I knew from the start that I wanted to do my own take on Ciri; inspired by her time with The Rats over the course of the books, during which she goes by Falka… My first step was to find a detailed description of the character in the books, to ensure accuracy. I found two paragraphs where her outfit and general look are described from the end of Time Of Contempt and the start of Baptism Of Fire.
‘You have nothing.’ Giselher said, handing her a silver studded belt. ‘Accept this.’ ‘You have nothing and no one.’ Said Mistle, throwing over her shoulders with a smile, a green satin doublet and a plain weave blouse. ‘You have nothing.’ Said Kayleigh and his gift to her was a small dagger in a sheath studded with precious stones. ‘You are alone.’ ‘You have no one.’ Asse repeated after giving Ciri a decorative baldric. ‘You have no family.’ Said Reef in his Nilfgaardian accent, handing her a pair of soft skin gloves. ‘You have no one nearby...’ ‘ Everywhere you are a stranger.’ Finished Iskra with seeming carelessness, and quickly and unceremoniously placed a beret with turkey feathers on her head. ‘An Outsider everywhere and always different. How shall we call you, little hawk?’ - Time Of Contempt, Pg. 321
That nasty piece of work, Tuzik guessed, wasn't much older than his daughter, Milena. The flaxen hair of the young bandit tumbled from beneath her velvet beret decorated with an impudently jiggling bunch of pheasant feathers. Around her neck glowed a poppy-red silk kerchief, tied in a fanciful bow. … Her green eyes flashed and he shuddered, seeing so much evil and cold hatred in them. - Baptism Of Fire, Pg. 42
For the doublet, I liked the material of the red one. Some elements from the black one appealed to me too…
Now that I had a description of most of the outfit, I broke it down and gathered references. The key was to remember that most of her clothes are stolen (chances are from nobles and/or peasantry)... Most of her outfit would be ill-fitting. There would probably also be rich colours and materials mixed in… She was, however, raised by Witchers, so there would be a sense of practicality and combatreadiness…
Initially I wanted to have tall leather boots, but later thought shorter boots would be more practical for combat.
I liked the look of shorter gloves, with the thicker leather seen in the right reference.
Human Anatomy Fundamentals: Drawing Different Ages - Joumana Medlej https://design.tutsplus.com/tutorials/human-anatomyfundamentals-drawing-different-ages--cms-21905
Another important part of my project is the character’s age. It’s not clearly stated in the books, but she’s roughly 15-16 years old at the time. This made gathering anatomy reference somewhat of a challenge. I found a great source of reference in an anatomy guide to drawing different ages. For facial detail reference, I used pictures of actresses of the same age range. There are lots of good references widely available of celebrities…
My key real life references were Maisie Williams and Sadie Sink, actresses from Game of Thrones and Stranger Things respectively. I chose them because they have similar looks to how I imagined the character, they are the right age range, there are lots of images from all angles widely available, and they play characters of similar mannerisms to younger Ciri.
I gathered reference from the older and younger Ciri we see in the games. In-engine, high poly and concept art. I also gathered a bit of fan art, cosplay and other official interpretations from the book covers and the Polish TV series. With these references and the ‘Human Anatomy Fundamentals’ document I felt more comfortable that I could get the likeness right. The nose, mouth, eyes, ears and head shape were the key focus.
Since my goal was to make a character that would fit into the world of The Witcher games, and my character was an existing game character (just a different age and outfit), I had to make sure I had plenty of reference of the game’s Ciri and other interpretations of the character.
It was important that I got the face right, since Ciri has a distinctive look with recognisable features…
Dandelion’s beret stuck out to me. It had a nice shine to the material, and looked rich and gaudy.
Finally, I gathered references from the Witcher games. I mostly looked at different characters so I wasn’t just making a copy of an existing Ciri. With my references I familiarised myself with tropes and styles in the outfits and the quality/style of the art that I’d need to match in order to make a character that would fit the universe.
Ves’ outfit was also a big influence, particularly later in the sculpting process. She has a similar rebellious vibe and dishevelled outfit.
One thing I noticed was common was that long belts are folded back under. Likely because belt loops don’t exist in the universe.
Geralt’s outfits were a big influence. Particularly the doublet and baldric on the Wolf and Manticore outfits… Borrowing elements from these added that combat-trained and practical aesthetic that I feel Ciri would have.
My initial sketch didn’t go so well. I attempted to use Maisie Williams as the key reference, but I rushed it and it ended up looking bloated and disproportionate…
After some feedback I decided to mostly scrap the face and start over, using my Ciri references as the key ones, and taking more time to get the proportions and shading right…
Now that I had plenty of reference, I felt I was ready to start some concept art… I first attempted a portrait as a test, then painted the rest of the outfit once I was happy with the face. I chose to do the front concept only to save time. Although investing in the back and side view could have helped me when it came to improvising during sculpting, I think the time investment wouldn’t have been worth it.
I sketched and painted the rest of the outfit. I thought I’d spent too long on the portrait, so I spent less time on the rest of the body. The quality suffered a bit because of this, but I think I still created a usable piece. I did a couple of colour variations as a test, even straying a bit from the book description in one, but ended up liking my initial colours.
I received some feedback that she looked too old, so I toned down the creases around the nose, mouth and eyelids. This made the portrait look younger.
Once I was happy with the face I painted in the rest of the outfit and called the portrait done.
Now that I had my concept art and references, I was ready to start sculpting in ZBrush. The face was the biggest challenge for me, and was reworked after I got feedback from peers. It was a challenge to make a face that looked like the Ciri from the games, but youngerâ€Ś
After I sculpted the pupils it helped me realise the problems with the forms of the eyelids and surrounding area. As I refined the overall shape I used the smooth brush too much and lost a lot of the forms, especially around the bridge of the nose and the cheeksâ€Ś
My key references were the sculpt of the older Ciri from the games and the description of how faces change as people age (from my research into teenager anatomy).
I used a modified Curve Tubes brush to make the eyelashes, drawing them on a supporting plane I placed around the eyelid…
The Witcher 3’s art style is realistic, so if I wanted to match that style for my character I needed to include a lot of detail into the final sculpt… The guide ‘Create a Game Of Thrones-Inspired Fantasy Character’ by Pablo Munoz Gomez (https://www.3dartistonline.com/new s/2017/08/create-a-game-of-thronesinspired-fantasy-character/)
was extremely helpful. Specifically for the eyelashes and the iris.
For the glove, I made sure to add wrinkles in areas where there would be a lot of motion and where the leather would crease and stretch often. I made use of a default ZBrush alpha for the wrinkles…
I used alphas to add extra skin detail for the pores. In hindsight using the same alpha for the entire face was a mistake, as areas like the forehead aren’t 100% correct…
I sculpted the iris too. I made heavy use of radial symmetry, then turned it off later to make it less uniform.
I mostly used standard female anatomy reference while sculpting; I referred back to my research often to check that I had the proportions correct for her age.
I started with ZSpheres for the main body, hands and feet. Dynamesh and ZRemesher helped me combine them later. Thanks to the anatomy reference and research into how the body changes with age, I felt pretty confident sculpting the base mesh.
The blouse, beret, trousers and boots were done in Marvelous Designer. The rest of the outfit was mostly achieved through extractions from the base mesh (method discussed next)
Some of the clothing was beyond my ability as a beginner to Marvelous Designer, so I opted to sculpt them in ZBrush instead. I started off the clothes with extractions from the base mesh. To get a cleaner extractions to work with I tried a new method involving panel loops which I’ll cover here…
I masked off the area, then extracted it. Then I isolated the inside polygroup of the extraction. I then deleted the hidden polygroups.
I flipped the normal of the polygroup so they were facing outwards. Then I used ZRemesher with a low polycount target to clean up the topology. After that, I used the panel loops to add thickness. I now had a clean extraction with subdivision levels which is much better for sculpting…
I made a couple of iterations of the pants and blouse before I was happy with them. This is the stage where the pants iterated from the concept art. I found I could create better, more interesting pants if they were baggy.
I decided for this project I’d try using Marvelous Designer (MD) for the first time… I made the decision because the Witcher 3 developers use MD to help create their characters, and it can produce realistic cloth folds. It seemed like a good idea in order to fit my target art-style.
CG Elves were a great resource for learning the basics and some of the more complex elements of MD. Learning a new program was a pretty big hurdle…
Once I was happy with a MD garment, I’d export it & load it into ZBrush… I used Zremesher to create usable topology for it, then panel loops to add thickness to the mesh. Afterwards, I’d add extra details like more creases or stitches in ZBrush.
Here’s my finished high poly sculpt. While I didn’t stick 100% to the concept art, I’m happy with the end result; I think I made good development decisions in the sculpting process to allow for this. If I return to it in the future, I would like to sculpt the inside of the mouth and the feathers on her beret that are mentioned in the book…
I started with the face, and decided to retop the entire base mesh. This decision helped me with retopping the rest of the outfit and later with skinning & riggingâ€Ś
I used the retopped base mesh to help me by extracting a selection, setting the high poly as a live surface, then scaling the extracted low poly so it magnetised to the high surface.
I used Mayaâ€™s Quad Draw tool to retop my character. The final character (excluding hair) ended up being around 40k tris, which I think is reasonable for the target art style.
More complex shapes with lots of creases like the beret were retopped with the help of ZRemesher to save time, then cleaned up in Maya.
I UV mapped the character in Maya too. I decided to split it up into two texture sets, with one for the head & eyes, and one for the rest of the body and the outfitâ€Ś I did this so I could have lots of detail in the face, without it taking space away from the clothing, which was already tightly packed and intended for a 4k resolution.
The article ‘How do I create real-time hair for games’ by Steve Holmes was really useful at the start. I used the methods shown to create my own hair planes IMM brush in ZBrush… (https://www.3dartistonline.com/news/2015/04/how-do-i-create-real-time-hair-for-games/)
Creating realistic hair with planes was a new experience for me… I created a hair planes brush in ZBrush, drew them in layers over my base mesh and hair blockout, then textured the hair in Substance Painter. Overall I’m happy with the outcome, though I think if I’d spent more time on this instead of texturing in substance I could have an even better, more natural result.
This tutorial video for texturing hair in Substance Painter by Chang-Gon Shin (https://www.artstat ion.com/artwork/XQ myR) was invaluable in helping me create usable real-time hair quickly.
I started the face texturing using polypaint in ZBrush… I baked it down in Toolbag 3, then continued making changes based on feedback in Photoshop.
Prior to this project I’d not really attempted a more realistic face before. It was a challenge to figure out where colours and shades should be, and what the best spec/gloss values are. I ended up adding a detail normal near the end of the project to add a bit more detail to the skin close up. I made a quick mask for this effect to make sure the noise wasn’t on the ears, nose or eyes…
The key feedback I got was that the colour zones of the face were missing, or not obvious. I had them in the polypaint, but I think they got lost somewhere in the layering process, so I had to bring that back in in Photoshop. It was also mentioned that my spec/gloss values needed work…
I textured the rest of the character in Substance Painter. A large part of my outfit consisted of leather, so it was important to get that right. I didn’t like any of the smart materials for leather, so I started with a smart material for cloth that worked well for the beret and heavily modified it…
I’m pretty happy with how the textures for the body turned out… One issue I ran into was with the stitches. I’d included them in the sculpt, so it was a bit of a pain to paint over them all in Substance to make them a different colour. In hindsight, I should’ve left out the stitches from the sculpt and used the stitch brushes in SP later.
In the book, the doublet’s supposed to be satin. I changed it to leather mostly because I preferred the look of that material in the game references…
I added multiple layers with different tones & spec/gloss values for the leather. I used the smart masks & mask generators to make it so the different values were scattered across the leather… “Leather too shiny. Skin needs more colour variation.”
Body textures; Normal, Diffuse, Gloss, Specular. Detail Normal (for arms), Translucency, Occlusion, Alpha (cutout).
Here are the final texture sheets for the character. I’m happy with the outcome for the most-part. I’m not 100% happy with the trousers. I feel like the colour scheme doesn’t fully suit the rest of the outfit and the ‘codpiece’ is getting a bit lost… Also, I feel like the blouse is a bit boring, perhaps because the creases got flattened a bit in the bake. Finally, I didn’t give enough texture space to the belts around her waist.
Face textures; Normal, Diffuse, Gloss, Specular. Detail Normal, Translucency, Occlusion, Alpha (cutout).
After gathering some reference from the games & fan art, I created a sword in Maya. The low poly version ended up being 3,612 tris, which I’m happy with. I think the UV map could be more optimal, but for a minor prop I wasn’t too concerned.
While I didn’t have time for lots of props, I wanted at least one for the final render. I thought about maybe a stolen coin purse, or a chair that she’s sat on; in the end I decided a sword suited the character and would work best if it was the only prop I had time for…
I baked the sword in Marmoset Toolbag 3, then textured it in Substance Painter. I re-used the leather material I used for the outfit to save time and keep my art consistent. In hindsight I should’ve spent more time on texturing the blade, adding scratches and wear.
I started by skinning the base mesh that I retopped fully earlier. This way I could focus on correct weight painting and deformation without accessories and different pieces getting in the way. I then used the Skin Wrap modifier to transfer the skin data from the base mesh to the full character. This saved a lot of time.
I knew I wanted to pose the character for the final render. Rigging/skinning is far from my favourite thing to do so I tried to make it as quick and simple as possible. I used the basic human CAT rig in 3ds Max, modified slightly to be in the right pose and have fingers. I decided against facial rigging due to time constraints. Instead, I used the Soft Selection settings in Maya to tweak the face and create expressions for the posed assets. I believe this method was justified for the project, considering the end-goal was just a final, posed render.
This time around I didnâ€™t have lots of time for extra props to go with the final render, so I wanted something simple that showcased her on her ownâ€Ś I looked at official art for The Witcher 3 to see how they present their finished characters. This render of Dandelion by Claudiu Tanasie was my main inspiration. If I return to this character later Iâ€™d like to create a little scene to ground the character.
I played around with different poses, camera angles and lighting for a while before I was happy. A key change I made was to tint the lighting and add a rim light to make the character fit into the scene better.
For the final render I tried to recreate the background from my reference, using these sparks & smoke PNGs and colours / gradients.
Lighting was something I started during texturing and kept tweaking throughout the rest of the project. I started with the basic skylight. I then added some directional child lights and added/removed spotlights; this helped create a similar lighting setup to that used in the previously shown Dandelion render. Most of my lights were white for a long time. After some feedback I tinted them blue or orange to give a more natural feel. I added some rim lights at the back to accentuate the character, and a fill light in front of her face to draw attention to it first.
Main spot light
Rim light Fill light Fill light
I started by looking at the logos for the different games, and the text on the cover of the book…
I wanted a sort of logo for my final renders… I tried to stick to a similar style to the game logos, overlaying a sort of metal texture, using gradients and having the red accent somewhere. I’m overall pretty happy with how the logo looks, but I think the Witcher 2/3 logos stick out more at a distance, so in hindsight my font choice might not have been the best.
I liked the font used for TW2&3 but I decided to go with a font closer to TW1 & the book cover because I felt it suited my book inspiration more…
I used the Morpheus font. Originally I made a quick logo with the character’s nickname & inspiration, but I felt it wasn’t 100% clear at a glance what my project was from this logo.
I put more effort into the second logo, trying to imagine that my project was for a new Witcher game inspired by the novels… I removed a drop shadow & made the red brighter based on critique.
- The first thing that comes to mind is the concept art. I didn’t spend enough time concepting the outfit; this meant I had to improvise a lot later on. I spent a long time trying to decide on the style of blouse, boots, etc. which could’ve been avoided if I’d spent more time on the concept art to nail down a solid design.
- The next problem was with sculpting. I used the same pores alpha for the entire face. This meant that areas like under the eyes and on the forehead didn’t look quite right because they needed different creases and pores. Overall, I’m happy with the outcome of this project. I created what I set out to and I believe it’s close to the quality and art style I tried to adhere to.
- I decided against making a mouth sack & teeth to spend more time on other elements but it limited me to closed-mouth expressions in my final renders. In future I plan to add these elements in so I can practice facial rigging and more dramatic expressions.
There are, as always, things I could improve. Largely, the shortcomings were due to time constraints, lack of foresight or lack of experience in some areas.
- The skinning wasn’t the best; areas around the shoulders on the jacket didn’t look great from behind, amongst other things. I didn’t spend much time fixing these issues because they weren’t visible in my renders, though I should probably fix them before uploading the model to Sketchfab or the like.
I think in the future I’ll return to this character to bring back elements I cut because of time, without the stress of a deadline.
- I would’ve liked to spend more time on the props too; creating a full scene similar to my previous character project. In future I’ll probably do this, since I found it really helps ground the character and makes them stand out much more.
Sketchbook featuring my entire creative process for making a Witcher-inspired character.