Mateusz Gruszka gave a talk on stylized character art and his approach to his fantastic characters.
Hi. My name is Mateusz Gruszka, I'm a 3D Character Artist. I was born and currently live in Poland. I worked on a few smaller projects, mainly freelance, and I think that the large projects are still ahead of me. Since I was little, I loved drawing and when I combined it with the fascination of video games, it evolved in the passion to create 3D graphics. Unfortunately, there are not many schools in Poland that allow you to learn 3D graphics, so I had to learn everything by observing other artists and various tutorials.
Stylized Character Art
Everything started with my contact with Warcraft games, at that time I got fascinated by their style. At the beginning of the journey into the stylized character art, there was a lot of trial and error. Later, I began to observe the work by more experienced artists and game artbooks.
My first exercises were based on trying to recreate characters from Warcraft. I tried to pay attention to what character features were exaggerated, how the shapes were manipulated and how the anatomy was shown. I think that the key to defining a stylized character is the clear shape, well-chosen colors, reliable anatomy, and visual appeal.
Character Design Peculiarities
The restrictions of the 3D character design depend on the platform the character will be on. On PC, you can sometimes afford more details on the mesh, you can use more materials or textures, and so on. For browser or mobile games, you need to save space, the details are mainly burned on the texture, the material and the set of textures is most often one per model. I think that while creating a character, it is important to look beyond artistic aspects and focus on the technical aspects that need to be done such as retopology or, for example, texture burning.
Character Details & History
For me, the most important thing in defining details is a good number of references and character history. If a character is a newly minted cosmonaut, his suit will be clean, shiny and new. An old homeless character will be in old damaged and dirty clothes, and so on. When creating my goblin, I thought about its history as someone who spent a lot of time learning and sitting at books. However, he went through traumatic events, which resulted in scars and blindness. He still had the habit of wearing glasses for all those years, despite the fact that his glasses were already destroyed.
I start the character base in Photoshop by combining information from burned maps such as AO local, AO, Curvature. Then, in Photoshop, using the lasso tool and gradient map layers with masks to put the colors on the different areas of the model. When I have a ready base color texture I use 3D Coat or Substance Painter and I start to add details. In the case of texturing stylized models, sometimes less is more, so try not to add too many details that will distract the attention from the main areas of the model. It is also useful to know color schemes, thanks to which the characters are more attractive for your eyes. Adobe Color is often useful, which is a free color wheel.
For the hand-drawn textures, I think it is important to train and improve 2D drawing skills. Knowledge of colors and use of gradients is also useful. In my texturing process, I often use a square brush which I saw in the work of Marc Brunet, it gives an artistic finishing touch. Using gradients, on the other hand, allows you to focus on the most important aspects of the character and adds depth. I also try not to use the extremely white or extremely black color because it makes it difficult to read the characters.
In the beginning, I try to determine what is the character's temper and in what situations the character can be found. Then I create a rig and try to set the character in the position that best suits its nature. A big role is also played by the light that powers the character's reception. Here, the lighting knowledge used in photography and painting is useful. I mainly use three-point lighting, unless I want to give the model a specific climate, then I try to experiment with different colors and lighting settings.