3D World

CRE­ATE A DE­TAILED FAN­TASY CHAR­AC­TER

Arno Sch­mitz walks you through the steps of de­sign­ing a char­ac­ter wor­thy of a lead­ing role in a next-gen video game

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The goal of this project was to take a char­ac­ter I’ve been doo­dling dur­ing my high school and col­lege years and recre­ate it to the best of my cur­rent abil­i­ties. Very sim­i­lar to how Marvel takes ex­ist­ing comic book char­ac­ters and evolves their de­sign to be wor­thy of cin­ema by reimag­in­ing all the de­tails and think­ing about the func­tion­al­ity of the out­fit. If you de­cide to use a con­cept that is not your own, be sure to credit the orig­i­nal artist.

The tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions for this project are a guess from a few years back of what I’d imag­ine next-gen would be. That means very clean and quite de­tailed game meshes that still use nor­mal maps. An off­line ren­derer was used to have ac­cess to ray­trac­ing. That turned out to be a very ac­cu­rate pre­dic­tion since that is achiev­able on this gen­er­a­tion of con­soles. Many 4K tex­tures are used to tex­ture the main el­e­ments of the char­ac­ter, and Xgen is used in favour of hair cards since this method looks more re­al­is­tic.

So this tu­to­rial will be a jour­ney to learn how to make a real-time cine­matic char­ac­ter at the most cutting edge of tech­nol­ogy.

A lot of the off­line ren­der­ing tech­niques like ray­trac­ing can be done in real-time en­gines now. So, for ex­am­ple, a char­ac­ter like this would be per­fect for a short movie made in Un­real or Unity.

01 EX­PLORE DE­SIGN CHOICES IN 2D

From work­ing at a AAA game com­pany you re­alise that it­er­at­ing in 3D is very costly. For this rea­son, be­fore un­der­tak­ing a big chal­lenge make sure you have a solid con­cept to base your project on. In this case the aim was to recre­ate a char­ac­ter I of­ten sketched in high school. When­ever you spot ar­eas that could be up­graded dur­ing the mod­el­ling phase, do some sketches or paintovers first.

02 BLOCK-IN THE CHAR­AC­TER

At this stage your goal is to quickly get an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your char­ac­ter. Ap­ply some shaders close to the right colour and spec­u­lar re­sponse. This will help to get a good im­pres­sion of your model at an early stage.

First fo­cus on the big shapes, then con­tin­u­ously re­fine the shapes by adding sec­ondary de­tail. When adding more de­tail, try to build on your pre­vi­ous big shape de­ci­sions, in­stead of chang­ing them.

This scene will serve as a hub for your progress and will con­tin­u­ously be up­dated.

03 CHECK FOR ANY AR­TIC­U­LA­TION PROB­LEMS

Be­fore in­vest­ing any ef­fort into mak­ing an in­tri­cate model, it is best to do a san­ity check by ar­tic­u­lat­ing the char­ac­ter through a bunch of ex­treme poses. This is called a ROM (Range of Mo­tion).

Arno Sch­mitz

Arno Sch­mitz is the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ter artist at Guer­rilla Games, cur­rently work­ing on Hori­zon For­bid­den West. Pre­vi­ously he worked on Hori­zon Zero Dawn and Kil­l­zone Shadow Fall. www.art­sta­tion.com/arno

For this char­ac­ter, after do­ing the ROM, the ar­mour plates had to be ad­justed. The shoul­der plates now have a lip so the spikes have enough clear­ance when the arms are raised. The bracer is now seg­mented to al­low fore­arm ro­ta­tion. The back of the cuirass is now sep­a­rated so there is enough mo­bil­ity for the fi­nal pose where he is crouched for­ward.

04 CREASE THOSE EDGES

To block out the ar­mour I used poly mod­el­ling. Maya’s crease edges are used to con­trol the form and flow of sub­di­vi­sion, en­sur­ing the hard edges stay well de­fined.

Use smooth preview to see how the mesh will be­have when sub­di­vided. Once fin­ished, sub­di­vide in Maya and ex­port to your sculpt­ing pack­age.

Dur­ing mod­el­ling, work with two sub­di­vi­sion lev­els. But for ex­port, four sub­di­vi­sions works bet­ter. This will re­sult in a crisper edge. In the sculpt­ing pack­age, you can re­con­struct your lev­els and add two ex­tra with­out creas­ing. This gives a nice lit­tle high­light on the cor­ners.

05 DE­VELOP A CON­SIS­TENT TECH­NIQUE

When sculpt­ing the ar­mour it’s all about adding sur­face def­i­ni­tion. Since this char­ac­ter has a lot of ar­mour a process was de­vel­oped to stay con­sis­tent. Keep notes of your brush set­tings for each stage.

This process starts by dent­ing the sur­face us­ing the in­flate brush. Al­ways use the same brush size and in­ten­sity across ob­jects.

This process re­peats three times, each time us­ing a smaller and less in­tense brush. We’re em­u­lat­ing a black­smith ham­mer­ing hard with a big ham­mer, and then switch­ing to

pro­gres­sively smaller tools and a lighter touch to do the fin­ish­ing.

06 ADD BAT­TLE DAM­AGE

Make sure to scrape every hard edge on the sur­face to avoid that per­fect clean-edged fac­tory look. Think about where there could be dam­age and add more scrap­ing. For ex­am­ple, the shoul­der plates rub against each other, caus­ing more wear. Fi­nally, the scratches are added. For this, it is en­cour­aged to make a cus­tom al­pha. In this way the scratches are unique to your char­ac­ter. This one was made in Maya. Add a few generic passes us­ing the scat­ter func­tion on your brush. Later, add more spe­cific scratches, try­ing to tell a story of where the ar­mour got hit.

07 USE PHOTOGRAMM­ETRY

Very spe­cific hor­i­zon­tal wrin­kles were re­quired to sell the sense of ar­tic­u­la­tion and the fact that the vest is pressed against the char­ac­ter’s stom­ach by the amour. Cre­at­ing fab­ric in Mar­velous De­signer can give very re­al­is­tic re­sults. How­ever, in this case, it was quite time-con­sum­ing to reach that spe­cific wrin­kle pat­tern.

So the fi­nal re­sult was achieved by tak­ing just eight pic­tures of the back­side of a win­ter jacket. It had ex­actly the re­quired wrin­kles. The re­sult from the photogramm­etry was con­verted into an al­pha to be used in­side Zbrush.

08 PLAY TO MAR­VELOUS DE­SIGNER’S STRENGTHS

A big part of this char­ac­ter was the long skirt that went all the way to the an­kles. Mar­velous De­signer played a cru­cial role in get­ting the folds be­liev­able. My best tip is: if you keep the par­ti­cle dis­tance and pat­tern the same, you don’t change the ver­tex ID. This al­lows you to ex­port mul­ti­ple ver­sions with dif­fer­ent shapes, amounts of wrin­kles, or pre­sets. In your sculpt­ing pro­gram, you im­port all th­ese ver­sions on dif­fer­ent lay­ers and cherry-pick the best wrin­kles from each ver­sion.

09 START THE FACE EARLY, FIN­ISH LAST

For any­thing you con­sider chal­leng­ing on your model my ad­vice is: start early, fin­ish last. Be­cause the face is the most sub­jec­tive part of the char­ac­ter it got by far the most at­ten­tion. This starts at the block-in stage where the topol­ogy is locked (this will be­come im­por­tant dur­ing the rig­ging stage).

Since it’s dif­fi­cult to gauge progress on some­thing this sub­jec­tive, em­ploy long breaks where you work on other parts of the char­ac­ter to come back with fresh eyes and find new is­sues that need im­prove­ment. For ex­am­ple, it’s easy to make the scalp too big with­out the hair.

10 THE CRAFT OF GAME MESH MOD­EL­LING

Build­ing game meshes with an­i­ma­tion in mind can be in­tri­cate. Gen­er­ally, you want to put the poly­gons in the sil­hou­ette and curved sur­faces, while keep­ing in­ner and flat sur­faces as op­ti­mised as pos­si­ble. This needs to be bal­anced with the needs of rig­ging/ an­i­ma­tions. No­tice how the flow of the poly­gons mainly fol­lows the di­rec­tion of the ob­jects them­selves and how the points line up around bor­ders. Ex­am­ples are the top of the leather belt, and the brass trim with the un­der­ly­ing fab­ric.

11 MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR UV SPACE

Pri­ori­tise filling the UV space as much as pos­si­ble over a bit of dis­tor­tion. Tex­tur­ing in 3D

painting soft­ware pack­ages makes dis­tor­tion not that much of an is­sue.

When us­ing tiling de­tails pay at­ten­tion to your UV di­rec­tion since it will re­veal it­self in the fi­nal tex­ture. Dis­tor­tion is also more of an is­sue in th­ese ar­eas.

Use tiling tex­tures to re­peat tex­tures as much as pos­si­ble. As an ex­am­ple: all the generic belts are tex­tured by this one lit­tle sheet on the right.

12 MAKE A STITCH BRUSH

In­stead of sculpt­ing every lit­tle de­tail, which re­quires a very high poly­gon den­sity that can af­fect per­for­mance, small fea­tures like stitches can be added di­rectly in the tex­ture dur­ing sur­fac­ing.

There­fore this sim­ple stitch brush was cre­ated in Pho­to­shop with a big spac­ing amount and some an­gle jit­ter. This can be eas­ily recre­ated in Mud­box or Sub­stance Pain­ter.

In­stead of only bump­ing the stitch out, also bump the sur­round­ings in a bit. This makes the stitch sit well in the ma­te­rial.

In Zbrush, the leather and fab­ric just have the seam lines and small ten­sion wrin­kles sculpted in.

13 MODEL TILEABLE FILIGREE

To re­ally sell the time pe­riod and fan­tasy as­pect of the char­ac­ter, filigree was added to his cloth­ing. To get the shine just right, model a sec­tion of straight filigree. This can be used as a tileable trim to quickly pop­u­late the re­quired ar­eas with very de­tailed filigree.

In the end, the trims got baked down to the un­der­ly­ing tex­ture so that some cus­tom touches like lit­tle hairs com­ing in be­tween the filigree could be added.

The ar­eas in the ZTL al­ready had the in­ter­ac­tion wrin­kles sculpted in, so there would be some in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the filigree and the un­der­ly­ing fab­ric.

14 START LOOK DE­VEL­OP­MENT

When you have all the game meshes and bakes col­lected, as­sign shaders with ap­prox­i­mately the right val­ues.

Once you are happy with those flat colours, you can start tex­tur­ing the char­ac­ter. You can con­fi­dently move for­ward know­ing that the flat colours are roughly the av­er­age of your tex­tures.

I al­ter­nate be­tween three light set­ups: a dark stu­dio, out­door with di­rect sun­light, and a bright stu­dio. This way you can check the ma­te­ri­als un­der dif­fer­ent light­ing con­di­tions. This is cru­cial for re­flec­tive ma­te­ri­als such as ar­mour. Us­ing just one light sce­nario could re­sult in you tweak­ing the maps to be less phys­i­cally cor­rect.

15 TEX­TURE PRO­CE­DU­RALLY US­ING SUB­STANCE PAIN­TER

Just like de­vel­op­ing a re­pro­ducible set of steps to sculpt the ar­mour con­sis­tently, pro­ce­dural tex­tur­ing uses the same mind­set. The dark me­tal, brass and light me­tal all have their own layer stacks.

To make ma­te­ri­als unique to your ar­mour or char­ac­ter, blend mul­ti­ple ex­ist­ing smart ma­te­ri­als. On top,

add cus­tom tileable tex­tures and layer masks to make it truly your own. Plus, all ma­te­ri­als re­ceive the same pass of grunge and dirt to tie the ma­te­ri­als to­gether.

16 ADD FINE DE­TAIL

De­cide at the be­gin­ning of your project what de­tails you want to sculpt and which you want to han­dle in the tex­ture. You will al­ways reach a point where you can’t get the res­o­lu­tion needed from the high­est sub­di­vi­sion. At this point, it’s more ef­fec­tive to cre­ate de­tails in the tex­ture.

In my case, all mi­cro de­tails are han­dled us­ing Sub­stance Pain­ter – leathers, fab­rics, me­tals, rust, and skin pores. Th­ese nor­mal map de­tails are then blended with the bakes from the high-poly ob­jects, cre­at­ing a far more con­vinc­ing nor­mal map that is con­sis­tent with the albedo, re­flectance, and rough­ness maps.

17 ADD WEAR IN PHO­TO­SHOP

Many tileable tex­tures are used to get the struc­ture of the weav­ing cor­rect. Lay­ers of noise and clouds are added at dif­fer­ent tiling rates. Us­ing screen mode you can also add a few tileables with lit­tle hairs and dust shot on a black back­ground, again at dif­fer­ent tiling rates than the weave.

To sell the age of the ma­te­rial it’s im­por­tant to add im­per­fec­tions. No­tice that most bor­ders have been faded a lit­tle due to wear, and ar­eas that are pro­trud­ing most have re­ceived sub­stan­tially more dam­age over time.

18 SKIN TONES

Shift the tone in ar­eas of the face. No­tice the yel­low fore­head, pur­ple lips, red­dish cheeks and blueish eyes. Grossly sim­pli­fied: the closer blood-car­ry­ing veins are un­der­neath the skin, the red­der the area. In the beard area hairs are form­ing un­der­neath the skin, re­duc­ing the amount of red scat­ter. As a fi­nal touch, tint your cav­ity map red and fade it into the albedo to tie your sculpted de­tail into the tex­ture.

19 USE MAR­MOSET TO IT­ER­ATE QUICKLY

Check­ing small tex­ture up­dates in the off­line ren­derer proved to be

very time con­sum­ing, due to large amounts of glossy reflection­s and big area lights; small WIP ren­ders could eas­ily take 20min.

With Mar­moset be­ing a great real-time ren­derer with high-end PBR ma­te­ri­als, you can cre­ate a scene where you can preview your tex­tur­ing in Mar­moset. You can sim­ply save your progress in Pho­to­shop and it will up­date im­me­di­ately in Mar­moset, giv­ing you quick and re­spon­sive feed­back.

20 KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PROGRESS

As a con­tin­u­a­tion of the look-dev phase, it’s a good idea to cre­ate a scene with a con­sis­tent cam­era an­gle to track your progress.

Once a week, make ren­ders of every light­ing con­di­tion and com­pare progress against the week be­fore. This way you see if you need

to course cor­rect. You will also get a bet­ter sense of your tra­jec­tory.

When re­view­ing the week’s progress ask your­self two things: have the changes of the last week been pos­i­tive, and what is cur­rently the worst part of the image?

The an­swers serve to guide your pri­or­i­ties for the up­com­ing week.

21 FO­CUS YOUR EF­FORT

It’s im­por­tant to not present your char­ac­ter in a vac­uum. Hav­ing them in­ter­act with a pedestal or some type of en­vi­ron­ment can re­ally ground the char­ac­ter in the world and can also be a great op­por­tu­nity for sto­ry­telling.

This doesn’t mean you have to get side-tracked. Mak­ing an en­vi­ron­ment to present your char­ac­ter can take a sub­stan­tial part of your project’s time. I would ad­vise look­ing at sites like

Me­gas­cans where you can get high­end scan data. Or shoot some­thing your­self us­ing photogramm­etry tech­niques. That way you can have an en­vi­ron­ment that matches the qual­ity and style of your char­ac­ter rel­a­tively quickly.

Use crease edges on your proxy to show bor­ders even dur­ing weight painting

22 RIG WHEN CRE­AT­ING MUL­TI­PLE POSES

When gen­er­at­ing mul­ti­ple poses I pre­fer to fully rig my char­ac­ters, as this will make it quicker to it­er­ate. The skele­ton it­self is straight­for­ward – nu­mer­ous helper joints are added to make sure the ar­mour moves cor­rectly with the body while stay­ing rigid (stretch­ing ar­mour used to be more com­mon in games, but has be­come less ac­cept­able).

All the cloth is sim­u­lated by ncloth to get the cor­rect de­for­ma­tion. When work­ing with ncloth keep the bind pose at frame

0 and put the ac­tual pose later in the time­line. Usu­ally, you will need 100 frames or more in order for the cloth to set­tle.

23 USE PROXY GE­OM­E­TRY TO SKIN

For skin­ning this char­ac­ter heavy use was made of the tool­box cre­ated by Perry Lei­jten. It can be down­loaded for free here: https:// gum­road.com/peerke.

My go-to work­flow is to cre­ate very sim­ple and low-res proxy ge­om­e­try, skin­ning it us­ing Perry’s Skin­ning Tools. You can then trans­fer this skin­ning in­for­ma­tion to the more com­plex mesh in worldspace. After that you can use Perry’s Skin­ning Tools to re­fine the skin and smooth out any kinks.

Hav­ing ver­tices matched per­fectly be­tween the ar­mour and fab­ric helps a lot at this stage to cre­ate solid-look­ing de­for­ma­tion with­out in­ter­sec­tions or gaps.

24 TRACE YOUR HAIR BLOCKOUT

Hair is a com­plex topic, so let’s break it down into some man­age­able steps.

Make a blockout in Zbrush cap­tur­ing the big vol­umes and hair di­rec­tion as if you were sculpt­ing for a col­lectible. Then draw the guide curves di­rectly on the model by mak­ing the sculpt live. After that, you still need to do plenty of tweak­ing in Xgen to avoid in­ter­sec­tions of the var­i­ous hair clumps, but at least you have a solid base to work from.

25 RIG THE FACE WITH BLENDSHAPE­S

The face only uses joints to ar­tic­u­late the jaw and eye­balls. The rest is all done with blendshape­s. This gives a great amount of artis­tic con­trol and re­quires less tech­ni­cal knowl­edge. All th­ese blendshape­s are con­nected to a nice user in­ter­face for ease of use.

The ex­pres­sion sculpts try to fol­low the FACS (Fa­cial Ac­tion Cod­ing Sys­tem) as much as pos­si­ble. Here you try to iso­late ex­pres­sions to their in­di­vid­ual mus­cle move­ments. Sculpt sym­met­ri­cal ex­pres­sions and later use mask­ing tech­niques to break them into their left and right coun­ter­part. Use a mirror as an ad­di­tional ref­er­ence when sculpt­ing.

26 POS­ING AND COM­PO­SI­TION

As men­tioned in the in­tro­duc­tion, the goal is to reimag­ine an old char­ac­ter. The most suc­cess­ful draw­ing was the base for the pose and com­po­si­tion. This is a fun way to track your progress as an artist.

For this process, take pic­tures in the de­sired pose as ref­er­ence. For this pose, the the­ory of cen­tre of grav­ity played an im­por­tant role. It had to look dra­matic, but he shouldn’t be fall­ing for­ward. In this case, a ‘Dutch an­gle’ is em­ployed, which means tilt­ing the cam­era so the hori­zon line is no longer par­al­lel with the bor­der of the frame.

27 WORK ONE LIGHT AT A TIME

Rem­brandt or Car­avag­gio are sources of in­spi­ra­tion when it comes to light­ing. Usu­ally, their work is quite dark and has one clear light di­rec­tion. Build your scene up light by light, not adding more than nec­es­sary. I don’t touch light colour, just the di­rec­tion, in­ten­sity, and size.

Ren­der out lit­tle 640 x 640 ren­ders of each light. Then do

a mini com­pos­ite in Pho­to­shop where you can de­ter­mine the in­ten­sity and colour of each light. In a lin­ear work­flow, you can sim­ply take the val­ues from Pho­to­shop back into Maya for a 1 to 1 match.

28 AS­SEM­BLE BIG REN­DERS US­ING TILES

My main ren­ders are usu­ally aimed for poster size, around 15.000 pix­els on the short­est edge. To achieve this with­out crash­ing your PC, cre­ate an ar­ray of cam­eras and use ‘Pre Scale’ and ‘Film Trans­late’ to ren­der the char­ac­ter piece by piece.

It’s smart to keep im­por­tant ar­eas like the face in one sin­gle tile. Keep roughly 5 to 10 per cent of over­lap in be­tween each tile. The amount of over­lap is con­trolled by the ‘Post Scale’. You can as­sem­ble th­ese pieces in Pho­to­shop like a puz­zle. Use gra­di­ents in the ar­eas of over­lap for a seam­less tran­si­tion.

29 COM­POS­ITE IN 32BIT

Work in Pho­to­shop’s 32bit mode for as long as pos­si­ble. In this mode, Pho­to­shop’s colours be­have sim­i­larly to your 3D pack­age if you set up a cor­rect lin­ear work­flow. This al­lows you to add lay­ers of light and am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion as if still work­ing in your ren­derer.

In this mode, your colours can also go be­yond a bright­ness value of one. This gives a much more re­al­is­tic ef­fect once you start blurring or adding dark el­e­ments to your scene like fog or vi­gnettes. In­stead of grey smudges, it re­veals all the de­tails in your high­lights.

30 ADD THE FIN­ISH­ING TOUCHES

When fin­ish­ing, take all the ren­dered lay­ers and as­sem­ble them. A good way to cre­ate lots of depth is by adding at­mos­phere us­ing your ren­dered depth pass as a mask.

Em­u­late the fo­cal point and pe­riph­eral vi­sion of the hu­man eye by us­ing a lens blur and depth of field in a sub­tle way. This will help to guide the viewer and is im­por­tant if the char­ac­ter is quite de­tailed. Con­sider skip­ping this for big prints.

Colour cor­rec­tion is the fi­nal touch to achieve your de­sired mood. My per­sonal pref­er­ence for this is to use the Cam­era Raw fil­ter in Pho­to­shop. •

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 ??  ?? Al­ter­na­tive Zbrush ap­proach The method ex­plained in step 03 also works di­rectly in Zbrush. You can ex­port your cage model with creased edges from Maya as ‘.ma’ and use ‘Crease Level’ in Zbrush to con­trol on which divi­sion the edges turn smooth.
Al­ter­na­tive Zbrush ap­proach The method ex­plained in step 03 also works di­rectly in Zbrush. You can ex­port your cage model with creased edges from Maya as ‘.ma’ and use ‘Crease Level’ in Zbrush to con­trol on which divi­sion the edges turn smooth.
 ??  ?? Al­ways have a clear goal
When start­ing a char­ac­ter project I rec­om­mend you be­gin with a solid con­cept. It can take a while to com­plete a project like this, so hav­ing a clear goal keeps you on track.
Al­ways have a clear goal When start­ing a char­ac­ter project I rec­om­mend you be­gin with a solid con­cept. It can take a while to com­plete a project like this, so hav­ing a clear goal keeps you on track.
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 ??  ?? At this stage some parts are still flat colours while oth­ers al­ready re­ceived some tex­tures
At this stage some parts are still flat colours while oth­ers al­ready re­ceived some tex­tures
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 ??  ?? Fo­cus on what’s im­por­tant
Define early on what is the ‘make or break’ as­pect of your char­ac­ter. I iden­ti­fied the shad­ing of the ar­mour (scratches, dents, scuffs, etc) and in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the ar­mour, fab­ric and leather as the key el­e­ments I had to nail.
Fo­cus on what’s im­por­tant Define early on what is the ‘make or break’ as­pect of your char­ac­ter. I iden­ti­fied the shad­ing of the ar­mour (scratches, dents, scuffs, etc) and in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the ar­mour, fab­ric and leather as the key el­e­ments I had to nail.
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 ??  ?? Use clus­ters to find your piv­ots A good tip for find­ing the cor­rect pivot is to use clus­ters. You can freely move the pivot of your se­lec­tion and test dif­fer­ent ro­ta­tions. Once sat­is­fied, you can put a joint in the lo­ca­tion of the pivot.
Use clus­ters to find your piv­ots A good tip for find­ing the cor­rect pivot is to use clus­ters. You can freely move the pivot of your se­lec­tion and test dif­fer­ent ro­ta­tions. Once sat­is­fied, you can put a joint in the lo­ca­tion of the pivot.
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 ??  ?? Vi­gnettes Th­ese ren­ders are in­tended for big prints and are there­fore very de­tailed. So, to not lose all that de­tail, add vi­gnettes in­stead of us­ing depth of field to di­rect the eye of the viewer.
Vi­gnettes Th­ese ren­ders are in­tended for big prints and are there­fore very de­tailed. So, to not lose all that de­tail, add vi­gnettes in­stead of us­ing depth of field to di­rect the eye of the viewer.
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