Forest Chest: Hand-Sculpting, Texturing, Lighting

Alessandra Astrino did a detailed breakdown of her stylized asset Forest Chest inspired by Heroes of the Storm.

Hello, everyone ?  My name is Alessandra Astrino, I’m 23 years old, and I am from Milan, Italy. I’m currently a second-year student at Event Horizon School.

I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera, Milan, and that is where my approach to 3D art began 3 years ago when I took a Blender course. I fell in love with 3D after that course so I decided to focus my studies on it further.

Forest Chest

At first, I decided to model this concept because I really liked the idea of an owl’s shiny glowing eyes. My initial plan was just to do some practice and improve my sculpting skills, but when I was about to finish the high-poly version I was so happy about the results that I decided to do the low poly textured version, too.

When I start a new project I try to find as many references as possible to have a clear idea of what I’ll be working on. I have a folder full of references that I have collected over many years.

When I decide to create a stylized asset I usually start with a solid base made with Maya which is then exported it to ZBrush to start sculpting.

For this model though I worked only with ZBrush because it was a school assignment. It was quite challenging for me since I had to use a new workflow but it turned out very interesting.


As soon as the shape satisfies me I start adding details to all the subtools gradually. I try to differentiate them by using different brushes. Claybuildup, Dam Standard, Trim dynamic and the brushes from the Orb Package (made by Michael Vincente) are the ones I use the most.

To make the wood grains I mostly used crackOrb and Dam Standard, then Orb Flatten Edge.


For the Stone Owl, I got inspired by Heroes of the Storm models. I tried to follow the way they make the cracks on their statues. To achieve this I used some OrbCrack brushes, then made the edges sharp with Orb Flatten Edge brush.

Then I used Clay brush with alpha to simulate erosion and age.


I think, that the silhouette is especially important for a stylized asset.

When I start modeling, I keep changing material to a flat black one to see the silhouette. If it’s recognizable in various viewports then it’s on the right track.

After modeling I exported the mesh to Maya to proceed with retopology and finally start working on texturing with Substance Painter.


My workflow in Substance Painter starts with baking the mesh. Thanks to a good high-poly I usually manage to get very nice results immediately.

As soon as I am sure there are no artifacts in the bake I begin the first round of texture blocking, usually with smart materials such as Standard Bone Stylized.

As a starting point, I really on using 3dExtrude that can lead me to some very interesting initial results, especially with a very detailed high-poly.

For the wood grains, I tinkered with edge wear masks until I got an acceptable effect.

Then I added some light generators on the borders to make the “worn wood” effect.

As a finishing touch, I hand-painted some layers to improve the final look.

Lastly, to exalt the contrasts and make the texturing more interesting I used Curvature and Ambient Occlusion maps.

I made a simple fill layer with the Curvature map as a base color.

I changed the blending mode to Overlay and tweaked the opacity until I was satisfied.

Then goes the same thing for the AO map but with blending mode changed to Multiply instead.

For the Stone Owl, I followed the same steps as for the wood, using the generated maps from the bake.

For the shiny eyes, I used a slightly different workflow.

Emissives are always very fun to do even though you have to use them with caution since they can make very annoying and flat effects.

To avoid this I worked in different fill layers with just a base color and emissive.

I started with the darkest emissive orange light and then shaded with other color gradients: yellow and sparkling white.

Finally, I painted a fake light around the eyes to enhance those fantastic shiny gems.

Render & Lighting

For rendering, I used Marmoset Toolbag as my plan here was to make very captivating images.

I used two types of lights: key light and rim light.

The key light is the primary source of light in the scene, it’s the one that casts the shadows so it’s crucial to find the best direction to enhance the details of the model.

The rim light is important too because it takes care of the contrasts that we see on the asset borders.

There are also other support lights with low intensity to enhance the main lights.

1 of 2

Both the support rimlight and the spotlight are light blue. The model doesn’t have any blue hues, so I added this color in the lights.

The last step was composition in Photoshop with some contrast adjustments and a blueish background addition.


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