How to Make a Stylized 3D Character?


Creating stylized 3D characters is a complex process that requires attention to detail, creativity, and technical knowledge.

In this article, we’ll look through creating a stylized 3D character.

Start with Reference Collection

Before you start the creation process, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve.

Gathering references helps visualize the final product and serves as a roadmap in the design process.

Some practical steps that you should follow:

  • Sources for Reference Materials: Platforms like Artstation and Pinterest are gold mines for artistic content. They host a plethora of artworks from professionals worldwide.

    For instance, if you’re aiming to create a medieval knight character, type “Medieval Knight Concept Art” in the search bar of Artstation. You’ll be presented with a variety of designs, each offering a unique take on the concept.

  • Organizing Your Findings: Tools like PureRef can be invaluable. It allows you to drag and drop images, creating a mood board.

    For example, if you’re designing a character inspired by steampunk aesthetics, you can have separate sections on your board for clothing, accessories, color palettes, and more.
  • Breaking Down Elements: Once you’ve gathered general references, it’s time to delve into specifics. If your character has a unique armor design, look for real-life or fictional armors that resemble it. This helps in understanding how different parts, like pauldrons or greaves, fit together and their functionality.

Look at these detailed characters from RPG “Legend of Khans”, made by RetroStyle Games outsourcing studio.

Since the game itself involves simulation of actions on the territory from Central Asia to East Europe, the artists had the task to make the characters as believable as possible in terms of clothing and appearance.

Modeling and Sculpting

This is where the character begins to take its form. The modeling stage builds the foundation, while the sculpting stage adds details, bringing your character to life.

Starting with a Block-out in Maya: Before you get to the details, you need to get the right basic shape.

For example, if you are creating a humanoid character, start with basic geometric shapes. A cylinder can represent the torso, and a sphere can represent the head and joints.

This rough model, often called a “base mesh,” serves as a canvas for further detailing in ZBrush.

  • Example: Think of it as sculpting clay. Before crafting details like facial features on a bust, you’d first shape the clay into a rough head structure.

Transition to ZBrush for Detailed Sculpting: Once you have your base mesh, import it into ZBrush. This software excels in adding intricate details. Start with larger details like muscle structure before moving on to finer details like wrinkles or scars.

  • Example: If you’re designing an aged pirate character, after getting the facial structure right, you’d sculpt in deeper wrinkles on the forehead, crow’s feet around the eyes, and maybe a scar or two from his swashbuckling adventures.

Re-apologizing and Projecting: After sculpting, the mesh often becomes dense with polygons. Re-apologizing helps in creating a cleaner, more manageable mesh. Once done, you can project the details from your dense sculpt onto this new mesh without losing any detail.

  • Example: Imagine drawing a detailed woman portrait on crumpled paper. Re-apologizing is like transferring that portrait onto a flat, clean sheet without losing any details.

Now let’s talk in detail about Planning UV

UV mapping can be likened to unfolding a 3D object into a 2D space. Tools like Maya’s UV Editor allow you to cut and unfold your mesh. Applying a checker map helps you see if any areas are stretched or compressed.

Example: Imagine you’re trying to wrap paper around a basketball without any wrinkles or tears. That’s the challenge of UV mapping. You have to figure out where to cut and how to unfold the 3D shape so that the 2D texture fits perfectly.

The next step of creating a stylized 3D character – Texturing

Why it’s Important:

Texturing adds color and detail to your model, making it visually appealing and realistic.

Practical Steps:

  • Importing into Substance Painter: Substance Painter is a powerful tool for texturing. Import your low-poly mesh and bake the details from the high-poly mesh onto it. This creates texture maps that capture the details of your sculpture.

Baking is like taking a stamp of your detailed sculpt and pressing it onto your clean, retopologized mesh. You get all the intricate details without the unwieldy polygon count.

Blocking in Materials and Adding Details: Start with basic colors and materials, then build up details. Add highlights, shadows, and surface details to create depth and realism.

Hair Grooming for stylized 3d character

Hair can add a lot of character and realism but is often challenging to create.

Practical Advice:

  • Using Specialized Tools: Tools like XGen in Maya or Hair Cards in Blender are designed to create hair. They allow you to groom, style, and render hair strands.

    If you’re creating a wild and unruly beard for a Viking character, you’d use these tools to create individual hair strands, then comb, clump, and style them to achieve the desired look.
  • Stylized vs. Realistic Hair: Depending on your character, you may want realistic hair that simulates real strands or stylized hair that’s more illustrative.

Example: For a cartoon character, you might create hair as simple geometric shapes or textured planes. For a more realistic character, you’d use hair grooming tools to create individual strands.

Look at the example of a beard for cartoon characters from RetroStyle Games, a character design studio.

The last step is Rendering and Look Development

Render your character from different angles and apply them to models, shaders, etc., to achieve the best results.

Remember, creating a stylized 3D character is both an art and a science. It requires a blend of creativity, technical knowledge, and patience. By following the steps and guidelines mentioned above, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a unique and captivating 3D character.

Additional Tips:

  • Always keep in mind the interaction of clothing with other elements, especially when using tools like Marvelous Designer.
  • Use a combination of masking body parts and moving them with tools like the Gizmo 3D manipulator to achieve the desired look.
  • For detailing, use brushes with alpha textures that include surface information and simplify them to make them more stylized.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here