Stylized Cartoon Art: Adapting 2D Visuals to 3D

Stylized Cartoon Art: Adapting 2D Visuals to 3D

Märta-Louise Karlsson Pellnor explored the 2D style in 3D and shared some production details behind her toon-looking Mika Project.


Hi, my name is Märta-Louise Karlsson Pellnor and I’m a gamedev student from Sweden. I’m currently in my final year studying Game Development and 3D Graphics at the University of Skövde and have worked on a few game projects during the courses there. For instance, Galactic Dance-Off, a cute lowpoly rhythm game, and the game concept A Shaman’s Mistake, a stylized open-world game.

Studying 3D

My education at the University of Skövde is mixed with practical and academic studies. Currently, I’m an intern at a Japanese game publishing/localization company and writing my bachelor thesis simultaneously. 

I got into the world of 3D art when applying for my current education, and that decision was actually kind of spontaneous and out of curiosity. Before that, I hadn’t used any 3D software outside of a couple of sculpts in Sculptris, but I had already drawn digitally for many years and thought 3D would suit me since it involves technical/logical skills as well as artistic ones. That was almost three years ago, and I got where I am today thanks to a combination of self-studies, help from other students and teachers, as well as the education itself. Knowing 2D art was especially helpful because I had practiced my knowledge of human proportions, shape language, color theory, etc. beforehand.

I find 3D art interesting because I think there’s a lot of unexplored potential in terms of stylization. Just look at Sketchfab - there are tonnes of amazing artists who show cool new art styles on that website.


Mika Project: Origin

I actually chose Paroro for an image analysis course I studied the past autumn, in which the task was to both analyze an image and make an interpretation of it in another medium. I thought Paroro’s drawing had the potential for both interpreting hidden meanings (like what the black ‘blobs’ with eyes scattered around the scene could represent) and exploring the production of a 3D scene in a “2D-looking” style.

I had previously made a 3D scene based on fanart of the miniseries Good Omens in a cartoony style and loved the end result. So this time I was excited to create a 3D character in an anime-ish style. I thought the double toon outlines around the character could look especially cool in 3D and really make the character ‘pop’. The limited color palette and general atmosphere were appealing to me as well. 

First Steps & Character Production

Since I had a deadline to meet I decided to start with the most important parts of the scene - the character and the TV with the cat on top. The props by the walls and on the floor were made towards the end. The props were very time-consuming to make, so when the course ended I continued adding as many as I had time for. At this point, I didn’t have a deadline anymore so I worked on the props in my spare time over the course of a couple of months. I have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist so I could’ve added more, but decided that this amount of props was enough.

I decided from the very beginning that this scene was going to be an exploration of 2D-looking style in 3D (not a game-ready scene). Since I had a deadline to meet, I actually modeled the character in the sitting position instead of T or A-pose. I wouldn’t recommend doing that normally.

I created the character in Maya using box modeling. At first, I blocked out the body (excluding the head and hands) starting from a cube, then made a simple hand model which I duplicated and connected to each wrist. I moved the hands and fingers until they fit neatly around the controller, and then used Maya’s ‘smooth’ function on the body mesh to give it the organic look I was going for. It worked really well and the body mesh only needed a couple of small tweaks after that.

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The face was heavily inspired by Persona 5 and Catherine, for instance, how the character models in those games have some line art modeled directly into the mesh instead of having only an image texture. I discovered that the line art becomes sharper that way. The eyelashes are also an obvious inspiration. Other than that, I put a lot of work into making the facial expression I wanted. I thought her pondering, maybe a bit bored or depressed expression was the anchor of the overall mood of the scene.

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Colors & Textures

Some people have asked what shader I used, and the thing is, there’s no toon or cel shader in this scene. All toon lines were made manually (by duplicating+expanding the mesh, reversing the normals and choosing an outline color). And the cel-shaded look is all textures. If I had made this scene for a game I wouldn’t have chosen this method, but the advantage of using manual outlines, in this case, is that they’re easier to control. For example, I could drag the vertices at the pointy parts of the character’s hair to emphasize the shape and change the line art color in specific parts of the cat’s body to make it look good from different angles.

The scene has a limited color palette of eight colors as well as image textures. In order to optimize the size + amount of textures, I adjusted the topology in some parts of the scene so that the edges marked the borders of each color. All UVs that were going to have solid colors were placed in a small rectangle with a chosen color in one of the image textures. That allowed me to skip making large individual textures for the walls and floor.

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I think the biggest discovery this project brought to me wasn’t any specific technical skill, but rather what kind of art style I wanted to follow in 3D from now on. Recent stylized movies like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, “Lupin: The First” and “Scoob!” are inspirations to me because of their amazing 2D to 3D adaptations (and from what I’ve seen on Twitter and heard from other game art students, I’m definitely not alone in that). I think Spider-Verse especially pushes the boundaries of the 3D medium and explores its potential in terms of stylization. My 3D scene was my own exploration of a certain style that can be achieved in 3D. Who knows, perhaps it could be used as a guide to making toon shaders in a similar style so that it can be implemented in a video game eventually.

Märta-Louise Karlsson Pellnor, 2D/3D Art Student

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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