The process: Phantom Manjitou

Making Of / 23 March 2021

Check out my original post in 4k here:

Phantom Manjitou - Main Shot

For this blog, instead of focusing on the typical "making of" details I'm going to highlight my idea flow and iteration. I had no real plan going into this piece other than experimenting with lighting for fun. This may be all over the place but I hope you get something out of it at least?

At some point while admiring random concept art pieces I was inspired by the amazing Wouter Gort's clean background designs done for Amazon Prime's Undone. Particularly the image below:

The simplicity and lighting motivated me to do something similar in Unreal Engine 4 as a lighting study. My intention with concept art pieces is never to do an exact one-to-one recreation but to be inspired by certain unique characteristics. As I start a personal art piece, sections of interest begin to evolve and take a life of their own.

Modular kit parts are always fun and quick to work with. Early base coat pass:

I like to establish a decent approximation of what my lighting will look like early on. While I wanted to have my "sunset" piece be the main shot, I also wanted the flexibility to have a day/night scheme should the project take me there later on. I remembered Tim Simpson's (Polygon Academy) UE4 Lighting Presets 3 Pack and I used his day and night lighting presets as starting points which I would then refine to fit my needs better.

Upon further iteration this scene started developing into something more temple-like which then unfolded a narrative. It just so happens that I'm a fan of Yoshimitsu's (Soul Calibur, Tekken) unusual outfits and quirky personality so this became an unexpected fan-art opportunity to pay homage to the leader of the Manji Clan. I remembered a buddy of mine, Abraham Valdez made a pretty badass Yoshimitsu high-res character awhile back and I asked for his permission to use his character in my scene, I made a few tweaks and chose to only use a silhouette so as to keep the focus on the environment and not the character.

I knew at that point that I'd want to have a bunch of nuanced and not-so-nuanced references to Yoshimitsu's many distinguished iterations, some of which I love and some which I find ridiculous. While on my reference gather I found the image below  which seemed quite fitting for what I had already started. I recalled first seeing this concept piece in the amazing original Soul Calibur on Sega Dreamcast.

Concept featuring Yoshimitsu from the original Soul Calibur:

Side note: I believe Soul Calibur was the first time I played a game that had an absurd amount of official and fan art unlockable in-game, I spent many hours drooling over all the amazing work that just infused so much personality into what was essentially just a fighting game so if you happen to be one of those artists, I bow down to your greatness.

Refining colors/materials and starting to add some secondary details:

As with any personal project I do, time is very limited. I took advantage of Quixel Bridge/Megascans excellent library of materials and some 3D models as well. Most of my time was spent in Blender and Unreal Engine 4.26 with minimal time in ZBrush, Substance Painter, Marvelous Designer and Photoshop. I initially did experiments with ray tracing but my PC was chugging quite a bit and it got to the point where it was no longer enjoyable experimenting so I opted not to go the ray traced route for this scene.

I find that foliage and fabrics add a bit of organically flowy chaos to otherwise sterile scenes. I used Jakub Ziaja's Procedural Ivy Generator to quickly give me organic fluff on areas I deemed interesting.

Close-up experiments:

Once my main chunks were in place I started doing things to enhance the atmosphere more. This meant adding anything from fog cards, wind chimes, candle flames, butterflies, wind-swept leaves, anything to help add a sense of living motion to the scene. I iterated on things as I saw fit, took a break from the piece to try to get some fresh eyes on it and started really honing in on things that annoyed me and refining things that I liked about the piece.

Near-final pass on corrections and polish:

I knew due to time constraints some finer details would need to be handled in post and since my goal was more about the composition and lighting working together I was okay with that. For my alternate shots I tweaked with lighting and heavily leaned into LUT work in Unreal experimenting with extremes. Thanks for reading, stay safe out there and keep on makin' dat art!

Phantom Manjitou - Alt Shot

Phantom Manjitou - B&W Shot

-Alexander Alza-

Bonus spoopy shot:

Check out my original post in 4k here: