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Creating a Stylized Owl Girl in Maya, ZBrush & Substance 3D Painter

Luana Bueno has told us about the work process behind the Owl Girl project, shared some tips on hand-painting for beginners, and explained the importance of recording your workflow.


Hi, my name is Luana Bueno and I’m a Brazilian 3D Character Artist working in the game industry for the past 5 years. 
I already worked on PBR projects but I’m truly passionate about hand-painted textures and working with different pipelines allowed me to improve my workflow in my personal projects.

My last work was at Gameloft Montreal in Disney Dreamlight Valley. In this project, I had the opportunity to work in the avatar personalization team, so I created many clothes that the player can wear in his avatar. I helped with some feedback from Disney on characters that the player will interact with within the campaign.

About this article, as this is my third time here in 80 Level, I feel that my workflow is more mature now and I would like to approach some aspects that I didn’t talk about in the last ones. 

Getting Started

After creating many concepts from other artists, I felt that was the time for me to create my own, especially because I’m at a pivot point in my life and I wanted to do something more personal as my next project.

I think that it’s easier to create when you have a theme or high concept to guide you. Mine was "The beginning of a new journey".

I did many concepts for this character. The first ones literally were me, so I decided to go for something more stylized and not so literal. Some aspects don’t need to be there, you can add some symbol or prop that for the artist represents something not being so obvious to the audience.

I was invited to do a presentation at an art event called Topia Art Experience and I wanted to show this character. 
Because of this decision, I didn’t have enough time to develop the 2D concept and I needed to evolve the character and make some decisions in the middle of the process.

I recommend that if you have the time to plan, use it. I know that some unforeseen things can happen, but it’s better to have a good plan before starting a project.

This is the concept that I decided to move forward with:


I decided on many design aspects while I was sculpting. So the concept ended up being my starting point and the final render is what eventually evolved from it.

My blockout was very messy because I usually prefer to have all the aspects of the model as fast as possible so I can adjust the proportions to check if it’s matching with the concept before starting to polish it.

I spent some time trying to have a cleaner workflow using more of the topology tool inside of ZBrush, but I realized that any artist has their way of sculpting and the result is important, not the tools that were used in the process.

To have a good understanding of how many hours I spent on creating this model, I recorded the process. It ended up being very useful because while I was editing the videos, I could watch my process and observe the parts that I could improve and the ones that I was doing well.

I really recommend recording the process, now I’m doing it every time that I produce something. It doesn't need to be posted anywhere, it can be something just for yourself to learn from it.

Retopology and Unwrapping

In a game project, the character’s retopology and UVs are very important. Each project has its own specifications, but it’s good to know the default of what’s expected of you as a Character Artist.

As for the retopology, you need to add loops in the areas where the character will deform. For a human’s face, for example, it’s good to add polygons around the eyes and the mouth for facial expressions.

A good piece of advice here is to make sure that you add the same number of loops in the upper and bottom parts of the eyelids and the lips. It will help the rigger to make the eyes and mouth close perfectly:

Speaking of the production, when working on a game, the artists usually have a limitation of polycount and maybe they want the character to have a specific topology in certain areas. But this is something that you don’t need to worry about, someone will teach you this when you enter the team, so it’s good to know nothing is absolute, what matters is that the character works perfectly in the game.

This is the video with the whole retopology process:

Looking at the comparison between the concept and the low poly model, it’s possible to see that I changed a lot of the proportions, clothes, and props:

This is the final low poly model in a neutral pose:

The same happens when you make the UVs. There are some rules that you need to know to create good UVs, like the best places to cut the seams and other specifications that the Technical Artist can ask you for the project, like having a UV map just for the face and the rest of the character in another one, for example.

When doing a personal project, I always vote for having a good quality of resolution in my textures, because the texture part is the most important for my hand-painted style.

I usually divide my UVs into some unmaps, like head, body, big props, and base because I can paint each map in 2048 px or 4096px without my computer starting to lag a lot.

I do my UVs using Maya as you can see in this video:

The bake was made in Marmoset Toolbag. I love that it’s possible to see the cage for baking, so it makes my process much easier: 

Hand-Painting the Character

As a shape, composition, and light can be used to tell a story, the same happens with the colors that you choose for your models.

I picked the bluish green and golden colors for the costume because they’re complimentary colors in the color wheel and the combination of them gives the feeling of wisdom and royalty. The red in the scarf is there for a reason, too. It’s because I wanted to bring attention to the character's face.

About the process, usually I start painting in 3DCoat because it’s faster for me to just jump to the painting process,  but because I worked last year with PBR I wanted to take a shot in Substance 3D Painter for this one. I started baking the maps on Marmoset and adding them to SP. Then, I was testing the colors and materials in SP.

This process gave me some ideas and I ended up using the albedo map as my starting point on the 3DCoat.
It’s a good process especially if you are not used to painting because you don’t need to start with a blank canvas or if you need to speed up the process.

This is my process of texturing. As you can see, I tried to evolve the whole model together, instead of focusing on finishing each part and then moving to the next one.


When you create a hand-painted character, all the information about the materials and shadows is usually painted on the Albedo map, so we don’t have the information from all the other maps to help in the rendering of the model.

But when you implement your character in the engine, usually if the game has many environments like a desert or a forest or even the transition between day and night, it needs to affect the character, because it needs to fit this environment, so it’s not like you need to paint much texture for each place that the character goes.

There are shaders and the light setup that can help with it, so the model is not 100% unlit in the game.

Thinking about it, and because my character was in a dark environment and holding this lamp, I didn't want to paint this information in the texture, I wanted a default texture like in games and the light information coming from the engine.

This is why I did the configs in Marmoset creating a PBR material and adding my Albedo in the emissive channel. This way I could control the transition between the hand-painted feeling and the lights affecting the texture.

In this GIF, it’s possible to see the material of the clothes with and without the emissive enable:

Advice for Artists

I think that the best tip that I can do is that you will be better in the style that you like the most and create things that you relate with, especially if you are doing it in your free time for your personal projects.

The same works for studying, if you like stylized models, jump into it! Don’t spend years just modeling muscles or realistic anatomy. It will make you give up on studying or even question if you really like art while the answer is yes, but not the kind that you are producing at the moment.

It’s very important to understand the fundamentals, but don’t be stuck on it – just work on realistic projects if you like the styled things. Just apply your knowledge in the style that you love and things will naturally start to fit.

And try to have fun in the process, even if the result is not the expected because someday it will be. But this is not the point, the point is that you need to enjoy the building stage, not just wait until the end to enjoy it because, to be frank, there's no end, you will always want to improve on something because we are artists, and that’s what we do. 

Luana Bueno, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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Comments 5

  • Anonymous user

    <3 <3 <3 <3


    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·
  • Anonymous user



    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Wow, I was needed see a tutorial for hand painted like that


    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·
  • Anonymous user



    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·
  • ㅤ Luma Liana



    ㅤ Luma Liana

    ·a year ago·

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