illustration shader blender

Art Spotlight: Blender Illustration Shader

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About me

Hey, my name is Alan Wyatt and I am a 24-year-old award-winning 3D Generalist from Pensacola, Florida! I am a 3D artist at heart, but I am also knowledgeable in the traditional fundamentals of fine and digital art with a studio art degree. For most of my life, I grew up in North Carolina in a family full of both visual and performing artists. As a kid, I always had a fascination with building things out of either Legos or just the scrap pieces of wood in my yard.

My fascination with physical and traditional art soon transferred to digital art. By my late teens, my 3D art interest started to show itself. At the age of 16, I became interested in modding and editing video games and learned how to completely recreate and replace the characters in games that I had grown up playing. This turned into a sandbox of opportunities and I spent weeks modding games just to surprise my friends by playing as a character they had never seen!

Even though digital art is my emphasis and forte, I still have a strong interest in fine art. This is how my Illustration Shader came to be! Anyone who knows me knows that I love mixing both digital and traditional whenever possible. I am extremely excited to show you how I accomplished it!

Blender Illustration Shader

This shader is greatly influenced by the style of both Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi from Tonko House. Their short film, “The Dam Keeper”, is a huge inspiration for a lot of my artwork. They are both digital artists, but with a strong understanding of traditional and fine art fundamentals. I always try and get inspiration from artists like them.

If you want to have the shader and follow along with my process, you can find it here.

The scene is a simple design with nothing too complex. It just consists of two objects, the apple and the blanket. The real magic comes in the shaders that they are using. For this current build of the Illustration Shader, I am using baked lit textures for both objects. This is not necessary, but it does give more of a traditional feel because you will have solid strokes in it (this will be further explained as we go along).

blender illustration shader

I will start by explaining that in total, each object is using three different materials. There is a “Base” material, a “Stroke” material, and a “Highlight Strokes” material. You may be asking, how you would add three different materials all to the same object? Well I will show you how I create a very cool broken edge method that requires multiple materials. If you have ever watched a Blender NPR tutorial on making toon shaders and outline effects, then I am guessing you have learned that the “Solidify Modifier” can actually be used to make very cool layering effects for materials with broken edges.

I will go ahead and give a basic flow of how this all works before getting deeper into it. In the image below I have the four stages of creating this material.

  1. We have just our default light baked textures. They are also slightly blurred in Photoshop to give a bit of a smooth effect for our base layer.
  2. This is our scene with our first “Base” material applied. This material will be explained in more detail later, but basically it is our baked texture with alpha strokes overlayed on top.
  3. This our first Solidify modifier. The “Stroke” material is just the same as the “Base” material except that we take out the baked texture so that all we are left with is just the alpha strokes.
  4. Just like 3, we have alpha strokes on a new solidify layer and do not include the baked texture in this one, either. Instead we use a color ramp to push the stroke mask to apply only to the brightest spots of the material—the “Highlights”. We then slightly brighten the color of this material to push it even further. I will go into a deeper understanding of each of these steps below.

illustration shader steps

Base Material

 

illustration shader blender nodes

In this image I show my process of creating a stroke overlay effect in Blender. I created a group node called “Flood Fill Node” that can take textures and create pixelated versions of them with a Voronoi noise node. I also created another node called “Brush Alpha Node”. This node takes the vector output of the “Flood Fill Node” and randomly places 8 different brush stroke alphas across the texture with random rotations and sizes. All these brush strokes are controlled by the Voronoi node and stay contained in the same spots as the pixelated texture, as you can see above.

Once we have our alpha strokes, we can then apply them to our pixelated texture and get solid color strokes from our original baked texture. None of the strokes have any gradient on them and they are all solid picked colors. This is essential if trying to capture an illustration painted style. Now that we have our colored strokes, we will then place them on top of our original texture. This is all that makes up “Apple Base”.

Strokes Material

illustration shader nodes

In this image we see a similar material as “Base”, but the only difference is that we do not add back in the baked texture below the strokes. My “Flood Fill Node” also has a “random seed” input that lets you change the pixelated pattern and stroke locations to give it a more random look for each material. This material is then applied to a solidify modifier on “Material Offset_1”.

Highlight Material

Lastly, we have the Highlights. This material is like the last stroke material except that it focuses on the highlighted areas of the texture and brightens the strokes a little to make them pop a bit more. We will be using a second solidify layer for this and applying this material to “Material Offset_2”. Highlights are always the last touch on a painting and always make the painting look better.

Sketchfab

Since my “Flood Fill Node” has a random seed input, we can animate that input to go along with the timeline and act as a new illustration with different strokes on each frame. This works perfectly in Blender, but moving it to Sketchfab was going to be a challenge since the platform does not accept animated textures. I ended up using a method that I found in their forum called “Timeframe (Stop Motion)” to animate my textures. I baked four different textures from different frames for each model. Since each object technically has three materials, each with a diffuse and opacity map, I ended up having to bake 48 separate textures and combine them in Photoshop to get the size of the final scene below Sketchfab’s 50 MB limit for basic accounts. This approach gave me a few issues in the beginning, but the Sketchfab team had so many helpful comments and forums where I was able to get all the help that I needed to make it happen.

Future Plans

I am currently working on a master copy of “The Dam Keeper” with this shader. I am releasing every step on my Instagram. I hope to share this on Sketchfab when finished. Follow me if you would like to see it when I finish! Feel free to also check out my ArtStation.

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About the author

Alan Wyatt

3D Artist – Sculptor – Compositor



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