I’m Alex Treviño a.k.a. the Visual Storytelling Animal, a self-taught 3D independent artist, born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. At this moment I’m focused on my personal project AENDOM, in which I make 3D artwork tales to share the process for educational purposes. I started learning 3D while studying architecture and that got me into making architectural visualization. After it, I decide to make only storytelling 3D art.
I’m self-taught in terms of PC hardware and software. Every program I have on my computer was learned by myself. At a very young age, I took a lot of traditional art classes, from drawing to painting, sculpture, photography and finally architecture. To learn a skill, a lot of hours must be invested daily to make muscle memory of the subject. Also, with every new project comes the challenge of learning new skills which makes me stay out of my comfort zone to keep improving. When something is hard to learn it’s important to keep going forward until the new skill can be used in the project. Obviously, doubts arise, but I’m very stubborn and use multiple resources to learn, from free and paid video tutorials to written tutorials and asking in forums.
The Laser Cowboy is based on a concept by the artist Gaspard Sumeire. It is a black and white illustration, so the colors and textures were chosen by me. For each part of the scene, I gather a lot of references, from photos and videos to print screens: Fallout games for the laser rifle, several photos of real persons with big white beards, a lot of images of leather bags, the bills are from the Cowboy Bebop anime and videos of real steam locomotive smoke.
Modeling in Blender
Everything is done in Blender. I’m mainly using polygonal modeling for the simple meshes and sculpture and retopology for the complex forms. I always start with basic forms (Cubes, Cylinders, and Spheres) to understand the general space of the scene, then increase the detail part by part. To keep things simple I use only 3 modifiers: Subdivision, Multiresolution and Solidify to solve any form.
Add-ons for Blender
There are four Add-ons for Blender I’d recommend. F2 extends the native functionality for creating faces and is a charm to use for retopology. Texel Density Checker to get or set the texel density of a mesh. TexTools have a very big set of tools, mainly for UV Mapping. Node Wrangler to connect nodes ultra fast.
The Hair Particle System that comes with Blender was used for the hair, beard, mustache, arm hair, and sweater. To use this you just need an Emitter. The Particle System defines the roughness, length and how many hairs per strand will appear. The new material Principled Hair BSDF has the melanin concentration option, giving a range of natural hair colors to choose from. Depending on the concentration you can have a dark, red, blonde or even white. Adding strands one by one gives me a lot of control over the total hair form.
The form of the gun is based on the concept, as for the textures, references of a Fallout gun were used (a Plasma Rifle called Winchester P94). I textured it imagining it was the next version of that rifle, the Winchester P95 Turbo. The modeling was pretty basic and the biggest challenge was texturing.
My favorite material was the leather of the Cowboy bag (Saddlebag). Before designing textures I gather as many references as possible. I wanted to make it look used to show the story behind it. This texture is simple in terms of maps and uses only BaseColor, Height, and Roughness. I always try to add at least three levels of details: big details like wrinkles, medium details like the leather pattern and small details like scratches.
The light is centered on the cowboy, illumination is warm. In contrast, the background uses cold shadows. Five types of light were used for this scene. First, a warm key light which is the most intense one of the scene, then a cold fill light using an HDRI, two rim lights, one warm and one cold. Finally, a cold kick light and a warm bounce light to add an extra punch.
The scene came with several challenges:
- My biggest challenge was a full-body character, and for it, I was advised on anatomy by a digital sculptor.
- The smoke simulation. A lot of YouTube videos, trial and error were needed to come up with a solid workflow.
- A uniform texel density. Leonardo Lezzi’s tutorial helped me as I applied it to Blender.
- Lighting. First approaches felt very flat and with no depth. A tutorial from Pixar in a Box helped here.
- Finally, my last challenge was learning how to explain the workflow. Hope I succeeded