Art Spotlight: Chuck Norris - Handpainted

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From 2D to 3D

Hi everyone! 🙂 My name is Guilherme Freitas, and I’m a Brazilian digital artist. I have also been creating and posting narrated timelapse videos of my digital paintings and 3D projects for the past six years on my YouTube channel Brush Rush.

Back when I started practicing 2D painting on my own, roughly 8 years ago, I also gave 3D art a shot and, like most beginners, I thought Zbrush would be the best tool for the task. Super detailed awesome projects were everywhere, and seeking those results I ended up skipping 3D basics like traditional modelling, topology, UV unwrapping, rigging and such. Big mistake. I couldn’t advance much, and I wanted to create much more than digital statues.

So I ended up struggling for a few years with YouTube tutorials, while not really dedicating much time to 3D. Eventually I picked things up, and with the help of my friend from Argentina, Sebastian Cavazzoli, I managed to fill the gaps in my knowledge, and started creating something I wasn’t really expecting back when I started: low poly handpainted 3D models in Blender.

And now I’m creating all the assets for my first 3D mobile game, rigged characters, background, items, enemies and more. All done in Blender as well, I finally mastered to some degree the skillset I’ve been seeking for almost a decade now.

There is something nostalgic about this type of work…it reminds me of classic Playstation titles I played, like Crash or Spyro. Also, I can focus much more on painting than modelling every little detail, which is really nice since that’s what I’ve studied the most, and where I can really shine the most.

Even though I’ve only been creating decent 3D models and textures for a little while, I can’t wait to create more and more, as the whole process gets a little quicker and easier with each project I complete, and so increases my excitement for future challenges.

Inspired by a Haunting Past

Memes die. But here in Brazil, Chuck Norris’s Facts remained a powerful joke among the young fellas of pre-Facebook land for quite a while. As with any dead meme, it ain’t funny no more. Back then, I guess mostly because of that meme, I decided to use Chuck as my inspiration to create one of my first 3D models ever. I had only watched him in Game of Death, without his beard, and sporting the classic bowl cut, the official nine year old hairstyle around here.

But the fun I had reading his completely true facts were more than enough reason for a tribute. Well, when I said I started with Zbrush, you can guess the freakish things I created. Although there are some I still like to this day, my first 3D Chuck wasn’t so pretty:

We’ve all been here, right guys? Haha… right?

One of the most popular video series in my channel is about remaking old artwork, and I thought now was the perfect time to test my skills. So the new Chuck is an attempt to get pretty much all I’ve learned in the past 8 years into one simple project. Get some of Chuck’s likeness and hairstyle, work some stylized fun character design into the face, while trying my best to keep the polycount low, and let the painting do the talking.

In Blender I subdivided a cube and started to adjust the vertices to get a base for the face. With a few extrudes and loop cuts I got most of the details I wanted. Some eyelids, simplified ears and no nostrils. I didn’t sketch anything beforehand, something I’ve only done a few times, but I’ve been feeling confident enough to do it “free hand” by now. But I need to hold back and not start subdividing and end up with a dense mesh; painting shall create the illusion of detail and texture.

With a simple round brush in Blender I handpainted the hair, skin, and clothes. I imported the resulting UV map to Photoshop for some color correcting, a little color dodge, and some textured brushes to create some mild skin pores. I quickly rigged, and made some sculpting adjustments to get things a little less symmetrical.

When it was all done, I really wanted to make it look a bit nicer for Sketchfab, so I didn’t stop there. I painted some bullet holes and smoke quickly in Photoshop, and with the help of some planes and alpha channels I created this simple background.

I like the extra touch of a possible story going on with the background elements – it adds another layer to what was meant to be a quick portrait. That’s something I hope to keep in future projects. Well, you can check the whole process in my channel, commentary in Portuguese (BR).

Once my model was uploaded to Sketchfab, I really wanted to create sharp contour lighting with the custom light sources available to change color, strength and position. I played quite a bit with those settings, but I decided to leave it unlit, and keep the values and colors from my original painting. It was a tough decision as there are so many cool light setups possible.

But there was still plenty of post processing that can make a difference, even for an unlit, handpainted project like this. I added a little bloom, making light a bit softer, and set the exposure a bit higher. Also I added a subtle vignette, keeping the focus on the character by making the borders of the frame darker. The last change was to add some chromatic aberration, the red green and blue colors that come up give it quite the charm.

The Art and the Artist

Every project marks our development, it represents a milestone in this unending art journey of our lives. Right now, the most important thing about this Chuck, is how much it shows what I learned. It’s not perfect, but like a fossil, it’s the solid three dimensional register of my history with art.

And it most surely is the start of a new series of handpainted 3D caricatures. I’m super excited to try and capture Arnold, Sly, Bruce Lee and other movie stars in this style.

Learning 3D transformed the way I think about what I can artistically conceive through digital tools. This skill set is able to elevate digital painting to a whole new dimension (literally) and that’s so fresh and exciting to me.

If you’re also a 2D artist that cannot just keep looking at all the cool 3D art here on Sketchfab, get to know the basics, start off with modelling, retopology, unwrapping and rigging, it will serve you well and you won’t need expensive tools. You can get a whole lot done with free software and some good effort and persistence.

You don’t need to take 8 years to do it though. Come on.


About the author

Guilherme Freitas

Digital Artist


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