Rose: Creating Stylized Character in ZBrush

Tarik Takasu did a breakdown on his awesome stylized character Rose, discussed his career path, shared his approach to the visual language of the character and talked about achieving the balance of the style and working on details. 


So, my name is Tarik, I'm from São Paulo, Brazil. Right now, I'm a freelancer for game art; previously, I worked on small scale independent projects, and now I'm under NDA. But even before that, I was teaching basic CG at a school here in São Paulo. My first contact with 3D art was a really long time ago, back in 2001, when I was 10 years old, me and my friends used to toy around with a software called RPG Maker, we did some pretty basic stuff, but it introduced me to what "could be" a way to creating your own game. We even bought some magazines about the stuff, and sometimes they were talking about 3D, a friend of mine had a copy of 3D Studio, but I thought it was too complicated at the time, fast forward into 2013, I was unhappy majoring economics, I looked into games design again and looked back into drawing, my cousin borrowed my his Wacom Intuos 3, and I got into some tutorials, after some time, I went to a famous school here in Brazil, the course by itself wasn't really strong, but at least the instructors gave me a sense of how to move forward, and it was there that I had my first contact with Maya. At first, I didn't like it since I wanted to become a concept artist. After some time in that school, I started teaching there and worked as an instructor until 2018.

Rose, the Revolutionary Leader


As I just mentioned, I took a basic course into CG from 2013 to 2015, it was pretty basic and was all about learning how to use the software in the CG industry. In 2015, I also started teaching at that same school but kept studying by myself, mainly the art fundamentals. In 2016, I decided to start learning ZBrush to help me develop some 3D Character skills, I took the Introduction to ZBrush classes on the free YouTube series by Michael Pavlovich and, shortly after, I took 3D for Production classes with Marcel Nilo, a great artist from here. Marcel taught how to start reading concepts and trying to show your best when adapting them to 3D.

In 2017, Gilberto Magno, another excellent artist from here opened an online workshop, about his workflow, and it was overwhelming since I had basically just started focusing on my 3D skills and decided to get deeper into it, every time, I sent my stuff for him to give feedback, he pointed out dozens of flaws I wasn't seeing. And this feedbacks were something that clicked on me, that I needed a lot more effort, so I could at least cut down on the dozens of flaws. What I absorbed the most from him is how to give feedback to yourself and try to push everything with patience and discipline.

In 2018, I ended up doing many courses on Character art yet again, I went to another city, Curitiba, for some intensive courses with Rafa Souza at Escola Revolution. Rafa Souza is a master of anatomy, and I ended up meeting a whole lot of people that also work on 3D Art, yet again, something clicked on me there that I would need to push the quality further if I wanted to get closer to all the amazing artists that were around me.

Later in 2018, Ricardo Luiz Mariano opened an online workshop directed toward stylized characters, and even though his workflow was already pretty similar to what I was accustomed to, I ended up meeting new people, connecting and learning new stuff on the way he thinks how to do art. I'm really thankful for all the classes I took, but at the end of the day, you have to sit down and do the stuff they're talking about. You have to get your hands on and push yourself as far as you can because they can't teach everything they know, and you need to acknowledge that, adapt and do whatever you can deliver the best project you're able to. No one really cares about the classes you took or the school you went to in this field, they care about what you can do and your portfolio.

Crafting Stylized Characters

I think that studying references is the best way to learn how to work on stylized models, we have many great artists such as the team from Keos Masons, Blair Armitage, Michael Vicente, Renaud Galand, Frédéric Arsenault and many others, who push the vision of how does stylized 3D look like, establishing comparisons between concept and final model also helps. I always keep in mind how these artists present their characters, how close they get to the original concept, and if I find changes, I try to understand why they do change stuff.

But by the end of the day, there's no place to draw a line and say something like I know a formula for stylized character modeling, differing art directions, and purposes. You need to pay attention to many things, there are some stylized characters that have many micro details at the same time that there are characters made of flat surfaces with no details at all. Shape language, colors, and overall character proportions have a huge role in any characters, stylized or not.

Gathering the References for Rose

So, Rose was originally designed for a contest run in Brazil for the Topia 2020 Contest, the basic rules could be resumed about "Imagining Brazil in the Future". After some time thinking about it, I took a line from the game Fallout: New Vegas:

"Patrolling the Mojave almost makes you wish for a nuclear winter"

I tried creating a world that suffered from the aftermath of nuclear winter, and in this world, authoritarian governments would rise, and in these societies, there would be many characters like Rose.

At the very core, I wanted her to feel badass when looking from afar, that was the ultimate vision. I gathered many visual references, mainly from 2D Artists to establish a mood, at first, I wanted her to be ranging from 13-15 years old, but I was having some difficulties making her the ultimate badass girl and made her older in the process. When trying to find a good looking silhouette, at some point, I added 2 katanas to her back, it gave me the direction that it was badass, and I tried forcing her to have 2 katanas, but visually it was a bit far from the rest of the character, the katana, as a prop, was too traditional for a character that was about breaking traditions.  In the end, I gave her a futuristic-looking sword and a baseball bat, the silhouette is similar, but it made more sense from the character point of view.

Whenever I had questioned whether something was working or not, I made a shot from afar and asked myself questions. "Why is she wearing this?", "Why does she carry this object?", "Why is this object like this right now?". If something works visually but doesn't work under the theme, I tried changing it, that's how I redesigned her coat from the first days, added the pins, changed from a katana to a futuresque sword and many other things.


I started from the Nickz base mesh that's bundled on ZBrush, and as I said before, I wanted Rose to look great from afar, and that's why I never really started detailing until I was sure that the proportions were looking good. Basic extracting and moving played a huge role in testing, adjusting and discarding ideas since the silhouette had to look good before any kind of detail was added. I also started giving her polypaint passes since day 1, checking the proportion and which colors to use would also be important.

When the proportions were ready, and I started detailing, I never really zoomed in on the model, I always detailed from afar, trying not to add too much information onto the surface

On brushes I use the same old Move/Clay/Standard/DamStandard everyone uses, also adding the Orb Brush pack for a lot of detailing, specifically Orb_Flatten_Edge and Orb_Cracks. On the fur and hair, I sculpted a part of it with snakehook, pinch, and damstandard, but I also used Dylan Ekren's Hair Brush pack, which is available for free on Gumroad. It's pretty easy to use and easy to create a stylized look.

I didn't end up using any noise, alphas or textures, everything was done with the basic ZBrush Brushes, ZModeler, and these 2 packs I just mentioned.

Working on Details

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Well, I took inspiration from many places when trying to establish the clothing, Serge Birault, Sergi Brosa, Mad Max, Tank Girl, Akira.

At first, I wanted to establish what materials would be present. And I ended up with: Leather, Metal, and Fur. These are the main materials, and I tried developing the character's clothing with these materials in mind. Adding too many materials to a character's clothing is hard without making it too confused, and having fewer materials helps when trying to establish a color palette, too.  The Logo on her shirt is basically the shape of the mice heads on the visual novel Maus, but with an X to the left eye to convey her blindness, her revolutionary group is also called Mäuse.  

As seen on previous pictures, at first, I thought that her jacket would be of a military apparel approach, but as time went on, and I tried developing shapes better, I ended up with something that resembled a winter coat, I knew I didn't want her head-to-waist area to feel flat and empty, so I had to add stuff into the coat to break the flat silhouette it was forming. At first, I tried adding stuff like grenades or spray cans, but at the very end, I decided to add pins since I could develop more of the world surrounding the character, convey more of the character's personality and could add them to any place I wanted.

I really liked developing the fur piece around her neck, since its size and the way it surrounds her head conveys the idea of leadership, and it's subtly related to the Christian halo, giving her a look of superiority, but since it's made of fur, leather, and metal, it relates more to the world I was trying to establish.

The boots at first were supposed to be running sneakers, but the silhouette wasn't reading well, and I ended up scaling them, so the character was read better, and I also had the opportunity to add more fur to the character's clothing, giving more stability to the visual language.

Whenever you want to add an object to a character if that object has a visual language that's not present anywhere else, it ends up being confusing to the viewer, like it doesn't belong there, that's why I added the fur to the boots, if the boots didn't have the fur, the coat would be the only object having fur into it, and that wouldn't be as solid visual design as it ends up with more pieces with the same visuals.


Painting and designing the clothing shapes went together, I knew I wanted the spiraling red-tipped hair since the very beginning and tried to add more red visuals into other shapes, using more subtle colors around one saturated color was a good way to develop the character's personality and giving a more mature feel to the piece. I didn't want her to be very colorful because that would stray away from the "Ultimate Badass" I wanted. Since the red hair couldn't be the sole piece using red around brown leathers and gray metals, I gave her a red shirt, red glove, and red elbow piece to establish a solid color palette. Everything is about trial and error, I tried coloring her clothes in many ways, and ended up with these pieces, but before that, I had tried coloring stuff in many different ways.

Achieving the Style Balance

The balance comes off some stuff I told before, planning, having the discipline and trying to maintain the visual language totally solid. I use PureRef for that, always dragging new references, putting notes to myself, so I can remember what I thought on the last day and always doing paintovers.

On the Visual Style:

If you have a character with a red metal shoulder piece or if there are no red metal pieces anywhere else on that character, that piece feels off, sometimes we just feel it when we see a project, but can't tell what's wrong about it. I still feel Rose could be a lot more balanced, I could change pieces so they convey better visual language than it is established. But, by the end of the day, it's all about the composition, shapes, and materials. Previously, I talked about how adding fur to the boots helped me solidify the "Fur" visual. If I wanted to add one more element, let's say, if I wanted her jacket to have LED lights, adding these lights only once in the whole character wouldn't solidify the visual element, I'd need to add LED Lights to her glove, sword, or boots, if these LED Lights are strips, points, cuts, squares, I'd try to make them the same shape as I did on the first piece or shapes that would feel as if they belong in the same world as the other piece.

Adding new elements also makes you need to rebalance previously existing elements and design, all of it comes down to planning ahead. Only add a visual element that you know the character can visually sustain without falling apart. By the end of the day, these things I'm talking about can work for everything related to visual design, whether it is characters, props or environments, still or animated, realistic or stylized.

Also, you can see in the picture I sent, the character is "belonging there" on day 6, we can sense her presence there and notice her badassery, if I had moved forward with the character I had on day 2 and started detailing stuff up, the result wouldn't be as strong as the result I had on the day 6. So, I basically spent 6 days blocking out stuff and trying to convey the initial ultimate idea of "badass girl", about 1 to 2 hours a day, before I started cranking up the visuals.

I also wanted to talk a bit about the pose and composition, so, basically, viewers will, at first, focus on the eyes, and having an eyepatch there will, at first glance, add a huge amount of badassery. Then, there are zones of focus on the character, in between the baseball bat and sword, the person will start looking through the clothes, the details that were added, the pins and stuff. And by the end, the person will see the boots, the sheer size of them will draw attention, and the fur, pointing up, will draw the person's eyes back to the zone of focus. That's how I thought the pose would work best under the time constraint I had.

I expect to develop my skills further in the future, so I can convey visuals better. This was only the first character that I tried developing from the ground up, there's still a lot of stuff to learn around from the many artists we have on the community.

If someone is reading this and has any questions, feel free to ask me on Facebook, Artstation, Instagram or via e-mail, and I'll gladly answer.

Thank you for the interview.

Tarik Takasu, 3D Artist 

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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