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Learn to Model & Texture a Detailed Leather Belt Bag

Vladyslava Fomenko showed her work on the intricate leather belt bag, explained how she created the pattern, and shared the main rule of texturing.


Hello folks! I'm Lada (Vladyslava Fomenko). Currently, I work as a 3D environment artist at the Ukrainian outsourcing company Ulysses Graphics. My primary focus is on creating 3D sculpting environment assets. However, characters have always intrigued me, and in my free time, I actively pursue growth in this area. This belt bag is a distillation of my knowledge accumulated over many years.

Some background information before this point: from my childhood, I've been in a creative environment and learning to draw. I've had various experiences in traditional art forms: sculpture, composition, drawing, decorative and applied arts, painting, and much more. However, at one point, I got immersed in the MMORPG Perfect World and disappeared into digital content for a solid 10 years. As I reached my twenties, I realized my need to move forward. Choosing a new field for myself, game development, I was able to combine my creative knowledge with a passion for diving into new, incredible stories and gaming worlds.

I underwent training in 3D software through various courses, which took about 2-3 years. Upon entering the industry, I continued to learn and gain commercial experience. I took on different freelance projects, working on mobile projects, PC games, and also within companies developing AAA games. But the industry turned out to be incredibly vast, so my journey towards character design took on adventures and unexpected turns, slightly extending along the way. But that's cool! After all, I've learned so much.

And here I am! I'm still learning and seeing a vast ocean of possibilities ahead of me.

I would love to talk about all the projects I've worked on, but unfortunately, the games haven't been released yet, so the list isn't extensive.

Among notable projects, I've worked on Hogwarts Legacy at Ulysses Graphics and Exoborne at Sharkmob. Currently, I'm continuing to work at Ulysses Graphics on projects that you can see on their website.

The Leather Belt Bag Project

So, let's begin the story of the leather belt bag. I wanted to create interesting, captivating, and complex props for a character to showcase and enhance my skills to the fullest. I chose this bag as the primary reference.

The bag featured interesting colors and different types of leather. I also decided to make it a belt bag by adding a strap. As I envisioned various options in my mind and looked at additional references, I realized that for such a massive bag, a simple strap would be insufficient. It would have been too insignificant against its backdrop. So, I continued my search.

I became drawn to corsets because they always emphasize gracefulness and can also be quite massive in appearance.

I selected several good options but I wasn't satisfied with any of them. The corset was now too large, and the bag lacked details. So, I decided to create a "Frankenstein" version.

I shortened the corset by half, added a stone to the bag, and chose a belt that better suited the style. I also found additional references for each element and material, including wear and tear to age the belt bag.


Next, I started blocking in Marvelous Designer to establish the rough shape and basic folds.

Overall, working in Marvelous Designer followed a standard process. I analyzed the references to create patterns, adjusted them, and selected material characteristics suitable for thick leather. The only challenge I faced was achieving beautiful folds. I had to separate the bag and belt into different scenes for easier manipulation. Using tools like Select Box and Tack, I refined the necessary folds. 

I remeshed to quads and exported the mesh without thickness. When exporting the patterns, I also didn't stitch them together for convenience.

By the way, I created the belt itself using Quad Draw. This method allowed for quicker and cleaner geometry. Additionally, to make it easier to move and boolean the belt without affecting adjacent geometry, I discreetly divided it into two parts.

High Poly

In ZBrush, the first thing I do is enable Dynamic Subdiv. This tool helps in easily manipulating the mesh while visualizing the final result with uniform thickness. Here, I spend a lot of time tediously moving vertices taking into account the model's characteristics, material behavior, and the weight of the bag.

Using Dynamic Subdiv allows you to continue working for an extended period by increasing the subdivision levels. I focus on finalizing the major and medium folds of the belt bag during this stage of my work.

I use the Standard brush, DamStandart, and alphas from the internet. Next, I switched to the pattern. There are some interesting points here.

The first and most important step when adding detailing is working with Layers and Morph Targets. Using these tools is essential for making edits effectively. I enable them for each Subtool and keep them active until I finish working with the high-poly version. To apply the ornament, I used one of Jonas Ronnegard's brushes.

The brush is very sensitive, so I had to put in some effort. I carefully drew the pattern with LazyMouse enabled, going slowly and precisely. I fix any artifacts, intensity variations, and the edges' smoothness.

But it looked like the ornament was simply applied on top. Can this really be the case? My leader Andrii Cherepin drew attention to this moment. And here you have to think about how the pattern was made on the real material. This is dense leather, and the pattern would have been created by embossing with a press. Therefore, for realism, we need more volume and depth in the areas where pressure would create indentations.

For the ornament on the bag, I created an IMM brush with the pattern I needed.

I created the leather damage using the Slash2 brush from the ZBrush folders with a low-intensity setting.

I added stitches in high poly using the brush as well. Although many create stitches directly on the texture, I enjoyed seeing the results in high poly because it immediately conveyed the leather texture of the bag. It also made it easier to see where to apply the leather folds around the stitches. However, I should have made the stitches even more expressive.

I try not to add fine details in the high poly stage because it's better to add those details later during texturing. However, I made this mistake in some places because I was eager to see the final result. In the end, those details still weren't visible. So, for your own satisfaction, you can allow yourself to do this, but remember to remove those details when baking the textures.

And now my high-poly model is ready.

I did the detailing on the buckle during texturing because it's very small.

Retopology, UV Mapping and Baking

Working with the low-poly model and baking was a bit challenging. It was crucial to preserve a smooth silhouette, but the first time I didn't have enough polygons, so I had to redo it. Additionally, it was difficult to do retopology in the recessed areas of the bag. Initially, I started retopology in Maya but then switched to TopoGun 3.

I did the UV in RizomUV. Everything was standard. I reduced the unseen shells, auto-packed into 4K, and fine-tuned manually where needed.

I had many baking iterations because there were a lot of geometry intersections. I fixed what I could in the geometry itself, and other artifacts were corrected in the texture maps. I baked some maps in Marmoset Toolbag and others in Substance 3D Painter.

I corrected artifacts on the normal map using AI in Photoshop. It does a great job of removing them.

By the way, for fixing the AO map, I use an interesting method. It's important for me to see the model simultaneously in 2D and 3D spaces to better evaluate the result. Photoshop doesn't allow this, so I use Blender.

In Blender, you can assign the AO map or any other map as a base color. Then, using stamp and smear tools, you can correct imperfections directly in the 3D space.


There is one simple yet difficult rule: start with large details, then move to medium ones, and only after that focus on the small parts.

This rule applies to every stage of work. Therefore, it's crucial to deconstruct what you're doing into these parts. Usually, in art, they teach this in composition lessons.

But if you lack that experience, it can be very difficult to understand what exactly is meant by big/medium/small details. It seems logical to try to break it down, but then you can get confused during the process.

But don't worry, it's normal. Everyone goes through this. Gradually, with practice, understanding will come. Though this stage may involve some struggle, you will overcome it and grow significantly stronger!

For example, when we talk about texturing:

  • Big details refer to gradients, large patches of different tones and colors.
  • Medium details are more diverse shapes, accent details that complement the logic of the base layer.
  • Small details include scratches, noise, and dirt. In my case, this also includes leather peeling.

I used textures from Quixel Megascans. It's important to choose several different types of leather textures. By combining them, you can depict new leather, damage, and wear over time. This way, you add variety and naturalness. This rule applies to any type of material.

Let's not forget about roughness. It's what makes the model more realistic. Variations in roughness should be consistent with the base color. Working with roughness is usually easier because the masks are ready, and all you need to do is play with black-and-white values while following the same rule. If needed, you can always add a separate roughness layer on top to adjust the overall appearance. But don't forget about the logic and history of the material.

Before moving on to rendering, you can add one feature that will help and enhance the render a bit – fake volume in the base color. You can use this during the texturing process and afterward. Blend the layers skillfully. The main thing is that it looks harmonious.

Always maintain logic and structure in naming folders and layers. This will reduce the strain on your brain during this work, especially when making edits.


This is a very interesting part, but for me, it's one of the most challenging. Typically, I'm overexerting myself in the previous stages, and by the time I reach rendering, I have little energy left. But everyone experiences this differently.

First, I did a quick test render with a post-effect (gamma correction) using ACES. I liked it for its contrast, colors, and details, but it looked flat. Due to the darkening effects of ACES, the lights overexposed the model. This was not correct.

So, to add depth and make it more realistic, I had to redo the scene from scratch.

Using post-effects before setting up all the lights is not a good idea because they heavily distort the image and make it more challenging to control the lights, contrast, and other parameters.

I set up the lighting and camera correctly. I ended up with 5 main lights: sky, fill, key, and 2 rim lights. There is also an HDRI.

I adjusted the textures for saturation and contrast in Substance 3D Painter to bring them closer to what I liked in the first render. I recommend using Contrast Luminosity for this purpose.

Since I knew my model very well, I wanted to use lighting to highlight the most beautiful areas of color and roughness. Therefore, I added a few additional small, subtle lights to these details. However, I did this only for the main frame, as managing so many lights is very complex and unnecessary for other shots.

It turned out much better! 

By the way, did you know that you can control the light in this way?

Finally, I had to create 100,500 different angles with minor variations, select the best ones, and wrap it up. Then make a video, and done!


On my ArtStation, I mentioned that the belt bag is just the first part of my character... Let me tell you a bit more about that.

At first, I didn't have this idea in mind. I planned to simply make a prop. But as I progressed, I enjoyed it so much that thoughts about a complete character began to emerge. 

I didn't have a specific concept in mind, and I still don't. I started by searching Pinterest for inspiration. Gradually, a silhouette started forming in my mind, and now I'm working on it. I've already come up with the character's story and personality and found interesting clothing elements, and details of protection.

And a bit later, my concept artist friend decided to join in. So now, he's bringing my envisioned character to life on canvas! That's incredible! I love experiencing this deep artistic process, especially when there's a team involved.

I wish everyone strength and perseverance. Believe in yourself!

Thank you for reading the article up to this point. I hope it was helpful for you! And special thanks to Andrii Cherepin, Yuriy Myronenko, and Makar Herasymenko.

Vladyslava Fomenko, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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