Climbing the Heights of Hard Surface and Character Art

Climbing the Heights of Hard Surface and Character Art

Nice tips and tricks for artists interested in developing skills from Joao Sapiro Josue.

We were fortunate enough to talk to Joao Sapiro Josue, who has recently presented a breakdown of different modeling workflows. The artist discussed his work and gave some really nice advice for beginners. 


I’m a characterhard surface artist from Portugal who is currently working with the awesome chaps at Airborn Studios (ArtStation page)

I am self-taught (as in no official college degree etc) , and over the course of the past decade I’ve contributed to projects such as Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Champions of Anteria, Brink, Darkest of Days, Firefall, and loads others .

Lately I have been working on projects like Halo 5, Overwatch – and a few unannounced titles.

Production Pipeline

Usually it’s like this :

  • If the client doesn’t provide a blockout, I will do it with final input from the client on its approval . Once the blockout is approved, I move onto the basemesh stage.
  • The basemesh stage is the most important for me; if the client has feedback about any shape and I need to alter something, it’s way easier to move a couple of vertices or a face than lots of tiny details that were already modeled. This way I assure that revisions are “locked” before I proceed to detailing.
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  • After the main shapes are approved etc I just need to add any floaters or details and not worry about edgeloops since quadchamfer usually takes care of that for me pretty fine , leaving me with a clean base to work from as I show on the image I published.
  • For my tools I use 3ds Max 2009 for modeling, Zbrush for sculpting, 3D-Coat for retopo, and I will implement Substance on my workflow soon. Yes, Max 2009 – an old build, but it’s highly customized and tailored with scripts etc to my needs – visit scripspot, you will find loads of interesting things there!

You are a true master of hard surface work. What is your secret here?

Thanks, but I don’t consider myself a master as I feel have a lot to learn still. ? And about “secrets” – there are none; just lots of hard work and never settling for mediocrity. If I can push something past a certain level I will work my hardest to it because, at the end of the day, the work I do for clients is also work for my portfolio. And you don’t want half-assed stuff on your portfolio, do you?

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You may think I’m joking, but the most important trick I can share is :

Do your research before you ask.

Nowadays the quantity of information is absurd – there are no stones left unturned when it comes to solutions for problems, and I see lots of people making questions that can be answered by a simple Google search or just by simply trying to DO instead of procrastinating . There is a lot of spoonfeeding expected by newcomers – and that is a very destructive mentality as it makes you non-reliable to figure things out on your own on a studio environment. I don’t say not to ask questions to your peers, but please be sure you’ve done some searching ahead as it shows that you tried to do it on your own before.

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Overwatch Skins

Ever since I started playing Diablo 1 I knew this company would be a target to aim on my life. So when we at Airborn started working with Blizzard (I could not believe it and still can’t), we knew they only had been doing outsourcing on a small-scale.

So from the beginning we worked closely with Team4, and we all had to learn a process in which the workflow and communication would be totally compatible for both parties. I can say now that we have a very stable pipeline made between us at the moment .

I can say that adapting to their style was definitely the most challenging part as I was used to making realistic on stylized sci-fi art style before. But that motivated me to get out of my comfort zone since being proficient in many styles is always a plus!

So far I can say its a dream project since I work alongside my industry idols both at Airborn and Team4!


The most joyful part is definitely seeing my art in-game.

Since I work on both character and hard surface art, I get the best of the two worlds! I can take more projects that would usually be divided between two artists.

The single most important advice I give to beginners is :

  • Do not act entitled when people don’t spoonfeed you information.

The industry veteran you are bugging for “tutorials” is a person like you and she/he probably didn’t have tutorials when she/he started and if he did, she/he succeeded by failing and failing until he/she started to get it right and adapt it to his workflow, 10 years ago when I started this we only had games that we reverse-engineered to take a look at the textures, models or particles. Games like Quake 1, 2 and 3, Unreal Tournament, and even Daikatana with gorgeous textures.

Google is your friend, the answers you seek ARE there.

I have this unwritten rule about helping people, for example, on the technical talk section of the polycount boards: if the questions can be answered by copy/pasting the thread title on Google, I don’t bother replying to those. People who do are enabling this behaviour. I consider it very toxic and stunting for artistic growth as it literally kills curiosity and search ability.

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When young artists ask me for feedback but don’t even attempt to make a try, I don’t bother.

  • Do not procrastinate!

By that I mean, don’t ask questions and sit on your ass waiting for the answer, try and fail until you get it right. Gathering references and spending days talking about “What I will do=” is also procrastinating. Don’t talk. DO.

Don’t think that the brushes that artist X used on project Y will instantly enable you to paint lightning correctly or make you draw anatomically correct humans. There is no secret. Take a look at Quake 3 and Daikatana skins – those probably just used a tablet and a color wheel to paint and some round brushes. They just DID.

  • Do not have over-ambitious project.

When I click a topic thread and see a huge-ass wall of text and lots of references I immediately know that there is a 95% of chance that the person won’t finish or even take the project midway; they will just make some props or a blockout and then get bored.If you are learning to cook you won’t start making fusion food before knowing how to boil an egg!

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If you want to be a hard surface modeler don’t start by modeling a super complex gun. It will look like shit and you will take 10x more time since there isn’t enough practiceknowledge to do it.

Try smaller items first, like a nicely cleanly modeled pen, fork, stapler, remote, basically shapes that are quickly done but where you can see where you struggle, and hey, at the end you might have 10 objects in a week that can compose a scene!

The same applies to characters, try making small scaled characters, work with boxes to do basic proportions, take a look at anatomy books and see that they simplify the shapes a lot before adding details , kind of drawing a stick figure of a skeleton in poses before fleshing it out.

  • Don’t take something that “my teacher said” or “my friend said” as absolute.

Misinformation is worse than absence of information. Giving unresearchedparroted knowledge will do more harm than good as you may “lock” peoples minds on a mentality that might not be truemake his life harder in terms of production . Research everywhere and TRY yourself the WHY of said things , and if you see with your own eyes that a certain workflow is more effective and can make your life easier just adopt it.

This industry is based on time, the less time you take to make something with quality the more valuable you are .

If you have teachers that are hellbent on saying that their method is the only correct one and force you to use it without allowing exploration first, be VERY wary…

  • Exercise.

This is something I highly recommend for an industry where people sit the whole day. As of writing of this I am currently sick with cough and amigdalitis, it inhibits my regular exercising routine and I can already feel it. Get of your chair and move. NOW.


  • There are no secrets.

There won’t be a brushplugin utorial that will make you suddenly a good artist. Accept that. Get to work and TRY for yourself to do something instead of wasting time searching for tutorials.

  • Only you are accountable.

The world isn’t out to get you. If you can’t find a job after sending 200000 applications either your portfolio is to blame,or your attitude, sometimes both. Don’t be surrounded by Yes-man – get feedback from strangers that don’t care who you are nor about “what you will do”, these strangers wont care to be harsh to get their feedback to you.

  • Join projects to practice (mods etc)

Joining mods and working on trying to mod games was how I started all this. Nowadays there are so many mods that it makes my head spin. It will help you understand team dynamics and maybe finish a cool project!

Joao Sapiro Josue, Freelance 3D Hard Surface/ Character Artist

Interview conducted by Artyom Sergeev

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Comments 4

  • Sean

    This is nicely worded and having been in the industry for over 10 years, I'm completely with you on all of this. I guess its possibly easier to digest this info from my point of view (having worked for a while), than from the view of someone trying to start out though, those who often seem to want to know specific practices - and as you have said google/tutorials will give those answers.



    ·5 years ago·
  • Working Artist

    Great article with solid advice.
    Below you will find two of the exact types of people this article is referring to. Snowflake whiners and complainers that are looking for the magic secret to make them artists. I like that one of them states what they learned, but then follows up with there not being any knowledge here. ADD much?


    Working Artist

    ·5 years ago·
  • asdas

    The only thing this article taught me was not to ask questions, a long rant about nothing really, i do tend to find the solutions myself or figure out an alternative, and i get that it can be annoyign that people expects to just have all the information fed to them but that is the age we now live in.

    Great art, but no real knowledge here, cus it wont stop the people from asking the questions.



    ·5 years ago·
  • Peter Tian

    Man you seem like a real joy to work with.


    Peter Tian

    ·5 years ago·

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