This week's interview is a relative newcomer to ZBrushCentral. Adrien Debos made his very first post to present his R'Zalka character, which he entered in Dominance War 3. Boy did that ever create a stir, and it came as no surprise when he took 3rd place in the competition! (For a view of the many ZBC members who participated in that prestigious contest, click here. Four of the top five winners used ZBrush!)
Anyway, it has been our pleasure to corner Adrien for what proved to be an extremely informative interview. We hope you enjoy it!
Hi Adrien, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed! You certainly exploded onto the ZBrushCentral scene with your Dominance War 3 entry, but prior to that we'd never seen you. Could you tell us more about yourself?
Hi! I’m 27 and was born and raised in France. Having recently made a big move, I am currently living in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada. I now meet squirrels, badgers, racoons and skunks in the streets when I walk to the office, which is pretty unusual for me!
Indeed I was posting my work for the very first time on ZBC with my Dominance War 3 entry. It was very exciting to present what I considered a finished piece and I was amazed by the community's response! This will certainly encourage me to post personal work more often.
And how about professionally? What's your background as an artist, and what do you do today?
Like a lot of artists here, there is not much I can remember before I had a pencil in hands. From an early age I knew I wanted to work as an artist and create all day long, whatever the industry might be. So I obtained a diploma in Fine Arts and another in Visual Communication. At this time I made my first steps in 3D with Poser and Bryce. I was amazed that by tweaking sliders and ticking a few options here and there I could create original characters in surrealistic environments! (At least, that’s what I thought at the time.) When I was around 18, I discovered the need to create my very own 3D assets instead of using object libraries and started to learn 3DsMax.
After a diploma in 3D graphics, I found my first job in the video game industry seven years ago in the city of Lyon, France. I started as an environment artist, then did some animation and eventually found the position I am enjoying today: creating characters for games.
Your ZBC bio says you're a "senior character artist"? What company are you with, and how long have you been there? Have you worked on any projects we might recognize?
That is kind of a nice story, actually. At the exact same time that I was learning ZBrush, I also discovered the grim world of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, via the PC game “Dawn of War” made by the Canadian studio Relic Entertainment. I loved the game so much, I started to dig a little deeper to discover that I already knew and had played all of their games. From that moment on, I really knew that I absolutely wanted to work for them, and I decided to do whatever I could to get there. I started to work on modifications for their game to learn their production tools; worked on portfolio pieces related to their productions... and when in Christmas 2006 they organized their first “Relic's Biggest Fan” contest, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to grab their attention. For 30 days I worked on a short movie mixing real footage and computer graphics. My schedule was pretty busy since I was also starting to work as a freelancer at this time, but I somehow managed to wrap it up - and I won the prize: a free trip to Vancouver to meet the people at Relic during their open house day! While I was over there, I also got a job interview, which resulted in a Canadian work permit – and a dream come true - a few months later.
I’ve now been working at Relic (aka THQ Canada) for 8 months as a senior character artist on the sequel of the game I loved so much: "Dawn of War 2".
Do many of the artists where you work use ZBrush? In what ways?
Yes, all the character artists at Relic use ZBrush. It plays a vital role in the current project's pipeline: we use it to create our high-res assets that are then used to bake our normal, cavity, and occlusion maps. We also use PolyPainting and Projection Master for some of our color maps, or to erase the visible seams of textures created in Photoshop. Another time-saving ZBrush feature is “3D Layers” which we use in the creation of characters' faces.
Let's talk about your DW3 entry. What was your inspiration for R'Zalka?
Some of my coworkers were involved in an art exhibition earlier this year, and during the opening I was staring in awe at a painting by Damian Pannell that pictured a man in a scuba suit in the darkness of the deep sea, with a terrifying monster swimming in the background. Ever since seeing this painting, I had a real passion for the frightening theme of the abyss and started to gather documentation. I bought books, watched movies related to the subject, and when Dominance war 3 was announced, it was obvious to me that I would make an abyssal creature.
I first wanted to create a massive monster of the deep that would protect a tiny magical mermaid. But with the length of the contest, I was afraid I might not be able to finish two characters on time and decided to focus on the mermaid. This wise resolution soon vanished when I decided to create a companion creature for R’Zalka.
Besides photo references, my main inspirations were two CG creatures:
The first one, Pascal Blanché’s “Mermaid”, was what I wanted to achieve in term of sensuality, delicacy, and grace. On the other hand, the mermaid from the movie “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was a great reference for the frightening dark side of my underwater warrior.
What was your overall workflow for creating the character and its elements?
For the concept part, I used both ZBrush and Photoshop. Once I had a clear idea of the character I wanted to create, I worked on the high-res model first. A quick base mesh helped me to block out the proportions. I then cut up the character in multiple parts to have a better level of detail for each one of them. With my final ZBrush sculpt, I made a retopology to create my low poly mesh and baked normal and occlusion maps. To have a diffuse map that matched the details of my normal map, I painted a base of colors in ZBrush and refined it in Photoshop later on. Finally, the rigging, skinning, lightning, and rendering were done in 3DsMax.
3DVF has released a making-of article about my entry. You can read it here.
Could you focus more on how ZBrush was used?
For the concept part, ZBrush helped me to define the design of the mermaid. I started with a basic skeleton made with Zshperes, and did a very quick 3D sketch of the creature I had in mind. I then used TransPose to quickly set my character in an interesting pose that would subsequently be used for an overpaint in Photoshop.
The high poly meshes of the mermaid, weapon and fish were of course made in ZBrush and composed of multiple subtools. For the mermaid, I placed armour gears on top of most of the subtools borders in order to hide the texture seams of those areas. During the contest, the fortunate release of the SubTool Master plug-in helped me to manage this large amount of subtools and perform various operations on them such as mirroring, merging, etc.
Half of the texture work was done by baking out my normal and occlusion maps from this very detailed sculpture.
Even though I didn’t have UVs on my high res model, I started to colorize it with the PolyPainting feature. To keep an eye on my reference pictures during this process, I created a large sheet gathering all of them and imported this picture as my document background into ZBrush. It was also very handy to pick colors from it via the “c” shortcut, or stamp texture samples with the ZProject brush.
Later on I created automatic (Tiles) UV's in a single click and transferred my colors onto a temporary texture. Back in Max, I projected this map on my low res to get a very useful color base for my diffuse map, matching perfectly the details of my normal map.
How important would you say ZBrush was in the success of this project? Do you think you could have done it without ZBrush?
Honestly I wouldn’t even have thought about entering this contest without ZBrush. (In contests the most challenging part often is to find a design that will be exhilarating enough to motivate you until the deadline. You might even start from a splendid 2D concept and never find the magic again when the design is translated into 3D. By using ZBrush in the early stage of my project, I was able to see - from the very beginning and with a minimum of effort - if my design would actually work in three dimensions.
How long did you spend on your entry? Do you feel that ZBrush saved you time when working on it?
Like Alex Velazquez said in his recent interview, this Dominance War was intense, both physically and emotionally. The contest was about 8 weeks long, and after a regular day at work I was usually working on my entry until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Needless to say that after a few weeks I literally looked like a zombie, and the weekends were not there to have some rest either. Quite the contrary!
It’s usually during those periods that you look for new techniques to improve your productivity. The 2048px textures were causing a latency of a few seconds every time I refreshed my DirectX shaders in Max. I usually like to quickly go back and forth between Max and Photoshop when I paint my textures, and those few seconds were driving me crazy. So I decided to try the poly painting feature in ZBrush, even if I had never used it for the creation of a video game character before. Not only did I have a perfect base for my color maps matching the details of my normal maps, but I was also able to paint in symmetry on some parts of my model. It saved me many hours of work and I don’t know if I could have made it without this feature.
How did you first discover ZBrush? What led you to start using it? How long have you been using it?
I think it was at the end of 2005. A friend of mine showed me this revolutionary 3D sculpting software that was able to handle a large amount of polygons like nothing else before. I was blown away by this first demo, and immediately knew that it would change our work methods for the better. A few months later I had to experiment on new character creation techniques for PS3\Xbox 360, and ZBrush became part of my life as an artist
I’ve been using it for over three years now, and I can’t see myself working without it.
How long did it take you to learn ZBrush?
I had a 2 days' training of ZBrush 2 with Alexis Flamand, an administrator of the French version of ZBrushCentral. If I remember correctly, that was his first corporate training and I've rarely learned that much in less than 48 hours. Alexis, if you read this: Thanks a lot!
So after this first encounter with the software and a few online tutorial videos later, I was pretty much ready to use ZBrush after a week. I then needed several months to learn from my mistakes and correct my workflow to use it more efficiently.
I’m glad to say, though that I keep learning new tricks and techniques with ZBrush constantly.
What would you say is your favorite ZBrush feature, and why?
SubTools! The possibility to split a single character in dozens of different parts and have the maximum amount of detail your system can handle on each of these SubTools is beyond awesome! To me it is the most useful feature I’ve discovered within ZBrush 3. I use it to merge, cut, mirror, keep an eye on my low res mesh with transparency…
So now that DW3 is finished, what are your plans going forward? Any exciting new projects that we can expect to see here at ZBC?
Before closing this DW3 chapter, I would like to give 3D printing of the R’Zalka model a try. That would be the cherry on the cake of this long and exciting project.
For what’s next, I’ve got plenty of ideas! I hope I’ll find enough time to tackle at least some of them. I’m thinking about a cooperative project with my good friend Florence Lapalu (ladysoul on ZBC) and I hope we will soon have something to show here! I also have to improve my artistic skills for Dominance War 4 next year!
Do you have any other artwork that you can share for this interview?
I’m very pleased to use this opportunity to show the Ork Warboss that I recently made for "Dawn of War 2". Even though it’s a real time strategy game, we pay a whole lot of attention to details in our models and ZBrush is definitely making life easier in this regard. The in-game model is about 5000 triangles, and uses a 1024/1024 texture for the body/armour and a 256/512 for the head. Oh, and just wait to see what the animators are doing with it!
Do you have a personal website or online gallery?
Anything else you'd like to talk about while you have our attention?
First of all, thanks to Matthew and the Pixologic team for giving me the honour to be interviewed here. I’m looking forward to discovering the revolutionary tools you are currently working on. When the ZBrush 3 features trailer was released, I was like a child in front of a Christmas tree full of treats!
Speaking of revolutions, I hope some day we will see affordable 3D printers for personal use, and a “print” button in ZBrush menus. That would be a dream coming true for me - to obtain a “physical copy” of every sculpture you make with the same easiness as printing a picture!
And to the ZBrush Community: Thank you guys for sharing your awesome work on the ZBC forums! This place is definitely one of my favourite sources of inspiration.
We at ZBC would like to give a big thank you to Adrien for sharing! It has been a very informative interview, and a real pleasure to speak with him. We'd also like to thank Relic Entertainment for kindly consenting to let Adrien share the Ork Warboss images. You saw them here first!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.