Texturing the Cultist

The cultist in our game is a fanatic of Poseidon. They are humans that live on the island of Sicily, or come as pilgrims to ascend the volcano on which their god's temple sits. The player encounters them in two areas, the path right before the forest, and at the temple steps. The decisions we made around this character were based on grimey pagan characters, that have caked themselves in mud and paint in worship, and are trying to take Kyon's herd to sacrifice in order to Honor Poseidon.  

The main challenge here was getting the cracking to look right. Something that is incredibly important when texturing and creating models are layers. Not substance layers either, but physical layering of material on material. Being able to see a change in surface and material is incredibly important to the quality of a character. This version is at 4K for demonstration purposes to show the craftsmanship of the textures, and to give some incite into substance painter.

I like to start by painting the base coat in zbrush, I feel like I have more blending control than in substance for skin, and the "mask by______" options are excellent for creating pore details and other such details. 

The first thing to notice is that the base color map does NOT look good in substance, even at 4K it still cannot maintain the detail from the polypaint. This is just the nature of baking that not all details will be saved, but as discouraging as this model looks, it will eventually turn out gorgeously. Let's take a look at some quick processes:

I like to keep my base color map in a fill layer all to itself, thanks to layers in Substance Painter, I can work non-destructively and safely, while preserving my original texture. Another key instance that we are going to talk about is Specularity and Roughness, two of the most important maps for characters.

As you can see from this chart, roughness is a  black and white scale from most wet to most dry,  while specularity controls the shine of an object. It is definitely  true that these maps are important for any object, but what makes it so great for characters is that have good spec and rough controls allows to really accent pore and wrinkle details on your characters. This is where automask control in Zbrush comes in handy.

The auto mask features will generate a mask based on certain precomputed parameters and create a mask across the surface of an object. My personal favorites are Mask by Cavity, Smoothness, and Peaks and Valleys. The results of these, if your surface details are good enough will result in masks such as this.

This can be a fairly effective spec map because of the pore highlights being shown off here, Let's take a look at it in substance now in addition to a roughness map generated in the same fashion.  (By the way this was created with mask by cavities.)

Now we're getting somewhere, the spec and rough are extremes so that we can set up parameters in Unreal to change how drastic we want each map to be. Moving forward it's time for the fun part; mud, and dirt.

This character is dirty, and I mean really dirty but if we just slap a whole bunch of mud on him that won't look good so we have to plan things out. This is where layering comes in. Dry mud, looks significantly different from wet mud.

The difference is stark, keep in mind that your mud should look like it's from the same general region, they're cultist fanatics, not frequent flyers. Try to keep the dry and wet areas looking like they're still from the same mud. 

I grew up playing Warhammer 40k and painting models as a kid, so I almost always end up thinking in basecoats, highlights and fills when I'm texturing. Normally this would be considered odd when working in pbr considering the lighting is supposed to take care of highlights, however this still applies from a compositional standpoint, I would call our albedo or base color map, our base coat, and now we are going to add our first fill, a quick coat of dry mud and dust, with a simple dirt generator. I keep the roughness and spec low in this area, mostly because it give a sort of look like  it's protecting his skin from the sun similar to elephants and rhinos. It helps give him character and surface change which ties into our needs for layering as mentioned earlier. Naturally you will also want a subtle normal map to signify the difference of skin to mud. Let's take a look:

As you can see, its really weird around the face, but we aren't worried about those areas right now, because we are still applying our base coats and fill layers to the model, soon we will get to the areas we want to attract the most attention. Now that we have our fill we need to make it look good, because right now it's hard to say that this will actually be of any use to us. This is where we get to the most powerful tools in substance, hand painted masks. With this we can use particle brushes and scattering dust and earth alphas to rip away at the mud and dirt creating serious and noticeable surface changes, this will look way more natural than just slapping a generator on something, and it'll be way more appealing in your own work. 

Now it's time to get to the face paint, In my opinion this was the hardest part of the texturing process because it can look wrong very easily, again this is the great power of layers in substance and photoshop is that testing textures becomes incredibly fast, easy, and most importantly; SAFE! Polypaint is very destructive and can lead to restarts more often than not, so being able to separate textures into individual layers becomes an invaluable tool, the first thing I did was grab some textures online and comp them together until I had three maps, a normal, a mask, and an albedo. We will hand paint the rough and spec maps for optimal control.

So the good things about this map is that we have some good variation in cracks, scale and harshness. This will look pretty cool when all is said and done, the variation in mask intensity will help make it look mushed on as well because it's not like they are constantly retouching their face over and over again. Let's take a look at this first result on the model.

So ignoring the tiling, since we will severely edit this with painted masks, the actual cracking looks ok. It's very hard to tell currently so let's move on to the next step

Now we can see an accurate look at the paint! Granted if we were going to use height maps we could get some incredibly beautiful results but for now I think this looks great and I want to move on to our final steps. Wet mud.

The wet and dark mud allows for a few things; it justifies a gradient over the body, which for a topdown game adds a lot of character depth. However, since we are driving this gradient with dirt, we can still stay dedicated to true PBR texturing. The other thing it does is give the character some straight up wetness, which adds a lot of difference to the character.

And this is the Result! Now from here the work is definitely not over, we have to now to material work to add subsurface scattering, and other cool effects on this guy, but for now we still have an awesome dirty cultist ready to sacrifice sheep to Poseidon!


Thanks for reading, and if you want to see more character art please visit my website by clicking the link down below!