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Art Spotlight: Grog the Adventurer

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About Me

Hello, everybody. 🙂 My name is Kai. I’m an animation student from Lucerne, Switzerland. You can find me on the following networks:

Inspiration

I am always looking for new sources of inspiration and challenges to learn and improve my skills. Last month on Instagram I came across the “draw-this-in-your-style-challenge” from the incredibly talented t.m.wilson. A submitted artwork for this challenge immediately caught my interest. eugene_drawing_freaks drew this cool frog character. I love the pose and the cartoony style of the artwork and I found it a challenge to translate the 2D design into the third dimension. Except for the texturing part in Substance Painter, I used Blender for practically everything in this project. Blender’s realtime render engine EEVEE came especially in handy because it allowed me to work fast and not worry about long render times. Speaking of saving time, I gave myself two Saturdays of time to get this project done from start to finish. On the first day, I planned to do the modeling and UV work and one week later the texturing and lighting. With the time limit, I wanted to challenge myself to get a project done quickly without getting lost in detailing work. The goal was that after those two days I would have a decent rendered image, a turntable, and a model that I could upload to Sketchfab.

Modeling

I started with a simple blockout in 3D. The goal during this step was to get as close as possible to the design language of the original without getting lost in the details. I focused on the main shapes (head, body, flame) and made sure that the silhouette would not only work for the main camera but also from different angles. Once I was happy with the blockout, I started iteratively refining the model. I added some details like the bottles and the sword and retopologized the mesh, where it needed some clean topology. Speaking of topology: because I knew I wasn’t going to animate the character, a deformable topology was of secondary importance. Nevertheless, I made sure to strive for a reasonable edge flow to save time during the next step: the UV Layout.

grog the adventurer wireframe

UVs

To get the Uvs done quickly, I mapped two short cuts: one for setting seams and one for removing them. Blender is super customizable. You can assign a shortcut to almost anything by just right-clicking on something in the UI and then pressing the “assign shortcut” button. With this simple tweak, I was able to unwrap the model pretty fast without getting lost in many menus. For the UVs, I usually use two add-ons alongside Blender. They save me a ton of time. The first one is called TexTools. The addon offers an extensive set of tools for working with UVs and Textures. The other one is called UVPackmaster 2. UVPackmaster 2 automates the process of UV packing and is worth every penny. In a production environment where I would pass the model to a fellow human to texture the character, I would still pack the character by myself. But in a quick and dirty weekend project, having an automated way to pack UVs rapidly and efficiently is a huge time saver.

uvpackmaster unwrap

Before jumping into Substance Painter, I cleaned up my file and exported the mesh as an FBX.

A handy trick I often use when working with Substance Painter is a color ID map. To generate the map, I use Blender to color the parts that share the same material with a random vertex color by pressing shift+K in the Vertex Paint Mode. As soon as the model is imported into Substance Painter, the ID map is automatically generated during the baking process—very handy 🙂

grog substance painter ID map

Materials and Texturing

The texturing in Substance Painter was fairly simple. To reproduce the cartoon style in the textures, I built up my textures in two layers. At the bottom is a base color with a little grunge to break up the colors and overall roughness. On top of that, I drew some linework with a brush to define some of the details. I ended up with three exported maps: Base Color, Roughness Map, Metalness Map.

base roughness metalness map

Back in Blender, I used the Node Wrangler add-on that Blender ships with for a quick texture setup. In the “N-Panel” in the shader editor, there is an option called “Add Principled Setup”. Clicking on it will automatically find the corresponding texture maps and set up a generic PBR setup, which saves a ton of time.

grog blender node wrangler

I have often been asked how I created the flame. Well, I drew the flame simply as a 2D image in Krita and exported it as PNG with alpha channel. Back in Blender, I created a simple plane with a Principled BSDF material and imported the PNG in the shader editor as image texture. Finally, I just plugged the color into the base color input and plugged the alpha channel into the alpha input of the Principled BSDF shader. In order to get the transparency rendered “transparent”, I had to set the material settings of the blend mode from Opaque to Alpha Blend. One last thing I did for the turntable was to add a constraint to the flame to always render facing the camera and on top of everything else.

texture flame bsdf shader

Lights and Rendering

With the real-time render engine EEVEE at my disposal, I was able to prototype dramatic lighting setups rapidly and try out different ideas. I ended up the standard HDRi “Night”, which comes with Blender and used it as a base light. Then I placed area lights to create shape-defining rim lights and carved out the silhouette of the character. This process was quite iterative. I added lights on top of lights until I was satisfied with the result. I made sure that all the details were nicely and evenly illuminated.

grog the adventurer lighting

To make sure the background was not just boring black or grey, I added a bit of fog to the background. I used volumetric cubes and illuminated them with two area lights. Here you can see the node setup I used to create the fog:

blender fog nodes

For a weekend project like this, I decided to render the final image with EEVEE. I knew that the light wouldn’t be as perfectly calculated as it would be if I used Cycles, but with a little post-processing afterward, the quality would be more than enough. EEVEE can be a bit fiddly with its settings, but once they’re set, the time-saving during render times is a huge plus. I went over some of the most important settings to get a decent looking image. I set the “look” in the color management from none to high contrast. This way I got a nice dramatic color grading. The bloom effect that EEVEE offers is pretty cool, but I had to lower it quite a bit because otherwise, it was way too strong. Also important were the settings in the volumetrics. In the tile size option, I set the tile size to the smallest size (2 px) before the final render. Note: the smaller the tile size, the nicer the volumetric effects will be. Last but not least, I checked the box “soft shadows” in the menu shadows. With these settings, I got a decent looking render.

EEVEE render setup

With everything set up, I was able to hit the render button. One frame rendered for about 20 seconds on my GTX 1080. It is amazing how fast decent results can be achieved with EEVEE in Blender. After rendering, I went to Photoshop and added some final touches with the camera raw filter.

Sketchfab

The set up in Sketchfab was very intuitive. I cleaned up my Blendfile and lowered the Subdivision to gain some performance in Sketchfab. I uploaded an FBX and inserted the maps into their corresponding material slots. For the lighting, I used an HDRI and the three-point light set up. I love the post-processing effects that Sketchfab offers. Especially the Bloom effect and Vignette effect helped to reproduce the atmosphere of the EEVEE render.

sketchfab 3d editor settings

 

About the author

Kai Müri

Animation Student


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