drum is the main theme through all of the soundtrack, so it could be very good stuff for the beginning. It should not be just a simple drum, but some ethnic and maybe ritual war-drum. So I made my war-drum like a shaman’s drum framed by deer’s horns.
The final gathering and some post effects I made in After Effects:
Unbelievable work. You’ve really set the bar high for all of us, I assume this isn’t game ready though?
All props are not game ready. However, everything can be remade for RT engine if necessary. All props to be rebuilt for an RT need to be re-textured.
Could you offer any advice to up and coming developers?
I could only give some universal advice, for everybody who wants to achieve their goals. Patience and practice are the keys, also always try to be polite, when asking for a help or advice and you will get that. Don’t be afraid to do mistakes, only when you make them do you get your own priceless experience.
Any ideas as to what you’re going to do next?
Sure I’ve got a lot of ideas what to do next, but I prefer to keep it a secret.
Thank you for your time Nikolay and for creating such inspiring work. Just quickly before we end this, where can people find you and your work?
You can feel free to send me an e-mail or add me on Facebook. I would really appreciate if you will visit my ArtStation or even my personal page.
You can find links to Nikolay’s profiles below:
Home page: https://nikolay-sladkov.com/