Sophie Stübinger shared her process of creating a stylized backpack with hand-painted textures in Blender and setting it up for Sketchfab.
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My name is Sophie Stübinger, I’m a 3D Artist and Game Art Student in my first year at the Cologne Game Lab in Germany. With a focus on hand-painted 3D models, especially Prop Assets and Environments, I’ve been diving deeper and deeper into the world of 3D and I'm determined to broaden my horizon with every model I create. Turning 2D into 3D is a great way to not only recreate what you’re passionate about but also to get a better grasp of the fundamentals such as colors, composition, lighting, etc. which helps a lot when working with rough concepts or coming up with your own designs.
Choosing A Concept
Before you start working on a project for your portfolio, I think it's important to ask yourself what you want to learn and portray with this piece. Your portfolio is more than just a collection of artworks - it is also a way to express yourself as an artist and show what you aspire to be and do in the industry. I’ve been working a lot on both my 3D skills and my portfolio lately since there’s still a lot of work to do - and, after all, one never stops learning.
With the Bard's Backpack piece, I wanted to challenge myself by modeling a more complex object, focusing on details texturing-wise, and keeping the visuals of a painting. What I love the most about 3D art is the moment when you realize that what you’re looking at isn’t a 2D artwork but actually a 3D model. So, I wanted to try and create that illusion.
When I was browsing on Artstation, I stumbled over some beautiful concept art by Veerle Zandstra and couldn’t help but fall in love with it. After I reached out to her and got permission to work with her concept, I jumped straight into creating the backpack.
Setting Up My Workspace
For this project, I used Blender for modeling, UV-mapping, and most of the texturing, and Photoshop for some more details. When I was creating the model, I didn’t have any experience with sculpting tools or software like ZBrush yet which would have been a better option considering that the model is quite organic and more complex in its shape. So, it definitely was a challenge. But I enjoyed it a lot and it also helped me to get a better grasp of topology. Next to Blender and Photoshop, I used PureRef which is a reference image viewer that makes it easy to always keep an eye on your concept while turning it into 3D. You can change the transparency of the image, enable it to stay on top of your workspace as well as other features that come in handy when working with concepts, especially when you have a limited space to work in.
Modeling & UV-Mapping
After everything was set up, I followed a standard modeling process by simply starting from a cube or plane. Once I blocked out the main shapes, I tried to match their sizes and positions to the concept and change them in case it was necessary to make them work from all angles before trying to really dial it in.
Because I wanted to focus my attention on the texturing part, I didn’t want to mirror anything and deal with every material individually instead. Considering that, the overall project was quite time-consuming and I would have done it differently if I had had a deadline in mind. Efficiency is an important attribute your pipeline should have when working in the industry but with this project, I took my time and worked on it whenever I had some time off. So, once the UV-mapping was done, I finally started with the most exciting and enjoyable part: Texturing.
Overall, I think the hand-painting process can be split up into different steps: blocking out the base color, adding some volume as well as rough details, defining these details, and painting the highlights in.
As mentioned above, the first thing that happened was blocking out the main colors. This was done in Blender’s Texture Paint room that allows you to paint directly on the model. For the backpack, I used brown, green, a brighter orange, and a slightly darker one to define the leather, fabric, rings, and the rolled-up blanket. Whenever I block out the basic colors of a model, it’s good to already try to create some guidelines - in this case, the shape of the ornament, for example. After that is done, I go on and define some more guidelines by using a slightly darker brown.
To make it look less flat, I added a darker color for the rim of the ornaments and a slightly brighter one for the parts that are supposed to stand out in order to create some volume. After adding some more rough details, I tried to define them a bit more and make it as clean as possible but still keep the visuals of a sketch/painting. To completely focus on the hand-painting and practice it, I didn’t work with any lighting source and didn’t want to add any for the presentation of the model later. Instead, I solely concentrated on Veerle’s concept and painted in some light and shadows. Here, I think it’s important to not only turn up the brightness of your color but to use a slightly different one as well to bring in some variety and to make the model look more interesting.
Once that is done, I added some highlights and final details. Brush-wise, I always use a simple round brush which is the default brush in Blender - you can do pretty much everything with it.
One thing I realized when hand-painting the textures is that it's pretty easy to get lost in the process and overdo it by adding too many details and/or too many colors. Zooming out a little and looking at the model from a larger distance helps a lot. Because you often focus on only one part of the model, it’s refreshing to see it as a whole every now and then.
The last thing I did was creating outlines to enhance the visuals of an illustration. In order to do that, I duplicated the mesh, gave it a new material with the color I wanted the outline to have and enabled Backface Culling in the Viewport Display’s Settings. After adding a Solidify modifier, flipping the Normals, and changing the Index Offset to one, all that was left to do was adjusting the thickness of the outline.
Because I didn’t want the outlines to be too dominant since I wasn't going for a cartoonish look, the outline is kept rather subtle but still visible when looking more closely.
Last but not least, I uploaded the 3D model to Sketchfab, a platform that allows you to not only upload or download 3D files but also to publish and inspect/analyze them. This helped me out a lot at the beginning of my 3D journey - you can look at other artist’s work and learn from them by looking at the models from whatever angle you want, take a look at the wireframe and the materials they’re using. Also, it’s a great source of inspiration and a place for connecting with other artists.
As for the setup, I recreated the background from Veerle’s concept and imported it along with the texture. In order to keep the look I had in Blender, I had to make some adjustments in terms of the scene parameters.
Firstly, I changed the shading mode from "Lit" to "Unlit/Shadeless" and reduced the field of view. The next thing I did was doing some adjustments regarding the Prost-Processing-Filters, but not too many to preserve the original colors and still stay true to the concept. I added some vignette, sharpness, and bloom which I think helped to push the 3D model to look more like a 2D piece. To create a more lively feeling to it, I enabled the animated grain and added some screen space AO.
This project definitely taught me a lot in terms of accuracy. When translating 2D to 3D, there are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to the shape of an object. It might look good from one angle but when being turned around, the mesh lacks dynamic. So, it’s important to block out as much as you can before moving on and working on the model further. This saves a lot of time and you don’t have to rearrange anything often when you’re deeper in the project. In hindsight, there are some technical aspects that I would have done differently now, such as the topology and the UV mapping but this is a great thing about every model you create - you always learn something new and get a better grasp of different aspects.
Also, I realized that sometimes, when you work on a project over a longer period of time, it can be difficult to trust your own judgement because you can’t step outside yourself this easily anymore. So, getting other people’s feedback is incredibly helpful and gives you a good focus again. Overall, I’m really grateful and just overwhelmed by the responses I’ve received so far - for me, it’s a great motivator to try out new things and dive deeper and deeper into the world of 3D.
Thank you for reading!