CREATE A STYLIZED FILM CHARACTER IN BLENDER
Follow Julien Kaspar’s character creation workflow guide and discover how to render engaging models for film production
In this tutorial I will go over the various steps for creating stylized characters for film productions. This workflow is inspired by the experience gained from previous Open Movie projects at Blender, such as Spring. We will start with the initial concept and 2D drawing and go through all 3D creation steps until the final posing of the model and creating great renders to present your creation. This is also more focused on character creation for film productions instead of game projects. The result could be used for either media, but there are some important distinctions in the workflow.
This is a more compact version of the full course on the Blender Cloud called the ‘Stylized Character Workflow’, including more tips on UV unwrapping, texturing and shading, final posing and presenting your character in a render.
As an example I will show the step-by-step creation of the character Rain, which is available as a fully rigged model for free on the Blender Cloud under a Creative Commons licence.
Download the files and use the character for any of your projects.
01 CONCEPT AND 2D DESIGN
The first step in character creation is crucial and can bring the entire project to collapse if not taken seriously: getting a solid concept and doing some research. With research I of course also mean collecting references, but it's more importantly about getting a good sense of who your character is. It's also about the style and limitations of the character creation. Don't shoot for the moon.
Afterwards you should develop a concept, which typically involves drawing and painting. This can also be effectively done in Blender by using the new Grease Pencil toolset and just doing some rough conceptual sculpting.
02 SCULPT IN 3D
Once the concept and 2D design is set it's time to translate this into 3D. With the new features from past releases this is now easier than ever to do in Blender. Face Sets, the new Voxel remesher, Multires improvements, reworked brushes and many new tools and UI improvements make the workflow much more smooth sailing. Just like with almost every step of character creation this should be done incrementally with a slow increase in detail and definition.
This step is important as an early building block for everything that comes after, but also to find issues and challenges in the design.
03 EXPRESSION AND POSE TESTING
Sculpting the character informs you on the design from various angles, but only from one expression and pose. Often we sculpt our characters for production in a neutral expression and pose, but it's crucial to try out various expressions and fitting poses to fully test the current design before it goes further into production. Expression tests can be a helpful resource for the animation style, necessary topology for rigging, finalising the style of the character or even just tweaking some last proportional issues and ironing out any shortcomings in the sculpt. These can be either sculpted on duplicated objects, or via Shapekeys to blend between them.
04 FINAL MODEL WITH RETOPOLOGY
With all your information on the 3D design and challenges through the sculpt, it's now time to create the retopology. It's the first step in creating an animation-ready asset for your project. The snapping feature, Shrinkwrap modifier and Hidden Wire overlay will be your best friends in this step.
There are various things to look out for, like Edge Flow, which is the general direction of the loops in your topology. This is vital for any movement or deformation during animation. Also try the new Polybuild tool in Edit Mode as well as the F2 addon for a faster retopology process.
05 UV MAPPING
Before the textures and materials can be properly created we need to add UV maps, an unfolded version of our character to project images on the model with. For this we just need to mark selected edges as seams to cut the geometry into UV maps with minimal stretching.
Enable the Live Unwrap feature to automatically unwrap any changes to your seams and UVS. This is also great in combination with pinning UV points with the shortcut ‘P’, which then won't move while everything dynamically updates. I can also highly recommend the newly added 03
UDIM support, which allows you to have multiple UV maps and images per object.
06 TEXTURE AND SHADE
To give our character their final coat of paint we need to texture and shade them. This will not just define their colours but also how the surfaces will react to light. It's really important to match the complexity to the style and the sort of character you want to create. Going overboard with details and grunge can make it look more realistic, but also unappealing and unbelievable.
If your UV maps are also very well aligned, try adding some repeatable textures to your surfaces for repeating patterns on clothes. Other steps like Grooming and Simulation tests can also be attached to this. Also render out some turntables with various lighting conditions to test the look of your character.
07 CREATE FINAL POSE
Before the character goes into further production steps it's good to do a final pose for them. This can be used for presentation purposes but also to find any
remaining shortcomings that might not be visible in the execution of the character. You can even aim to recreate a pose from an earlier sculpt. Using Rigify or the new Pose brush and Transform tools in combination with masks in Sculpt Mode can make this easy. Just make sure you get a pose that fits your character and fully highlights all your work. Also make it work from multiple angles if you want to render not just one image.
08 PRESENTATION AND RENDERING
You can do many things for the final render but I recommend to keep it focused on the character itself. Place lights that really show your work and don't focus the camera and staging too much on the background. A three-point lighting setup and relatively blank background is usually fine too and can still result in some stunning images. Rendering the character also in a simple diffuse grey (clay render) and another version with wireframes overlayed will really showcase your model and topology too. Make sure to render some turntables as well to show your creation from any angle.
09 EVERYTHING BEYOND
Of course this is not the last step in the character creation process for film production, but for the character artist it often is. During and after these steps the rigging and animation testing will also take place to provide more information on possible issues and changes and to keep the production going. Usually an unfinished version of the character is already used in early animation for shots in the movie to test the layout and sets. Some further character changes might arise if necessary, but the goal is for that not to happen due to all the feedback and testing that will have taken place beforehand. •