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Stylized Character Production: Tips and Tricks

Brian Poche gave a talk the stylized character art: the role of the silhouette and the first sculpt, experiments with materials and gradients, optimization. 

Brian Poche gave a talk the stylized character art: the role of the silhouette and the first sculpt, experiments with materials and gradients, optimization.


My name is Brian Poche, I am a 3D Character Artist working at Bioware in Austin, Texas. I grew up in Houston, Texas, and moved to Austin in 2008. There, I attended a specialized community college studying 3D Game Art and Design. After graduation, I have had the amazing opportunity to work on many different titles while working for an art outsourcing studio. Some of these titles include Darksiders 2 and 3, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, Shardbound, and many more.

The Role of Silhouette

To me, the most important thing in character art is a silhouette – not only in the outline of the character as a whole but inside the character as well. This includes such elements as layering armor, overlapping cloth, and mixing materials. Material definition and separating materials also make a huge difference. This could include separating your padded leather chest piece with metal bits or a cloth piece dangling. Separating your materials and not just having the same material definition throughout goes a long way.

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Iterations & First Sculpt

Iteration is very important. I usually will sculpt a character multiple times. I start with a block out “quick and dirty” sculpt to get proportions, and then clean up areas as needed. ZBrush or any sculpting program is great for this. This “block out sculpt” is a very important phase that shouldn’t be rushed through. It will define the character’s overall feel. Getting the scale right and the pose of the character locked down will give you a really good idea of what the character will look like in the end. Even getting basic colors in there and materials early on will let you see how the shapes are reading. Sometimes I will import the lowest subdivision on my sculpt into a real-time program like Marmoset Toolbag and set up basic materials just so that I could see a preview of how the textures and shapes come together, and make revisions based on that. I then ZRemesh each individual object or retopo them in a 3D program like Max or Maya to get super clean edges and get rid of uneven lines.

Experimenting with Materials

I generally start texturing with “Ambient lighting” layers. Getting your AO settings and overall soft top-down lighting onto the character is important, followed by splattering the colors and defining the materials. Getting the metallics and roughness maps in their general ranges really lets me see how my character is going to shape up as a whole. I am not afraid to “stretch” the material though. I play with how the material looks with different amounts of metallic to give the best stylized look possible, rather than going straight for a pure “mathematical” metal value. Here’s a good example: sometimes I like to give gold materials a kind of a “pearl” look rather than going for pure metal. Or giving your stone an Obsidian feeling makes it interesting and gives it a new worldly look. I see a lot of artists trying to focus too much on the details. Don’t get me wrong, the details are important, but figuring out that exact right setting for the overall feel of your skin shader or getting your Cloth tiling texture to be tiled just right means a lot more than the dirt splattered across the front.

Stylized Texturing & Gradients

The stylized texturing pipeline, in my opinion, is much more open to interpretation as not every material needs to have strict real-life qualities. It gives you the power to decide what the material is, how reflective it is and so on. Gradients, in my opinion, are the core elements of the stylized textures on characters. Substance Painter really speeds up the workflow by allowing you to paint your gradients exactly where you want. Gradients usually imply a warm color that fades into a cool color. Warmer colors allow you to draw the attention while and cooler colors work towards in the crevices or the base of the character. Large color shifting areas with a gradient on metals give you a really neat effect as the roughness/metalness trails off. This effect should be very subtle, but can really bring a nice feeling. I use a lot of gradients in my texturing workflow and almost never fade the parts to black.


Optimization is one of the most important stages. Many different things depend on how clean your retopo is, and all your artworks depend on how well the low poly/optimization is done. I personally use 3ds Max’s Graphite tools to do all of my retopo. I find that having all of my traditional modeling tools as well as projection and brushes really speeds me up and keeps me accurate. At this phase, Iretopo each individual piece trying to separate my elements as much as possible. This allows me to bake and UV very fast if my elements are not overlapping and I can separate them to have almost no overbake. When baking, I always end up baking different parts multiple times. Using Substance Painter, I can very easily to rebake parts and update the texture without any difficulty.

Get Motivated!

Let your passion be your teacher! Get excited to learn! Surround yourself with friends who love art and want to push you to be a better person! Look and talk to artists through the internet. Find your niche whether it is the hard-surface, character, prop, environments, or whatever else. Just get excited about it!

My stylized art and the way I learned it can really be summed up by the DOTA 2’s character art guide, and everyone who wants to work on stylized art should at least look at it and learn the principles stated there. It contains all of the tools you need to know for your art career.

Brian Poche, 3D Character Artist at Bioware

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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