Art Spotlight: Alice In Paperland

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About me

Hi Sketchfab! My name is Lourdes Del Castillo and I’m a 3D Artist from Spain.

Since I was a child, I’ve been interested in drawing and sculpting, so when I grew up I found 3D art (especially stylized hand-painted) to be the next step for me.

After some years of studying and working in non-art-related areas, I was able to start a two-year higher education program related to video games; this program gave me the chance to learn the basics of 3D art.

Unfortunately, I’m not professionally working as a 3D artist, but I like to create stuff in my free time. I post many works-in-progress on my Twitter and some other art on my ArtStation. Feel free to check them out—I hope you enjoy them!

Working on the idea

Concept

This model was created for Sketchfab’s “Hand-painted Storybook” Challenge. As soon as I saw the topic, the White Rabbit’s House scene from the Disney’s movie “Alice in Wonderland” came to my mind.

To start working on this idea, I searched for images of this scene from different storybooks and saved the images I liked the most to work with them. As many people do, I use PureRef to save the references I’m going to use and have them visible all the time on the screen by selecting the option Mode > Always on Top. PureRef also allows you to save your setup to keep using it in the future, so it’s a very useful tool for artists:

alice in paperland pureref

After looking at several references from different storybooks, I decided that Disney’s version was my favorite and I took the most inspiration from it. I didn’t want to just recreate it exactly as it was, so I tried to be creative: the fact that the roof of the house looks like hair was a great chance to make it look like her actual yellow hair; and instead of just showing part of her face through a window, her whole face could be visible, making it all a bit more expressive. If I were Alice in that situation I would definitely be crying, so with all these ideas in mind I made a quick and very messy concept (sorry about that) of a childish-looking Alice:

alice in paperland concept

Finally, I could start thinking about the environment. I wanted to make it look like an actual storybook, but I couldn’t think of an environment that looked like a book or had text in it. However, I remembered these pop-up books whose three-dimensional features make it very convenient for this case and I went for it.

I mixed this pop-up book idea with the idea of a real Alice and that’s how it ended up being “Alice in Paperland”.

Composition

I was only able to start this project a few days before the deadline, so everything had to be done quickly. That’s why instead of drawing the whole concept, I found it much easier and faster to work on the composition during the blockout in Blender (the software I normally use). I added planes or cubes to help me to get the idea of what I wanted to achieve.

For composition, you can learn and find some tips in Disney’s movies’ artbooks or some art-related web pages. The good use of imaginary lines and space is very important to make your scene more balanced, interesting and somehow transmit the visual message (if that makes sense) more correctly.

In this case, I wanted people to look at Alice and the house, so the composition’s lines basically all lead to her:

alice in paperland composition

Blockout

During the blockout, I try to get an idea of the colors I’m going to use. For this, I create many different materials with different colors and apply them to the faces of the objects. It certainly looks ugly, but it’s really helpful to get an idea of what colors are better and what colors I should avoid using:

alice in paperland blockout

As you can see in the final image above, I had some trouble imagining the scene (a scene composed by colored planes is not very intuitive), so I painted a placeholder texture to help me see the trees and hills and see if the style is working cohesively or not.

Modeling and hand-painting

Considering that the whole scene is supposed to represent paper, most of the model is composed of planes or very simple shapes, so I decided not to sculpt anything and just model everything. Also because of this, modeling and texturing were at some points done at the same time.

For the background, I just painted the basic elements on an empty canvas in Photoshop to create my atlas. As I’ve never worked on something for children, I searched for references of storybook illustrations and the most common patterns used when painting backgrounds.

When looking for references, I think Pinterest is one of the best websites. You can save images and create boards to organize everything. This way you can easily create different libraries of references and check them out every time you need them.

After establishing the background elements, I created different planes in Blender, unwrapped them, and switched over to texturing. I made myself a small “library” on one side of the scene with all the planes (trees, grass, and fences). All the planes have their origins in the bottom-center, so I could easily copy them, place them in the scene and rotate or scale them conveniently.

alice in paperland textures

The only elaborated model is basically Alice. I worked on her topology as I normally do when modeling any character, whether animated or not. I think this step is important so that there won’t be any weird shadows when rendering.

The tears are made with a mesh with a double outline (2 more meshes) to simulate the transparency and a cartoony reflection:

  • I modeled the base tear and applied a white color emission material to it (this would be the shine of the tear).
  • Then I duplicated it (Shift + D) and scaled its normals (Alt + S) to make it bigger, and then flipped its normals (Alt + N).
  • To this new mesh, I applied a dark pink color emission material. Then repeated again the last step to create another mesh and applied a light skin-color emission material.
  • I placed the tear’s clipping with her skin, so it would be visible through all the meshes of the tear from certain points of view.
  • I totally improvised this but I think it ended up as a good cartoony tear. It could be even better if playing a bit with texturing and adding different shades.

About the textures, Alice is using only 2 color texture maps (one with alpha for the roof of the house and the other for details with transparency) and a specular map to make the oily parts of her body and her tear-trails more reflective to the light.

alice in paperland tears

Time for Sketchfab

For posting the model on Sketchfab, I decided to go shadeless. I liked the look of the background with the shadeless option, but I also wanted Alice and the house to have some “realism”, so I baked the shadows in Blender. This way, I was in control of the lighting and shadows to make them look the way I wanted.

alice in paperland materials and textures

After adjusting all the materials and textures, the last step was post-processing.

I sometimes feel like applying post-processing filters to my models is like “cheating”; like, “you didn’t do the job properly with the textures or lighting and now you have to fix it by using post-processing” but this is not true! Correcting colors, levels of lights, bloom, or whatever is all part of the process and it’s as important as any other.

So maybe it’s just me, but if you’re also feeling like this, don’t! Sketchfab provides very good ways to make the most of our works with these post-processing settings.

Apart from the common filters I normally use (grain, ambient occlusion, and vignette), I wanted to make bigger visual changes to the scene to make it look like the scene I had in Blender. To do this, I applied color balance and tone mapping, making it look more pink and slightly contrasted.

sketchfab 3d editor post-processing

Conclusion

Thank you for letting this piece get 3rd place in the Challenge. I know it could be improved in many ways, but it makes me happy that the time I spent on the concept and creation resulted in an artwork that many of you enjoyed:

Also, thank you Sketchfab for giving me the opportunity to show you my working process in this Art Spotlight series, and thank you XP-Pen for the amazing tablets. I always miss doing some art on my laptop when I travel, so I think the XP-Pen Deco Fun S graphics tablet will be great to carry and continue creating when I’m somewhere else!

Finally, thank you for reading it. Hope it was helpful or interesting to somebody.

About the author

Lourdes Del Castillo

3D Artist



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