Art Spotlight: Dryad Face

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About Piotr Majkutewicz

Hey! My name is Piotr Majkutewicz and I am 3D character artist based in Warsaw (Poland). I have loved creating characters since I was a kid, when I was modeling Pokemons from plasticine. Today I still can’t help it 🙂

I had an opportunity to work in very big and very small game development studios and having this experience I really know that the most important thing for me is to work on the game (or film/animation) that I really enjoy and believe in. That’s why now I am working on the game named Shing! Stay tuned for the release early next year!

My daily work is concepting, sculpting, texturing, and preparing final assets for the game. Walking through the whole process of character creation makes you feel that you really bring those little fellows to life. 😉

I have plenty of fun while working on stylized, cartoony characters but I suppose it is a good idea to walk out of your comfort zone from time to time and do something different. That was my main starting point for the Dryad project.

Inspiration for Dryad Face

Usually I design my models myself. I really like to do some fast drawings as first visual manifestations of what’s in my head. For me drawing concept art is in some way the first stage of modeling. I do a big part of thinking about the shapes then and later on proper modeling is just much easier. But this time the case was different. I wanted to challenge myself and find some other artist’s concept to translate it into three dimensions. When I spotted Taran Fiddler’s work on Artstation, I was amazed by his creativity and exceptional ideas. I find all of his characters inspiring but the Dryad…it was just it!

Dryad Concept by Taran Fiddler

At the beginning I was thinking about creating the whole scene from the concept, but after starting work I decided to focus on the face alone. Later in the process I also changed the original design a bit but Taran’s work was definitely the ultimate inspiration.


No matter whether you create your own design or base it on concept art, it’s always a good idea to find as many reference pictures as you can. And it’s really ok to spend an hour or two on searching in the internet. It will pay off for sure. 🙂 In this project I was aiming for Afro-Asian facial features and Google Graphics helped me find the right references.

Base Mesh Modeling Phase

I always start my modeling from a cube. I mean… in my professional work most of the time I use base meshes or some parts of previous characters to speed up the work, but in my after hours projects I always like to create everything from scratch.

Anyway, I like to create a simple base model in Maya first. At this stage I’m focusing on the main masses and proportions. They may be changed later but I like to have pretty much established shape as a starting point for sculpting. I’m not worrying much about the topology at this stage, because retopology will be necessary at the end anyway. My tip is not to spend much time here. After about 2 hours I was fairly happy with the overall shape of Dryad’s head. If you are not sure about the proportions being 100% correct, it’s ok. You will get to them while sculpting.

My big advice! Take screenshots everyday to track the progress of your work, save them on your phone and take a look from time to time, on your way to work or while standing at the bus stop. You can think it through and even write down or mark some feedback on the screenshot. When you sit down to work you will already know what to improve.

Sculpting Phase

My usual workflow is Maya > ZBrush > Substance Painter/Photoshop. Personally, the sculpting phase is my favourite and I spend the most time in ZBrush.

The sculpting process took me 4 days (on average 2 hours of work per day). I already had the main shapes done so on the first day I was only defining some face muscles and sketching the lines where glowing cavities would be. Day two was mostly about refining and sharpening them and adding additional small branches. On the third day I decided to add the flowers around Dryad’s head. Again, I started from simple base meshes in Maya. I made only 3 versions (closed, semi-open and open) and spread them in ZBrush. It was copying and changing the scale to achieve a natural result. The last thing to do on day 4 was the bark. As the first pass I used wood-like alpha to make the first surface of barked wood around the face. To finalize the look I spent about an hour with the slash3 brush.

I don’t use any fancy brushes. Most of the time ClayBuildup, Move and slash3 work just fine for me. I use the last one, my favourite, for sharpening corners and edges, as well as defining shapes. Even if I need some more regular and smooth strokes I just adjust lazy mouse value and it works great.

Retopology Phase

Most of the time I use the Quad Draw function from Maya to do retopology. I think that combined with the live surface option it’s an almost perfect retopology tool. This time I was not planning to rig or animate the model so my low poly topology and edge loops didn’t have to be perfect. I decided to use ZRemesher in ZBrush and only adjust it slightly with Quad Draw. The last thing I had to do was UV unwrapping. No magic here. I did it in Maya’s UV editor.

Texturing Phase

When I had my low poly model and decimated sculpt done I moved forward to Substance Painter. I always do all my maps baking there. I started with separating materials by masking, then worked on the proper smooth transition between skin and wood. The most tricky part was the skin. I was trying to avoid a perfectly uniform surface so I added some small freckles and delicate imperfections. I also tinted the face very slightly with 3 colors—yellow (on the top), red (in the middle) and blue (on the bottom) to achieve a bit more natural effect. After 2 days I had the whole face textured but above there was another very important stage of work ahead of me.

Asking for Feedback

In my opinion every beginner 3D artist should be aware of the importance of feedback.

Send your WIPs to as many 3D artists as you can. They have experience and know the whole process better than anyone. I’ve sent Dryad to about 8 friends who are 3D artists or animators and they shared a lot of valuable comments, for example, making the flowers less plain, adding some subtle pupils on the eyes to add some depth or adding some organic texture to the glowing surface. Even if I thought that everything was 100% done, my friend advised me to try transitional meshes under the Dryad’s eyes (wet eyes effect) and it was ultimately the last thing I did before pushing the publish button on Sketchfab. I’m really glad I did this – Thank You Michał! 😉

But you don’t have to be a 3D artist to have an opinion on 3D art. My fiancèe Marta, who professionally works in a very different field, looked at my model and told me that the colors were way too vibrant and saturated, and it was 100% true! I was focusing on different aspects so much that I was no longer able to look at my project from a wider perspective. This is why getting feedback on your work is really crucial.

Sketchfab Phase

Happy with the textures I jumped straight from Substance Painter to Sketchfab. Thanks to PBR setup all the maps were in place and I only had to make a few improvements. The most important thing in the presentation of a 3D model is the lighting. I used a pretty simple light setup with 3 lights and the HDR. Default Muir Wood worked just great in this case. I also used it as a background. It just seems to be Dryad’s natural environment. 😉

The biggest feature I added here was subsurface scattering. I wanted ears and nose to be slightly transparent like real skin is so I painted a fast sss mask in Substance Painter, put it in Sketchfab and adjusted the thickness factor and the color profile. I was actually surprised how well it worked 🙂

I also posed the face a bit to make Dryad look a little more alive and mysterious.

As the final touch I added some post processes like a slight bloom effect and vignette to make the face pop out a little bit. I also played around with tone mapping a bit and after that I was fully happy with the whole piece and ready to publish my work after 8 days of work!

I hope you enjoyed getting to know my process and work tips 🙂

If you like my art, keep checking my Sketchfab profile and ArtStation portfolio.

If you are into stylized graphics and slashing demons from time to time, definitely check our game Shing!


About the author

Piotr Majkutewicz

3D Character Artist

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