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Learn More about Modeling & Texturing from This Witch Project

Mike Miranda walked us through the creation of the Lya 'The Witch' project, discussed the steps of modeling the eyes, and shared some tips on working with UVs.


Hello, my name is Mike. I began a graphic design course where the last module focused on polygonal modeling in Maya. One day, I was trying to create Kratos poly-by-poly, and one of my teachers said, "Hey, you can do this much faster in ZBrush."

So, after feeling quite disheartened, having innocently thought that the software I had been studying for months wasn't good enough, I decided to start studying 3D sculpting in the old software called Sculptris, which is now integrated into ZBrush.

From then on, it has been years of studying, during which I ended up taking some courses related to character creation and anatomy until I eventually began working in the collectibles industry. I had the opportunity to work on projects related to DC, Doom, G.I. Joe, and other games, comics, and anime franchises.

Lya 'The Witch' Project

I started this project in the art contest on ArtStation called “Medieval: Back and Forth”. The idea was to wait for 2D artists to create their concepts based on theme and choose one of the characters.

I selected a few that were more in the style I liked and asked for some opinions. In the end, my final choice was the Witch by Yuhong Ding.

My goal was to create a project that would be challenging and have a face without anything covering it, such as hair and fabric because these were areas I wanted to study and show in my portfolio.

After that, I usually create a folder on Pinterest for each project where I gather images to create my board in PureRef. I enjoy this part a lot because it's where I have ideas to enhance the character's design. If you check the final result of Lya, you will see that she has labels on her clothes and additional accessories, among other things that add personality to the project.

The face was definitely my biggest challenge in this project. I created three versions, with the last one being the one used in the final result.

My process is simple: I usually start with a base mesh that I use for all my face models, so I can share materials and textures among them.

Regarding references, I look for one that is very similar to the concept or provides me with an initial base. I don't like to use references from different faces at the beginning of the sculpture. I think it's best to start with something predefined in all views of the face and make adjustments later using other references. This minimizes the risk of all faces looking similar.

When sculpting, I'm very methodical. I try to divide it into stages and capture the primary and secondary shapes as accurately as possible.

A useful tip is a website called Triplegangers, which has excellent references. You don't even need to buy the models; the images alone provide a great base.


As they say, "eyes are the window to the soul," and for me, they are the most crucial part of a character. A character with a strong look goes beyond being just a posed 3D model, it comes to life.

Here is the step-by-step process:

  1. First, I start by creating a mesh with the anatomical shape of an eye and apply textures to it.
  2. I duplicate the mesh and give it a minimal inflate; this will be the sclera. It could all be done in a single mesh, but I ran some tests and found that the result was better with a separate mesh for the cornea, keeping in mind that this eye was exclusively made for Marmoset.
  3. Finally, I create a separate lacrimal mesh with an opacity blend for the eye and then make a tear line mesh, which also includes a fake shadow to make the eye look more realistic.


I usually create hair in three layers. The first layer is to fill the entire head to prevent gaps. The second layer is where I create the main strands and the overall volume of the hair. Finally, the third layer is where I add strands to make the hair look more natural and remove the card feel.

A helpful tip is to be as methodical as possible when it comes to layers. I did my first test without following it, not paying much attention to layers, and it ended up a mess. So, working on the hair in stages is the most important.

To place the hair cards, I used a Maya plugin called GS CurveTools and for the textures, I used Fibershop.


I create all body parts, except for the pants, in ZBrush. In personal projects, I usually push myself to sculpt as much as possible, but it's not a rule. Sometimes, I create bases in Marvelous Designer just to have a reference for folds.

For clothing, I start with a DynaMesh sculpt. When the sculpture is at a good level, I use Decimation Master to remove all the small details and keep only the main shapes, which results in a cleaner look. Finally, I use ZRemesher or create a denser topology in Maya to add smaller details. 

An important thing to note is that I don't apply memory folds, seams, or any details that can be added in texture using Substance 3D Painter. This saves time and is more practical.

For accessories, I used to create a blockout in Maya but now I'm pushing myself to learn ZModeler. For example, in my next project, everything was done just in ZBrush.

I wanted to study some tools in Marvelous Designer. Here's a tutorial of what I did with the pants.


I did retopology and UV mapping in Maya. Regarding UVs, I usually make them square to maximize the use of the UV space. 

Here's an example of how I do it:

Two tips I learned from my friend Bona about UVs in relation to LODs:

  1. Avoid concave curves in the UVs, as when the topology is reduced, there's a tendency for the angle of the curve to decrease, which can lead to one UV shell colliding with another.
  2. Create a 256x256 grid to leave a spacing of two units between the shells and the correct spacing at the edges. The number of pixels each unit of the grid represents depends on the texture resolution, but the proportion remains the same. If you have any doubts, you can find some examples here

Regarding the grid, you can do this in Maya by editing the UV grid and setting the value of "Grid line every" to 0,00390625 units or by using a 128x128 value in Maya's texture checker.


All the textures were created using Substance 3D Painter. I usually start by finding the main values and colors that will be used while trying to maintain consistency throughout the character.

A helpful tip is to create a black-and-white camera in Marmoset to check the values.

For the skin, I used a base texture from 3D Scan Store with some tweaks in Substance 3D Painter to make it more stylized. 

As for clothing, I make extensive use of the base materials from Substance's online library. I'm not a big fan of the existing smart materials, so I create some alphas and effects as needed. 

That's how I made the poncho, for example.

I wanted the face war paint to be realistic, my inspiration was Senua from Hellblade. I created two layers, one lighter and another where I truly simulated the face paint cracked.

For the hair texture, I created various different strands, some more densely packed and others less. One tip is to include some clumps, it's making the hair look more realistic with added depth and reduces the appearance of cards.


For rendering, I used Marmoset Toolbag 4 with ray tracing enabled. I believe that the project's final presentation is crucial; it's not just about having a good model but also knowing how to present it.

Here are my camera and render settings.

Most of the finalization settings are applied to the camera. I usually use chromatic aberration, blur, and different focal lengths for various types of renders. For example, for a close-up of the face, I typically use around 100mm, but when the character is shown in full, I use 50mm. 

I like to use the camera's post-effect with a preset I created in ACES with a slight purple tone.

These are my settings, and the difference between the default preset and the final result can be quite significant.

To finish, I add some effects in Photoshop. I add a high pass filter, sharpening, and noise and if needed, make minor color or lighting corrections. The key is to keep in mind that in a personal project, the final image is the most important.


For this project, I spent approximately 4 months, including design tests and actual production. I believe the major challenge was getting the right character proportions. I conducted various tests until I found a balance that was satisfactory. Another challenge was defining the final look of the face, which I believe took the most time.

A tip for rookies is to find artists who inspire you and compare your work artistically and technically to theirs. 

Be critical of your own work. A reference of quality will motivate you to improve continuously. I personally have an incredible artist named Jamie-lee Lloyd as my reference. His projects are so amazing and detailed that they push me to be more meticulous in my own work.

Sometimes it can be extremely frustrating, especially when the results don't align with your expectations. But remember that every step is an evolution, and recall that the artists you admire today were once at the stage you are currently in. Don't give up; keep pushing!

Something I would like to mention that has helped me tremendously throughout these years in my journey of study and work is the support of my family and friends. Thank God I had wonderful people by my side who always supported me. Thank you, everyone; this is just the beginning!

Mike Miranda, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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