The next stage was planning. I think this stage is often overlooked but can save a lot of time down the track.
Adam Fisher is a freelance character artist based in Perth, Australia. He is currently working on the Total War: Warhammer franchise, so you’ll have the opportunity to learn a little bit about his experiences at the Creative Assembly. Alongside that, he will walk you through the making of both his new piece—the “Vampire Noble”—and the Prime 1 Alita statue. Having worked with clients like Arkane Studios, Deep Silver Dambuster Studios, and Infinity Ward, Adam has a lot of industry-ready workflows that an aspiring character modeler can begin using right now. Some of you might even remember learning from his old timelapse videos on YouTube. Back in 2013, they were doing a brilliant job of inspiring a generation of digital artists to take up 3D, too.
There’s also plenty of information about Adam’s personal journey for those of you who just want to get inspired. As always, we were happy to learn about his beginnings in art. He actually made the switch from working as a 3D artist at a mining simulation company so that he could get into freelance. In the interview, he told us:
It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, but it was a good job, and I was working with some great people. After a little while, I realized that the work just wasn’t creatively fulfilling for me. […] I went part-time at the simulation studio to keep up with my freelance work, and in 2015, I decided to go freelance full time.
It just goes to show that we often have to take a leap of faith to get what we want out of life.
If you’re interested in reading about Adam Fisher or learning how to apply the tech that pushes this industry forward, we highly recommend reading through this interview. Without artists like this, even we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the breakneck speed of developments in this industry. Without further ado, let’s hear from someone who’s spent years in the centre of it all.
What sparked your interest in digital art?
I don’t remember there being one defining moment that sparked my interest, more like a combination of interests that led me down the path towards digital art. I always loved drawing and grew up filling sketchbooks with sketches of my favourite comic book, movie, and video game characters.
Like most kids, I loved video games and movies, not ever thinking that it could be a career path.
During high school I taught myself the basics of Photoshop and some other software for image editing and web site design, thinking that a career in graphic design might be where my future was headed.
After high school, I deferred going to university. I ended up enrolling at TAFE, getting my cert IV and Diploma in multimedia. There I was introduced to different areas of digital art, from web site design, some 2d animation, and some basic 3D classes. This was where I started to get more exposed to the world of digital art. The course built a very basic foundation of skills and from there I found that 3D and animation in particular connected with me. I found some online CG art sites and forums and was inspired by the art I was seeing. I would also watch the game cinematics, from studios like Digic Pictures and Blur studios on repeat and be amazed by them.
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Created for the Star Wars
rendered in Marmoset Toolbag 2
What was your journey towards character modeling like in the very beginning?
After I got my Diploma of Multimedia, I decided I wanted to learn more about 3D art and animation, so I signed up for the Advanced Diploma in Animation. This gave me a broad introduction to the animation pipeline. It was here that I found that I really enjoyed 3D modeling, more so than the other areas. Unfortunately, there was no 3D sculpting class, but I had a very supportive lecturer that suggested I give ZBrush a try. Something clicked and I knew that this is what I wanted to be doing. I spent countless hours trying to teach myself digital sculpting/modeling and the game art pipeline. I consumed as many tutorials as I could get my hands on. I idolized the works of artists like Alessandro Baldasseroni, Kolby Jukes, and Raf Grassetti.
Although at the time I didn’t think being a character artist was a realistic career goal, I kept working at it. Eventually, I got the courage to post some of my work on forums like GameArtisans, Polycount, and CGHub, where it started to get some notice and I started getting some freelance job offers.
I was at a point where I was uncertain if I should even try to pursue being a character artist. I wanted to stay in Australia, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much of an industry or many opportunities. I started my career as a 3D artist at a couple of small studios and lectured at TAFE for a short time, before I took a job as a 3D artist at a mining simulation company.
It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, but it was a good job and I was working with some great people. After a little while, I realized that the work just wasn’t creatively fulfilling for me. I continued working on personal art and trying to improve my skills. I started taking on some freelance work on the side to see if that would give me a sense of fulfillment. I went part-time at the simulation studio to keep up with my freelance work and in 2015 I decided to go freelance full time. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great clients since.
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Some of our readers were curious about your workflow, could you walk us through a recent artwork by you?
I recently finished my “Vampire Noble” piece, so I can talk about some of the workflow for that character.
The first stage was sketching some ideas and refining a concept. I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy books and in particular, re-reading the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and I thought the idea of a member of the Court of Vampires could be a fun subject matter. I put together a rough sketch that had the main art direction and elements in place. I started gathering different reference images for the clothing, face, hair, and anything else that I thought would be helpful for the project.
The next stage was planning. I think this stage is often overlooked but can save a lot of time down the track. During this stage, I decide how I’m going to approach the creation of the different elements, particularly if there are going to be any tricky parts of the design.
For the modelling phase, I started sculpting the head and trying to find the right look for the character. Once I’d blocked out the main forms of the head I started to work on the clothing. I used Marvelous Designer with some adjustments and extra details created in ZBrush. When I had all the elements working together I did a final detail pass.
For the demon creature, I didn’t have a set concept in mind, although I knew I wanted it to be a smaller winged creature with a tail, so I started sculpting from a sphere in ZBrush. It’s a fun process to just jump in and start sculpting and see what comes out. I went through a few designs, trying to balance out the anatomy before I settled on his final design.
I created a base for the skin textures by projecting and baking textures from texturing.xyz and then adjusting and painting over the top in Substance Painter. For the clothing and embroidered trim, I set up materials in Unreal Engine to take advantage of tiling textures. I was going back and forth between Substance Painter and Unreal to get the textures and materials to read correctly.
The hair for this character was created using Maya’s XGen hair grooming tools. Usually, for real-time characters, the hair is done with hair cards, but in the latest versions of Unreal Engine, you can import XGen hair directly into the engine. I hadn’t used this before, so I was keen to test it out for this character.
Overall, I was happy with how the character turned out. There are always things that could’ve been done better, but I didn’t want to get stuck in that cycle of continuous adjustments. It’s easy to get wrapped up in projects, but it’s important to learn when to call something done and move onto the next.
High Noble of the Vampire Court and his demon. Sculpted in Zbrush, textured in Substance Painter.
Hair – Maya’s XGen to Unreal workflow.
Could you tell us a little bit about your work on the Alita: Battle Angel – Prime 1 Statue? I’d love to learn a thing or two about your role in its production.
Sure! I was the digital sculptor for the Prime 1 Alita statue. I worked closely with the Creative Director, Johnny Pham, to bring the statue to life and capture the strong presence of the character. This project took longer than others, as we were working on the piece while the movie was still in production. The design of Alita went through several versions and as the design changed in the movie, we had to update the statue to match to make it as close as possible to the final movie version.
I was given access to design documents, reference images, and VFX meshes for the underlying body. I was able to use some parts of the VFX meshes, while other parts had to be remade or adjusted. I sculpted the head, hair, and costume to match the reference images.
For the base of the statue, we tried to match the design aesthetic to that of the design documents and took inspiration from the trailer footage. I was given some creative freedom to create the robot torso and arm that can be found lying broken and defeated at Alita’s feet.
Once I finished the sculpt, the Prime 1 development, and paint team took over to make any technical adjustments needed and produce the prototype.
Please tell us about the most exciting project you’ve had the opportunity to work on thus far.
Being a huge Batman fan, I think the most exciting project I’ve worked on would be the Dark Knight Master Race statue for Prime 1. Getting to create such an iconic comic book character was a dream project.
The statue is based on the amazing cover art by Gabriele Dell’Otto. We tried to remain faithful to the original artwork while making sure the sculpt works from all angles.
We wanted to create something that stood out amongst the many other batman statues out there. The overall reception from batman fans and statue collectors has been very positive. It’s a great feeling seeing people post photos of the statue in their collection and to see how happy they are with it.
Originally for the Comicon Challenge.
Created in Zbrush.
What’s working at the Creative Assembly like? Talk us through the ins and outs of your role.
I’m currently working as a remote freelance character artist at Creative Assembly working with a really talented team on the Total War: Warhammer franchise. It’s been a great project to be a part of. We get to work on a variety of different characters and creatures which keeps it interesting.
Before starting a character, I’m given a concept which usually shows front and back views of the character, as well as any variant and weapon designs. The in house team also gives me a breakdown of the technical requirements for the character, things like the tri count and texture resolution. They also supply a proxy and skeleton so that I can match the proportions for the rig.
Then it’s onto creating the high poly model. I’ll start blocking in the model to get the main parts in place, before detailing and finalising the sculpt in ZBrush. Once the high poly model is approved I move onto creating the in game version of the model in Maya. We have to be quite efficient with our polycount count due to the game having so many characters on screen at one time. Keeping the character within the polycount budget is often a challenge. I use either Maya or Rizom UV to create the models UV’s ready for baking and texturing.
We use Marmoset Toolbag to bake the normal, occlusion, cavity, and additional maps and Substance Painter to create the textures for the character. We have quite a few custom Substance smart materials that help speed up the process. It’s important that the textures read well from a distance so the players can easily identify the characters in the game. The character goes for feedback during each of the stages to make sure it’s hitting the concept and style brief as well as meeting the technical requirements.
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Alita: Battle Angel
Prime 1 Statue
Could you share some of your thoughts on the current state of art in the game industry? Are you happy with where it’s currently heading?
It’s inspiring seeing the quality that’s being achieved in the latest AAA games like the Last of Us 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, not just for character art, but environment art as well. From the start of this generation of hardware to now, where we’re getting ready for the next generation of games, it’s amazing to see the progress that’s been made, both in terms of art and visual storytelling.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for the industry. I think there are going to be some exciting changes coming up. As technology develops, tools and techniques need to develop along with it. The recent Unreal Engine 5 demo shows the potential to be able to push the quality bar even higher. This will undoubtedly lead to changes in how assets are created and the techniques needed to create them. As artists, part of our job is to constantly be learning the new tools and techniques to adapt and improve workflows. There is a worry that automation could take away from our roles as artists, but I’m hoping that it will simply speed up the more tedious work and allow for more time on the creative side.
What’s next for Adam Fisher?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I’d love to get to work on more iconic characters, but I think more importantly I want to continue to work with great teams on projects that I find creatively fulfilling, whether that’s creating characters for games or collectibles. I want to work on projects that I can be excited and passionate about.
I’ve played around with the idea of doing some tutorials, workshops or some sort of mentorship. That might be something I do in the future. For now I want to continue to learn and improve my skills. There’s always something new to learn or improve upon and that personal project list continues to get longer.
Visit Adam’s ArtStation
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Adam Fisher or respective copyright holders
Article in Slovak language;