Sculpting & Texturing a Stylized Witch

Sculpting & Texturing a Stylized Witch

Guillaume Mahieu shared the stylized character workflow in ZBrushBlender, and Substance Painter.

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Hey! My name is Guillaume Mahieu. I’m 25 and I’m from Belgium. I’m currently working in Spain at Elite3D in Valencia as a Junior Character Artist.

Speaking of my career path, I did a Bac +3 in graphic design at Albert Jacquards School (Namur, Belgium). After my studies, I worked as a freelance artist for several companies on game projects, 3D print, VR, and more.  As for the video game industry, I have been working at Elite3D for almost a year.

The 3D industry is so incredibly interesting to me because it’s a field which is evolving all the time and you are always learning new things. You always want to outdo yourself when you start a new project. I think I will always be an eternal unsatisfied fella!

Switching to Blender

At the moment, I’m trying to switch from Maya to Blender during my spare time. The breaking point happened some weeks ago when I saw how good the version 2.8 was. The real-time viewport by itself is already something powerful to use and can speed up your workflow a lot. To me, Blender is very much like a Swiss knife… you can do all your work using it without switching to another software. That’s really amazing and it’s free.

I like the fact that the developers take the users’ opinion into consideration as well as the fact that the Blender community is really active. Blender is the future!

Character Production in ZBrush

My personal rule is to always start with a concept that catches my attention. That’s where the hype begins!

My approach to stylized characters is actually very common. Using PureRef, I create a board with the original concept and multiple pictures which could help me during the sculpting process like anatomy references, cloth folds, other stylized work, etc.

The blocking is by far the most important step of the workflow. I always start with Zspheres, Dynamesh or use the Sculptris Pro in ZBrush 2018 to create the overall character using multiples subtools. At this stage, you need to take into consideration the flow and the silhouette: the primary shapes are the priority. Once and only once the primary shapes are correct you can go further with the secondary and tertiary shapes.

Sculpting accurate and more realistic anatomy is very important when I work on a stylized character. Next step is to clean and simplify the model using the Hpolish, TrimDynamic and Smooth brushes. You need to avoid the micro details as much as you can. Try to create your own ‘mannequin’ to place the anatomy correctly before going too far in the shaping!

In the case of the Witch project, I wanted to sculpt the character completely asymmetrical as a personal challenge and exercise. Once my ‘mannequin’ was done, I started to pose the character with the tool Transpose Master and blocked the subtools.

Modeling Assets

Speaking of the hard-surface stuff like the jewelry and the blade, most of the time I use common 3D software (Blender, Maya, 3ds Max) to block the shape and then I detail it further in ZBrush.

This time, for the jewelry stones, I used a simple primitive cylinder in ZBrush, set it up in the initialize panel and used Zmodeler brush to add some bevels and support loops.

Then, I used the Claytubes and trimDynamic brush to sculpt the edges. For the strings on the character, I simply used the CurveStrapSnap – it’s as simple as that.


Given the fact that my character is completely asymmetrical and part of a video game project, I only did a simple decimation of every subtool to speed up the workflow. I used Blender to do the 4 UV sets I needed: one for the hair, one for the skin, one for the clothes, and one for the rock/dagger. The model is now ready to be textured.

Now let’s talk about the texturing process!

I only use Substance Painter whenever I need to texture a character by combining the use of generators, hand-painting, and baked maps to control every little detail. The main thing I do for stylized projects compared to realistic ones is to have a nice definition of details and contrast in my Albedo. I always use the same maps in order to achieve a stylized result:

  • The AO using it as an inverted mask
  • Cavity map
  • Curvature (boosted with level filter)
  • Thickness (Fake SSS for skin mixed with AO)

I painted the more specific details by hand like the redness of the skin, the dirty parts, the dust on clothes, shadows, etc. In general, I also add some overall layers like the sharpen and the maps with different blending modes to increase the details and contrast even more.

Once happy with the textures in Substance Painter, it’s time to send all of them in Blender and work with our friend Eevee. As an example, here is the shader with the textures of the skin part.


For the rendering of the final shot, I used the Real-Time engine from Blender Eevee, which is a big advantage of the 2.8 version. I can’t say too much about it now because I’m still getting used to it. However, the lighting was easy to do: I used a simple three-point lighting setup with one blue rim light on the back, one front light, and one spotlight at the top.


Switching from one software to another was by far the biggest challenge for this project. I was a bit lost at the beginning and I hadn’t much time to find all the tools I’m used to. Regarding the character, the most challenging parts of the project were:

  • The asymmetrical sculpting. I had to be accurate with the proportions
  • The hair was a bit difficult to sculpt as I couldn’t see the back of the head on the original concept

I challenged myself with this concept because I’m not used to modeling female characters, so it was kind of a challenge to do it properly and I enjoyed it quite a lot. It gave me the motivation to reiterate!

Hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new!

Guillaume Mahieu, Junior Character Artist at Elite3D

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev



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