Back in February this year, during the 2nd semester of my 2nd year at University studying Computer Games Art, we started a module called “Creative Portfolio Development“. Ignoring the fancy title, in a nutshell this module was all about doing one project that interested us and helped develop skills in our chosen fields. The subject could be anything we wanted. Needless to say that, to date, this was my favourite module at Uni.
Wishing to be a Character artist, my project’s focus was the creation of a high quality, animation friendly game character. I have chosen the Eternal Dragon Emperor, Dariandaros from my favourite urban fantasy book series; “The Chronicles of Elantra” by Michelle Sagara, as the star of this project.
I got a bit ambitious and decided to also create a 3d environment for him in my spare time. Though I love environment art greatly, I do not feel the same passion for it as for character art, and thus, I often neglect it, even avoid it in favour of doing more character based work. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to force myself to focus on the environment as well as, the character.
Boy, was I fooling myself. I did not factor in just how extensively time-consuming my other module, “The Journeyman Project” would be. What spare time? I barely had time to even finish Dariandaros, much less work on an environment. So though the environment was started, and is about 75% finished, it never actually got finalized. Not yet, anyway.
But I digress.
As with every project I started sketching out ideas. I mainly focused on the robes of the Emperor. The style, the cut, the colour scheme. I created many variations on this to try and get a sense of what might work best for an immortal dragon Emperor.
Once I actually started texturing the finished model, I discovered that colours that work in 2d art, don’t always work so well in 3d. One of my favoured colour schemes was this one:
But when applied to the final model this looked horrendously gaudy. So instead I settled on the more muted tones of this attire, but replacing the dark brown parts with teals to give it a bit more colour.
I only did a single sketch of the Emperor’s face, for I had a very clear vision of his facial features and thus I did not feel it necessary to draw it too often.
When designing the character as a whole, but also envisioning his face and body structure, I took into consideration not only the physical description provided by the author, but also the Emperor’s character. He is described as this strong, stern person, set in his ways —granted, more flexible than most of his kind— who’s been ruling an empire he built for centuries. As befits an Emperor —particularly, an immortal dragon Emperor— he is self-confident to the point of skirting the boundaries of arrogance and, to use the words of Dariandaros himself, “[he] admit[s] to a personal predilection to be treated with the respect due an Emperor.“
Factoring all of this into my design of this character, I have chosen a strong, angular physique for him, both in body and face, to represent the strength of the character.
With the 2d side of the project done I proceeded to the fun bit.
Popping a base figure into Zbrush, I started sculpting.
Looking at the base figure now, it appears twice as ridiculous as it did back in February.
Look at those ‘expressive’ eyes!
Eventually that hideous thing, turned into this:
The hair in these sculpts is only a placeholder, for it will all be replaced by hair planes with alphas later.
Satisfied with the sculpt, I proceeded to retopologise, unwrap and texture the character. During the retopology, I have taken great care to make it as animation friendly as I could, keeping deformation and the skinning/rigging process in mind constantly. I also strove to keep everything as low poly as possible without losing too much of the shape-detail.
In total the character came in at 84,000 tris (42,000 polys), half of which is taken up by the hair planes alone.
As mentioned above, I have chosen to go initially with this colour scheme for the Emperor’s attire replacing the dark brown bits with teal, to give it a bit more saturation and colour.
All texturing was completed in Quixel Suite and Photoshop, whilst the skinning/rigging and posing was done in 3ds Max. All final renders were done in Marmoset Toolbag 3.
This was the version I submitted in May for my Creative Portfolio module, but over the summer, whenever I looked at him, I felt a sense of dissatisfaction with the colours of his attire.
A week ago, during my 4th re-reading of the Chronicles of Elantra series, I gave in and started reworking the textures pertaining to his attire, to try and better capture the feeling of the Eternal Dragon Emperor. After going through a couple of colour combinations, I eventually settled on the main imperial colours of Red and Gold for his robe, black for his vest, shirt and trousers, and brown for his boots and belt. To keep with the red tones, I also used rose gold in his crown and belt, whilst keeping the rest of his jewellery a pale white gold, not to over saturate the image with too much yellow.
I also tweaked a smidgen the shaders on his hair. Originally, his hair felt too dry to me. It needed to be a bit more ‘oily’.
As a whole, I am now much more satisfied with this character. I truly feel that THIS is how Emperor Dariandaros looks, at least in my vision of him.
A 360 turntable video of the model is currently in progress and I shall post it once it’s finalized.