Artwork special: The Creation of Tau Station avatars

This blog illustrates (no pun intended) the way Erik, our 3D magician, creates avatars for Tau Station.

Meet Erik, our 3D magician

Painted portrait of Erik, a young man with brown hair, wearing a base-cap with a beard and short hair

Hi, my name is Erik, and I’m one of those people whose passion is also my job. I’m a digital sculptor and 3D modeler. Bringing the diverse and magical world of Tau Station to life is what I do, and I’m very excited to be part of the team. When I’m off-station, back down on earth, I enjoy archery and nature.

How Avatars Are Created

Let me show you around. Here’s a quick tour of the avatar creation process. It all begins with the words. The narrative team sends over avatar descriptions, these include: the NPC’s genotype, gender, skin color, occupation, physical traits, their personality and mannerisms. The more fleshed out an NPC is in its narrative description, the more I can make them come alive in their final avatar form.

An animated GIF showing the different phases of avatar creation with wireframe, simple grey color (just to see the model) only base color ( just to see the colors withouth lighting etc) and the final render

The avatar brief may also contain mission descriptions and mood allowing me to better understand the theme, and stay consistent with the requirements of certain affiliations, areas, and system characteristics.

The first thing I do once I have the character assets is to create a mood board. What’s this Colonist’s eye color and shape going to be? What’s their stare going to evoke? How will they make the player feel? What are their contours, their lines, their bulk? All these questions form “2D bits” and the sum of these bits becomes a 3D anatomy -the first rendering of the avatar.

This first rendering stays open in PureRef throughout the creation process – a reminder not to deviate from my mood board, from my original conception. Next comes the sculpting.

The magic starts in ZBrush…

I start sculpting with basic shapes, trying to mold the structure of the face, and flesh out the frame of the body. I always work from larger to smaller shapes, adding details as the form comes to light. It’s very important to keep pose, camera angles, and textures in mind.


Tau Station NPC creation character pose: first, the character is standing straight, the arms are spread in the so called "A pose", while for the final pose all joints are bend to the final pose, including the expression in the face

Texture and Feel and Rendering

The phase of adding substance, like textures with details for the clothes or the face of the NPC

For texturing, I use Substance Painter, a 3D painting software. By this point the avatar isĀ  90% complete. All that’s left to do is render them using different engines like Marmoset, Cycles or Keyshot. Each will give you slightly different results. Sometimes they require a final touch-up in Photoshop, but that’s not always the case.

They have skin tone, facial expression, posture, hair, clothing and feel -everything a photograph of someone you know would contain. The avatar is a snapshot of a personality -a longing look, a gruff expression, a wild, goggle-wearing, red haired lunatic. I’ve done them all -over three hundred and counting.

Hope you enjoyed the tour. See you in space, Citizens!