Goodbye Kansas spotlight for “Overkill’s The Walking Dead” trailer

Goodbye Kansas Studios creates award-winning visual effects, digital animation and motion capture for movies, game trailers and commercials.
Overkill's The Walking Dead - launch trailer
Part 1- Introduction

Hey Jonas, can you introduce yourself?

I’m Jonas Skoog, Lead Character Artist at Goodbye Kansas Studios Stockholm. I’ve been in the VFX industry for about 13 years.
During my years I have mostly been working with game cinematics for companies such as Ubisoft, DICE, Sony and Blur Studio to name a few.

Behind The Scenes: "Overkill's The Walking Dead" launch trailer

What kind of projects are you in charge of?

Although most of my work circulates around game cinematics I also get the chance to sink my teeth into character work for tv-series, films and in-game characters on a regular basis. The projects we take on at Goodbye Kansas Studios are very varied ranging from AAA cinematics to digidoubles and even stylized art from time to time.

Which projects have you already worked on?

I have mostly been working towards the gaming industry with trailers for games such as God of War, Battlefield, Conan, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Ghost Recon: Wildlands to name a few. 

Part 2- “Overkill’s The Walking Dead” trailer:
As a character lead for these trailers my responsibility was making sure all character assets found their way through the pipe meets the quality bar established by the team. This includes working with the facial team, prepping for simulation, setting up shading/groom workflows and of course overseeing the model/sculpt process of each character.

How long did you have to produce this trailer, and how many people were involved in this production?
The Overkill’s walking dead project was actually 5 different trailers spanning over 2 years.

The first 4 trailers were “characters trailers” where we portrayed Aiden, Maya, Grant, and Heather telling their separate stories and how they became who they are in the apocalypse. The final launch trailer combined the team in one thrilling mission.

With this in mind, we were quite a lot of people working on these trailers. In the end, I think we ended up with around 80 artists, managers and actors in total.

Part 3- Workflow and Techniques
Regarding character production, what was your workflow to achieve those stunning results?

For the characters, we received in-game assets along with work files such as Zbrush tools and Substance Painter files. From these building blocks, we fully redid the topology, UVs and sculpted on top to heighten the visual quality we aim for in our cinematics.

Getting access to the Painter files is a huge time saver since we can repurpose the procedural material setup and redistribute them on the new meshes.

Regarding the heads, we used a different approach. We started the same way by projecting our own topology over the high res client meshes, taking special account to the placement of certain edge loops. We also did a touch-up pass on the sculpts to make sure they were up to par with our standards. This was done in two steps:

  • To make sure the facial performance was of highest quality we scanned our mocap talents using our in-house scan rig. These were then blended slightly with the original models to enhance fidelity.
  • The second step was using displacement maps from the XYZ library to further detail the surface of the skin and fill in parts of lower quality.

For surface detailing, why did you use TexturingXYZ? How did you deal with the potential big feature variations between each character?

When working with in-game characters the high-res models usually aren't polished to the same degree as we need for VFX work.

This is where XYZ Displacement scans play a big role. Having the same UVs on all characters makes it really effective to share displacements between all of them to lower the time spent and still keep high quality.

When working on multiple characters for the same story, finding ways to optimize time is key.

Regarding those textures, how did you work with them?
Do you have a specific workflow or tips you would like to share with us?

We used 3 different sets of maps for different parts of the characters:

  • For the faces we used a pretty standard 3 channel Mari workflow for utilizing the XYZ maps which can be found in the tutorial page. Since we already had both albedos from the client and scanned actors we focused on using face displacements to enhance secondary and tertiary details on the models. The maps were also repurposed for adding extra depth to the albedos.
  • We also made use of the tileable microSkin packs to break up the surface further and control the mipmap roughness loss with shot distance.

For clothing we decided to go with the XYZ micro fabrics packs the enhance the surface details in Vray and make sure they stayed crisp for the close-up shots.

Did you have something else really challenging to tackle?

For the last trailer, we had several complicated shots in slow motion of zombies getting banged up. Heads exploding, splattering brains and dismembered limbs mostly handled in 3D with the help of Houdini simulations from our awesome Fx department.

We also had several different stages of the characters, shifting both in time axles and development through fight sequences. This meant we had to create complex shading trees and groom setups to give the shot production team the ability to control and swap states on demand.

What was a typical/representative day at Goodbye Kansas, while working on “Overkill’s The Walking Dead” trailer?

Working as a character lead no day is the same. One day I might be prepping base meshes making sure all characters are coherent and pipe friendly.

The next day I am sculpting a face, creating clothes in Marvelous Designer or working on our skin shader. Other days I might be sitting in different meetings the entire day.
The diversity is probably what I like most about my job. Being part of so many different stages in the production and see it evolve to the final product.

Did it bring something special to live and share as a team, to work on this project?

We have never been so in tune with zombies at the office as during these 2 years, having both Overkill’s The Walking Dead trailers in production AND working on the Walking Dead tv-series at the same time. Gore all over the place!

Would you like to add something else?

I really want to give a big shout out to the entire team at Goodbye Kansas. Every part of our trailers is collaboration all the way. We have so many talented artists at the office and around the world putting their magic into these trailers!

From everyone at Texturingxyz, we would like to thank Jonas, Goodbye Kansas and everyone involved in this article.