Art Spotlight: Arachne, Weaver of the Gods

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About the Piece

There is something deeply creepy about Arachne that is reminiscent of my old D&D adventures as a young nerd. Fantasy in general is rife with references and ideas taken from all walks of Greek mythology. The element that makes fantasy and mythology so attractive is that dream-like quality; ancient and steeped in lore, the nostalgia of things forgotten…

Hence why I had to enter when I saw Sketchfab hosting a contest for mythological creatures. As far as art projects go, what could be more fun? I immediately went online looking at the possibilities.

There were, of course, the obvious things: centaurs, minotaurs, Medusa… I wanted something unusual and not well known, odd enough to draw interest and perhaps a little research into ancient mythology. When I found Arachne, she was perfect. Being an old D&D player, I was familiar with the Drow and Driders, their culture and lore; Arachne was reminiscent of some of my best games and story-writing in that area. I decided it would be really neat to sculpt something creepy that brought me back to those good old days.

On to the lore: Arachne was once a mortal weaver of unparalleled skill, but she became arrogant from all the praise she received for her work. She later challenged Athena to a contest to see who was truly the best weaver. Though there are different versions of the story of the contest, they invariably end with Arachne being transformed into a spider. She then became the goddess of challenge, spiders, and weaving. Hence, Arachne’s name came to mean “spider” in Greek.

About Me

Hello, my name is Allen Grippin. I’m an old comic book artist who grew up reading X-Men and Spider-Man. I became very adept with a pencil and moved into tattoo art. I have always been attracted to art that is dynamic and in motion, and with my first Wacom, I became addicted to Manga Studio 5.

Several years ago my younger sister pirated Mudbox and left it open on my computer. I had no idea what it was and formerly had no experience with 3D software at all. I sat down and started playing with it and couldn’t stop. I became obsessed with 3D art in all its forms from that day forward, and haven’t picked up a pencil in quite awhile.

I’ve poured a lot of money into my hobby and delved into Maya for several years. From there I explored just about everything. I watched countless tutorials by Digital Tutors, Gnomon and Lynda, among others. I love all 3D software and am not biased, though Blender and ZBrush are my tools of choice at this time.

The Making of Arachne

This model turned out to be a lot more ambitious and challenging than I had first considered. As I got deeper into her design I continually found myself adding tiny extraneous details here and there around her body, forgetting that she would need to be retopologized in the second round of the contest. Sometimes these side-treks into detail would cause me to lose several hours, up until I snapped awake to what I was doing.

Sketchfab’s contest was a four-parter: sculpt, retopo & texture, rig & animate, and post-processing. If Sketchfab’s contest had been purely for sculpting, I would have probably gotten insane with details. Alas, I knew many artists would be less appreciative in the second round of the contest where she would be retopo’d and painted. It would especially be a nightmare for the beginner or someone with time constraints.

These sort of considerations came as revelations along the way and weren’t foremost in my mind until half-way through. I had to keep reminding myself that a big part of the contest was consideration for the next guy in the pipeline.

All things considered, the design of Arachne was a bit daunting. I back-tracked more often than usual; I had to be sure the model was satisfying to me personally, but I also needed to keep her very smooth and simple. She had to be easy to work with, even for a beginner. She had to be easy to rig and animate, and she had to leave a lot of detail to the whims of the next artist in the pipeline.

The Advantage of the Speed Sculptor

I like to do a bit of sculpting each day without reference art. I believe this helps to hone the art of “shape language”; that is, the dynamic flow of creating pleasing shapes and silhouettes.

Sculpting without an idea or a reference draws on my inner-most creative child, and lets me play with ideas in a freely constructive way that has no boundaries. This element is where I prefer to spend most of my time and (imo) results in some very original artwork. I believe it also helps an artist find a style that is uniquely his/her own, and will certainly draw attention to the work.

Often I must create art on demand and follow rigid guidelines and references. Even when this sort of task dominates my schedule, I find a way to put aside some time to just be free and play around with the free-thinking mind.

Pushing around vertices in CAD software and following rigid guidelines may be ideal for the logical-thinking programmer, but it doesn’t feed the artistic brain, and it’s not going to improve intuition for style. This is why I believe the reference artists may have the best job of all.

The Importance of Research

It’s especially useful to look at what other artists have done before attempting my own version of whatever it is I’m about to construct. Even if it’s a simple barrel or a fishing boat or some small game prop like a rock, it’s useful to go and look around at what others have done. Usually I’ll go to Google, Pinterest, Sketchfab, ArtStation and others; I’ll collect the images I love and make something that is not only unique, but on par with everything I’ve seen, because by this point I’ve set a standard based on the marvelous work of others.

For Arachne, I collected a lot of nice work and even watched some videos about the lore. Some of it was silly, a lot of it was creepy. It helped to paint a mental image of what she might be like. Although the lore doesn’t mention her being a giant half-spider creature, she was depicted quite a bit in that form by artists abroad. My favorite piece was the beautiful work of character artist Natalia P. Gutierrez.

Looking at all of this fabulous work was very inspiring and helped to push me forward in the design of the creature.

At the same time, there were some constraints to be considered, since she was being sculpted for Sketchfab’s contest. She would need to be easy to retopo, texture, and animate. This meant that I should avoid using alpha details, and also that I should keep her extraneous parts neat, smooth and close-fitting. I needed to leave a lot up in the air for the next creative artist in the pipeline. For this particular model, it became the most important consideration in her design.

Sketchfab as an Artistic Resource

Sketchfab may be one of the most ultimate resources for reference art of any kind, and I used it extensively for Arachne. Looking at spiders, anatomy, etc. in full 3D, interpreted by dozens of artists with varying degrees of skill. This type of rotatable reference is unparallelled in its usefulness.

I’ve started using Sketchfab references for just about all my models. I collect a half-dozen variations of whatever it is I’m trying to create (a rock, an animal, etc.) and put them up on my other monitors. I use the work to aid in keeping my art proportional and on par. It’s especially ideal for real-world animals and objects.

Sketchfab as reference is great, even beyond the subject matter. Sometimes it’s just a style or a color combination I’m after. Observing the detailed work of other artists, I may see a very striking color combination, or perhaps a sweet sci-fi style that I would like to emulate (I’m especially fond of the overly-tanked Halo style).

It’s very exciting to have a massive, ever-growing, free library of 3D art like this at my fingertips. It sets the bar high and brings digital artists together in a way that has never been done before.

I look forward to what the future has in store!

Cheers and good tidings,
Allen Grippin


About the author

Allen Grippin

3D Artist

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