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2D Sketch in 3D: Painting Techniques

Miki Bencz gave a short talk on his latest 3D character study recreated from Julia Yang’s black&white sketch.

Miki Bencz gave a short talk on his latest 3D character study recreated from Julia Yang‘s black&white sketch.

The Project

The project started the same way it usually does: I’ve been surfing the internet for a new personal project! Sometimes it takes a while to find the right thing to make since there are some illustrations which I really like but would take an insane amount of work to make. On the other end, there are “too easy” ones which would be fun to make but wouldn’t challenge me enough in the long run. So finding the right balance between fun and challenging is always something I try to keep in mind since I want to both learn a lot and avoid feeling too stressed out during the whole project. After all, it’s just a hobby!

The model is based on an illustration by Julia Yang.

The Workflow

I worked in 3ds Max and used the basic tools. I kept moving around vertexes until it looked right, starting with a simple plane placed on the bridge of the nose – basic “box modeling” stuff! Drawing a lot of heads, practicing anatomy and digital painting can help tremendously at this point since your eye can be trained to recognize what looks “right”. After I start painting the textures, I always have to jump back and fix geometry and model everywhere, since all the errors come to the surface, and it’s easier to spot the difference between the model and the illustration. Model, Texture, UVs, topology – everything is constantly changing (a lot) up until the moment the piece is published. You have to be efficient with the technical side of the things in order to fix these easily, so I’d suggest getting as comfy as you can with a non-linear workflow if needed. Each time I model a head I try and get it more accurate than the one I made before. It’s an endless iteration of knowledge, stylization, and skill from project to project!

Below you can see the route I took on modeling the head. Keep in mind the last one is not the final wire, this gif is to show the direction of progression only!


Painting Texturing

I usually approach painting textures by going from big forms to smaller ones, finding big patches of values on the original illustration which I can translate to my model. It helps me a lot to also notice the shape and gesture of the value patches since those are very important in capturing the essence of a painting style! I keep zoomed out in the beginning and move closer and closer as time passes.

Also, towards the second half of texturing it’s important to switch the viewing distance and figure out what big and small things you’ve missed. Getting back from the kitchen and seeing my monitor from far away helps me to notice the details that the illustration has and my remake doesn’t. Switching from the model to the illustration frequently is really important, too.

One key challenge was that I used the wrong brush for the majoirty of the texture painting, and the texture was blurry for a long time. It would have been more effective to start out with a messy brush that roughly has the same feel as the final illustration. Well, I learn something new with each piece and the project I’m working on now got this problem sorted!

Monochrome 3D Image

I keep my 3D work pretty simple in terms of 3D techniques and maps, so I only use diffuse and alpha masks on all of my works. I wanted to make a black and white image for a while since I felt that it could be pushed to the illustration look more easily. I thought that the brushstroke effects were a cool fit with the monochrome look and figured that it would work nicely in 3D if done correctly!




I wanted to keep the 3D version as close to the illustration as possible, so there is no dynamic light used. Everything is painted into the texture by hand. I think this is my weakest point at the moment. Figuring out a believable 3D light scenario for an illustration can be challenging both technically and artisticly, and can look pretty horrible very easily. I always experiment with “adding” extra light sources behind the model where the illustration doesn’t describe exactly how the backside should look because I think it’s more interesting to have multiple sources. Even though this is something I have not yet figured out a working formula for, the ideas and “that worked once, let’s try again” mood are already enough for a start. I can only recommend experimenting and sticking to the references, – in the process, you can decide whether that lighting works or not.

Would This Style Fit a Game?

A game with this style is most definitely possible. With some technical support, it can be done! The way I work takes too much time for a single asset to be produced, so the tech is needed in order to figure out a procedural way to achieve the effect and reduce the production time drastically. Every technique used, the resolution of the geometry and the size of the textures would work easily in any engine. Today’s hardware shouldn’t have trouble with a 2k texture and a 5k triangle head!

Thanks for reading my interview!

Miki Bencz, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 8

  • Fox Phoenix

    This style looks quite similar to the stuff produced in the Dreams game/engine on PS4/5. Dreams feels like a good piece of tech to look at when thinking about ways to make better workflows for this sort of production and style. It has both solid pieces and wispy strips of brush strokes as foundational elements of it’s visual style, mostly painted/sculpted using motion controllers in a way that feels like a mix of VR Painting apps and boolean based mesh construction


    Fox Phoenix

    ·3 years ago·
  • Anonymous user

    anybody have any links for techniques used in his work? i want to make a sketch for my project https://appdevelopmenttexas.net/ please no Wikipedia. thanks


    Anonymous user

    ·4 years ago·
  • amelie haines

    This is really awesome actually I was searching for 2D animation designs for the website https://vidnado.com.au/service/2d-animation-video and I got something really interesting 2D Sketch techniques, great work was done by the Julia Yang.


    amelie haines

    ·5 years ago·
  • _ Rombout

    Stunning man


    _ Rombout

    ·5 years ago·
  • Charles

    This is really quite wonderful.

    It would be nice if the additional planes would fade as the viewing angle becomes perpendicular to the normals for the planes. Maybe by crushing the low-end of the alpha (so that the thickness of the paint is still present and it doesn't feel... gassy) I could also imagine that experimenting with making them semi-camera facing (just a little warping) could increase the feeling of the whole thing being painted as it rotates - pulling them a little into screen space in a sense.

    The lighting observation is a good one... and in a game you would probably really want 3D lighting if this were to animate. I wonder if doing something like selecting/blending from a several artist-authored parametrized MatCap materials based on computed (eg. in a light probe) environment lighting wouldn't be a way to make it respond to the scene but still very much capture the intent of the artist.



    ·5 years ago·
  • Rick Hoppmann

    Here is the article I mentioned in my previous comment on approaching this procedurally: http://www.big-robot.com/2017/01/24/art-signal-from-tolva-ian-mcque/


    Rick Hoppmann

    ·5 years ago·
  • Rick Hoppmann

    Great work, that was a really interesting read! The devs of Signal from Tölva kind of did what you described in the last part & found a procedural solution for their needs (distributing brush strokes, edge detection, etc).


    Rick Hoppmann

    ·5 years ago·
  • Roman

    great work. thanx for this article



    ·5 years ago·

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