Puppy Love: Sculpting Animal Crossing Characters in ZBrush

Puppy Love: Sculpting Animal Crossing Characters in ZBrush

George Crudo shared the production details of recreating Isabelle and KK from Animal Crossing in his fan art piece Puppy Love

Introduction

My name is George Crudo and I currently live in Orlando, Florida. I’m a bit of a hybrid in that I have worked full time as a software engineer/3D artist in the military simulation industry, with companies such as Lockheed Martin, but I also work as a freelance digital sculptor designing products. I currently focus primarily on toys and collectibles creating figurines and miniatures. Most recently, I worked on developing a line of 10 figurines of characters from Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege with Just Play Products.

I got into 3D art in high school around 2008. I grew up playing lots of video games so realizing that I could create game art was very exhilarating. I focused on game art for several years and around 2014 I picked up ZBrush. High poly sculpting was a whole new world for me (and a steep learning curve!) and then realizing that I could get into 3D Printing / Product Design without having to worry a ton about the game art workflow was very enticing to me. I always felt a bit limited artistically by the traditional 3D art workflow and I fell in love with digital sculpting. Since then I’ve been focusing primarily on high res characters for products, but I still do game art when needed!

Puppy Love Project: Goals

I’ve always been a huge fan of Nintendo games. You can also tell from my portfolio that I have a guilty pleasure for creating fan art of the games I love. I was excited about the new Animal Crossing and naturally decided to make an artwork based on it. However, I wanted to challenge myself a bit and try to push my work further. My creative goal for this year has been focused on going beyond just creating a character and thinking more about storytelling and emotions. I explored this first in my Zelda piece that I completed last month, and I wanted to continue that trend.

I also had an additional goal of trying to focus more on subtle details that don’t distract from the main forms and silhouette of the characters. I was very inspired by the work of the character artists for Wreck-it Ralph 2 where even though the characters were stylized, they had subtle detail in all the right places. This Pocahontas by Tyler Bolyard is a great example. Namely her clothing and the skin detail. I tried to approach sculpting Isabelle and KK with this in mind, mainly with Isabelle’s hair and shirt and KK’s ears and guitar.

Modeling Initial Shapes

When translating a 2D piece to 3D, I always start with a block-in of basic shapes. This helps keep things simple. I break all the body parts into different types of spheres and cylinders to get the proportions and pose properly set up. They are much easier to work with when they are in this state. As the shapes start looking correct I will dynamesh them together and clean up the seams where necessary. The hair, for example, was originally composed of several different shapes. Once I was satisfied with the form of the hair, I combined it into one shape. Then at the very end of the process, I started to focus more on adding the details. I also had an incredible concept to work from by the very talented artist Ellie H. @liiibz.

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Details & Fur

Usually, with my work, I try to de-emphasize details to focus on the main forms. However, in this case, I wanted to try and introduce some detail to find a good balance with the simple base shape of Animal Crossing characters.

These pieces were all rendered in Keyshot and the materials I used for Isabelle’s fur had a velvet-like feel to them and had a strong tendency to catch rim lights. The fur itself was sculpted; however, I made a conscious effort to not add too much detail. I found that adding sculpted fur detail to her face and most of her body was too distracting but adding it to her hair/tail helped with some visual interest without looking too intense. I used Clay Build Up and custom IMM brushes at very low intensity to create the pointy tufts around the ponytail and made use of Orb Cracks for the rest of the hair details.

Emotions & Likeness

I am growing to really enjoy finding ways to convey an emotion using gesture, pose, and expression. Isabelle needed this gleeful sort of feeling so there was a lot of attention paid to the position/tilting of her head and how tightly she is holding her clipboard to her chest. This feeling was crafted so well in the original 2D art, and it was very important for me to not just carry it over into the 3D work but to try and emphasize it a bit more.

Achieving likeness can always be difficult. You often don’t have a lot of wiggle room with simple characters like this because there are very few shapes and they must look right. KK was particularly difficult to achieve because he wasn’t based on just one design. I had to reference several different iterations of the design and try to piece together how I can create an amalgamation that is still immediately recognizable. There is a lot of rework, revisions, and comparisons that go into achieving a final likeness that hits correctly.

Afterword

This piece took a bit over a month to complete. My original approach was just to sculpt Isabelle, but I eventually wanted KK and her in a scene together. That quickly became the focus because it told a story between the two of them. Emotion, storytelling, and subtle detail were key focuses on the project.

The biggest challenge for me is presentation and getting final renders that I am happy with out of Keyshot. I experiment with tons of lighting, environment, and material setups. There are often several options and approaches so determining what looks best and what fits the mood can be hard to do. I had one setup finished and rendered for KK that I totally scrapped and started over because it didn’t end up looking right. I also always bring my renders into Photoshop at the end to tweak colors and fix minor rendering issues. The final presentation is so important because you put so much work into the sculpt and a bad presentation can take so much away from that. You try to show it off as best as you possibly can and that can be an intimidating part of the process.

George Crudo, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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