Hello! My name is Alex McCunn, but on Sketchfab I go by “Iforgethowtoread”. I’m a digital artist/ animator and I currently work in the sunny beach-side town of Dundee, Scotland which is in the UK. I tend to sculpt my characters in Autodesk Maya and create animations with them or with other rigs available online. After spending a few years at the University of Abertay and achieving a BA (Hons) degree in Computer Arts from there in 2019, I spent the last year working at a studio within Dundee but now I freelance from home. What you’re here to learn about though is how I created this jazz club singin’ gal you see here and Sketchfab has given me the opportunity to break it down for you all. Let’s get started!
After doing a series of environments in VR, I went back to making character work for practice and to explore that side of my 3D skillset. The last few pieces I had been working on for the last few months had been great for my personal development, but I wanted to try something more stylised and illustrated in its initial concept to challenge my understanding of character design in 3D. I then came across this elegantly posed club singer with an attitude to match by @artofpetra on Pinterest.
It was then that I had found my next project and I knew that if I could turn her character into a 3D version and make it work, it would help to push my portfolio further in the right direction.
Process – Blocking
Due to the concept of the character being not too complicated on this occasion, I began by simply extruding faces around her waist area and then proceeded to block each of her prominent features above and below this area. As much as I wanted to keep the stylistic approach that the original has, I blocked out where I thought the weight of her would be now that she was in a 3D scene and how she would balance the pose overall. This led me to push her features, like the bend in the knees and how long her arm should extend above her head more accurately while maintaining her stance.
Model Clean up/ Retopology
After achieving an overall look I was happy with, I used primitive shapes in Maya to establish where I wanted to add more features and push her form more in certain areas, such as the face and her hip. Once that was completed, I combined the pieces to create a base that I would construct a new mesh on top of using retopology tools within Maya. This was used to restructure the hips, chest, hair, hands, and face to give it a cleaner look while also maintaining the silhouette from her left side and be much easier for painting later on, once I had unwrapped the UV’s.
Along with the microphone prop, the cable wire was added afterward using the curve tool and was made to identically match the form of it in the original illustration while still maintaining its path and weight in a new 3D environment. Once all the new parts were in place, I began to stitch the meshes for the body and dress together into one piece, while the other elements such as the legs and shoes were made separately for easier editing.
Looking back at the concept, it was clear where your eyes would be drawn to if you saw her, with that being the detail in her face. This led me to fix the nose, mouth, and each of her eyelids again using retopology individually and then bringing it all together to give her a new look. While doing this, I was also maintaining the silhouette once again as this was where it mattered the most when the whole thing gets brought together for the final look. The realistic proportions weren’t required; so long as the placement of the features was accurate to the concept from the angle you would initially view it from, it would work just fine.
With the model now complete, accessories and all, it was time to unwrap her. This began with separating each UV map by their respective object, starting with the body all the way to the earrings. A smoothing of the meshes was also applied once unwrapped just to add some more roundness to her shape and eliminate any harsh angles.
After this, she was taken to be painted in 3D using Adobe Substance Painter and my trusty Wacom Cintiq 13HD graphics tablet for getting the strokes just right. I use this software because it has a wide range of brushes that you can use and is the best way I’ve found to create amazing textures.
Once that was designed to my liking, I added subtle changes in the colours to give it a more volumetric feel and to add more definition to the shapes that make up her design. This included adding detail to the hands and face to get the tone just right. I knew I was on the right track with the textures when it was able to look appealing using both a PBR shaded version and a shadeless filter. It was during this stage, though, that I realised the differences in appeal that the model had between these two styles; since I could only go with one for the final presentation, it ended up being the shadeless one. This one allowed for the character to still be 3D but retain that “no-outline” illustrated feel. Having practised using this shader before in my previous work, I knew this was the way to go with it.
The great thing about Sketchfab is the amazing selection of exporters that you can use to upload your scenes directly to the website so long as the file size can be accommodated. I used the Maya Exporter to upload my model directly to Sketchfab and add the more detailed and higher resolution textures afterward. From here it was just a matter of giving the materials and assets proper naming conventions before uploading to make them easier to deal with if I came back to it later. Setting the field of view for the camera to 1 helped to flatten out the initial viewpoint that you see the character from. I used a flat background colour to accentuate the character’s palette, helping to make the thumbnail for the scene on Sketchfab easily readable no matter how big or small it is.
The effects and filters for this scene were just minor adjustments compared to my previous work. Due to the painted textures and designs being the thing that made it all work before even uploading it, I only needed to add some small enhancements and not overcomplicate things to finish it off. This included adding a slight grain, sharpness, and bloom. The effects are subtle but they are there!
Perfect, she was complete! Lastly, in order to give the right tone when viewing it, I experimented with adding a soundtrack to give off the right feel for her, and the song “Lounge Jazz” by Midnight Gem fit the bill.
This piece was different from my previous work but also similar in a lot of ways. This time, however, by paying more attention to the clean-up of the model itself and hand-painting the textures, I made something more out of my comfort zone and it pushed me to think of my 3D characters as able to be more expressive and not too abstract in their designs. Having an existing concept to work from helped me to bring it all together and keep my overall vision focused. It turned out to be a professional piece that I could add to my portfolio and use to help raise my standard of work going forward. It never hurts to better yourself and sometimes jumping headfirst into something you haven’t done before can be the only way to learn the new things you never knew you needed to know.
Shoutouts to Petra Varga for designing the original concept and for letting me turn it into a 3D version. I am continuously working on new stuff so follow me on Twitter, ArtStation, Instagram, and Sketchfab to keep up with what I do next!