Creating A New Character – Blender, MakeHuman, Substance Painter

I’m working on a new character for the webcomic. Her name is Olminita, and she’s not going to actually show up on page for a while yet, but I thought I’d document the process just for fun.

If you’ve been wondering how I make the characters for At War’s Edge – here’s a sneak peek. And if you haven’t – here it is anyway 😀

The Character

I started in MakeHuman. It allows you to model a fairly realistic basic character simply by moving sliders such as “height”, “weight”, “nose shape”, etc. It also provides basic textures, and some clothes.

I like to export the initial character version from MakeHuman with clothes (which I later delete) just because it’s fun to see “before” and “after” shots 🙂 Olminita, in particular, came out of MakeHuman looking thus:

3D character fresh out of MakeHuman, rendered in Blender Eevee

She also had a default rig (I picked the “no toes” option, because it’s winter in Halqueme and there’s no way I’m going to need to animate her toes :D)

Character rig - MakeHuman

I adjusted the rig a bit, adding IKs and extra controls:

Character rig with IKs and constraints

Then came the fun part: designing the character. The first thing I added was hair. I used an add-on for Blender called the Hair Tool, which generates hair strands (or braids!) from curves. This was my first time working with that add-on, and I was really happy with the results.

The orange thingies are the deformer curves the braids are generated from:

Hair generated through Blender Hair Tool
3D character Rendered in Blender Cycles

From there I should’ve probably added the braid bones and braid tails, but I wanted to get an overall feel of the character as soon as possible. So then I pulled Olminita into Substance Painter to work on the skin.

Suubstance Painter character texturing
Who said “creepy”? 😀

I didn’t remake the skin completely from scratch – I took the MakeHuman skin and then made it darker, added hair and a bit of a blush, that sort of thing. So Olminita started looking a bit more like herself:

3D character

And then came the really fun part – the costuming. Which happened to be the hardest part, too.

Costuming

The problem here was that Olminita is from a culture we haven’t seen before. In fact, from two cultures we haven’t seen before — she’s half-Iledri, half-Laimari, and she’s going to show up in a context where I’m not even sure yet which one she needs to reflect.

So this was the part where I stopped designing for a bit and started world-building.

The Wordbuilding Digression

Of the Iledri I knew that they are a forest people who avoid “cold iron” and are basically elves. The Laimari I always thought of as vaguely inspired by the Mayas, or maybe Aztecs. (If you think my understanding of the pre-Columbian America was limited when I thought of that “vague inspiration”, you’re very right.)

I can’t honestly say my understanding got that much better after the three-day deep-dive research. But I did learn the difference between Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas.

And I discovered that Laimari and Iledri both resemble the Incas, though in different ways.

The Iledri, like the Incas, are a civilization advanced in medicine and communications, and don’t handle iron. They are also, similar to the Incas, a gift culture that has no use for money or trading. (That part about the Incas blew my mind – I’d thought I was being completely unrealistic when assigning Iledri a gift economy and was prepared to hand-wave it with a “because magic” :D)

The Laimari, for their part, do have money and iron, but, like the Incas, they use engineering to make their mountains habitable. And their language has the trivalent logic built into it, like Aymara. I also have a sneaking suspicion their class structure works similarly to the Incas, but that’s where I still have a lot of research to do.

All this is to say – when dressing Ominita, I wound up trawling the internet for “Inca dress historical” and similar keywords.

The Costume

I did of course end up changing a lot of what I found. In part because these aren’t actual Incas, and the Iledri especially have very different aesthetic preferences. And in part because most Inca clothes I found seemed… um… summer-oriented? I mean, I’m not entirely sure what winters in Peru are like, but sandals and sleeveless tops aren’t going to cut it in the Bereghin winter. Or in the neighbouring Iledri lands where Olminita grew up.

So I’m not sure how much Inca influence is even visible in the outcome of this.

I mean, the basic dress shape ended up being pretty universal:

3D character costume dress

And yes, I did use the MakeHuman T-shirt as a starting point for the dress 🙂 I then made a higher poly dress with some folds and creases, and added even more creases/fabric texture in Substance Painter. I baked those in as normals:

3D dress with baked normal map

And then I used Substance again to make a trim sheet with colours and patterns, and plugged that into a separate UV map. Since it was just colours, this honestly didn’t require Substance, I could’ve used Gimp or Inkscape, but oh well.

Trim sheet preview:

trim sheet patterns

The end result came out looking thusly:

Olminita, daughter of Ramul - 3D portrait
Olminita, daughter of Ramul - 3D model full size

The shoes definitely need more work, and I think she might need a cape. And gloves. And maybe a hat, or a headscarf. And I’m wondering if this dress might actually fit her fully-Laimari mother better than Olminita herself.

But as a first attempt – I’m happy with this 🙂

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