The Southeast Asia game art outsourcing market has experienced significant growth in recent years, with Vietnam emerging as one of the key players. As the global gaming market continues to expand, Vietnam and Southeast Asia are poised to play an increasingly significant role in the industry. Being one of the leading Game Art Outsourcing companies in Vietnam, Thunder Cloud is well-known for delivering high-quality services to global game developers with a full cycle production from concept to final engine game ready assets. In this article, we are pleased to share with you how we successfully complete the Vicious Vikings characters, and where you should focus more to achieve the high-quality look.

AA+ Viking Character set

Overall introduction

Inspired by the Norsemen Viking Mythology and great AAA games with similar vibe such as God of War, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, For Honour, our Viking characters possess a strong foundation and exhibit the hallmarks of a high-quality asset.

Key tips when building a realistic and believable character is not really the 3D character modelling technical stuff but more into the mindset and how you approach the production phase. Artists would need to invest a reasonable amount of time for research, referencing to have a better understanding of how real world human figures look and how realistic materials behave in a natural way. That’s the foundation of the information we need in order to guide and turn the vision of the characters into reality 3D pieces.

For example, to sculpt or build a piece of clothing, we need to know how it looks in real life, the structure of the clothes when they are sewed together, how hard/ soft the surface would be when touching, how the piece of cloth behaves in gravity, pressure etc… The same goes for such complex features such as human face, hair, skin, etc… which would require even experienced 3D artists to actually study and analyze carefully before going to production. All that knowledge is fundamental to build a replica in a real-time 3D environment, and anything unnatural would ruin the character, making them look uncanny or silly.

What Stages involved in the creation of Realistic Vikings Characters?

The pipeline for character creation is pretty much similar to industry standard, we want to share some useful tips for realistic character creation, based on the expertise of the Thunder Cloud Studio team.

High quality 3D Realistic Character Design

Concept Art

Searching for references, Google pictures, YouTube, are our best recommended tools to find photos and other materials. But in this package, to maintain a consistent final quality, we gathered numerous 3D showcase images of top-notch characters from globally renowned AAA games like God of War, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and For Honor as benchmarks. These serve as quality guidelines for future 3D artists to follow. Then, we write down as many descriptions as possible in text,  using Photoshop, draw, combining with Photo bashing, to paint over everything to be able to create.

Keep in mind that reference is crucial, not committing enough into research will probably end up with half baked, uncanny looking for either face, hair, or outfit model. This is the common mistake which many artists encounter. We highly recommend doing the research and pre-production properly and understanding the subject with a good amount of reference first to ensure the best final outcomes.

Quick Sculpt- BlockOut

Blocking is one of the most important and interesting stages of creating realistic characters. At this point, there’s no need to be concerned with technical constraints such as triscount or UV mesh. Our focus is on how an experienced artist uses their eyes to assess the created object, checking for a balanced silhouette and ensuring everything appears solid and consistent. This is also the most enjoyable stage of the whole pipeline since artists can freely use their aesthetic abilities to shape the overall visual impact of realistic character.

There are many programs suited for 3D model sculpting out there, but for professional work, ZBrush will be the best choice. Therefore, in this stage, we mainly sculpt with Zbrush to establish the basic form of the character, ensuring it closely resembles the concept when viewed from a distance.

Mid Poly

After finalizing the overall shapes and proportions through the quick sculpt, we’ll refine each part using Maya or Zbrush to create a clean, smooth 3D model with crisp lines and surfaces, at a moderate mesh density that provides a solid foundation for the character High Poly Stage later

At this stage, the large proportions and general shape from the previous step must be maintained and built upon. Essential features like the face and body will be detailed meticulously to ensure the character’s demeanour evolves closely with the concept, avoiding deviation.

Additionally, Polypainting will be applied to preview facial expressions more realistically. Mainly, significant and intermediate details will be carefully crafted in this stage to ensure structural integrity and alignment with the design concept. Moreover, foundational meshes will be UV mapped to prepare for detailed work in subsequent steps.

For clothing and costumes at this stage, we integrate Marvelous Designer to create the foundational 3D mesh and structure for the outfits, then further refine the shape and surface using Maya/Zbrush. Marvelous Designer is one of the significant tools that could increase realistic look drastically. It helps artists establish a base model with right simulation of cloth fold and material behavior in real life gravity and save a lot of hand sculpting time, which might result in uncanny look if the artist’s ability with traditional sculpting is not experienced enough.

Highpoly Scuplt

The main goal of this stage is creating the most accurate render of the shape and geometry of the object being modelled. This is when we start adding details in Zbrush. We use ZBrush as  it offers the best functionality and quality. Micro details on material surfaces, patterns, etc., are incorporated and meticulously controlled through a layer system to ensure easy editing when needed because we focus on the maximum realism and authenticity in the character modeling.

Highpoly AA+ Viking Character set

Lowpoly + UV Baking

In the high poly stage, the entire realistic characters are built at ultra-high resolution to capture as much detail as possible. However, when it comes to the Lowpoly stage, we focus strictly to technical skill to create a version with lower mesh density,  aiming to reduce the number of polygons to the optimal level and build the correct topology suitable for animation, as well as clean up the UVs to meet industry standards for AAA in-game models, keeping it light enough for animation and used in the game engine.

A key aspect of low-poly game art is the general shape and silhouette of your models. Ensure that each model has a distinct and recognizable outline, even from a far distance. A tip and trick to achieve this is to invest polygon density into strong, defined shapes, smooth curvature edges and curve angles to ensure the form of your models matches with the high res model.

In Thunder Cloud, we use Maya for low poly modelling and Marmoset Toolbag for baking textures. We find Toolbag to be the superior baking solution due to its comprehensive and user-friendly tools, well structured and organised automated group baking which make the baking process to be much easier  but ensures the high-quality texture maps.

Texture

Texturing is a complex and creative stage. During this process, the elements of the model are given the properties of materials, such as colour and shining, micro-details, various defects, etc. If you’re good at applying textures, you can really breathe new life into your 3D models.

In this stage, baked maps from the previous step  and the low poly modelling with standardised UVs are reused to create textures. Everything is imported into Substance Painter to begin texture work.

We adjust the PBR parameters in Substance Painter to ensure materials react as realistically as possible and add numerous colour details, creating the most accurate physical reaction to reality and dirt to create a sense of real-world impact on the overall material.

3D Character Model AA+ Viking set

Facial rendering and hair simulation remain particularly challenging aspects in realistic art style because if you do not do well enough, characters will look fake. There are a lot of approaches for face and hair but we used XYZ & ZWrap for face micro texture and Fiber Shop for hair texture. These tools and library provides lots of magnificent, ultra high resolution photo realistic textures to work with. However to get the look nice and right, the base facial and sculpture is still mandatory.

No matter the tool used, the knowledge and research on real life clothing is still a must for artists to be able to get the model right and replicate the behaviour of the clothing on the human body with precision.

Rigging

Now is the time to make the 3D character modelling ready for animation. In this step, essentially, after the characters have been done with a clean low poly modelling and detailed textures, it’s passed to the rigging department, using Maya to create bones and a control system allowing the character to be animated, moved, posed, etc. In the case of a humanoid character, you can use a standard skeletal rig and tailor it to your model.

Our current Viking pack only includes basic rigging for posing. To create realistic animations, a more complex rigging system will be necessary. Before passing it to the rigging team, the 3D character modelling team must ensure that the models meet the required setup standards for rigging readiness such as models must be optimised with nice correct edge flow following industry standard, or they also need to be separated into organised logical parts .

Lookdev

This is also a rather interesting phase that requires a high level of aesthetics. It not only demands technical skills but also the artist’s finesse to place lighting and shaders in a way that ensures the character’s realism and beauty to the greatest possible.

In this step, the characters will be posed, striking cool and fitting poses that best complement the design’s essence, then, the camera angles are set. Subsequently, everything undergoes an additional material and lighting pass in Marmoset. Rendering makes use of the Ray Tracing feature of this software to achieve lighting that closely resembles reality.

The final images of the realistic character must be exceptionally beautiful and accurate from a real-time lighting perspective, capturing the entirety of the original design’s essence and beauty.

UE Packaging

As you might be aware, Unreal Engine has made a substantial leap from UE4 to UE5, incorporating new tools, features, and bug fixes that improve virtual production. Following this trend, our team has opted for UE5 to create visually striking, engaging, and high-performance characters.

The characters in our package are fully adjusted to be compatible with Unreal Engine 5 standards, ready for animation and use in Unreal Engine-based games. Subsequently, the entire package is uploaded to the Epic Store Marketplace.

Wrapping Up

The high quality Realistic Viking characters set exemplifies Thunder Cloud Studio‘s commitment in Realistic Design by providing high-quality products that showcase intricate attention to detail and exceptional realism. It is designed with the goal of optimising and ensuring the most efficient workflow. If you want to elevate the quality even higher  to match up with AAA quality standards, please note the following points:

First, triple-A games place high value in concept design, large charismatic traits and ultra realistic portraiture detail. To meet up with AAA standards, a key is not only making it  good, but great, and putting thorough thoughts and research efforts into every bit of detail. For many of our artists, the main joy of creating 3D concept art lies in envisioning how the piece fits into its intended world. We consider its use within the society and its origin, then adapt the design according to its rarity or significance within that context.

The most important point is, to ensure the best presentation of character in an engine environment of triple-A standards, you have to increase the quality of triscount, model definition and texture definition, as well as focus on sophisticated setup of shaders and meshes. These elements are foundational to the visual fidelity and performance of the  AAA game, making them standout experiences in the gaming industry.

Therefore, creating assets for AAA projects is not just a crucial task, it’s essential for the game’s success. It is great if you can engage top 3D artists in your project, ensuring not only expert execution but also providing proven experience and complete alignment with the project’s core vision.

Other collections of high-quality characters that extend far beyond this genre such as the Epic Age character designed for IGG games are also available on our website.

You can watch more our projects on the ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/thundercloudstudio