Art Spotlight: Harp Witch

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Hello! My name is Jennyfer Ong, and I’m a game art generalist based in Sydney, Australia. I studied at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment about two years ago and have since been working on various game and VR projects, usually as a character/prop artist and animator. I’ve had a lot of fun transforming 2D artworks into stylized models and Sketchfab really shines at showcasing this type of work.

The Harp Witch model was something of a practice exercise I worked on in my downtime, concepted with the intention of producing a distinctive low-poly stylized game-read character that would be fun to model and animate.

The Concept

This concept came about as a portmanteau of ideas I had bouncing around at the time. I wanted to try making something with massive amounts of hair, having spent a tad too long browsing through anime-styled models on Sketchfab with gorgeously elaborate locks. I’d also wanted to make a witch character for a while, largely because I am weak to a cool hat. Conveniently enough, an excessively haired witch seemed to have a lot of potential for a visually striking concept.

Looking to produce a sketch that would translate to an interesting 3D model, I doodled some rough shapes and curves. I am an atrocious doodler, by which I mean that I will scrawl compulsively on any important documents within arm’s reach, and poorly to boot. The shape of the hair and the pose – side-saddle with a standoffish inward shoulder – were the key elements I wanted to figure out here, so this sketch was enough to produce my concept from.

It was while I was fleshing out the character in Photoshop that I added in the bird-like features. I felt she needed something a little more supernatural in her anatomy, to make the hair less out-of-place. I’d been considering making a character based on the mythological hybrid bird-woman harpy for a while and, well, my doodle didn’t have any defined limbs specified. I gave her bird legs to test how they’d look, and they fit surprisingly well, so I changed her arms and proportions to match and feathered her hair. I think part of the reason it works is that there’s something ominous about something that has the implied ability to fly but chooses to use a wooden broom anyway.

Working from my own concept, I was happy to leave things out of the final model based on how long I wanted to work on it for. There are some additional details in the art like the little critter and feather particles I may implement if I ever return to this piece.

The Model

Even with low-poly models I like to start from a rough sculpt in Zbrush, particularly when I’m modelling something with proportions I’m unsure of. Bird legs fell into that category. I added a bit of detail on the leg joints as a guiding reference for when I later retopologized and textured the model, but I otherwise ignored any details that wouldn’t affect her silhouette. Her hands were also passed over, since I already had a clear idea of how they would be modelled in Maya.

Bringing the decimated sculpt into Maya, I threw a different material on it for better visibility and went to town with the Quad Draw tool. With the exception of her dress, the model’s body is symmetrical, so I took this time to UV her separate components before duplicating, flipping and stitching them together.

I extruded out the hair, balancing fidelity to the concept art with keeping the arrangement of strands simple enough that I would still enjoy rigging it. I had some idea of what animations I wanted to create later and knew I wouldn’t be needing individual hair strand motion, only an inward and outward splaying of the whole body of hair against the ground. As such, it was easiest to connect all the bottom strands to one central ‘pillar’ of hair.

I set up a fairly standard humanoid rig for the model’s body, including a control to move all strands simultaneously inward or outward. Some careful weight-painting was required around the strands – if I’d taken more time, I certainly could have given each strand more bones and a more flexible range of motion, but this was enough for the splaying animation I had in mind.


The model uses one hand painted diffuse map with an opacity mask. 3D-Coat is my favourite tool for hand painting textures – I used it to paint the initial blocks of colour, mark out areas of shadow, and set out rough guides for finer details to paint out in Photoshop. I swap between the two quite often while texturing, but generally return to 3D-Coat for any spot corrections and touch-ups. The final texture gets colour values and levels adjusted in Photoshop.

Displaying in Sketchfab

Her spell-casting animation involved a bit too much height to display the model nicely, so I just baked her idle animation loop. I also added a little animated shadow underneath her to serve as an implied floor. With a diffuse-only model, I didn’t need to fiddle much with settings, but I set the camera field of view as low as possible, to mimic the orthographic view of the original concept art. There are a lot of rendering tools in Sketchfab I’ve yet to dig into, so I’d definitely like to play with some more realistic concepts in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope you got something out of it. Feel free to contact me on Twitter if you have any questions.


About the author

Jennyfer Ong

2D and 3D Game Artist. Finds a lot of things very cool.

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