What I've managed to do is to finish my sculpting and start retopologizing. One of the many things I detest in this world. I am awfully picky about the edge flow, constantly looking at my work with highest criticism. This obviously makes me work slower.
I redid some parts several times to make sure they're correct.
This is the finished face, with baked normal map and polypaint texture. I also put a very subtle specular map to give it a little bit of organic look. I will need to draw a gloss map as well.
I ended up with 2 728 triangles which, considering our budget of 15 000 triangles, is quite alright. I expect the hands to be 1 000 each and that leaves me with 10 000 triangles for the rest of the body. Seems fair.
I had huge issues with smoothing groups. I tried turning the edges around many times, even messed up with Edit Normals modifier too, which only made everything worse. I always seem to have the exact same issue with character meshes, especially faces. This happens mostly around the nose, eyes and lips - so pretty much everything with more complex geometry.
I thought maybe if I bake down a normal map (using Xnormal) this will disappear. It didn't. While I was baking an ambient occlusion in Max this time, I decided to bake another normal map and see how that works. It did work much better. It's actually quite surprising to get a better result with Max. In the end I merged together those two maps and the effect is quite satisfying. It still has a little bit of smoothing problem around the nose but after setting up the light it should give a nice render.
Since the ears are going to be hidden by hat and hair I just decided to not do them at all.
Retopologizing the upper body part was tricky. I still haven't baked it down so I have no idea of it's going to be any good.
To create the deel in Zbrush I used extract tool, so I have my masked area extracted as a separate subtool. What I forgot about is that it creates both outside and inside layer. It is then a closed mesh. When I imported it in Max and set up to retopologize, my lowpoly kept snapping to the insides instead of outsides. The layer is thick enough it actually makes a difference. Also it would not bake correctly. I can't delete the insides because it's all the same polygroup. There's not enough access and it would take me ages to manually get rid of it. In the end I just pulled the surface to match the outside of highpoly as close as possible.
I am currently retopologizing the rest of the body which shouldn't take much time now. Considering I have the worst behind me.