Image Courtesy of Michael Robson

Creating a 3D fantasy-inspired Orc with 3ds Max and Maya

By - - 3ds Max , Maya
5 mins
Last modification: 1 Aug, 2019

My name is Michael Robson, and I'm a 3D character artist. In this breakdown, I'm going to take you through the process that I used to create this fantasy character.

Michael Robson Portrait

The goal of this project was to learn more about skin shaders, and since I'm a big fan of fantasy characters and creatures, the orc was my first choice. The artwork is inspired by Dave Rapoza's "Orc Portrait" concept, and a lot by Industrial Light & Magic's (ILM) orcs made for the film, Warcraft.

Choosing a concept and gathering references

This step is one of the most important parts of the entire project. Getting good references will provide you with a clear direction when it comes to modeling, texturing, and shading. This is one of the steps that I spend most of my time on.

3D Orc References

I break the concept art into a few parts (anatomy, fur, metals, skin, bones, eyes, etc.) and since the armor in this concept is blurry, I researched one of the artist's other concepts with a similar design for the armor.

Sculpting the initial shapes 

Starting with a basic sphere, I turn on Dynamesh, which offers more freedom to move things around without having to worry about the topology. I slowly start to shape the head, adding the main features of the face, such as the eyes, ears, and mouth. Then, I move on to the torso.

3D Orc Sculpting Shapes

Once I'm happy with the primary forms and confident that there will be no major changes, I use ZRemesher to get a better topology and work on the refinement.

Modeling the armor 

When I'm happy with the overall shape of the character, I start to mask, extract, and block the shape of the armor in ZBrush to use as a base for retopology in Maya. Some other pieces were poly-modeled from primitives.

3D Orc Modeling Armor

During this step, it's very important to keep the concept art close by, especially for modeling the little pieces. 

3D Orc Modeling Armor Pieces
3D Orc Modeling Armor Pieces


For the retopology, I exported a decimated version of the base mesh sculpted in ZBrush and with quad draw, I started to rebuild the geometry on top of the sculpt. Usually, areas such as the eyes, mouth, and nose have a bit more geometry, they slightly mimic the flow of the facial anatomy.

3D Orc Retopology Geometry

TIP: If you're doing a retopology with a symmetrical mesh, you can mirror one side to another, which saves a lot of time.

3D Orc Retopology Symmetrical Mesh


With the retopology finished, it's time to unfold the UVs. My preference is to use Maya since the UV Toolkit handles the job well and is very easy to use.

3D Orc UV Unwrapping

In this particular model, I combined the pieces that are duplicated, such as the shoulder armor, the small golden armor piece holding the ropes over the shoulders, etc. Later, I created a different texture variation for each one.

3D Orc UVs Wireframe


My favorite method for this part of the process is to work with layers, since they are non-destructive, so I can experiment with different techniques on a separate layer. This way, if I don't like the result, I can simply delete that layer without losing the detail from the previous one.

3D Orc Facial Detail Layers

I separate my layers by types of detail, such as a break from the symmetry (it's good to break the symmetry into organic models, especially faces, as this makes them look more interesting), a layer for initial noise on the skin, another layer for a skin displacement projection, and finally, another layer for scars and other imperfections.

I followed the same process for the armor.

3D Orc Armor Detail Layers

Extracting maps from ZBrush

Once I'm satisfied with the details, it's time to extract a few maps from ZBrush. These maps will help us achieve a higher level of detail on the low-poly model.

3D Orc Extracting ZBrush maps

I usually extract the displacement and the normal map, and sometimes I also extract the cavity map for better skin detail.

Creating the light in 3ds Max

Light is very important, you can tell a story through lighting, so spend a good amount of time researching lighting and photography for your model.

3D Orc Lighting Setup3D Orc Dummy Lighting Setup

For this character, I used a basic three-point lighting setup (consisting of a key light, fill light, and backlight) and adjusted a little. 

3D Orc Light Render Test

Texturing the character

I used Mari and Substance Painter for texturing and used polarized photos of human skin (polarized photos don't have reflections, so we only get the colors and other detailed information from the skin). I projected using Mari directly onto the model, and afterward, I moved to Substance Painter and started adding dirt to the skin.

3D Orc Skin Textures
3D Orc Armor Textures

Shaders in 3ds Max

For the skin shader, I used VRayALSurfaceMtl, which is a Sub-surface shader that accurately mimics the skin surface.

3D Orc Skin Shader

Note, to make this shader work correctly, ensure your model is set to a scale that accurately reflects the real world. Here I adjusted the raw shader first and then I loaded the maps that were painted in Mari and Substance Painter.

3D Orc Displacement Map VRay

For the armor, I used a simple VRayMtl.

3D Orc Armor Skin Shader

Grooming with Ornatrix

For the hair, I used a plugin called Ornatrix, available for 3ds Max and Maya. The first thing here is to create a base for the hair. To do that, simply select a few polygons on the areas that you want the hair to grow from and detach it. It's best to select a bit more around the area, for safety purposes.

3D Orc Hair Ornatrix

After that, I apply a symmetry modifier to the other side and start using the Ornatrix modifiers to grow and stylize the hair.

When I'm satisfied with the result, I add an OX Render Settings to the top and VRayOrnatrixMod, so we can render the hair in VRay.

3D Orc Ornatrix Grooming Workflow
3D Orc Ornatrix Grooming Workflow
3D Orc Ornatrix Grooming Workflow

And now, we just need to render the entire character. 

Thanks, Michael, for sharing your process with us!

Check out Michael's portfolio on ArtStation: 

Connect with Michael: 


Posted By
Published In
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Fantasy
  • Modeling
  • Shading
  • UVs
  • Workflow
  • Film & VFX
1 Comment
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| 1 year ago
This is great, would love to see more Tutorials like this. But please show the finished peice !l