My boyfriend and I wanted to collaborate on a common project, so to combine our areas of expertise he would draw the concept and I would make it in 3D.
The main objective was to stick to his concept while adding the depth on the Z axis, the movement and the light that 3D can reveal and do some animation to give it some life.
Nicolas Dechezelles‘s Concept:
The modeling was realized in several phases, firstly all the hard surface, architectural elements, and props were modeled with Maya and a High Poly model made with ZBrush to add more details like the hollow wood, cracks, irregularities, etc.
Elements such as trees and rocks were first made as a blockout to have the right size and position, then they were fully modeled and sculpted with ZBrush. For the foliage and the vegetation, they are made by plans with an alpha of opacity in texture.
For the character, I used a rig already done to give him the right position, then I sculpted everything in ZBrush, and after that, I used the previous rig again to animate him.
Adding Small Details
As for the little props like cups, telescope, cloth, etc., I simply took over the design of the concept art and made them in the same way as the architectural elements. It’s important for me to add this kind of details that bring more life and coherence to the universe.
The original design of the roof was really cool. To create it I modeled one tile, unfolded the UV and place tiles one by one to create something irregular. I deformed the general curvature with the lattice tool. Each tile is different, and for that, each of them has is own UV they are not superimposed). Like that, I could rework them in sculpting and texturing independently of another one.
With regard to the lighting, the important thing about a «fixed camera» scene like mine is to decide upstream where the lighting sources come from. So I made a first pass of «false» lighting bake through the texturing and simulated shadows, AO, or lighter areas as if they were already brighter than other parts.
I lighted the scene in Renderman which is the rendering engine that I mostly use (I find it user-friendly and very powerful).
At the beginning I set up and outdoor lighting with a dome and a distant light (like the sun) while adding other sources of studio lighting to show what I wanted to highlight, unclogging some shadows and enriching the color palette by incorporating hues into the light sources.
Perfecting the Work
Like I said before, the most important for me was to work closely to the original concept. I analyzed the colorimetry and the brush strokes.
I realized a big phase of tests, erased and started again until I got the effect that I wanted, then I put my own artistic touch into the color treatment using fusion modes from different layers to extend my color palette and give it a «more rough» look by playing with brushes and their opacity.
Then I used the ambient occlusion and the curvature map to highlight volumes, hollows, and edges, something that I really like to manipulate with!
Often I have a folder with a billion layers because I love to test a billion things to find how to bring something interesting into the process.
So the «trick» is the desire to test, perfect, improve, wish to go further and discover new techniques.
Advice for Stylized Art Learners
If I had to give a piece of advice to someone who wants to work in a stylized art direction, I would probably say that first of all you need to find great references in 2D or 3D to practice various styles. This way you can find one which matches your tastes. Then I think that’s really important to try a large number of brushes and alphas to see how to obtain interesting effects and allow to create your very personal and effective set-up.
There are several ways of creating«cartoon-like» things. Mine is keeping the idea of «exaggeration» in my process, playing around with shapes and proportions during the modeling part in Maya. Then I use a hard brush to give the «cut clay» aspect that I see in my cartoon references. This can also be played on texturing, shading or rendering if you want a hand-painted or traditional style, something very rough or cell-shading, a «flat» look or something else.
I should say above all that it depends on the tastes and the references of each one. There is no «miracle» method to make the stylization or create something interesting, and it’s discovered through testing, failing, starting again and exploring. I think that there is an infinity of possibilities in a creative process.
To conclude, I would say that this project was a real challenge because I had to stick to the original concept and storytelling. I find it very rewarding to learn about how to tell a story through one image, one concept, one idea, and try to make it coherent from the beginning to the end, and by being very careful that we lose nothing at all during the transition from the 2D to the 3D because I wanted to keed a «painting» feel in the final image.
Also, I find it important to test various artistic styles and get out of my comfort zone. I took a long time to finish this project, but I am very happy with the final rendering, and even more happy to talk a little more about it with you!