Yuri Alexander / Interview

Hey Yuri, introduce yourself!

My name is Yuri Alexander, I am a Senior Character Artist with Sony, at Bend Studio. Before my current position, I was a freelancer, and worked on projects like Spiderman PS4 and Homefront: Revolution.

What is your personal approach to digital arts, and how are you connected to texturing?

Speaking on the personal work/projects side of things, as character artists we’ve always been responsible for our own texturing and shader work, I don’t see this as definitely changing, at least for realistic-style character creation, but with advances it is getting more complicated.

Shader testing/lookdev using texturing.xyz cloth, leather & skin detail maps

In the recent past, and still quite often, the method of texturing is to shoot off the character to substance painter (or whatever you use), and then what you see is what you get, as far as in-engine texturing goes. But shaders are getting more complex, and building specialty shaders is starting to become part of the creation process. As engines are capable of doing more things, a lot of the texture authoring has to be off-loaded or side-loaded to serve many purposes. Instead of simply spamming a massive size map out of photoshop or painter and throwing it into the engine, there is more integration between the shader and the textures to juggle extra attributes like thread level color or fresnel detail or detail normals.

For personal projects, on the surfacing/shader side of things, especially in realism, that makes it more important to be inputting either carefully made, or well sourced information into the engine. There are a lot of ways to get this or make it (substance designer, scanning, carefully lit and taken photos, creating it in 3d and baking maps), but scanned surface detail like Texturing.xyz is really helpful for selling that realism. At the end of the day, when I get a chance to work on my own stuff, I’d (usually) rather sit down and sculpt characters than tinker around in designer, photoshop or Maya, and Texturing.xyz saves a lot of time and on top of that are super high quality.

Non-committal texturing.xyz displacement map in zbrush noise

On your artistic journey, from the start until today, did you find other artists that inspired you, or still provide you the will to keep looking over the horizon?

Yeah, sorry to drop a block of names, but I am inspired daily by the CG community, and credit a lot of these people with the inspiration to push forward and try to be better: Modelers like Tom Parker, Rodion Vlasov, Ehren Bienert, Gio Nakpil and Vimal Kerketta. 

Lighting is an area I struggle with it and I am in awe of people with an eye for it like Ian Spriggs, Marco Di Lucca, Kris Costa and Luka Hajka. 

Artists who excel at anatomy like Eugene Fokin, Scott Eaton, and Steve Lord.

Hard surface people like Mike Nash, Cedric Seaut and Marco plouffe. 

In particular, I am inspired by game artists who push the medium through whatever means: art, texturing, shaders etc., and have a focus on not just the art but being a game developer as well, guys like Gavin Goulden, Mike Kime, Josh Lynch and Raf Grassetti. 

Genuinely there are too many inspirational artists to name. 

Are there still challenges you face in your art today?

Aside from personal growth, the biggest challenge I’ve seen crop-up in characters over the last few years is an attention to detail that requires a huge investment of time and learning, which can be a challenge in personal work for people (like me) with very limited free time. Engines like Unreal are capable of pushing an amazing level of realism, but with that comes the need to be modeling every thread, custom shaders to handle every property of every surface, micro-details in the skin and cloth, etc. 

It’s almost too much, now, for one person to produce a realistic character of the kind of quality that engines are capable of. In movies you’d have one person modeling, another texturing, another grooming the hair, someone shading it and someone lighting it, at the minimum. But in personal work, with one person working on all that, making one character is starting to become a huge challenge/undertaking. Keeping current on just one area, say hair, requires time investment in learning the modern workflows, in learning specialized tools (like x-gen), and getting up to speed on the engine and shader side of stuff (limitations, best practice) so that you know what you can get away with and what looks best.

Surface detailing is another time sink. There are all kinds of pipelines or workflows to produce skin detail or clothing detail, but it’s yet another detour in creating a character, which is why I use Texturing.xyz stuff whenever I can in my personal projects, so I can focus on other things. 

Shader testing

What is a typical/representative day for you?

What we do at work varies by day. At home I try to either focus on something that is opposite to what I’m doing at work, or a project that pushes a skill I want to focus on. Sometimes that’s anatomy, sometimes its a development skill like working with shaders, most of the time it’s just a focus on sculpting and art in general.

How did you learn about TexturingXYZ? Did you have any specific reaction to it?

I genuinely can’t remember, haha, it’s been so long. It solved an immediate need, which is why I gravitated towards it. I have two young children, and I work full-time, and when I make a character I want to concentrate on the fun and important stuff without getting bogged down in the details. 

"Everyone knows that the last 10% of a project is all about details, but is 50% of the work."

For me, Texturing.xyz stuff is super high quality detail oriented stuff that is easy to incorporate into a project to push it that last 10% without dedicating a huge block of time to sculpting realistic facial pore patterns, or making thread level detail for your clothing. Stuff that a character artist should know how to do, but maybe doesn’t have the time or inclination to do by hand for everything, or at least doesn’t have the time to do them well enough to match the quality of something like XYZ.

What is the place of TexturingXYZ maps in your usual workflows? Which softwares do you use? Any tips for aspiring or professional Artists?

For personal work, for heads and bodies, I like to reuse the same base-mesh so that I can retain my UVs, with a matching set of Texturing.xyz displacement maps. At a certain point during the sculpting process I place the displacement maps into the zbrush Surface Noise slot, set to UV’s, so that I can sculpt with the detail map on, which helps me visualize the end product and plays into the sculpting choices I make. Using surface noise just makes it non-committal, so I don’t mess up my details while I’m working. It’ll also lets me know if I’m stretching or warping something in my topo, or if my features are drifting, so there’s less cleanup work at the end.

On the realtime side, when doing personal projects,  I use a lot of XYZ to build Unreal shaders for clothing and skin. For clothing, I have a base shader that I can drop onto any asset, assign normals and adjust base material values, and then throw on texturing.xyz cloth detail maps to test out initial looks or ideas for surfacing, before I commit to an idea and start building a custom shader to do exactly what I want out of those maps. The thread level ID masks make adjusting color easy, and although I generally convert the heightmap to normal for the final version, unreal accepts the height maps with decent quality so I can pretty much use any of the texturing.xyz stuff out of the box until I know exactly what I want.

More shader testing

For personal work on skin, I have one master shader that I use for everything, to cut down on time spent, built with XYZ micro-detail maps.

The skin shader uses masks to control 12 face zones and 4 body zones, or gives me the option to use a single noisy map if I prefer. Through the shader I can control the spec, roughness and detail normal strength of each zone independently - for some zones, like eyelids, I can make small color adjustments as well. In addition, each zone uses a unique detail normal map appropriate to that area of the face or body. This helps with tuning material properties without having to constantly kick back to painter for small adjustments, and allows me to reuse the same shader between projects, as long as the basemesh and UV’s remain the same (so that I can keep the zone masks the same). Because the shader is flexible, it saves me a ton of texturing and lookdev time.

Shader development with defined facial zones, with unique detail maps per zone
Closeup of skin texture with overlayed blood shader. Microxyz detail normal/spec/gloss work with the blood to pool in the cavities.
UE4 shader, 12 facial zones with unique texturing.xyz detail maps

Would you like to add anything to this interview?

It would be impossible to thank everyone who supports me and all the awesome teams and co-workers I’ve gotten to work with over the years. My wife needs a shout-out though, she is constantly taking on more than me, so I can put in extra time at home learning this stuff. Also, thank you to texturing.xyz for the opportunity to discuss some of this stuff.

Here are some images of my current work-in-progress, featuring my daughter as her favorite video game character from her favorite game, Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn. The model is extreme WIP, but I’m relying heavily on Texturing.xyz detail maps, especially their awesome leather stuff, to do the finishing details.  

Heavy use of Texturing.xyz leather to support details.

More of the P.O.S sculpt:

Some images of the unfinished elf project that I didn’t have space for, all reliant on texturing.xyz for skin and cloth:

We would like to thank Yuri for his helpful contribution.
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