3D model & texture a fantasy child character
In this tutorial I will show you my process for creating this kind of character. I’ll try to cover everything from modeling and sculpting, to texturing, shading, and rendering.
One of the most important things when approaching such a project is to gather references. It’s very cool if you have everything in mind, but looking at references is super important, sometimes we imagine things not how they would actually appear, and usually we tend to forget a lot of small but crucial details. So take your time gathering a good amount of references that will help you achieve your vision.
It’s a good idea to block them into categories, such as “main idea and inspiration,” “outfits,” “lighting mood,” “facial expression,” “poses,” and so on. Try visualizing what you want the final product to look like, and think about the separate parts you need to create it.
For me, it goes without saying that the main reference was the show itself. For the main facial features I looked mainly at the actor Adam Driver, I didn't try to capture his likeness, but rather the main shapes of his head/face. And for the expression I wanted to capture a sad/dead eyes look.
Blocking references might help you visualize the final product
Sculpting & posing
For me it’s probably the best part of the whole process. I really enjoy sculpting and modeling, it gives me the possibility to explore my creativity and really do what I like the most. This is also the part where you lay the foundation of the whole project. A good model will not determine the whole project as there are so many other parts, but will definitely help with achieving a much better result.
I usually start with sculpting the head and body of the character. Most of the time I am starting from base meshes I have created or purchased for previous projects. I usually sculpt from a sphere for practice only, as getting good proportions might take some time. This time I also used a base mesh I had and worked on it to give it the shapes and forms I was looking for.
I always try keeping the resolution low and work on low subdivision levels. I see too many artist diving into details and high subdiv levels too early. Try exploring the general shapes and finding what is appealing and pleasant to look at even without the details. A good base is the key. Once I am happy with the base, I will usually start breaking symmetry and pose the character, and only after that will start adding secondary details. I always keep a T-posed character on a separate layer, so I could go back to it whenever needed.
Sculpting & posing
When I finish with the base mesh of the body it’s time to add some clothes. I, as many others, use Marvelous Designer for that. I am importing a T-posed base mesh into MD and starting work on the outfit. Look at a large number of references of how an actual piece of cloth you are making on different dressmaking forums. Use real patterns to achieve the most believable result. It is also very important to understand the type of fabric you are trying to recreate, whether it’s letter, stretched denim, or cotton. Using the wrong fabric parameters can lead to unconvincing fabric.
After creating the outfit in T-Pose, I import the posed model as a “morph target” into MD, the software will automatically “adjust” the clothes to the pose, you might need to do some tweaking for a better result. After I am happy with the garment, I will export it back to ZBrush to add more details, more folds, or seams for example.
Clothes in Marvelous Designer and ZBrush
After the main part of the model is done, I move to creating the accessories. In this case I modeled the hat, suspenders, and lamp using simple box modeling in Blender. There is not much to say about it, the shapes are very simple and understandable. I tried to translate the “cartoonish” style of the show, to my own semi-realistic style; I have exported all models from Blender into ZBrush and given them more “character” by adding imperfections and small details. Try looking at the item and understand its story, is it new or old, was it exposed to nature or kept indoors, who uses it and for what purpose? Have fun exploring. For the vines and branches I used Blender’s IvyGen add-on. It is very simple to use, but requires some adjusting and playing around with.
Low- vs high-poly accessories
After all the modeling is done it’s time to start texturing and shading. Texturing is a very creative and fun process. You can use a large number of software, such as Photoshop, Substance Painter, ZBrush, Mudbox, and Mari. But I usually stick to ZBrush and Substance Painter.
For the skin I usually use a mix of ZBrush texture projection and hand drawn details in ZBrush and Photoshop. After the UV is done, I take my model into ZBrush and import the textures I am planning to project onto the model. This time I used a texture set from TexturingXYZ. I project the images from different angles using a standard brush, ticking the RGB mode on and the Zadd off. I also adjust and warp the image using the nudge option on the image texture wheel to deform the image to better suit my model.
Clothes & accessories texturing
For clothes and accessories my software of choice is Substance Painter. The process is pretty straightforward, just import the model into Substance Painter and unleash your creativity! First bake all necessary maps by going to Texture Set Settings > Bake All Maps. This will help you use all the smart materials and masks to create really cool textures. Try telling a story with the textures, but also try thinking about how this object would have been in real life.
Clothes & accessories texturing
Lighting & particles
I usually try to reduce my post-processing work to a minimum. Most of my renders are straight out of the render software I am using, with little to no post-processing in Photoshop. Lighting is fun, you get to explore different scenarios and see what the character will feel like under different lighting conditions.
For this piece I used the Lantern (Lamp) he is holding as the main light source, as I went for something slightly dark and eerie. Besides the lamp, I used a dark HDRI map with low value, and a rim light. For the light particles I actually used planes with sparkles texture on them, which while rendered with a DOF turned on creates this nice effect of differently sized blurry particles in the air.
Light setup & particles
Have fun & be creative!
The most important thing for me is constantly creating new artworks and working on personal projects. I find it to be the projects I enjoy the most and can have fun and explore my creativity.