Hi! My name is Emmi Isokirmo and I’m a 3D student from Finland. I started 3D modeling about five years ago and noticed I was pretty good at it. Now I hope to one day be able to make a living doing 3D. I love how versatile 3D art can be and there is still so much I want to learn. You can follow me on Twitter where I sometimes post WIPs and talk about my life.
Sketchfab was having a “Hand-painted Storybook Scene Challenge” and I really wanted to enter. But despite my enthusiasm to start working on it right away, I couldn’t come up with a theme for my entry. What kind of story would I want to depict? Should I recreate an existing story or come up with my own? I wanted it to be something special and personal.
It was really late in the challenge’s run that I was finally struck with an idea. During my trip to Stockholm, Sweden before the pandemic, I had bought a postcard. In it was an illustration of Emil by Björn Berg. I really liked the bold bright colors and decided to create something similar in 3D.
Emil i Lönneberga is a series of children’s novels written by Astrid Lindgren. As a kid I would continuously rewatch a VHS cassette with one of the movies in it. Emil was a bit of a prankster and often got in trouble. While his father was angry, Emil would hide in the shed and carve a wooden figure to pass the time. It’s a very iconic scene, so I wanted to recreate and share it. I don’t think these stories are really well known outside of Europe. After looking up some more original illustrations by Björn Berg and watching movie clips on YouTube, I was ready to begin.
Starting with a simple layout, I first wanted to pin down the scale. Once satisfied, I kept adding more and more details to make the scene interesting to explore. Everything in the shed should look a little messy and disorganized. Tools have to be scattered around and the floor is covered in fresh wood chips. In order to further help sell the hand-painted look, objects are a little bit warped, giving the impression of an unstable hand.
The wooden figures were absolutely crucial to tell the story. They were also really fun to make. I kept the style simple but made each one unique. I tried to come up with things Emil would have seen: a horse, a crow, a rabbit, a gnome with a mushroom for a hat, his little sister, a priest, and a passer-by waving.
I kept the model very low-poly and divided it into seven materials. I had already decided to make the final scene shadeless, so high-poly models and normals didn’t matter. I wanted my UVs to be clean and consistent. To help achieve a nice even resolution throughout your models, I recommend using the Texel Density Checker add-on for Blender by Ivan Vostrikov. Then it was time for the main event: the hand-painted texturing.
Texturing (Substance 3D Painter)
Substance Painter is my favorite texturing software and really fast to work with. I highly recommend getting the Steam version so you don’t have to worry about monthly payments.
To get started, I chose the base color option in the viewport since I wouldn’t be using anything else. Next, I assigned some basic colors to each area. I like to use fill layers with a mask so the colors can be tweaked later. This non-destructive way of texturing is one of my favorite things about working in Substance Painter. I baked the mesh maps that might be needed later (but ended up not using most of them).
Adding ambient occlusion maps gives a good base to start working with. But the result looked way too clean for my purpose, so I used a filter called “Blur Slope” to make them appear messier.
Transparency always has the tendency to cause problems, so instead I decided to blend the model into the background by painting the walls with the same color as the background. The background color of the Substance Painter viewport can be changed in Edit > Settings. For this project I used brushes “Artistic Heavy Sponge” and “Charcoal Full Frame”.
I started playing with the light coming from the window. A strong contrast made the scene so much more interesting. It felt like a place you would like to hide in. But the colors were completely off. It didn’t look like an illustration from a children’s book like I had wanted. I then took a break.
When I came back the next day I could see my mistakes. The colors were too cold and dark shadows made the room feel stuffy. It was time to completely recolor, and because I had worked with masks I could easily tweak the colors until satisfied. I learned a lot about using color during this process.
Once the colors finally looked nice, I focused on adding more details. After multiple extra layers I was done with Substance Painter. Lastly, I used Clip Studio Paint to draw the hair and spiderwebs.
There was still some time before the deadline and I felt that some animation would really add to the scene. But it shouldn’t be too flashy to preserve the calm atmosphere. A simple carving motion would have to do. The rig only has 13 bones with a simple IK constraint for each arm. I created three poses and then started offsetting keyframes until the movement looked natural.
Uploading to Sketchfab was easy. In the scene tab, I chose “Shadeless” shading and set the correct background color. The scene was already looking really good, but I always tend to add some post-processing filters since they are so easy to use in Sketchfab. I used “Sharpness” to slightly enhance the colors and “Grain” to give the scene a papery feeling.
All in all, this scene took me three days to complete. I really wish I had figured out my theme sooner because it was quite a challenge working on such a short deadline. The experience kinda reminds me of weekend-long game jams. You learn a lot and fast and can’t spend too much time worrying and fixing small details.
I hope you found my process interesting. I felt really honored to be asked to tell you all about it. Somehow my scene ended up winning second place in the challenge. This challenge was very kindly sponsored by XP-PEN. I have been interested in their products for some time and now I have the opportunity to test their Deco Pro S Graphics tablet myself. It’s going to be really useful while traveling.