Modeling and Texturing Realistic Cloth for Characters: A Student Project

Modeling and Texturing Realistic Cloth for Characters: A Student Project

Games Academy Falmouth University student Isabel Middleton writes an insightful article on character development and artistic growth.

Games Academy Falmouth University student Isabel Middleton caught our eye with her Ethereal Butterfly Maiden Character, which was the focus of a student project centered around the theme: Ethereal Grace. In this article Isabel takes us through her character development journey from concept to final render, emphasising her learnings and project highlights along the way.

About the Project:
This is the improved version of a character model project that was originally designed for the Rising Star 2023 character category following the theme of Ethereal Grace. I started by creating a mood board and writing down ideas for the theme.

I decided on a character loosely based around a Chinese court lady. I drew up some designs considering colour palettes, dress designs, accessories, hair, the general mood of the character and the environment I would place her in. I wanted a pastel colour scheme with lighter colours to convey something ethereal and I ended up choosing the more modest design to convey grace.

Finished concept art

Throughout my process I also collected references for the anatomy, topology and the clothing to keep my model accurate and to not solely rely on my concept art as reference.

Reference Moodboard

After sculpting out some basic anatomy in ZBrush, I created the base for the clothing in Marvelous Designer to get a more accurate and delicate result for the draping sleeves and dress. It worked incredibly well for the fine details and ruffles.

WIP and Marvelous designer process

I then worked back into both the character and the clothes to give some extra detail like lace and seams on the clothing. I also refined the face to make her look more similar to the concept art and made the accessories using curves in Maya.

The next part of the process was retopology which I did in Maya. This stage was particularly tough when it came to the character’s long draping sleeves.

Wireframe shots

The texturing was done in Substance 3D Painter following a tutorial where I built up the skin colouring starting with a red layer to show the blood under the skin, to the yellow and blue hues that you can see on the human face.

For the fabric I downloaded a free for use floral pattern and used a height mask to repeat the texture seamlessly and create the illusion of embroidered silk. Unfortunately, I had issues with the butterflies and intricate head accessories due to the excessive amount of detail. This caused the swirled metal work to become an opaque plane without gaps. Later in Unreal Engine, I supplemented this with emissive planes with transparency for the tiara and butterflies to bring back some of the delicate detail that was lost.

Substance render and Texture maps

I rigged and posed the character in Maya. As instructed in the Rising Star guidelines I created two poses: One similar to the concept art, and another slightly more dynamic pose with butterflies surrounding her.

Lastly, I put the two poses of my character into Unreal Engine 5. I created the background using my original concept art to replicate the same mood and colour palette. I also created some mist planes and grass blades to allow the character to seamlessly blend into the scene.

Maya rigging and background


This character was a fun challenge that allowed my skills to grow. The clothing modelling and fabric texturing was the highlight of this character. The feature I would have loved to have improved on is the hair, either by using Xgen or Hair cards. I believe I captured the theme of Ethereal Grace with this character and have created a piece that conveys emotion and tone the way I had intended.

Find more of Isabel's work via her Rookies profile here.