DAE Spring 2020 Student Showcase: Stylized Design and Creation

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Hello everyone! My name is Oskar Kuijken.

I am a 3D Character Artist, I worked on games like Spyro: Reignited Trilogy and Fortnite. Since 2018 I’ve also been teaching at Digital Arts & Entertainment, in Belgium. This is the same school where I started my own journey into game art.

It’s really fun to share my passion and knowledge with people who are just starting out.

DAE and the SDC Course

Digital Arts & Entertainment is a three-year full-time Bachelor degree programme in Belgium. It focuses on interactive and pre-rendered 3D. There are a ton of paths to take, from 3D Animation to Game Development.

My good friend and colleague Thijs de Rijcke and I teach the course Stylized Design & Creation.

This course explores different aspects of stylized art. In the first half of the year we tackle 2D design, going from basic design principles to creating characters and environments.

In the 2nd half we go over the process to make 3D characters for games and animation.

This post will focus on the 3D part of this course and the amazing characters our students have made in the past months.

We kick off by learning how to blockout basic forms in ZBrush. We analyze 2D concepts and try to build them up in a simplified version.

Veerle Zandstra – Blockout Assignment

This colorful bunch will also be the base for our sculpting. So with the primary shapes done, we can start refining everything towards the proper shape language. After the sculpting we move to the more “technical” part of the pipeline, retopo and UVs. We use 3ds Max for this, but it can be done in other modeling software. For baking and materials we use Substance Painter.

We have both VFX and Game Art students in our group, so they can use their render engine of choice.

In addition, we always ask for a Sketchfab entry. This makes it very easy to get a proper look at what the students have been creating. Being able to look at them from all angles—the different maps, topology, etc.—is really handy. Sketchfab being a platform with a very active user base and audience, it is also really nice to hear feedback or to get additional eyes on their works.

Creature Workshop

When we’ve gone over all the basics, we can tackle our first big challenge: Making a fun little creature! This is a very guided assignment with a small scope and functions as a trial run for their final exam. We make sure to provide a week-by-week planning, additional documentation alongside the regular classes, videos as a backup, etc.

Character Mentorship

For the final exam everyone is working on a concept of their choice. That also means that they are each tackling a different style. To make this a bit easier, we take more of a mentorship approach.

We follow all the progress of our students closely, providing feedback and helping solve issues that are unique to the character they are creating. It’s incredible to see how every student made giant leaps and how they help each other to improve.

In the segment below you can find some examples of our students on what they have been creating and a snippet on their thoughts on the past year.

Student Showcase

Lennart Berger

Creating Khepri based on Baldi Konijn’s concept was a big challenge for me! For over 1 year I have already tiptoed around this concept, wanting to give it my best shot.

Thanks to some good warmup and preparation in the Stylized Design and Creation course by Thijs and Oskar I finally felt ready to tackle this piece.

Usually I have a more handpainted approach to my works, but a lot of my favorite recent games take the PBR route, so recently I started to try myself on it as well.

I already went this direction on my previous project—Grimm—but overall I believe the outcome was not enhanced by going PBR.

Learning from the approach I took back then, I went a whole different way about my materials.
I created a base for my diffuse color using Substance—mostly with some masking using the curvature and AO map.

After I was somewhat happy with the colors, I exported it all to Photoshop. I feel like Substance is really bad for painting, which justified this detour. From there on it became a constant back and forth, painting in Photoshop and importing that into Substance, tweaking constantly on both ends.

Once I was happy with the base color, I used a grayscale version of that as a base for my roughness map. The roughness map then got the same treatment as the diffuse map.

Finally I added some metalness to give some areas a better shine that beetles are so famous for.

Through that and a ton of feedback from our great teachers, I was able to keep Khepri somewhat painterly while going the PBR route.

Creating Khepri was the biggest step I have done so far and I am excited to keep going from here!

Lennart is aiming to become a Character Artist, you can find more of his work on ArtStation.

Malwina Czech

My ‘Travelers’ Friend’ is one of my biggest and most exciting projects to date.

Right off the bat, I stumbled upon a big challenge as I only had a sketch to base my work on—but re-imagining the creature and all the props anew was a lot of fun. I like to think I put a piece of me into every work of mine, making it unique in a way.
This project taught me how to use multiple real-life references and combine them as I sculpt to create interesting assets that fit the style of the creature.

Previous assignments of the SDC course have strengthened my ability to redesign assets on the fly while sculpting in ZBrush instead of going back to my trusty pen and paper to draw a concept first.

Using Substance Painter I created believable materials that tumble between realism and stylization.

Having fallen in love with the concept so much, it inspired me to create little baby creatures to assist my ‘Travelers’ Friend’.

This project and the SDC course really pushed a lot of my skills, from concepting to sculpting over to materials—and even compositing—to create appealing renders!

Big thank you to the great SDC mentors Oskar and Thijs. Without their guidance and feedback the project wouldn’t have come out so great!

Malwina is gearing up to become an Asset/Environment Artist, you can find more of her work over on her ArtStation.

Nikita De Ruysscher

Stylized Design and Creation has been an amazing, unexpected journey. What I thought would be “just a minor course” turned out to be the most defining experience of my entire student career at DAE.
What made this experience so special was the mentorship of Oskar Kuijken & Thijs De Rijcke. Even though our class was vast and filled with all kinds of different styles, they managed to guide each and every one of us through the process of finding our style and translating it to 2D and 3D art.

And while they were our teachers, they made us feel like equals. I hope that I can carry these connections far into my future career, whether it be at a tiny indie studio with my life partner or at a large game company. I will never forget “Stylized Design and Creation” at DAE.

You can find more of Nikita’s work on her ArtStation.

Filip Leurs

I’d like to present my final assignment for the course ‘Stylized Design & Creation’ where we had to run through the full PBR workflow and make a stylized character.

I chose a concept by the talented Johannes Helgeson. For me it was the first time modelling a character, so the beginning proved to be a good challenge.

During this journey I learned a lot about human anatomy and pitfalls when sculpting faces. I will be happy to apply this knowledge and learn even more in future projects.

And a big thank you to DAE for the great courses and teachers! I would’ve never thought that I could learn all these new skills in only two years.

Filip wants to pursue Stylized Art, you can find the rest of his work on his ArtStation.

Hadewijch Van Hauwermeiren

The path to making my exam was quite a journey. It gave me the opportunity to explore areas that I hadn’t touched before, which resulted in quite a bit of hardship.

Doing a stylized humanoid character was new for me but I definitely enjoyed sculpting it.
That said, I am grateful to have worked on the model of this great design and to have it finished.

You can find more examples of Hadewijch’s work on her ArtStation account.

Lam Gia Bao

During the 2 years I have studied at DAE I feel like I learned and improved the most during Stylized Design & Creation, where I learned how to design and sculpt stylized creatures.

It was a great experience learning the whole character pipeline from two amazing teachers who kept on motivating us throughout the year (especially with a pandemic going on).

My favorite part of the pipeline was definitely tackling PBR in the texturing phase since it was my first time using it. It was an adventure to fool around with stuff to end up with a nice result.

I also loved working on the presentation, seeing how everything finally comes together and creates a pretty okay result!

These projects definitely made me realize that I’m very fond of stylized designs, characters as well as environments, so I surely will be exploring this more.

Bao’s main goal now is making stylized 3D art her future. Check out her work over on ArtStation.


Hopefully you enjoyed a quick peek into our Stylized course and the results our students made. They just finished a stellar year and their next step is preparing their portfolio for internships in the first half of 2021.

If you would like to know more about Digital Arts & Entertainment and get a full view of what we teach, feel free to visit our website or join us during future online info days!

About the author

Oskar Kuijken

Freelance Character Artist & Teacher at DAE, Howest, Belgium. oskarkuijken.com & digitalartsandentertainment.be

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