Feudal Japan Challenge: Film/VFX Character Winners Interview

For the Film/VFX Character category of the Feudal Japan Challenge, production artists were asked to create one rendered character from Feudal Japan with no paintover.

As we’ve done in the past, participants in the Production categories had the choice of choosing a concept from the concept phase or working from scratch with a concept of their own.

Browse all Film/VFX Character entries from the Feudal Japan Challenge.

In this interview, the challenge winners Artem Gansior, Sarah Bromley and John Doromal share advice on choosing a concept, planning a strategy and things to look out for in the next challenge.

Tell us about your concept for the character.

Artem: Servane Altermatt has made the concept that I used for the challenge. I choose this one because I didn’t really want to make a typical brutal samurai with a bunch of katanas, etc. I just wanted to create a character who can make me smile and was I really interested in the idea of making cartoony characters in a cinematic style. It’s a kind of tricky thin so that concept was perfect for my goals and mood.

Sarah: I chose the stunning concept by Hirada Hirao and I must say it played a massive role in motivating me for this competition. I wanted to try to push myself by doing a character as I really feel more comfortable with creature work so I needed something I really wanted to create. I tend to gravitate towards surrealism and supernatural elements in art, so when I saw Hirada’s concept with the demon hands, stunning color contrasts (red and black are my favorite to work with) the dark atmosphere and the endless character story possibilities, I knew straight away that this was the concept for me.

John: The concept I chose was the Shogun concept done by Thomas Chamberlain-Keen.  I chose it because the weird proportions of the character drew my attention.  Usually when I go through the initial wave of concepts that artist submit, I go for the ones that I feel won’t be picked as much or may offer some difficulty translating the 2D idea into a 3D concept.  Also, I really love anything with bows and archery, so that piece was going to be fun and was a clear pick for me.

What was your strategy for completing your submission on time?

Artem: My primary strategy was to have a plan for each main step before starting. The polycount, Cloth pipeline, color space, even compositing process should be planned before the start.  Some things were definitely going to change during the process but the main straight strategy was the best way to get the maximum result until the deadline.

Sarah: As soon as I started, I created an excel sheet showing each item I had to model, UV, texture and do look development on. Then, I created columns for each phase, like block-out or detail phase and after completing something, I would fill it in green. When I was stuck, I used red and I marked in progress as yellow so it was really easy to see what I was getting hung-up on and where to shift my focus. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with a project like this, especially when you are trying to fit it in around a full time job. This visual progress chart was important so that at a glance, I could tell where I was each day and what I still had to do.

John: The concept consisted of big general shapes and small details with trinkets here in there.  With that in mind, I decided to start my model from a basemesh with UVs then move to the high details texturing phase.  This saved me a lot of time and took out the guess work involved with retopo and UVing a high resolution mesh.  I then made a library of things that I can instance to add complexity and detail to my model when it was close to being final.  I also used Substance Painter to do the textures which helped me reach the goal/deadline in a timely fashion.

What was the most difficult part of this challenge for you?

Artem: I guess it was lighting and searching for the proper background . Oh, I tried a dozen HDRI’s and photos for background and decided to use a jungle lake just for the better integrating character into the environment.

Sarah: For me, the biggest challenge was trying to get a model I was happy with but that also fit the competition constraints with the UDIMs for the VFX category. I am used to using way more and it actually frees you up to move forward faster with your UV and texture work. Instead I spent ages going back and forth trying to fit everything in my UDIM limit and do test renders to see if I could live with the results before committing hours to texturing that might go to waste. This struggle really slowed me down and I find it very limiting for the VFX category.

John: The most difficult part of this challenge came when it was time to set up the presentation/render shots for the challenge.  The model had such strange proportions and I had a really hard time getting a good angle that would be considered presentation worthy.  I was pretty constrained to far shots and shots that didn’t seem interesting.

What advice do you have for future challengers?

Artem: I can only say “just try”. Try to do as much as you can and don’t hesitate and don’t think about the prize. Maybe, this challenge will help you to find your dream job, who knows…

Sarah: I would say a very important thing, for me at least, is to choose a concept that you are so strongly attached to, or excited about, that every time you see it you are driven to keep working on it. This was a game changer for me on those days after work when the last thing I wanted to do was sit down in front of the computer again! Hand in hand with this would be to have a game plan. Even if it is super rough, give yourself some deadlines early on so you can start to get a feel for how much time this is really going to take and when you really need to pick up the pace to meet the deadline.

John: My advice for future challengers is to have a sound plan oh how your going to approach making your model.  Take into account render times, problems that could arise and life events, because that deadline sneaks up really fast!  Most importantly, have fun making your model.  If it’s fun and enjoyable, you will find that time will be no issue and you will finish on time!

Browse all Film/VFX Character entries from the Feudal Japan Challenge.

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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.