Morgane Malville discussed her approach to creating 3D characters from concept art, talked about fundamental elements of 3D stylized art and mentioned her favorite software.
Hello! My name is Morgane Malville, I’m a character artist from France. I live in Montréal, Canada where I moved after finishing my studies. I’ve been working on various types of games (mobile, PC, and console), always in stylized style since it’s what I enjoy the most.
I grew up raised by my dad, and my home was basically made from walls of science fiction, fantasy and astrophysics books shelves, Disney movie and pop culture films, comics and art books everywhere, and we spent a lot of our family time playing computer games together (Diablo 2, Heroes of Might and Magic, WoW). I always drew a lot when I was a kid, and when I grew up, I decided that what I wanted to do is to make games, for my dad and other families like us.
After I graduated from high school, I moved alone to Namur in Belgium and went to the Haute Ecole Albert Jacquard (HEAJ) to learn 3D and get the diploma. I met some really good teachers there, and the tuition fees were super low. But the thing that really changed everything to me is social art groups and websites on the Internet. The moment I started reaching out to other artists to ask for feedback and also get in contact with them was what made me grow and evolve the most both in my skills and in my career. Youtube/Twitch channels (Pixologic, or other artists that I followed) were also a big help. Watching pro artists working is the best way to learn new things, especially, because you get to watch them working live and see how they find solutions.
Fundamentals of 3D Stylized Art
The beauty of stylized art is that every piece is different, there are a million ways to stylize, every new piece is a challenge, and that’s what I love about it. So usually, I try to focus on silhouette, primary shapes, and proportions, keep it clean and low poly, so I can push it more until I'm satisfied. Also knowing where your focal points help if you put details everywhere, then the eye is lost and your piece will not be as striking. Understanding where to put details and where not to put them will give your piece more rhythm. I also love to play with colors, put some variation, I use gradients to separate the parts and pieces of characters and enhance the volumes. Readability is everything.
One of the hardest things with stylized art is to keep a visual consistency in the way of simplifying shapes and colors when going through a piece.
About Concepts and Personal Style
When I start from an existing concept, my main goal is to please the artist who made the concept and be true to their art, finds the intention of the author and translate in 3D the uniqueness of their design. When going from 2D to 3D, there is always some interpretation and adaptation to make, so usually, I fill the blank by looking at similar other pieces, to understand what’s important to them, if I see something in common in faces, shape language, I try to incorporate it, again, to keep it consistent.
After the first pass of sculpting, a quick trick that helps me a lot is to take a screenshot of the sculpt, go to Photoshop and then paint over it to visualize the goal I want to achieve and the corrections I need to do.
If I start from an original concept or if I do fan art, I’ll think about composition and mood first, then find references of work that can express the mood I want to create: a color palette, an old painting with nice lighting, drawings or sculpture that I like with a nice flow. The mood that I want for the piece will have a huge impact on the workflow I will use. If I feel like doing something cute, I’ll go for big rounded shapes with clean edges, if I go for something darker, I’ll sculpt more roughly using a lot of masking and move, clay and textured brushes, for example.
Usually, I start everything in ZBrush using spheres that I deform and combine together to find the primary forms, a bit like traditional sculptors do. I try to stay very low in density, so I can keep a clean surface. I also do my hard-surface in ZBrush using the Zmodeler tool and subdivide panel. I started using this technique after watching Shane Olson’s streaming on the Pixologic channel. I highly recommend it, it changed a lot of my workflow.
I adapt techniques on each project, it’s also an occasion to experiment with features or techniques. For example, for Missing Pieces (concept by Mike Henry), I played a lot with boolean features, it was the perfect concept for the use of it.
For the Trico model, I really wanted to try a more classical sculptural style and train my hand with the sculptris tool.
I do my base color with polypaint in ZBrush almost always because putting color in the sculpt helps my eye to see the proportions better. If it’s a speed sculpt, I just use this polypaint as vertex color that I export in Marmoset, I don’t do UVs.
If I go for real UV texture (I do my UVS in 3DS Max or 3D Coat, generally), I bake the polypaint in ID color in Substance and then use it as my base color. I like to bake a second ID color map, where I use colors based on the type of materials (ex: one type of metal orange, one type of leather blue, green for hair, pink for skin etc…), then I can use those ID to create my folders group to have a clean Substance file. I use Substance for pretty much all my baking process because I just love the result and how easy it is to do it (the bake by mesh name feature is perfect).
I like to hand-paint a lot of stuff because it’s a process that I enjoy. Gradient colors and color variations are super important to me, I use a lot of the light and gradient generator in substance to help push the volumes.
I try to avoid black in my textures as much as I can to avoid muddy colors.
If I’m going for a hand-painted unlit visual, I export my base color from Substance and go to the polish in 3D Coat, my favorite software when it comes to hand paint. I really like how easy it is to pick and mix the colors on the layers, also the sensitivity of the brush that helps to go from hard edge to soft edge, it’s the closest feel to Photoshop on a 3D surface. Then I use Photoshop to do some adjustments or to clean the painted area directly in the UV texture.
Lighting is, for me, one of the hardest things to do, and I still struggle a lot with it. When I’m not sure, I ask my friends for feedback and try to push it more. I have a bad habit as a modeler to want to show everything I sculpted, all the parts of my model, but it’s not always the best choice. I try to force myself to be more creative and use lighting to first set a mood, and help to guide the eye through the composition, and not just a way to show the sculpt. I would say the main things I try to focus on are having a clear source of light direction (visible shadows), contrast (not always high, depends on the mood I want to set), and a clear focal point (usually the face).