5 Tools in my Character Toolbox

Jul 18, 2019 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

My last article on CC3 changing the way characters are made spurred new questions about what tools are in my character pipeline? While these are not the only tools I use, they are the ones I go to most often and enjoy using.

Reallusion Character Creator 3 (CC3) for the base character mesh. Why re-invent the wheel or worry about dimensions, scale, rigging and all the tedious things that go into character mesh creation when CC3 takes care of all of that for you?

Do you want more customization other than morph sliders? No problem. Take the CC3 mesh into your favorite mesh tool which in my case is ZBrush and that fits nicely with the GoZ addition that puts my mesh right into ZBrush and right back into CC3 leaving all the hassle behind. CC3 gives you a first-rate lower poly base mesh.

Pixologic ZBrush is my sculpting or re-sculpting tool of choice. I'm sure Mudbox and others are similar, but I've used ZBrush for several years now, so it was a natural fit. GoZ was the icing on the cake with no more export/import time-wasting.

For me, ZBrush is such a powerful sculpting tool.  If you can draw it out by mask, then you have many options for turning the masked area into body armor or other accessories. Mask and extract or mask and make poly group are two such methods of creating accessories.

In terms of armor and hard surface items, the variable density ZBrush provides along with the ZRemesher and Decimation Master allows for the creation of detailed but projected high poly features that work well in a real-time environment.

Marvelous Designer (MD) for clothing items or any cloth-based item a character might need. All I can say about MD is the need to wrap your head around patterns. They may start out as a foreign language but soon you will grasp how to translate clothing into patterns and vice-versa.

As a kid, I was completely baffled by the complexities making clothing from patterns. I used to watch my grandmother and mother layout patterns and start cutting cloth. Then, as if by magic, they formed into clothing!!! MD is same way… its just all digital.

Wrap your head around patterns and there isn't much you CAN'T make with MD. From basic clothing to hoods, scarves, and capes, MD can do it all.

MD Clothing ExamplesClothing Created for my Outlander character in Marvelous Designer

Substance Painter for texturing including the all import Z dimension… height. Height makes painted texture look like it was modeled with little overhead to slow things down in its final usage.

Just it's alpha brushes alone make it worth the purchase to a texture hack like me. I spent a career concentrating on the mesh, not texturing which is an art form in its' own right.

When someone as unskilled and inexperienced as I am in texturing can use a one-click alpha brush (which you can custom make in Photoshop) to add magnificent detail that looks hand-carved to any piece it immediately adds more value to your characters.

With programs like Substance Painter, you can paint armor onto the cloth instead of sculpting it. Its Z dimension can dig in or protrude out depending on the need.

Simple put… Substance Painter makes you look like you know what you are doing… even if you are barely doing it.

Substance Painter AlphasExamples of Single or Two-Click Alpha Map Detail in Substance Painter

Photoshop for touch-ups to… well… anything. I mean damn… it's Photoshop… what can you NOT do with it???

Don't really need to expound here as most of us have it in our toolbox already or a close cousin if we're on a tight budget. For those that don't "get it" … you will.

Photoshop can touch up final renders from still images to videos and excels at image sequence driven videos, but it can also correct mistakes or other unsightly things that can happen in a character pipeline. Including cleaning up poor ambient occlusion and shadows that you really didn't want on the final product.

While I do use other tools such as Studio Max, Poser and DAZ Studio I mainly live in a low poly world so the last two are non-starters no matter how good of a program they are. Studio Max is my Swiss Army Knife app that does a lot of things the other won't do or won't do to my satisfaction.

While some of these programs have close cousins out there (that are capable in their own right) these are five I go to most often. I still learn things every day as I will never give up digital work unless it's physically impossible for me to do so and these programs help keep my mind sharp too.

In fact, they are in my main toolbox because just thinking of using them makes me smile.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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