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Miki Bencz did a very nice overview of the way he models, paints and presents his phenomenal stylized models.
Hi, I’m Miki Bencz! I started messing around in 3ds Max when I was 11 years old, and I kinda liked how it works. I remember seeing one of my brother’s friend work, a pistol on the monitor and I was like “how was that made?” During high school years, I got past the phase when I proudly showed my dad a sphere which I created in the 3D world, and moved more deeply in to the various segments of 3D like the then called “next-gen” normal map workflow, and rendering various stuff in Vray. Also during this period, I got in to the Warcraft universe which then basically had me hooked on the hand-painted style of 3D and in the rich, colorful, exciting world of fantasy. I loved the shapes, the rendering, the proportions, the spells all of that universe was mesmerizing to me. Got my first paid work during high scool, a bunch of renders for a museum, where I got the models, and I had to light, and texture the scene with Vray. The PC I bought from my first real payday is sitting right next to me here as I’m writing this.
I think my fate was sealed, when I got my first hand-painted (to be honest I painted with a mouse for a really long time) weapon in to the game called World of Warcraft. I managed to change some of the models in the game on a live server to my own work, and after that I was hooked on fantasy related hand-painted 3D models. I filled up my portfolio with game/fantasy related works, and started working in the game development industry right after I graduated high school. I continued working on my own projects next to the upcoming jobs I had, finding new stuff that excited me, and tried to push myself with those projects in both technical, and artistic sense in order to get better, and find the segment of 3D I enjoy doing the most. A habit I still have.
I usually model my works only in 3ds Max ( I have a theory that the software is developed by Beelzebub himself, the manifestation of all evil, but this theory is yet to be proven) , using basic box modeling techniques. Since there I want each vertex to have a purpose, and break down the shape to a very basic form, and relatively low poly count. For me this is a fun process, I like the boxy feel, and the limitations around low poly hand-painted works. I usually set up a camera which looks at the model the same way my reference illustration is painted. So if I have a painting of a guy from a 3/4 view, I simply set up a camera from that view, try and guess the fov, and set the illustration as a background. That way as I model I can already compare my model exactly on top of the illustration. At this stage it’s okay to work while intoxicated since everything will change by the time the piece is done, so I’d call this the goofy part. My workflow is somewhat linear, but is heavily based on iteration, so once I call the model “done” and start texturing it, everything starts to move, and shape back and forth between fixing the model, fixing the texture, adjust the camera angle and basically everything becomes mobile, and reviewed a million times in order to get to a more satisfying end result inch by inch.
Bunnygirl and Spacegirl
Bunnygirl and Spacegirl were a collaboration with Tamas Sarffi, who made the sculpt, and the low poly model as well! He sculpted it first in Zbrush, and then used Topogun to retopologize the model. It can be made to work in a game easily, maybe the polycount is a bit high, but it could have been build in such a way that it uses less polygons, with almost the same outcome. The reason we didn’t made it using less polygons is, that this was not meant to be a game asset, just something pleasant to look at in relatively high res. We especially dedicated extra time so that the model looks pleasant from certain angles.. Depending on how far the model will be viewed in game, the polycount can be greatly decreased. Faces in general should be more dense than the other parts of the body, simply because that is what will be looked at the most. It’s always a balance thing with the amount of polys you use, just keep in mind camera distance, style and rigging and you should be in a good spot.
Many people approach painting in many ways. What I would recommend is to experiment, and see what works for you. Maybe building the values from dark to light, or from light to dark, or maybe starting from mid tones and figure out form that way. It’s a matter of preference I believe, what is most comfortable for an artist way of thinking is the best. I tend to move towards methods and approaches in painting I like, not to the ones I am told to move. For me it’s crucial to add values slowly ( I mess this up from time to time ) because that way it’s easier to control the texture, and I have more time to think of how I will build up the texture. I usually go for the biggest patches of values and colors I see first, adding them on to the model. Fill out the different materials with the base color I want there in Photoshop, and then look for the biggest forms. For example the shadow beneath the neck, or the eye socket. I observe those big value changes by squinting my eyes a bit, and then focus on those big patches of value I see and get them down.
Keeping zoomed out from the texture at this point, making it read well from afar before diving in to detailing. I try and work with a limited palette, and keep it clean as long as I can. After I’m satisfied with how it looks from really far, I go to the mid range, breaking up the forms in to smaller ones, like shape of the eyelids, or define cheekbones a bit more. By this time I already start adding more values and colors to the work, getting the shapes read more clearly. Then the same process but on a smaller scale. Finally, messing the whole workflow together, check everything, one after an other, like the values from far away, then zoom in and check the small highlights, and then switch to the different details that can be seen in the middle distance. Jumping between the different stages of the texture building on the end helps me getting a fresh eye on each thing I have painted. Also a good idea to post it for feedback, or send it to friends to see how it affects somebody not in the industry. I watched many people’s painting process, both 2D and 3D artist, and I picked up the thing I liked from each of them. There is no one size fits all in my opinion, it’s best to experiment and discover your own way!
As I mentioned, I work with 3ds Max for modeling the piece. After I am satisfied how the model looks, I uvw it and then, I change the model a lot during the painting process as well, since many things can not be seen until you actually start painting, and realize the mistakes in the model. Nothing is set in stone during the making process: model, topology, uvw, painting style is always up for a change, and ready to be improved thru the whole workflow. Different softwares start to blend together, there are only bugs and improvements that could be made. I usually use 3D-Coat mostly for painting textures, painting projections in Photoshop from time to time. I jump a lot between 3ds Max, Photoshop, and 3D-Coat a especially during the end of a piece in order to fix small problems I see.
For me face modeling and eyes were the biggest challenge, especially capturing beauty in them. And because I am stubborn and dumb, naturally I wanted to tackle the problem which was most painful for me. I really wanted to conquer this theme, so I started to learn about the underling anatomy of the head, the skull, and muscles to get them working in 3D. I drew a lot of faces from imagination, which then really showed me which part of the face I don’t really know by heart, since those were the sloppy areas on the drawing, and also the least rendered out since I didn’t know what to draw there. From that I went back to copying from anatomy books the parts I didn’t really understand, and then repeated this process for a while going between copying, and memorizing, to improvisation, and exploration from what I’ve learned. I would say it’s not one big thing which makes the face either awesome or really bad, it’s a combination of the knowledge and experience you have of all the little dents, planes, all the way up to the biggest shapes of the head. For each step I take in exploring the digital art, two possible new one comes to surface, even more exciting then the ones behind me.
The way I set up the UV’s is pretty standard, nothing revolutionary is going on there. Most of the time I map everything unique since I want this to be a detailed and non repetitive painting. The hair strands I usually paint one, or two alpha cards, which are bent a little bit, so they fit on to the shape of the head. After I place them around the hair area of the model, I invert the faces, so they are not visible if you look at them directly, they only affect the silhouette of the model, that way it looks like the hair has some volume and strands to it, without having to paint each card uniquely. I want to make a Facebook page called “I uv with one hand” dedicated to those like minded artist who watch an MMA match on one monitor, and every one minute click inside 3ds Max to relax UV’s or planar map something out. That’s the extent of my excitement towards UV mapping.
For me presentation is about showing what is the model about, what is the strongest aspect of a particular work. The game is called thumbnail nowadays so I decided to make mine more impactful as well. No one will check out the work if the thumbnail sucks cactus. That in it self requires in my opinion a separate artwork derived from the main theme you produced, so people in one glance “get” what the artwork is about, and what it will explore. Kinda like a (good) trailer for a movie, or a backside of a book. I take some time experimenting what way the model could be presented the best, in order to show the essence of the work. I believe presenting your own art in the best of light possible is crucial if you don’t want to eat toilet paper for breakfast everyday.
Sketchfab for me is the best way to present my work, since there it can be what it’s meant to be: a 3D art work. I only use the most basic setup, since my textures are always unlit, so shaders are out, but I do mess around with some sweet post processing like the sharpness, or the omnipresent vignette effect.