A Little About Me
Hi there! My name is Katie, I’m a 3D artist currently living and working in Manchester, England. I was born and raised in a small (VERY small) city in Northern Ireland. At 19 I left to study Game Art at university and shortly before graduating I was hired as an environment artist at TT Games. I’ve been working on the Lego games for the past few years and I’ve learned so much about 3D art and how electric the environment can be when a bunch of passionate artists are all striving to make something they’re proud of. I try to fill up my world with things and people that inspire me, absorb all mediums, not just games. Films, comics, books, music, theatre. I go to art galleries, crochet, sew and paint. It all feeds back into the things I create both for work and for myself. I’m a strong believer that inspiration and art is all around us and we should make the most of it.
I saw on Twitter that Yekaterina Bourykina announced she was hosting the 3D Bust Challenge in collaboration with Sketchfab. I had to take part! I absolutely adore making characters, especially in a hand-painted style, but it’s not something I get to do on a daily basis.
Fan art felt like the smart choice: there was a deadline so I couldn’t burn myself out with concepting an original character from scratch. One of my favourite comic book series is Rat Queens written by Kurtis J. Wiebe. The female leads are so down to earth, relatable and at the same time, completely badass! Dee is a wonderfully complex character with a really cool design to her. I particularly like Tess Fowler’s art for Dee. She has this fantastic curly hair which would make for an eye-catching silhouette, especially when we’re just focusing on the bust. I knew with Dee I could pack a bunch of personality into a model that’s just the shoulders up.
Reference, Reference, Reference.
When I was younger I thought that you weren’t a “real” or “good” artist if you couldn’t draw everything off the top of your head with no reference material. I’m not sure where I got that idea from, but now I know that you don’t know what you think you know and nothing benefits your art more than gathering a healthy pool of resources to reference throughout the creation process. Luckily I have volumes 1-5 of Rat Queens so I could keep the stack open beside me as I worked.
First, I drew up my own concept of how I wanted the bust to look. Very quick, but very helpful to get a complete look at the bust so I could already address any issues before I even got to sculpting. Composition. Where will I put the base of the bust? How big will her hair be? Which design will I be going for? Will I mix and match? And so on.
I sculpted all of the organic, soft surfaces in ZBrush, and the hard surfaces I blocked out in Maya first before positioning and adding sculpt detail in ZBrush. I knew Dee’s signature hair was going to be the focal point, and the hardest to get right. So I blocked in the basic shapes and experimented with a few different approaches. Individual curls were too noisy and would take far too long to place, edit, unwrap and paint. Whereas larger blocks would be too soft and difficult to manipulate into tight curls. This needed to be time efficient!
I needed to go for a middle ground where I got the solid volume with the curly ends, with minimal clean up and an easy unwrap. I made a couple of curl variations from helixes, with clean geometry and preemptively UV’d. I then made them into IMM’s in ZBrush. I made the base hair volume from the blockouts and then added the curls all over!
The final modelling process was to retopologise (I used 3D-Coat because I enjoy the amount of control it provides) and unwrap (I did this in Maya because I use it most frequently so right now that’s where I’m the fastest). I used two texture sheets, one for the body and one for the hair; this was so that I didn’t have to sacrifice resolution in the texture.
Painting And Texturing
I used Substance Painter to paint Dee, because as well as being very familiar with the software, I much prefer being able to paint on the 3D model, and not have to worry about seams at all. I baked a World Space Normal, AO, Curvature, Position and Thickness. Whilst the model will just be the base colour, these bakes would come in handy to use in masks and generators within Painter to speed up the painting process. Substance Painter also allows me to work completely non-destructively. At any point I can go back down the stack and tweak a colour or edit a mask. Just remember to name your folders!!!
Since Dee would be flat lit, I had to paint in a light direction (a basic front-on assault). I also kept all of the brightest, most saturated tones to the centre of the face, in an effort to focus all of the viewer’s attention straight to the focal point of the model. I also desaturated and darkened the model slightly towards the base to make it stand out less, so that the other elements could shine. I added tight, bright highlights to the metals to create some material definition to break up the ‘texture’ of the model and give her a bit of life.
Presenting in Sketchfab
Then came the time to submit to the challenge! It was very easy to present Dee in all her glory in Sketchfab. She only had the two base colour texture sheets, which I connected up. I changed the background to a dark desaturated blue. Next I added a slight vignette so that the model sat nicely in the environment and it wasn’t too distracting. I also added a small sharpness post effect to make the model more crisp. Finally I tweaked the exposure and saturation so that the model popped a bit more and didn’t look as flat.
The sense of community and ability to connect to other artists on Sketchfab is fantastic. My model was added to a group full of other submissions and I was able to find incredibly talented people making amazing art, and I don’t know how they slipped under my radar before now! I highly recommend that you check out everyone who entered here! The whole experience was a joy and I can’t wait to do more. Thank-you to Sketchfab for holding the contest and for the opportunity to share my process.