Art Spotlight: Fox and Chicken Diorama

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In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.

Hello, I’m Matthew. I work as a 3D environment artist for Snowcastle games in Oslo.

I started making the Fox Tree in April 2015, but only got around to completing it recently. In my previous portfolio work, the weakest part was the tree (particularly the canopy) so in the next piece, I decided I would make the tree the main part and work on improving my skills in that area. Additionally, I wanted to add a few simple characters to the scene to give it a bit of life and tell a story.

For reference, I looked at the gnarled trunk designs of Alexia Tryfon and Raquel Martinez. The foliage was inspired by Airborn Studio’s nice fluffy trees, the rock was based on reference photos of West Macdonnell National Park, while the Chicken, Fox, and Mushrooms were based on whichever photos were top of Google’s image search.

I don’t specifically base my work on any specific piece of concept art but I do have a Pinterest page with pieces of artwork that act as a benchmark; a level of quality I should aim to achieve.


I start in ZBrush. I use cylinder primitives and sculpt these into the tree trunk, the canopy, the rock base and the two mushrooms. The initial sculpt is very rough: it is about getting the silhouette and the shape correct. I use Dynamesh and Zremesher frequently to re-topologize the mesh as I go along. This allows me to alter the shape (for example pulling out branches) while maintaining an even topology.

The brushes I use are fairly common ones: Clay tubes for adding volume, trim dynamic to flatten things out and Orb’s Cracks brush for making cuts into the sculpt.

When I’m happy with the shape I decimate the models and import them into Maya. I then use Maya’s modeling toolkit and the Quad draw function to re-topologize the models with a new mesh. As this is the final mesh I can UV map this and also use the lattice tools to reshape it a bit as well as making branches longer and so on.


The new mesh goes back into ZBrush for the second sculpt: this time I have the basic shape so I am adding fine details to the sculpt.

After the sculpting is finished the Low poly mesh and the decimated high poly mesh go into xNormal to bake Normal and AO maps. Now I can start making a diffuse map in Photoshop using the AO map and the Green channel of the Normal map as a base texture.


At this point most of the work is painting in Photoshop as well as adding details to the mesh like the foliage, the tree roots and the animals, and amalgamating the tree mesh with the rock mesh, optimising the triangle count and so on.


The final big task is the foliage for the canopy. This is created by lots of 2D cards with Alpha maps to give the foliage a ‘fluffy’ feel to it: I make little clumps of cards and place the clumps around the mesh by hand.


Finally, I do an AO and lightmap bake in Maya to give the scene a little color variation and to provide some shadows.

I use Sketchfab for portfolio pieces; it’s a neat little tool and allows people to interact with the models a bit more than with a showreel or static image and I quite like that I can embed models into Facebook.

Thanks for reading!


Thanks Matthew!

See more of Matthew’s work on his Sketchfab profile, his ArtStation and on Snowcastle Games, his current project.

About the author

Bart Veldhuizen

Community Lead at Sketchfab. 3D Scanning enthusiast and Blenderhead.

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