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Claudio Saavedra is a Character Sculptor who creates incredible 3D models for printing. Today he talked about his career path, general approaches to sculptures in terms of modeling, posing, building the anatomy, painting and setting lights and shaders.
Hi! My name is Claudio Saavedra, I am from Santiago, Chile, and I specialize in 3D Character Sculpting. A few years ago I was a digital animator, but friends and teammates told me that I had better skills in sculpture and I felt the same, so the focus was changed.
I worked on a lot of projects some of which are Apocalypse on Throne, Spiderman McFarlane version, Wolverines and Dragon Ball Z figurines like Gogeta vs Janemba and more. Last months I also worked on two figurines for two licensed Studios one of which is Tokio Ghoul, but I can’t reveal anything else because of NDA. The second figurine All Might vs All For One was made just for fun but it was received so well by the people, that some big studios became interested in producing my work with a few adjustments. Currently, I am working on some amazing projects with Tsume.
When I studied Digital animation I did my first steps in the digital art: first made a lot of drawings/paintings, then animated a lot of 2D/3D scenes, and finally, decided to change my focus to the digital sculpting.
Digital Sculptor: Start of Career
I joined “Sculpting” world around a year and a half ago while I was working as a 3D modeler in Iguanabee. At that moment, one Spanish guy sent me a message on Facebook asking if I could make commissions. I didn’t really know what it meant, but replied to him “of course”, so some days later I started my first digital sculpting on commision. The figurine was Silver Surfer and after that work, I continued working on several projects related to the sculpture.
I think one of the things that helped me a lot was the fact that I posted my works actively on social media. I always showed each of my new projects, and until now that’s the main source of new clients who offer commissions.
General Approach to Sculptures
I always try to define the intention of the characters and give them some context: where they come from and where they’re going and so on. After that, I try to find some good references for poses, always trying to find many examples from the real world, illustrations, drawings, and other sculptures, so that I could mix them or use separate aspects that will complement my figurine.
When working on the female characters, I always try to keep in mind the fact that women aren’t princess/barbies. What I mean is that I’ve seen a lot of heroine sculptures where I couldn’t feel more than one main focus – the goal of being “sexy”. And when it’s the only goal put into the figurine, I think we miss the opportunity to create a “special” feeling and produce a complete character with a great background story in the scene.
Before starting with the digital sculpture, I did a lot of gesture drawings. At some moments, I drew gestures around 6-8 hours without any break (at the university during my vacations) and even got wrist pain. I also did a lot of animation exercises, and my teachers helped me to improve my skill in to pose a character.
Speaking about my current process, it is s the same as before, I think. I always search for a lot of references, plus try to pose and take self-pictures. I work on the pose, silhouette, and the line of action in parallel, and I try to keep in mind that 2D drawings almost all every time have structural mistakes, so it’s not necessary to re-create the exact pose seen in the 2D image. Yet, I try to match it as much as I can without breaking the articulation and balance. A lot of times though I break the proportions slightly in order to gain more expression because I think catching viewers’attention is more important. Finally, it’s necessary to remember that we must communicate a message through our figurines, and therefore we should make every effort to provide an effective communication.
In this step, I almost every time rely on a lot of references searching for similar poses with the same kind of deformations that I need. Then I try to make a “breakdown” to understand what structure is hidden below the skin thus both working on the sculpture and learning something new. Sometimes, this kind of preparatory work can take around 12 hours or more.
I noticed that it is really common when people add volumes using only their memory, and in my opinion, that is not the best way, because we don’t gain new knowledge, but simply repeat a mechanical process. My sculptures are usually a mix of certain criteria, personal taste, knowledge, a lot of references, much more mistakes and re-sculpting of some parts, and a bit of memory.
A few months ago I worked on the armor in Maya, but in the last works I started to use ZBrush with tools like “hpolish”, “trim dynamic”, “planar”. In parallel, I use the smooth feature to obtain a cleaner surface, then make different polygroups with clip tools and, finally, apply zremesher with “polygroups” option activated. Once in a while, I come back to Maya to make retopology manually. I usually integrate the armor naturally because you simply extract the shape of the body and use it as a base for each piece of the armor.
To paint the sculptures, I usually use Substance Painter, but only for inorganic parts and combining procedural effects with manual painting. I really love that process. When I work on the characters without armor or any other outfits I just use ZBrush. Painting is not my main goal, and I try to use it just to complement my main goal – the sculpture.
Speaking about the process, I usually place on base colors first to test the main idea, then add some dirt if necessary and other properties depending on the materials. In Substance Painter, I made a lot of experiments with different smart masks and manual painting, and I think I use a lot of layers and masks, like really a lot. When I send the maps to Maya, I start to test how the result looks and always add some edit nodes like remap hsv, layer texture, or remap value, because I always have a feeling that the materials miss something. For illumination, I almost all the time use just area/spot lights in Maya and avoid using dome lights or HDRI maps.
Lights & Shaders
For me, preparing the render is one of the best parts as I really love to add lights and play with them. I feel that with any small change of a light we can tell a totally different story about the scene. As I mentioned before, I always try to use just area and spotlights, and sometimes directional lights to make “false” rim lights. In the university, one of my teachers always told me that illumination is like painting: we paint the scene with each light and shadow. That’s why I try to set my illumination as expressively as possible, even if I make it look less realistic. I believe that the control that we have over each element in the scene is a really good advantage of working with digital lighting. Sometimes I link two different lights to only one object or vice versa, always with the main goal of showing the details of the sculpture in the best way plus for the atmosphere of the scene.
For shaders, I apply the same logic always focusing on making the visuals more expressive even if it means sacrificing realism. For example, sometimes I combine effects like sampler info with incandescence or translucent parameter and then add some procedural textures as masks. Some of the results end up looking really cool like my sculpture Dormammu. It has a lot of unrealistic shaders, and even though the project was not received so well, I really like it.
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