Madushan Wenuranga

Breaking down the Maya workflow behind a 3D World War II Aviator

By - - Maya
5 mins
Last modification: 20 Dec, 2018
From dreams of fighter aircrafts to becoming a 3D modeler, texture and shader artist, Madushan Wenuranga took his love for aviation and turned it into a complex 3D render. Here’s a full breakdown of how he did it from start to finish. 

WWII Aviator
Hi, I’m Madushan Wenuranga. 3D Modeling, texturing and shading artist with work experience in media and advertising fields.

I have always been interested in aviation since I was a kid. Fighter aircrafts are my favorite. Just thinking about flying an aircraft in stormy weather at night, waiting for the enemy aircrafts to appear through the clouds gets me inspired. That’s what inspired me to make this project, “WWII Aviator.”

WWII Aviator Posed

Each and every artist has their own workflow to proceed with a project like this. This breakdown will go over some of the things I did to tackle my “WWII Aviator” project.


The first step to proceed with a project like this is collecting reference material. This gave me a good understanding of what I was trying to make. Reference material is also very important to understand scale, what material things are built with, the purpose they serve, as well as technical aspects. This might take a bit of time, but will help save time later in the process.

Gathering References

Because I’m making a human character, I always keep a pre-modeled human figure made to an approximate scale of real world in the scene (about 6feet or 183cm tall). Keeping that figure in mind, I model all the assets.

Modeling the Assets

After modeling piece by piece, I assemble them in relation to the human model already in the scene. At this stage, you can either choose to do the UVs here or do them later. I chose to do them later. After modeling all the base assets according to the reference, I sent them in “.obj” format to ZBrush for sculpting.


Once all of the assets were in ZBrush as separate sub tools, I started sculpting. I started with the proportions of clothing, such as the life vest, on low subdivisions. I then added folds, creases and breaking of symmetry and perfect lines.

Moving assets into ZBrush

For the face, I started with a low subdivision level and made the base shape, then moving to a higher subdivision level and adding secondary shapes, wrinkles, and skin pore details. Here, I also gave the face a specific pose I chose.


After completing the sculpt, it’s time to do the UVs. I exported the assets to Maya at their lowest subdivisions. I did all the unfolding and packing of UV shells, keeping in mind shading groups such as the life jacket and all of its straps in a single UV Tile, or the oxygen mask and its miscellaneous pieces in a single UV Tile.


Next, I re-exported all the assets back to ZBrush to extract displacement and normal maps. Again, there are many ways of doing this — some use different software for this process.


There are many ways of posing the character in ZBrush. You can use a ZSphere rig or you can use simple masks to pose the character in a TPose Mesh in Transpose Master.


In Maya, I prepared all the assets to be sent to Substance Painter for texturing, much like having different shaders for assets in the same UV tile. Since I’m working on a PC with limited resources, I chose to export different groups of the model separately to Substance Painter instead of exporting the whole model at once.


After importing the asset to Substance Painter, I usually start with smart materials as a basis for my textures. Then I work my way up with the general look of materials, masking, and weathering effects.


For the face, I used a few images of a real character taken from different angles and projected them in ZBrush. I made the SSS color maps, specular, and secondary specular maps using Substance Painter and Photoshop.


I chose to set up shaders in Maya using V-Ray. I then used V-Ray materials and imported all the textures. I made all the corresponding connections of Diffuse, Glossiness, Reflection, Fresnel IOR, and Normal maps.

After that, I started to work on displacement. Using V-Ray IPR, I then adjusted the displacement amount for the look and feel I’m going for.


Instead of working on the original model, I usually extract pieces of geometry from the original model for grooming (e.g. the collar of the leather jacket). I used XGen to make hair and fur. Using XGen grooming tools simplifies the process of getting fur or hair   flow  the way you want. Next, I applied modifiers, one or two layers of clump, with different density settings, coil, and noise to make the grooming look more natural.

Grooming with XGen


In this scene, lighting is straight forward: I used a Rembrandt-style overhead key light and 2 lights on either side of the character to make a ring light effect. I also used a sky light with low intensity to bring out the darker shadows. Finally, I added a few other lights to make the reflections more interesting.

Lighting the Scene


Presentation is important. I mainly worked on the front bust of the portrait for my main final render, so I put a little extra work into that. To make the presentation attractive to the viewer, having an interesting background is important as well,which is why I opted to add a sky backdrop instead a solid color for the main render. I used Maya’s 3D fluid system to create clouds and added them to the main render in post.

Finalizing the Render
World War II Aviator Background

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