Master personality in your 3D illustrations
Before starting off a new piece of 3D art for my design portfolio, I like to brainstorm and choose wisely (to my best ability) why I want to be modelling a certain subject. What drives me the most towards a direction for my project is the story aspect. Creating scenarios and stories in my head makes the process much more enjoyable instead of creating random characters or scenes. I like feeling connected to my work because without that, I would be creating an empty, but pretty, image.
One artist that I admire very much is Norman Rockwell. He was the master of telling stories, of composition, and most of all, his draftsmanship was superb.
In this tutorial, I wanted to focus on personality and composition, while keeping it cute and playful; putting my own modern twist while observing the skills like composition and mood in Rockwell’s original painting. When beginning the piece, I discovered Rosie the Riveter, a wartime poster Rockwell had created in his own style using Michelangelo’s Isaiah painting to model it from.
I had set out to accomplish a personal level of sylisation between Disney and Rockwell. Feature animation has always been what I had a passion for. Even before I began this project, I knew my project was going to be stylised. However, what I wanted to achieve was the in between of realism and feature animation. I knew that even if my characters were stylised, I wanted them to have form and anatomy while also retaining a stylised look.
01. Find the character’s face
One of the first steps was understanding the anatomy of the face; why certain features make the face look a certain age. The age I was aiming for was around the age of seven to 10. By sculpting from an actual face and taking it back down to the level of realism you want, was a way to understand what I was hoping to achieve. At a very early stage of a project, is the time to explore and figure out what you want.
02. Blocking out
When I block out my characters, I mainly use either ZSpheres or DynaMesh in ZBrush. At a very early stage, it was hard to make the characters turn out the way I wanted them to. When blocking out my characters, I go through a creepy stage, where all my characters don’t look like they’re all the way there yet. The moment I added the smile to the face, it made the boy look strange. I had to figure out how to make his face look less creepy and make it look appealing.
03. Trial and error
A lot of figuring things out is trial and error. You won’t know what works unless you try it out! The beginning doesn’t have to be perfect. I like to have all my models blocked in the scene. Get everything you need in there then afterwards all you are doing is playing around with proportions, composition and sculpting away. Capture the essence and the feeling of the characters and see the potential of where you can take them next.
04. Moving forward
It’s good to step back and see where your overall project is heading. Stepping back and taking a little break from your work helps you see some mistakes you may have missed. For example, with the pants on the boy, I sculpted them folded over to see if that style of pants was going to work. But after stepping back and taking a look at it, it was breaking the line of action. Something minimal can make a big difference in the overall picture.
05. Gradually add details
As the project starts to tighten up, I begin finalising the details more. I don’t get too fancy with the brushes. I mainly use the Clay Build Up, Standard Brush, and Dam_Standard. Using different alphas helps achieve a variety of stylisation within the brush. During your process, if you’re not happy with something that isn’t turning out quite the way you want it to, leave it and come back to it.
06. Detail, colour and texture
I’ve decided to do all my texturing in ZBrush. I knew early on that I like being able to sculpt and texture as I go. Both goes hand in hand. When texturing, many times you can hide mistakes that weren’t the focus of this exercise. Hence being able to sculpt and texture at the same time is a process that I very much enjoy. Always keep in mind what your end goal is.
07. Flow and rhythm
Adding movement to your models helps sell the image. The standard T-pose model doesn’t cut it anymore. When adding movement, think about which way the direction of physics is happening. For example, if the direction is going at a diagonal, follow the diagonal movement – almost parallel to it. Of course there are exceptions, not everything is going to be 100 per cent parallel.
08. Wind back details
You want to be consistent with how much information you give with all the models. On the scale of realism, one being cartoony and 10 being realistic, it is better to have everything four or six rather than having two and 10. The teddy bear here may have been approaching a seven. I needed to make sure I pulled back so that it is in the same world with the rest of the models.
09. Taking it into KeyShot
KeyShot Bridge is such a great tool to use in your pipeline. It makes the process much easier and saves you so much time by not having to do UVs, export and import .obj files. What I suggest doing early on, is taking it to your render engine and checking how your model is looking under lighting. You won’t believe how different your model can look from ZBrush to lighting your models.
10. KeyShot continued
You are able to see what your models are lacking and areas you need to push. Having the model and textures at a good place, I come to a point where I am tweaking my models, textures and lighting all simultaneously. You come to a stage where everything has to work harmoniously. Do test renders and see what your models are really doing. You will get the answers you need.
11. Control your lighting
Being able to manipulate your own lighting is such a huge benefit! Depending on how you light your models can make a huge difference. You can create the type of mood with just lighting. I add a plane geometry in KeyShot and assign an area light to it. I usually like having my main key light on top to mimic sunlight, fill lights on the sides and back light for some nice rim lighting. Play with the intensity and colour of the lights.
12. Render and comp
After getting to where you think is a good place to composite in Photoshop, it’s time to make render passes. I don’t get too crazy with the render passes. I render what I need. You don’t have to be fancy or complicate yourself to get a nice image. Make sure your camera view is locked when you start rendering. The main passes I create are a master render, ambient occlusion and a mask.
13. Add a background
I google a sky with clouds background. On the bottom layer, I add the sky image and use Gaussian Blur to create a foundation, then overlay another layer of clouds. To add more noise, I use the Photoshop feature (Filter>Render>Cloud). I use the Soft Light blending mode and take the opacity down. Using layers subtly to create one whole image makes for a better image. On top of the cloud layer, I add another cloud layer and Gaussian blur it slightly to blend, then I add a lens flare.
14. Refine the hair
For the hair, I cheat a bit by painting in the strands myself. I get a Standard brush in Photoshop and make the brush size very small. I use the Color Picker on the base colour of the hair and I start painting the strands. It’s a back and forth process from from highlights to shadows. To show certain areas of the hair looking brighter, I change my brush mode to Color Dodge. Always experiment and try using different brush modes to discover new effects.
15. Tweak in Photoshop
In Photoshop, this is where you can make your models look even better! I add a background and use the Color Picker to add a blue hue over the whole image, then put it on Soft Light blending mode so the colours all match. This is a good time to add noise, filters and variations to your image, but for now I was able to pick up some great compositional tools from one my favourite illustrators.