Working on Stylized Characters: Discovering Your Look

Working on Stylized Characters: Discovering Your Look

Anna Tutova talked about her stylized character art and general workflow for sculpting, texturing and lighting in ZBrush and Blender

Introduction

Hi, my name is Anna Tutova, I’m a character artist from Izhevsk, Russia. Two years ago I've started to work on an MOBA game which is still in development. It was my first project and it forced me to learn a lot of things since I was the only designer in the team. It allowed exploring different art fields like animation, level design, VFX. And I think it’s important for growing to watch around and try everything that can boost your skills as an artist. 

Learning about ZBrush

A friend of mine noticed me drawing faces and suggested me to try ZBrush for creating characters. So I did, and it blew my mind. Making whatever you want from a sphere felt like dark magic, and sculpting turned out to be pretty relaxing, I could sit all day in ZBrush deep in different menus. Pixologic’s YouTube was the main source of useful information, huge thanks to them for the #AskZBrush series.

Personal Style

To be honest, I can't say much about figuring out my own style - I just like it that way. At the start, I was influenced by Dishonored 2, and now I love hard surfaces techniques for characters. There are a lot of amazing artists I like whose art is not really a reference for me, but a source of inspiration: Zhihui Su, Nikita Veprikov, Zeen Chin, Paul Deasy.

In the past, I tried realistic sculpting, but it felt less artistic to me. The stylized approach gives you a lot more freedom. 

I think my style improves when I learn new techniques or software. It’s nice to have a vision of how your art should look like, but you need good tools to make it. 

Art by Anna Tutova

Workflow

I used to sculpt everything from scratch, and it is the best way to practice and learn anatomy. But now, I am all about speeding up the process. I’ve made a rigged puppet for fast prototyping in Blender. When I am happy with the pose, I sculpt over it using standard ZBrush tools (DynaMesh, ClayBuildup, Move, Pinch, TrimDynamic, Zremesher).

Combining Blender & ZBrush

If you want to combine Blender and ZBrush in your workflow, all you need is to install GoZ for Blender. At first, I was only using Blender for rendering, but when I learned how to use modifiers and particles it was life-changing for me. I do everything in Blender now, except for sculpting. ZBrush is still the best place for it I think. There, I sculpt characters and some props that need artistic touch.

Blender is so good for generating things. When I needed a cherry tree, I modeled a simple inflorescence and used Hair Particle System to distribute it on a branch. It saved so much time, and I had complete control over the final look.

Lighting

I like to use two colors for lighting, warm and cold. The main one for lighting the face, the second - for defining the silhouette. Opposite colors create dynamism in the picture, and I'm trying to use it as much as possible. 

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Texturing

I like the clean plastic look, so I don't do much texturing. But It would be too simple without any textures at all. I use Polypaint for face, body, and eyes. GoZ bridge keeps it in the VertexColor (no need for UV, almost feels like cheating with alchemy in Skyrim). 

When I choose colors I tend to go with a complementary or split complementary palette. It’s straightforward but has a lovely dynamism. For the Blossom, I used Blue/Purple vs Orange (eye color).

Composition

I think that a good presentation starts with a strong composition. First of all, you need to make an appealing base shape that looks and feels right because otherwise, the design will be incomplete. So I always start from a thumbnail, sketching how the scene might look like. It doesn't have to be pretty, the main purpose of that is to give me an understanding of the future composition.

I have a trick for the eyes since it’s the main point of interest in every character. The goal is to make them stand out more with color and brightness. And it’s not always working with the light in the scene, so I use Emission shader. 

Here's a good example of it:

Advice for Beginner Character Artists

When making a character I would recommend starting from the background story. In my experience, everything becomes more interesting if it has a story and context, so giving your character something that makes people see his/her personality is a good idea.

One of the most powerful tools to make an interesting character is using contrast, either in visuals or storytelling. You need to combine something familiar and archetypal to most people with some surprising and unexpected thing that breaks unambiguity. Little girl with a big weapon and a killer who cares about flowers are classic examples. 

I enjoy watching tutorials from great artists, and if you want to go deep in character storytelling I would recommend the following:

I don’t watch tutorials for software anymore though. I just learn the specific things I need from each software which saves time. Every program will be eventually changed, and you may need to learn it again, so don't get hung up on learning what each tool does. Just make your projects the fastest way.

It is very important to experiment. Often, I start adding crazy ideas to the scene - some of them don't have a chance to survive, but others will reach the final rendering. It’s useful not to get attached to your work and design decisions. This makes it easier to change. And as a result, more fields and areas can be explored. As a bonus, the experimental approach makes the process more fun. 

Getting criticism about work is my favorite way to learn. It's so important that when I post something on BlenderArtists, I always ask other community members to find out what I could have done better. This way, I can learn my weaknesses and start working on them. Giving criticism is also a good practice. Trying to find something that can be improved and acknowledge good design choices will help in developing a taste. And if you manage to find your art community, that would be great. It's amazing when artists share their knowledge, helping and inspiring each other. Special thanks to 80 Level for helping with that!

Anna Tutova, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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