Video games have come a long way in the last 50 years, evolving from simple 2D games with limited colours and gameplay elements to games that provide immersive experiences which can adapt to players’ choices and are visually, almost indistinguishable from real-life footage.

While millions of people around the world enjoy playing these games, for the most part players are unaware of the huge amount of work behind the scenes that has to go into making the hundreds of assets that make the game playable. As characters are one of the key aspects of most games, their design and appearance is particularly important, especially in story-driven games. So for this project, I recreated a sculpt of the villain known as Second Sister from the widely popular Star Wars game, STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order, creating a 3D model for the character which could be rigged and then animated for a game.

A work in progress CG sculpt of a woman's head.A work in progress CG sculpt of a woman's head and hair.A work in progress CG sculpt of a woman's head and hair.A work in progress CG sculpt of a woman's head and hair.A work in progress CG sculpt of a woman's head and hair.

Before I could create Second Sister, I first needed to learn Z brush. After creating a few different sculpts (which included a rubber duck and a goblet), I had learned enough of the basics to begin sculpting. Using various references of a head, I began modelling in the basic form of a head, starting from a sphere. To do so required an understanding of the anatomy of the face and the shape of the skull, so that I could position and proportion everything realistically. After defining the head, the next step was to create the hair. Again, using a reference, I extracted the overall shape of the hair and then used a variety of brushes to create the texture which resembled hair strands.

After refining the head and hair, and adding details like pores in the skin, creases in the lips and the eyebrows, I began modelling the body, using the same process as with the head. I found a reference for the body, and then began blocking out the overall shape of the body. Since Second Sister’s outfit covers her whole body, I didn’t spend unnecessary time defining everything perfectly, as the musculature and small parts like the toes wouldn’t be seen anyway. This allowed me to spend more time polishing what players would actually see – the outfit.

Work in progress CG character outfit sculpt.Work in progress CG character outfit sculpt.Work in progress CG character outfit sculpt.Work in progress CG character outfit sculpt.

To create the outfit, I extracted shapes from the rough sculpt of the body I had created, and then shaped these into the forms I needed them to be. This was one of the longest stages of the project, as creating realistic folds in clothing and precise hard edges for hard surfaces required a lot of planning and tweaking to get things looking just right.

A turnaround of an untextured character.A turnaround of an untextured character.Finished Second Sister sculpt (3/4 view)Close up head and shoulders of a CG character sculpt.Close up of gloved hand with gauntlet on a CG character sculpt.Close up of boots on a CG character sculpt.

In video games, game engines can only handle a certain amount of information, and since many games are made up of thousands of assets, each asset needs to adhere to a poly count limit so that the game can run smoothly. Since Second Sister was a main character in the game and the game was made to look realistic, there was a 100,000 poly limit for the character. As my sculpt had millions of polygons in Z brush, the next stage of the project was retopology.

CG character head sculpt with retopology shown. CG character model with polygons outflined alongside UV unwrap. CG character head unwrap.CG character model with polygons outflined alongside UV unwrap. CG character outfit unwrap.

Retopology involved drawing individual polys on all the different parts of the sculpt, redefining the polygroups so that the total poly count was less than 100,000, and that enough polys were allocated to areas on the model which would stretch when animated (such as the mouth, the elbows and then knees), so that the textures would not distort too much when the character moved.

After retopologising all the parts and adjusting the topology so that no areas were clipping, I began UV unwrapping. UV unwrapping required unfolding all the parts and placing then within 2 UV sets so that the head, hair and eyes could be textured together, and the outfit could be textured separately.  When unwrapping, it was important to create seams for the UVs in areas that would be hidden so that any misalignment would be less likely to be noticed. When arranging the UVs to fit all the required parts into the UV set, I also had to ensure that more important and detailed areas (such as the face and eyes) were given a larger UV space than other parts (such as the belt) so that when it came to texture painting, there would be enough resolution to create the small details (like pores in the skin).

The last and most intricate stage was texture painting. After baking all of the mesh maps (and correcting areas that baked incorrectly) I used a variety of brushes, textures, masks and finishes to create all the different materials and colours for Second Sister, paying close attention to the reference images and making sure to add imperfections to create a more realistic character. Through this process, I managed to recreate the final character model for Second Sister which adhered to the necessary performance restrictions, and could be rigged, animated and used in a game.