REAPER Short film / Characters Breakdown


About the school: New3dge, located in Paris, is a private school of higher education specialized in the fields of Game Arts and VFX. We have tailored our student program and our teaching methods alongside some of the major players in these fields. We recruit our educators from our network of respected professionals around the globe.

Hey team, introduce yourself!

Tristan : Hey guys, I’m Tristan Machet, a french character/ blendshape artist.

In 2017, I finished my 3 years course in VFX- 3D Animation at New3dge, school in Paris and have been self-teaching 3D art since my 20.

On this project, I was in charge for gathering reference images for characters, preparing the topology of our model, sculpting all characters, texturing them for displace/diffuse maps, creating facial and body blendshapes.

Currently at Unit Image, I had the opportunity to work on multiple high quality productions such as The Crew 2 Launch Trailer, Beyond Good & Evil 2, God of War, Disneyland Paris - The little duck and on the episode called ‘’ Beyond the Aquila Rift’’ from the new Netflix serie, ‘’ Love, Death & Robots'’.

Florian : Hello everyone, my name is Florian Malchow, I'm a French/Dutch character artist based in Paris. After finishing high school in the Netherlands I went to study VFX & Animation at New3dge in Paris. I got an internship at Unit Image half way through until I finished school. Since then I've been working at Unit Image as a character artist working on several projects such as The Crew 2 Launch Trailer, Beyond Good & Evil 2, God of War, Disneyland Paris - The little duck and one episode in the new Netflix serie from David Fincher and Tim Miller called “ Love, Death & Robots “.

Robin : Hey everyone, my name is Robin Aleno,  I'm a French scripter , layout / environment artist. I studied VFX & Animation at New3dge in Paris. I got an internship in different companies until I finished school. Since then I've been working at Unit Image, working as well on several projects such as Beyond Good & Evil 2, God of War, Disneyland Paris - The little duck and one episode in the new Netflix serie from David Fincher and Tim Miller called “ Love, Death & Robots “.

Patrice : Hi everyone, my name is Patrice Louise,  a French environment artist. I studied VFX & Animation at New3dge in Paris. Currently at Nki,  I've worked at Unit Image on some different projects such as Taxi 5, Beyond Good & Evil 2 trailer 1 and 2 , God of War, The Crew 2 Launch Trailer  and one episode in the new Netflix serie from David Fincher and Tim Miller called “ Love, Death & Robots “.

Fabrice : Hey guys, my name is Fabrice Leger and and I was in charge of the concept design, storyboarding and animation for the Reaper project. I spent 4 years studying 3D, vfx and animation at New3dge, where I met the other members of the team. Since the end of my curriculum I did some concept and storyboard for some advertisement and feature film vfx at Mathematic Studio, and I am now working as a 3D animator on some kids tv and movie shows at BlueSpirit Studio.

We are the Reaper team, and we are going to unveil more about our short film, especially on how we bring our characters to life throughout the production.


What was the idea behind this movie and why choosing this “ photoreal” look?

The idea came from a book called “The Book With No Name”. This book quickly caught our interest for it’s staging potential. We got inspired by the first chapter to set the base of our mood and style. We then reworked the story in order to make it more personal and to match all the short films requirements(constraints).

The western style really inspired us for the artistic and cinematic direction that it allowed us to set in our movie. It was also an exercise that has never been made in our school so far.

Before starting the project, most of us had already developed a photo-realistic tendency, as well as the goal to work in highly realistic cinematic studios. This is quite natural that we chose a realistic artistic direction. When we first talked about our short, we agreed on our will to make a pretty dark and mature movie, with a dirty glaucous atmosphere.

How long was the production in total, how many people were involved, and how long was the character work ?

We worked on this short during our last year at school, we were 5 people in our group, each one of us having specific skills in the CG pipeline. The character work was spread all over the year for maximum flexibility but overall it took us about 6 months : 2 for each main character (Ringo, Reaper) and 2 others for all the extra characters.

Here are the main softwares we used during this production : Zbrush, Mari, 3ds Max, Marvelous Designer, Substance Painter, Photoshop, Ornatrix, Vray.

How did you handle the character part? Can you explain the workflow being used?

Part 1 - Designing the characters

Ringo - Reaper faces designs

We started out by designing the main character’s faces as they would be the most viewed parts of their design, and also the most impactful way to settle our western realistic style. Both of the main characters were worked the same way, we first tried to find a face design that matched our desire for their personality, their origins, and their background story. Our Concept Artist Fabrice Léger chose to have a cartoonish style in order to focus on design charisma and exaggerate important features. For Ringo (the left character) we wanted to showcase a different villain that we usually see, instead of making him badass trough muscles and testosterone, we wanted to give him more of a sly and cunning personna. We wanted him to appear mean and dangerous trough his way of walking, sneaking, and developing the madness inside him. We were very inspired by The Dark Knight’s Joker character to establish codes.
After we found an appropriate design, given the realistic direction, we gathered references images of real actors which were closest to our design, this would allow us, later in the production, to really translate the concept to a realistic character.

Ringo clothes layers - Reaper clothes materials

In addition to their faces, we needed to give our characters clothes that could emphasize their stories. Ringo was dressed up as a classic western character, but a bit more classy than his fellow gang members, so that he could be easily identified as the ring leader of the bunch, and to reveal a bit of his extravagant character.. Reaper, on the other side, was the stranger, a wanderer, the one who walked across the countries and doesn’t appear to be fitting where he comes.

To improve our production process, we could use the work that Fabrice did, detailing all the different layers of clothing for us to understand easily what constituted the costume . The material research was also very important to us as it would allow us to move quickly and anticipate our needs.

Ringo - final concept

Part 2 - Modeling the characters

Main characters

We started by defining a topology for our basemesh, which had to fulfill several important criteria. It needed to be denser in visible places and to optimize we reduced the density of non-visible areas. We took the time to make a good basemesh since it would be the spine of all our characters. This unique topology also allows us to transfer UV / rig / setup / blendshapes / grooms / textures to each of our Ringo’s gang members.

This is how we started the HD sculpting of characters in ZBrush. The face was initially treated in symmetry, to save time modeling and texturing, the asymmetrical details were made in a separate layer in order to display them on our models or not.

After testing different solutions, TexturingXYZ offered us the best quality / time ratio and went perfectly in our artistic direction. The ease with which the separation of the maps is made was particularly pleasant for our workflow.

After preparing the different channels (secondary / tertiary / micro) we projected them in MariI on our model.

Texturing XYZ - 3 Channels

Once the maps exported from Mari, we projected them in ZBrush in 3 separate layers to have more controls on the intensities of the 3 channels. Finally, we have exported a displace map usable in 3ds max that we could apply on all our characters.

Reaper - Layer sculpting evolution

Ringo - Displaced mesh


One of the main constraints was to produce close-ups on the faces of the characters and to transcribe their emotions in the most efficient way possible.

To arrive at this result, we realized about 50 blendshapes to create combinations of expressions.

Ringo - Blendshape samples

In the first sequence, we discover Ringo, wounded, then dried up after his death. In order to realize these alternative models, we have prepared specific blendshapes and diffuse maps. We also went through a phase of animation and groom tweaks.

- How did you handle the groom?

To complete the creation of our characters, we realized the grooms with Ornatrix. When developing the concepts, our characters artists gave us some guidelines to avoid future problems during grooming. The first constraint was the length of the haircut, this would allow us to avoid interpenetrations of hair and also the need to simulate their physique.

Ringo - Grooming variations

Gang Members

As we have said before, all our characters share our unique topology. It is thanks to this technique that we were able to easily recover the work carried out on the main characters to apply them on our extras.

Gang members - Faces designs

Gang members - Faces designs

We were able to save a lot of time and energy, which we were able to redirect to more important parts of the project.

Gang members - Grooming

Part 3 : Texturing / Shading

- How did you handle the texturing and shading parts?

The texturing of the characters was mainly treated in Mari, Photoshop, as well as Substance, were used.

The Diffuse Map also had to meet the criteria of our artistic direction. So to have this result, we have taken time to collect pictures of faces on the web. Once the stock of images generated, we retouched and cleaned them in photoshop by removing highlights and shadows.

Then they were imported into Mari and projected on our models. Adjustments, as well as additional layers, were handmade. For the final touch, the Displace has been slightly applied.

The gloss map was hand painted while the specular map was combined by the diffuse map with a high pass and displace map.

The shading was done with V-Ray. Skin was shaded using the AlShader, we found it out more accurate than Vray’s FastSSS2, but took longer to render.

Most of the Reaper clothes were textured with Substance Painter while Ringo’s ones were made in Mari.

For Ringo’s gang members clothes, we textured them with procedural methods and shaded them with V-ray inside 3DS Max. Of course, the shading was done using a lot of photo references which is the best way to keep realism.

Reaper - wip renders

Any tips you can share about the character process?

Tristan :

- work with many references, collect images of scans (best way to understand the volumes and all the subtleties invisible to the naked eye).

- spend time on the foundation of the model: the primary and secondary forms must be solid and laid before moving to the detailing.

- breaking the symmetry is a good way to add realism , do not hesitate to look for atypical faces.

- the addition of imperfections like spots or scars into the sculpt and texture.

Florian :

- avoid long hair (creations, ram, penetrations, simulations)

- minimize the layers of clothing,

- 1 unique topology  (sharing grooms / maps / setup / blendshapes, same T-pose to share the assets),

- prefer the bump / normal to displace on the parts not requiring it (reduce the ram)

Where are you working now?

Tristan :

I'm character/blendshape artist at Unit Image. I'm in charge to sculpt and fix models,  facial / body blendshapes and shotsculpt that helps to correct deformations from animations and/ or adding subtle details such as muscular contractions, skin slides, veins bumping and other stuff like this.

Would you like to add anything to this interview?

Once again, it was a pleasure for the 5 of us to work together on this project. We thank our families, Clément Martin who helped and motivated us through this project, New3dge, Ranch Computing.

We also thank Jeremy Celeste and TexturingXYZ for their stuff and for this opportunity to develop and share our workflow.

We would like to thank the whole Reaper team for their helpful contribution.
If you're also interested to be featured here on a topic that might interest the community, feel free to contact us!

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