Art Spotlight: Inside the Looking Glass

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About Me

Hi Sketchfabbers! My name is Gemma, but I much prefer MysticTeacup! I am a 22-year-old Game Art graduate living in Manchester, England. I studied Game Art at university for 3 years and graduated with a first class honors, which I couldn’t have been happier about! Currently, I work in a nightclub, which is a far cry from what I actually want to do, which is being a 3D Game Artist. I graduated last year in October and ever since I have been trying to build my portfolio, I spent a week at TT Fusion, which was an incredible experience, and I learnt A LOT!

Currently, I am just building my portfolio, trying to add new things to get rid of the old, using all of my new skills and techniques. I’ve loved video games my entire life and have been an avid player since I was around 5 years old. I always knew from a young age I wanted to be an artist, but now I realise what kind of artist I want to be, and Sketchfab has helped greatly with that, not only with inspiration but with getting my work out there. As a shy, and often work self-conscious person, I struggle showing others my work at times, but Sketchfab has really brought me out of my shell! The project I will be discussing in this blog post was completely personal and for my portfolio!

Inspiration for Restricted View

Fantasy, fantasy, fantasyyy!!! I ADORE fantasy work, anything with toadstools I instantly love! For a while, I knew I wanted to create a piece of work where you can only see inside the model from certain angles, but I never thought about what the model would be or the story it would tell. The more I saw the dioramas that ensure the viewer can only see things from different viewpoints, the more I knew I just HAD to do it.

This was the first piece that I saw with restricted movement, and at first, it really confused me, but the more I began to think about the technicality of it, the more I realised how doable it would be. Everything about this model really amazed me and the fact that it looks 2D but is actually 3D really intrigued me.

This was another piece of work that made me want to create a restricted view 3D model—it’s absolutely adorable and so clever how Gwendalyn Toh uses cute little creatures to replicate Tarot cards in a fun way.

Inspiration for the Looking Glass

As I mentioned before, I love anything magical. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has always been something I’ve wanted to base some work on, as I just love the scenery in the movie—it’s so dark but so magical and beautiful. I knew that if I wanted to create a restricted view model, I had to have an opening for it. I didn’t want to do just a rectangular opening, but then I came across this illustration.

through the looking glass turine tran

“Through the Looking Glass” By Turine Tran, check out her other illustrations here.

This illustration by the wonderful Turine Tran was my main inspiration for this model. It gave me the idea to create an Alice in Wonderland inspired looking glass, with some elements coming out of the mirror, as if you could step straight inside it.

pinterest mirror frame

Mirror sketch found on Pinterest.

As I was browsing Pinterest for ideas, I came across this sketch and decided this is exactly how I wanted my mirror to look! The design is so intricate and pretty and I knew exactly what textures to use to make it pop!

Inspiration for all the innards!

From having a full idea of what the outer mirror would look like, I was then struggling to imagine how I could create the inside, whilst trying to blend it with the background to create a successful restricted view model, I began to think the darker the better!

“A Dark Mushroom Forest” By Nele Diel also the cover art for “Flub” by Flub here is a link to Nele’s Facebook page—be sure to check it out!

I came across this illustration and instantly fell in love, it has everything I could possibly want: toadstools, crystals, and sparkly bits!!! This instantly became my goal for the inside of the looking glass, however, it only slightly fits the Alice in Wonderland theme, so I knew I would have to add more bits and bobs to create something totally unique and Wonderlandy!

I used both images for inspiration for the smoking pipe, my original idea was to have an all-gold pipe with lots of intricate detail, but I felt that mixing the old and the new together would create a lovely pipe that would stand out in my scene and also be unique but recognisable to those who have either watched one movie or the other.

For the watch, I felt that the movie made it too plain—I wanted something very decorated, and I came across this image. I loved how the time ran backward and how intricate the watch itself was, I also used the phrase “Time for Tea!” to inspire the center of my watch.

Whilst thinking of Alice-themed elements to add, I just knew I had to add the iconic “Eat Me” cake, as it is a large part of the movies. I decided to use the exact cake from the Tim Burton movie because it is recognisable and would make the cutest asset in my environment.

The first Alice illustration I saw had all those cards flying out of the looking glass, and I really wanted to pinch this idea, but I had to think about where they would be coming from and how I could creatively accomplish the look. My best bet was to add an open gate where the playing cards could fly out from; this gate was made for an Alice in Wonderland game already and the way it looked would suit my dark forest perfectly, so I used this as inspiration!


The timeline of this model was actually very strange; I started it in mid-2019 before I had my time at TT Fusion. When I started the model I was using Maya to 3D model and 3D-Coat to texture. However, at TT Fusion I learnt how to use Substance Painter, which I much preferred to 3D-Coat, but because I had already modelled a lot of things for 3D-Coat I decided to use it for one last project, whilst using some of my Substance Painter knowledge for things like texture baking. So overall, the model took 6 months to create, very on/off.

I started off by modelling the mirror. To create the restricted view effect, I realised I would have to seal my model inside some kind of tube. For modelling, I used Maya and I wanted to keep it quite low poly. I began this before I learnt how to use Substance Painter so I hand modelled all of the little ripples and bevels into the swirls around the mirror, which took a lot of time and was a lot of polygons. If I were to do this again I would create a low poly version and bake on the detail, but at the time it didn’t fit my 3D-Coat workflow! A lot of edge loops were added and I also extruded a lot. I believe when I had finished modelling the decorative section, I then used Maya’s smooth tool to get it looking like a fresh sculpt.

inside the looking glass forest

My second task was to begin creating the forest, I used the concept of the dark forest heavily when doing this, adding planes to opacity map little twigs onto the trees. The floor here is also the high poly version of the original floor; my plan was to bake the high onto the low, but when I did this, there were some issues with the floor not fitting properly, so I decided to keep the high poly.

After creating the base of the forest, I went on to the gate. The image above shows the high poly version, but the model you see on Sketchfab is the baked lower poly gate. For the decorative gate panels, I used planes, which I then used normal maps on to make them look less flat. Later in the modelling stage I also used more planes to add hanging vines to the gate, to give it an eerier look.

After finishing the gate, it was all about building up the scenery and foliage to create something unique to me, making it look super full and untamed, really wild and magical! For this whole model I used Maya—I didn’t really use anything out of the ordinary. A lot of my work relied on using cylinders and moving the vertices and edges around, as well as a whole lot of extruding, to create the toadstool shapes and tree trunks! There was also an abundance of planes used in the scene. All of my grass, plants, flowers and tree twigs are on planes, so a lot of the work was down to the texturing.


inside the looking glass texture

All of my texturing was done in 3D-Coat except for some normal maps generated in Substance Painter, and also some bits and bobs created in Photoshop. 3D-Coat was what I used and learnt throughout my 3 years in University—knowing 3D-Coat helped me a lot when using Substance Painter as they are very similar. 3D-Coat has great features and is incredible for a range of things but due to it being so flexible in terms of the number of things you can do in there, it sometimes lacks in other areas.

The first thing I decided to texture were the trees; I wanted to keep the style as close to the concept as possible, as I love the painted look. I feel like my own style kind of disrupted how close I got to the concept, as once you have your own style it’s hard to break from it. For the painting I used a unique brush that I found online a while ago—it’s a dirt brush for Photoshop but it was easily imported into 3D-Coat and it gives a great texture to the painting.

Layers were my best friend during this project, layers and layer blending. I often found things were too dark or too light, so the use of layer blending allowed me to edit the painting in the way I needed to. One of my favourite tools is the Emissive layer blend tool, which is how I get everything to glow! It can be difficult to use, as I never get to see it glow until I import into Sketchfab or Marmoset, so with this in mind I usually have my brush on a low opacity and layer the emissive up so it isn’t too strong. My inspiration for the texturing was definitely Nele Diel’s illustration, and I wanted to carry this style on in every object, not just the trees and ground.

inside the looking glass texture details

Some textures I also created in Photoshop, things like the grass, playing cards, and plants. This approach makes it easy to use the image stamp tool in 3D-Coat to transfer the images onto the planes. For the majority of the planes, I edited their UVs so that they were stacked in random piles, I then stamped the textures on, so it gave them a random, more varied look throughout, and also cost me less time. Another thing I love about using Photoshop for bits and bobs like the fern leaves is that I can create one in green and then change this in the image settings so I can have a whole range of different coloured ferns!

This is what the model looked like, fully textured but before the Sketchfab process!

Sketchfab Processing

inside the looking glass sketchfab

I’ve been using Sketchfab for a couple of years now and I absolutely love the way it renders my work and makes it possible for friends and family members to view. Without Sketchfab, my work wouldn’t look half as magical as it does here! So to begin with, I ensure that every object set has albedo turned all the way up, and specular all the way down. I also make sure there’s nothing else going on, like emissive happening where it shouldn’t be happening. I also make sure I have ambient occlusion on everything just to make it look that extra bit more shaded! As I’m going along I’ll add any normal maps that need adding and also any opacity maps that need adding, which is how I get the bubbles and smoke to go slightly transparent. On this model, I didn’t use any glossiness so I made sure that setting was also off.

This whole process was very straightforward. All of my textures imported correctly so all I had left to do was add the emission and add the post-processing filters! I used SSAO, which created more shadows where they were needed and, with the right settings, also brightened a few things up. Next, I added a smidge of sharpness to make the normal maps stand out more, and finally, I used bloom. Bloom is by far my favourite processing tool as it makes all of those emissive bits glow as much or as little as you want!

If you are wondering about the tube, I coloured it all black, and then made the background black in the environment settings, and it hides perfectly. And lastly, lighting! Lighting is something I feel I still really need to improve on. The tube covering the scene it made it very dark on the inside, so I knew lighting was a definite. I wanted something quite even, but also something that lit the ground. For this, I used 2 lights: a spot light and a direction light. The spot light is in a light blue kind of colour, to emulate moonlight and it is focused on the floor of the environment, coming from the direction of the moon. My second light, a light orange direction light, is positioned in front of the mirror, shining inside the tube, to light up the decorative part of the mirror and the cards!

So, that’s all really! I loved creating this model, it was so fun. I can’t thank the mods on Sketchfab enough for my first Staff Pick, as well as all of the people who have been liking my work and following me. It means a lot! Stay creative!



About the author


I like cake and shiny things.


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