3D World

REN­DER A STYL­IZED CAR­TOON CHAR­AC­TER

Luis Yris­arry Laba­dia de­tails his com­plete car­toon char­ac­ter work­flow from start to fin­ish

- AU­THOR Luis Yris­arry Laba­dia I am a pas­sion­ate char­ac­ter artist with over 12 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a 3D artist. I have re­cently worked at Frame­store on the Tom and Jerry and Dr. Dolit­tle movies. Now I'm open to new op­por­tu­ni­ties! www.art­sta­tion.com/bilf

In this tu­to­rial you will learn my step-by-step work­flow for cre­at­ing a car­toon char­ac­ter, start­ing from a 2D con­cept illustrati­on to a fully ren­dered 3D char­ac­ter. Af­ter work­ing on some char­ac­ters for the Tom and Jerry movie I wanted to do a car­toon char­ac­ter, and this cool alien hunter kid con­cept by the amaz­ing Cory Loftis got my at­ten­tion. It has lots of per­son­al­ity and is full of at­ti­tude! I re­ally want to thank him for al­low­ing me to share this project based on his con­cept art.

For car­toon char­ac­ters the main rules are stay sim­ple, less is more! Pro­por­tions are key, try to avoid straight and par­al­lel lines, and ex­ag­ger­ate fea­tures as much as you need! Try to re­visit your progress of­ten and add notes to it, I found paint overs re­ally use­ful for this. Also lis­ten­ing to people is im­por­tant, in this case Leo Rezende helped me a lot with re­ally good in­sights about car­toony style to take this project to the next level.

01 AN­A­LYSE THE CON­CEPT AND PLAN AHEAD

The first step is al­ways the prepa­ra­tion and plan­ning stage for the project. So start study­ing the con­cept and try to un­der­stand the most im­por­tant as­pects. Then you should de­cide how to ap­proach the 3D ex­e­cu­tion, like how styl­ized you wanted to go and what are the big­gest chal­lenges to over­come. On this project I spent some time play­ing around with the idea of sculpted hair or proper groom­ing, and I ended up with the groom­ing be­cause I felt in­spired by the movie On­ward that was re­leased re­cently.

02 DIS­SECT THE CHAR­AC­TER

Split up all the dif­fer­ent ar­eas to have a gen­eral idea of what is needed. Cloth­ing, hair, body, hard-sur­face ac­ces­sories… This guide will be use­ful to keep the project or­gan­ised and to set a plan to meet dead­lines. This is key in ev­ery pro­duc­tion and helps you to focus on what is more im­por­tant. Also thanks to this guide you will be able to know when you need to cut cor­ners when a spe­cific stage is tak­ing up too much time.

03 SET YOUR PROJECT IN MAYA

Start set­ting your Maya project and work in real size, as this will avoid un­nec­es­sary headaches later on. Just bring a cylin­der in your scene with the de­sired size of the char­ac­ter, in this case 120cm. Ex­port this cylin­der as OBJ and im­port it in Zbrush, so now you have your Zbrush tool in real scale to ex­port and im­port to Maya reg­u­larly. I use a plugin called Styx that speeds up the im­port-ex­port work­flow be­tween Maya and Zbrush.

04 BLOCKOUT BA­SICS

Rep­re­sent the vol­umes of your char­ac­ter with the most sim­ple shapes. I like to start with a sphere for the head and then go all over the body with the most ap­pro­pri­ate

prim­i­tives, like cylin­ders for the arms and legs and spheres or boxes for the hips and torso. When­ever I feel the pro­por­tions are good enough I go for the ac­ces­sories and tweak the whole thing until I am happy with the re­sult. Although you will al­ways tweak things, the bet­ter you nail the vol­umes the eas­ier and faster this project will go.

05 SE­COND PASS

I rec­om­mend draw­ing the con­cept art by your­self for bet­ter understand­ing of the shapes. Now it’s time to re­fine the vol­umes in 3D. Dur­ing this stage just use the ba­sic brushes, Move, Clay and Smooth. To pre­serve the vol­ume of a mesh but smooth all the un­nec­es­sary im­per­fec­tions, press Shift and re­lease, it kind of works the same way as the Re­lax tool in Maya. It can be chal­leng­ing to fig­ure out the pro­file of a char­ac­ter when you don’t have it in your con­cept, so do some re­search and ap­ply your anatomy knowl­edge to get a nat­u­ral and dy­namic pro­file.

Im­port a screen­shot of your blockout in Pho­toshop and com­pare with the con­cept to dou­ble-check the pro­por­tions are cor­rect.

06 SCULPT THE HEAD

For car­toon char­ac­ters it is al­ways bet­ter to stay sim­ple. Use your head blockout as a start­ing point and add all the prim­i­tives you need like a sphere for the nose or cylin­ders for the ears. You can also use spheres to sub­tract the eye re­gion. Then Dy­namesh the vol­umes and try to do as fewer strokes as you can to keep the vol­umes clean. Usual brushes for this: Move, Clay, Dam Stan­dard, In­flate, Pol­ish and Smooth. Once you are happy, Zremesh it to sim­plify your shapes and pol­ish again; do this a few times.

07 HAIR BLOCKOUT

Ap­pend a sim­ple cube and use the Bend Curve fea­ture in­side Gizmo 3D to eas­ily de­fine the strands of hair with its con­trols to bend, twist and ta­per. It gives you re­ally clean and de­fined shapes.

08 CLOTH SCULPT­ING

De­pend­ing on the com­plex­ity of the gar­ment it is prefer­able to use

Mar­velous De­signer or just sculpt it in Zbrush. In my case I just used Mar­velous De­signer to get some of the folds of the sweater that I later re-sculpted in Zbrush. The rest of the pieces are all hand sculpted. Mar­velous is all about re­search­ing the pat­terns and sim­u­lat­ing fab­rics like they work in real life, so it’s im­por­tant to search for pat­terns on­line. Re­gard­ing understand­ing drap­ery, it is all about ten­sion points and grav­ity. I rec­om­mend the fan­tas­tic book Dy­namic Wrin­kles and Drap­ery by Burne Hog­a­rth.

09 BACK­PACK PHO­TOS

I de­cided to use my own back­pack as ref­er­ence. So I did a quick round of pho­tos around the back­pack with my mo­bile and later im­ported them in Pur­eref, a soft­ware most of us use in the in­dus­try to get all ref­er­ences in a handy win­dow. You can just drag and drop any im­age from any source, even from a clip­board, even a whole folder full of refs. And the best thing is that you can move the win­dow around and leave it on top of Zbrush.

10 MODEL THE BACK­PACK BASE MESH

With the front, side and top images as ref­er­ence planes, build a ba­sic base mesh in Maya – ba­si­cally three cubes with cham­fer sides in this case. I later de­cided to go for a more sim­pli­fied and styl­ized ver­sion in­stead, but it was a huge plus to have these refs and get some de­tails from it. Straps can be eas­ily made us­ing the Quad Draw tool in Maya and set­ting our sweater as a live sur­face to draw the straps on top. Fi­nally the zip­per was added in Zbrush with the IMM Plas­tic Zip­per. Once you are happy with your base mesh ex­port an OBJ to Zbrush and start sculpt­ing!

11 BACK­PACK SCULPT

Im­port the back­pack OBJ and start sculpt­ing the folds. Be­fore start­ing, store a morph tar­get – this is re­ally handy to re­cover the orig­i­nal vol­ume in case you over-sculpted some ar­eas. Now start do­ing a quick pass with the stan­dard brush in Zsub mode to get the cav­i­ties formed by the folds that many times are de­fined by

di­a­mond shapes. Af­ter­wards you can add some vol­ume to the rim of those folds. The folds are mainly orig­i­nated by ten­sion points, usu­ally from a seam to another seam or zip­per. Understand­ing this is key for achiev­ing con­vinc­ing re­sults.

12 MODEL THE ALIEN

Load your con­cept art as a guide with spot­light in low opac­ity and block out the alien ex­trem­i­ties us­ing Zspheres on top. Then bring a cube and cut the con­tour us­ing the Slice brush, Delete Hid­den and Dy­namesh all. Now re­fine it to get the proper vol­ume and Zremesh it. Af­ter some pol­ish­ing add some or­ganic im­per­fec­tions for the flesh and hard vari­a­tions for the skele­ton pieces. Fi­nally use a sur­face noise in the high­est sub­div to cre­ate the im­per­fec­tions on the crea­ture shell. Then ex­port the dis­place­ment map to later use in Arnold for Maya.

13 TEX­TURE THE SKIN

For car­toony skin I pre­fer to di­rectly Poly­paint in Zbrush or Mud­box us­ing the stan­dard brush with a high fo­cal shift and 50% opac­ity. The only down­side of tex­tur­ing in Zbrush is you need to sub­di­vide your mesh a few times to get enough res­o­lu­tion to paint.

To bet­ter vi­su­al­ize the tex­tures, the skin shade ma­te­rial in Zbrush is very use­ful. Now fill the mesh with a skin tone and then ap­ply the red­dish tones on the cheeks, nose and ears. For this spe­cific char­ac­ter I also added some darker tones on the eye­lids and drew a few brown­ish speck­les for the cheeks. These small de­tails add a lot of per­son­al­ity to the char­ac­ter.

14 AC­CES­SORIES

Open Sub­stance Painter and drop a fill layer with the main colour. For fab­rics add a weav­ing pat­tern and scale it very small. Then add a noise layer with a lighter colour and a noisy mask that you can get from the mul­ti­ple pro­ce­dural tex­tures in Spainter, and then another layer with a smaller de­tail and so on. Adding wear and tear is a must, so you can use the same pro­ce­dure with a fill layer us­ing the mask builder and tweak­ing the Cur­va­ture pa­ram­e­ter, but don’t for­get you need to bake mesh maps be­fore­hand.

15 EX­PORT DIS­PLACE­MENT MAPS

When your base mesh is un­able to hold all the de­tail of the high-res, you need to ex­port a dis­place­ment map (games usu­ally use nor­mal maps in­stead). Just go to your higher sub­div level and open Zplu­gin/multi Map and set the Dis­place­ment op­tions as in the screen­shot. This process al­lows you to keep the de­tail with­out over­load­ing your scene with thou­sands of ex­tra poly­gons.

16 LOOK DEV

You need to add the phys­i­cally cor­rect val­ues for each ma­te­rial. Try to un­der­stand how ob­jects in real life can have a mix of ma­te­ri­als like, for in­stance, a car has a metal sur­face and a layer of paint on top of

it. Two dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als that you need to com­bine with masks to get re­al­is­tic scratches. With Sub­stance Painter you can do this pro­ce­du­rally, which saves a lot of time.

17 SKIN SHADER

The most tricky shader is usu­ally the skin and for that you need to en­able sub­sur­face, set your base colour to black and play with the sub­sur­face scale. This fea­ture al­lows you to repli­cate the translu­cence ef­fect of the light trav­el­ling through the skin. Plug your tex­ture into the Sub­sur­face Color in­put. Another im­por­tant as­pect of the sub­sur­face shader is to set a broad spec­u­lar and a more sharp, less rough sec­ondary spec­u­lar (Coat). Although it is not vi­tal, I al­ways set IOR to 1.330.

18 POS­ING

You can use Maya and rig your char­ac­ter, but I love to use Zbrush, it makes me feel free to ex­ag­ger­ate the pose as much as I want with­out any lim­i­ta­tions. Use Trans­pose Mas­ter Tposemesh to get a unique subtool and take ad­van­tage of your poly­groups and topol­ogy to make se­lec­tions eas­ily. Try to use the front view as your de­sired view so you can eas­ily go back and forth with the con­cept. You can also store views with the Zap­plink in­side the Doc­u­ment menu.

19 START­ING XGEN

It is very im­por­tant with Xgen to be metic­u­lous with the process The ba­sic steps to set up Xgen are: set a project in Maya, work in real scale, keep a con­sis­tent nam­ing sys­tem with unique names and no spa­ces, use de­fault shaders for the scalps, delete his­tory be­fore ap­ply­ing Xgen and freeze trans­forms. Fi­nally Xgen re­quires you to have non-over­lap­ping UVS in one sin­gle UDIM.

20 GROOM

Now you can safely work with Xgen, first se­lect the mesh (scalp) where you want to grow guides from and cre­ate a col­lec­tion. A col­lec­tion is the group that con­tains all the de­scrip­tions (ar­eas of hair or fur) on your char­ac­ter. Now you need to start plac­ing guides. It is prefer­able to start with very few

that de­fine the dif­fer­ent ar­eas and then start plac­ing more and more to bet­ter de­tail the hair flow. I highly rec­om­mend to do a quick draw­ing be­fore start­ing in case you don’t have a proxy hair mesh to fol­low. The next step is adding vari­a­tion with Xgen mod­i­fiers Clump­ing, Noise and Cut.

21 LIGHT­ING

It is es­sen­tial to test dif­fer­ent light­ing sets to check your ma­te­ri­als. When you think your ma­te­rial is not re­flec­tive enough and change your light­ing setup, you quickly re­al­ize how cru­cial this is for the look dev stage. Af­ter­wards you can set your light­ing with a three-point light­ing setup for in­te­ri­ors and HDRI for ex­te­ri­ors. For in­te­ri­ors I first as­sign a ba­sic white ma­te­rial and drop a big Area light on the scene, and then I place the rest, al­ways check­ing one by one to try not to burn out any high­lights. When I am happy I switch all on and tweak until I am sat­is­fied with the re­sults.

22 TIME TO REN­DER

First set Arnold to very low sam­pling set­tings to be able to go back and forth and quickly test out things – take into ac­count you will do that many times. Sec­ondly ren­der the char­ac­ter in high-res by re­gions; for in­stance the hair and skin take longer to ren­der, so to save time check if things look as good as ex­pected in small crops. Thirdly add a bunch of AOV (ren­der passes) in case you need to tweak your ren­ders in comp. And fi­nally go for a high-end set­ting and get your de­sired ren­der!

23 COM­POSIT­ING

Open your ren­der in Pho­toshop and then load all the ren­der passes in a folder; it is al­ways good to have at least an al­pha chan­nel to iso­late the back­ground. Now cre­ate a folder called Colour Cor­rec­tion and start adding ad­just­ment lay­ers. The ones I use the most are Color Lookup to add LUTS, Se­lec­tive Color and Ex­po­sure. Re­mem­ber to save your ren­ders in EXR 32bits if you want to be able to change your ex­po­sure later on. If you fol­low this sys­tem you can later re­pro­duce the same ad­just­ments to any other cam­era an­gle. •

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 ??  ?? Sculpt­ing car­toon char­ac­ters Re­mem­ber Dy­namesh and Zremesher are your best friends! I like to com­bine very sim­ple vol­umes, Dy­namesh them and use Zremesher to get a cleaner re­sult. 04
Sculpt­ing car­toon char­ac­ters Re­mem­ber Dy­namesh and Zremesher are your best friends! I like to com­bine very sim­ple vol­umes, Dy­namesh them and use Zremesher to get a cleaner re­sult. 04
 ??  ?? Dy­namic Sub­di­vi­sion
Since you are mainly go­ing to be work­ing with low-res meshes, take ad­van­tage of the Dy­namic Sub­di­vi­sion fea­ture in Zbrush (hotkey D). With this you can see a smoothed ver­sion like you get in Maya, with­out sub­di­vid­ing the mesh. 06
Dy­namic Sub­di­vi­sion Since you are mainly go­ing to be work­ing with low-res meshes, take ad­van­tage of the Dy­namic Sub­di­vi­sion fea­ture in Zbrush (hotkey D). With this you can see a smoothed ver­sion like you get in Maya, with­out sub­di­vid­ing the mesh. 06
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For pos­ing you will need to mask a lot, so use your poly­groups and re­mem­ber that the Trans­pose brush can fol­low the topol­ogy if you hold the Con­trol key and drag.
Mask­ing For pos­ing you will need to mask a lot, so use your poly­groups and re­mem­ber that the Trans­pose brush can fol­low the topol­ogy if you hold the Con­trol key and drag.
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 ??  ?? Ask for feed­back and try to en­gage with the com­mu­nity, oth­ers can con­trib­ute to help make a bet­ter piece. For in­stance I gave the kid a heavymetal style af­ter fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions
Ask for feed­back and try to en­gage with the com­mu­nity, oth­ers can con­trib­ute to help make a bet­ter piece. For in­stance I gave the kid a heavymetal style af­ter fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions
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