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Art Spotlight: Cartoon Car Kobra

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About Me

Hi, my name is Valdemars Magone. I am 32 years old, born in Latvia, but for the last 2 years I have been living in Russia. I have a Bachelor’s degree in computer design. My studies focused on painting, drawing, vector and raster graphics, and 3D modeling. In one of my first lessons, when we were supposed to be learning vector graphics (Adobe Illustrator), I sat down at my PC and opened 3ds Max. That was the first time I saw it and I was instantly hooked on the ability to draw simple cubes in a virtual space and build something. Soon after that I installed 3ds Max at home and started learning it. At the time, I didn’t have regular access to the internet, so learning something new was quite slow. But by the time we had 3ds Max lessons at university, I was already ahead of the class.

Next year after university I started work at a small mobile video game studio as 3D/2D artist, so making 3D environments was one of the major responsibilities. Our game series were cartoon styled, and for one of them I had to make simple cartoon style cars as decorations. I liked the look of them so much that I wanted to improve the design, by adding small details, an interior and everything else without the restrictions of mobile games.

So, that is basically how the Retro Cartoon Car idea came around—I started making them as a hobby in 2016, to improve my modeling skills and sell them. Below you can see a picture of the mobile game model on the left, and my improved version on the right:

cartoon car concept

Besides Cartoon Cars I make realistic car models and race track mods for racing simulators. I also like photography, which has been my hobby for the last 10 years. I have made a website for Cartoon Cars, but it’s still in progress at the time of writing this article.

Here is an older portfolio I made a while ago.

Making of Cartoon Kobra

All cars in the Cartoon Car series were made in the 1950s to 1980s and are famous for their looks and success in market or sports. I really appreciate the design and philosophy of that era, when cars (among other things) were built to last instead of falling apart right after the end of the manufacturer’s warranty period.

cartoon car

Kobra is the 15th model in my Retro Cartoon Car collection, based on the 1966 Shelby Cobra. Preparation starts with collecting reference images of the car—a side view for making a sketch, close-ups of smaller details, interior, etc.

Next comes the sketch in a 2×1 frame. That is the size proportion I use for all Cartoon Cars: 2 meters wide, 2 meters high and 4 meters long. Smaller cars are 3.5 meters long.

Unfortunately I have deleted the sketch for the Cobra, but here are a few examples of previous cars:

cartoon car porsche

I put the sketch on a plane in the scene and use it for reference. But mostly everything is made up on the go. Proportions are exaggerated anyway, so I just model the car as I feel looks good. It’s important to look after how details relate to each other though—here’s an example (Carrera):

cartoon car proportions

The rear window roughly aligns with the rear tyre. The same goes for the Cobra.

I always start modeling the car from the wheel arches, and then expand further to the side, front and back, completing the roof last. Only one side is modelled, of course, with the Symmetry modifier. Then the door is cut out and detached from the body mesh, as well as the window glass, leaving just a frame that will be the paint of the car, plus the door. From the window holes and door frame it’s easy to expand the mesh further inside, making the interior. Most of the work goes into modeling the dashboard and seats. Luckily, the Cobra has a simple, flat dashboard with circular gauges.

When everything is completed, there are 2 types of objects – symmetrical and single sided. Single-sided objects are the steering wheel, dashboard, gear lever, safety column, mirror, pedals, gas tank cap, and wheel. Symmetrical objects are body paint, left door, seats, floor, bottom of the car, and small details that are the same on both sides.

At this point the body paint object needs to be collapsed into a single full-sized mesh, because I want to have a full-sized body texture for decals and numbers. Otherwise the number on the right door would be mirrored.

Now I have a bunch of objects that need to be unwrapped for texturing. I start with body paint, as it’s the largest surface. It takes up around half of the texture.

cartoon car 3d model

Since this model is sold as a game asset, texture space has to be prioritised. So, the things that will be closer to the camera and more visible, get more texture space. Dashboard gauges get the most real estate, so they can be readable in case the model is used in a first person driving game.

Below you can see the complete map of the Kobra:

cartoon car UV map

When UVs are all completed, I render Ambient Occlusion with V-Ray, using the “Render to texture” function.

Step 1: Make the car mesh into a single object by attaching all the details.

Step 2: Apply V-Ray Light Material to it, and as texture I select VRayDirt:


In VRayDirt parameters I assign distance, which will determine how strong and far the shadows expand from corners. To avoid grainy shadows, I bump up subdivs.

V-Ray ambient occlusion

Step 3: Drag this new material into Global Switches of V-Ray:

V-Ray override material

Tick Override material, then drag the material in and, when prompted, select Instance and OK.

Step 4: Select the car and press “0” to open the RenderTo Texture menu:

V-Ray add texture elements

With the car selected and menu opened, press Add.., then I Choose VRayCompleteMap, and Add it. I use 3ds Max 2016 and V-Ray Advanced 3.40. Picking anything other than V-Ray presets causes Max to crash.

Step 5: Set output texture size, same as texture atlas. In my case it’s 8192x8192px:

V-Ray output texture size

And then hit Render.

V-Ray renders a nice AO map to put in over the texture and create realistic shading on the model. It also helps in painting the texture, because I can see where the important details are and which spots will be hidden in shadow.

V-Ray render ambient occlusion

Publishing to Sketchfab

Publishing to Sketchfab is really easy. After setting up the model in Unity Editor, all I have to do is select the mesh I want to upload, open the Sketchfab plugin menu, and press Upload Selection to Sketchfab.

unity sketchfab exporter

Here are some of the settings for Sketchfab:

sketchfab 3d editor settings

This is the best way to present my models. No screenshot or video will ever show off the features of a 3D model like Sketchfab can. The best thing about it is working in browser, desktop or mobile. And the results are impressive.

Thank you to the Sketchfab team for including my model in Staff Picks! I have never seen such traffic and positive feedback about my models before.

Valdemar’s Sketchfab Store


About the author

Valdemars Magone

3D artist with experience in game development, web design, and photography.

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