Cartoony Style Character in 3D

Cartoony Style Character in 3D

Tobias Rohrwacher showed how he created an amazing pirate character for the Lost at Sea contest, organized by Turbosquid.

Tobias Rohrwacher showed how he created an amazing pirate character for the Lost at Sea contest, organized by Turbosquid.

Lost at Sea by TrLee on Sketchfab


Hi there! My name is Tobias Rohrwacher and I live an work in Switzerland. At the time I work as a fair-stand and interior designer. Before i was a freelance Illustrator for about 8 years (Only 2d stuff, like illustrations for child books and commercials). I never studied 3d. About 4 years ago a friend started to work with Cinema 4D and i was immediately hooked. So i started to teach myself C4d first, after that I discovered 3ds Max and finally (took me long enough..) I heard about Blender. Since then I have been using Blender every day for all kind of projects (2d/3d animation, modelling, rigging and so on..)

Character Production

I love challenges! They are still the best way to improve your skills and learn new stuff. When I first heard about the Turbosquid challenge I wanted to try to make a “perfect”, “clean” all quads model. Because I have been struggling with this for quite a while now and when animating something a messy topology will eventually show and you’ll have to start over or improvise. Also I wanted to try a complete new approach of modelling characters: Start really messy and totally freestyle, just use all the modelling tools Blender provides and don’t care about the poly count or topology ant then make a clean model based on that “sketch”.

Cartoony style look

When you hear the topic “Lost at sea” you (or at least I) think of something dramatic. My first thought was to recreate something like The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault. But life is serious enough so I decided to do the complete opposite. I made a very basic sketch (with Krita) of a crazy pirate directing a ship do disaster. I also thought about putting some desperate looking mice on the ship as passengers. Then I put together a small mood board and began modelling. At work I have to make everything as realistic as possible, so I wanted to make this one a stylized cartoon character for a change. After a few quick pirate models I decided leave the beard. No mather how I modelled it, it quickly became to detailed for the kind of character I wanted to create. So I went in a more “French captain” direction, with only a moustache and a smaller hat so the facial expression gets more attention. With this decision I of course had to get rid of the wooden sword and replace it with an anchor (which gave me the opportunity to put in some chains and give the whole thing some more movement). At this point I also changed the “story” to “French captain steals baby squid and the mother will make sure he’s lost at sea for ever…”  after all its a turbosquid challenge so there should be some squids 

Asset creation

At work we buy a lot of assets because we have to produce a lot with a very tight schedule. So whenever I do something for myself I model everything. It may take much longer but its waaay more fun and the only way to learn and improve fast. Most of the elements in the scene were made form basic shapes. For the wave I made a plane, used the subdivision modifier and deformed if by rotating some vertecies, the boat was shaped out of a cube and deformed with the lattice modifier. And the tentacles were just simple bezier curves converted to meshes and cleaned up to be all quads. The only hard thing to do was the French captain. After I was happy with the “dirty” model I started to do the manual retopology. I added a Plane and set the snap to closest face and enabled the “project individual elements” button. Then I just began with some loops around the main elements of the model (body, neck, arms and legs) and tried to keep the polygon number “logical”.. which means something like, if I have 12 quads on the body loop then I need 6 for each leg and arm (an always keep the number a “power of 2” so I can close them with a quad). Of course I made like a million mistakes and had to do this over and over again (“luckily” I have to spent around 5 hours a day in a train to get to work, so I have enough time to do this stuff).


The texturing was quite easy. This is one of the areas where I love to work in Blender, especially for cartoon style stuff. I defined the UV islands for the important things like faces and each different material, unwrapped it and started to paint directly on to the model. Then I just made some custom brushes for the “metallic” and “smoothness” values (as they are called in Unity, in Blender it represents glossy and roughness) and hand painted those too. I have a Wacom Inutuos tablet at home (which I used for modelling the “dirty” model) but most of the textures I painted with the track pad on my laptop.

For the Normal maps I subdivided the mesh with the Multiresolution modifier and just sculpted all the details I wanted (again.. because it was impossible to get the Normals from the “dirty” model, it was just too messy) and then baked the normals from the highpoly model. I made the fatal mistake of leaving the “subdivide uv’s” check box on. So I got some black (or blank) edges on the model and it took me a while to realise my mistake ( a few train rides wasted…).

Using Unity

Unity is an amazing program / game engine. I used to experiment with Unreal but Unity is way better documented and I personally think it gives me more freedom to create specific looks and game / program types. As I baked all needed textures in Blender I just applied them to the specific slots from the standard shader and that was it. I then only modified a free script for a flying camera to get some good views for the final renders.

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For the light I made a custom hdri in Blender by blurring and colour correcting a hdri from hdriheaven. I used this as a skybox in Unity for the “ambient” light and then I overwrote the camera background with a plain dark blue. For the main lights I did the simplest thing everybody does when they don’t have a clue what to do… I created 3 point lights, one white, one blue and one orange. Then you just place them on different sides of the Model and play with the strength values. This always works. And last but not least I used the Postproccesing stack from the Unity asset store (its a free asset). This really makes the difference! You can add all kind of effects and colour corrections, with this you can make a plain cube look like an art piece. 

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