Author: Alexander Kuznetsov

Stylized 3D
Production Guide

Many new artists are eager to design game characters. But their enthusiasm often quickly fades away because the character design is a very important matter, and one can’t work on it alone apart from the rest of the team. That’s why we made for you this guide on the character design using Allods Online as an example.

Every stage of the tutorial is based on the huge experience in development. Every word here has its meaning and if it seems to you that there is a mistake or understatement, you should double check and ask for clarification rather than do something wrong. Below you can find the rules of successful work in the gaming industry. If you don’t follow them, your work might turn out unsuccessful or troublesome for you and your employer. But if you decide to design the characters following this guide, you will achieve great results!

Production Guide

The Basics

Don’t do it at random or in «that will do» way. You are expected to give a result of the highest quality. Everything must be done in full conformity with the requirements to reduce the number of fixes in every subsequent model and to get rid of repetitive fixes of the same kind. And of course, you absolutely cannot ignore any points of the feedback you get because you «forgot» or think «it’s better this way» and so on.

Before sending a model, check every aspect of it once again, it will save a lot of time and trouble. The same goes for feedback: if you think you’ve corrected everything, read the feedback again and make sure everything has been done right.

Few people are able to meet all the requirements, always keep them in mind and never stop improving their skills. Most companies are ready to work with such people for a long time and teach them if necessary. Certainly, they won’t teach you from scratch, first you’ll need to achieve a certain level, but you can do it on your own using this guide.

Whatever you do, it should be beautiful, logical and rational. It’s important to bring up your inner artist, regardless of what you’re going to do — modeling, texturing or animation. You can’t succeed by just mechanically transferring the image from the concept into 3D, this way you’ll have many exhausting mistakes. You should never stop developing an inner SENSE OF BEAUTY by looking at the works of successful artists, going deep into them and trying to understand how they were created. An artistic training would be a good basis for you. If you don’t have one, you’ll face more difficulties, simply because people with this kind of training have already gone through these troubles. However, there are many examples of people with no artistic training but great enthusiasm, who learned to create cool images and their self-education took even less time than formal learning. It takes more effort to figure out everything on your own when there’s no one to answer your questions and you have to search every piece of information yourself. It requires great patience and sharpness of mind that will be working at full capacity compared to formal training where they just give you ready solutions. But you’ll gain important experience and become able to understand and avoid the mistakes. All in all, train your mind and be patient!

Some pictures are clickable, like this one, for example.

To speed up your learning, get rid of all distractions. Don’t read news, don’t watch TV, get wrapped up in your field, absorb nothing but it, don’t think of anything but it, rebuild your way of thinking and your habits, sort out your priorities. «If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.» You need to like what you do to get high-quality results. When you like something, you do it better and faster. Don’t engage in the kind of work you are unwilling to do, there are many activities in the world to suit any taste. But at the same time, you must always make sure that this is what your client needs. Even if you absolutely dislike your current work, do your best to make it the way the client likes.

Remember that you’re not modeling some abstract character but a part of the game, and it should organically fit into the game world. Also, don’t forget, that it’s impossible to precisely implement absolutely all the details of the original concept because you’re limited by the number of polygons, definition of textures, and amount of time. That’s why usually you’ll be looking for a compromise.

If something seems vague to you, ASK QUESTIONS! Any questions that come to your mind, even the most illogical ones. It’s impossible to explain everything in a single document.

Now, let’s talk about our requirements in more detail and look at the examples. All points are arranged according to their importance, i.e. if the previous point is not fulfilled, the next one doesn’t matter.

Modeling

We accept models in *.ma format for MAYA 2012 or below this version. We have a licensed Maya installed and we can’t just install a new version because we’ll have to buy it. Doing it every year is too expensive. Besides, converting from OBJ or FBX includes many routine operations: doing required transformations, creating and assigning materials. It takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you have to convert the same model several times a day.

  • Recommended settings for Maya. Working Units — centimeters, Up axis — Z, Frames Per Second — 30 (mostly for animations).
  • Character height must be reasonable. Usually concepts for Allods Online feature a sketchy human figure 1.8 meters tall, and you need to use this scale as a reference. An average boss is no taller than 15 meters and no shorter than 3.

The model must convey the sense created by the concept. The most important thing is to keep to the proportions of elements in the concept, angles between the edges, radius of curvature, and location of the elements in relation to one another. Everything must be as close to the concept as possible, at least from one perspective. If together with work specifications you get a model labeled as «model detailing example», then it serves as a basis that should be used as a starting point to design your model. This example is provided to speed up the start of you work and it is not recommended to leave it as it is. Check proportions by placing the model near the concept at the same angle, zoom in on the parts you need to compare and find differences.

Preserve the exaggerated dynamic forms created by the artist and match the style of the project. There’s no need to average out and straighten everything.

If you think that the character or the object is a bit crooked, the lines in the concept have been distorted intentionally, and you need to convey it in that very way. Maybe you should even increase this effect a bit more. But if the concept features a regular-shaped object, don’t add any unnecessary details and model everything by the concept, even and neat.

While you are thinking through the detailing and modeling the elements, imagine the character inside the game. Analyze which elements should be modeled (people will see that they are modeled) and which can be just painted in the texture. Apart from the maximum number of polygons, you also need to consider the topology requirements. Try to imagine the way the texture will look on the elements and whether it will help you convey the idea of the concept. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s better not to model some small details rather than add too many of them. Try to save time and polygons but don’t go too far with it!

Keep in mind the usual pose of the character in the game. For instance, if the hands of the character are usually down and don’t lean forward, the baggy sleeves and other elements of clothing should «hang» towards the palm and non-perpendicular to the hands. Also, the sleeves shouldn’t crumple in the middle as if the hands were raised.

Make the model carefully. Everything should be in place, and arranged logically, clearly, and constructively. Beginners often have problems with joints, connections, etc. There must be no elements hanging in the air unless it’s designed that way in the concept.

Use references for modeling the angles not shown in the concept. Sometimes there are elements not painted in the concept or covered by something. How can we model them? In such cases you should use logic and your own experience, but it would be even better to find a real world reference. If you’re not sure what you should do, by all means ASK what exactly needs to be done there. For instance, ask the client to send you some examples of the similar assets. If the back side of the outfit is not painted, in most cases you’ll need to design it according to the front but a little bit different. Here are some examples.

  • If you use a real insect as a reference, I recommend adding something like this to its body. This way the bug will not look like a loaf of bread.
  • Here the front view of the head doesn’t look like a dragon, but some kind of a demon dog. Don’t design it this way.
  • In the concept, the lion’s head is shown in profile. You simply need to google and pick the most suitable reference.

You must follow the FUNDAMENTAL rules of low-poly modeling in game projects.

  • Every polygon should create volume or correct pixel mapping stretches.
    This mostly applies to solid non-deformable objects. Deformable objects should have additional segments, so that they can bend smoother in animations.
  • Model and mapping must be symmetrical wherever it is possible, unless the opposite is specified. For instance, you can model an element, create and unfold its mapping, and duplicate it. It will let you reduce the amount of time required for a texture at least by half, reduce the texture size and memory consumption, increase detailing, etc. When you use symmetry, however, pay attention to whether you’ll be able to create required lighting for the element or not. If yes, make the figure fully symmetrical along both axis (left, right, back and front). This way you will need four times less time and resources!
  • Create all fur and hair with alpha, as it’s only worth using volumetric elements when creating large curls or braids.
    The same goes for small detailing. For example, this element is hanging from the character’s belt and is about the size of a palm.
  • It’s a good idea to make areas for alpha wide enough, so that they can create an interesting silhouette. But if you make them too wide, you’ll just waste texture space.
  • Delete invisible polygons if they are not be seen in animations. Also, you must never have double polygons, in other words, polygons, located at the same place with normals of the same direction. Such polygons are accidental result of the careless work. Just in case, using special scripts, check if there are any in your model.
  • Any bumps should be visible amid the rest of the surface elements of your model, otherwise you should just get rid of them. Avoid right angles between the edges of protruding elements, this way the volume will be perceived easier. Generally, it’s recommended to avoid any angles of 90 degrees and less between the edges unless those are at material joints or very sharp bends. The thing is that such edges «break» in-game light, and it looks terrible, like a texture seam that wasn’t blended. If there is a perfectly even ring in the concept, it doesn’t matter how many polygons you have in the section, as all edges must be smooth or belong to the same smoothing group.
  • Don’t try to make your life easier, you need to actually model the noticeable elements which create volume. Don’t simply paint them in the textures.

Important Topology Requirements

  • Mesh topology should be convenient for set-up. Don’t try to optimize a couple of polygons that will influence the shape of the object during animation.
  • You must control the topology of closely adjacent deformable surfaces. If their topology is not as similar as possible, deformation will make one surface go under another.
  • In order to simplify your further work during set-up and animation, design ropes, cloaks and chains — anything that can hang and flap around, — through lines and planes. And make sure to model these along one of the global planes/axes, i.e. straight downward, backward or forward. Of course, unless your work specification says otherwise.
  • In order to avoid excessive difficulties in model skinning, it is recommended to create cloaks, hoods, etc. without inner volume. Anyway, it will look the same with or without it.
  • Binding will be easier if you place the segments of the deformable parts on one plane which is perpendicular to the bones of the supposed skeleton.
  • Make the number of edges in the section of cylindrical elements divisible by two or by four (the latter is even better). In small cylindrical elements it’s enough to make eight edges or fewer.
  • In bends/joints of arms/legs/fingers, etc. create three polygons on the outside of the bend and two on the inside. If you use only one segment, in case of a more than 90 degrees bend, the whole volume will flatten and it will look very unnatural.
  • If you have several elements slightly interfering with each other, it would be better not to merge them into one if they are opaque and solid. Keeping the interference lets you save polygons and time for modeling, and it will not affect the textures because the interference is slight. The same could be said about small elements protruding from other elements, such as spikes, stuck arrows. There’s no need to embed them into one another if it’s not explicitly required. It would be better to just slightly sink them into the base element.

    In case of interference between large deformable elements, you should transform them into a single mesh. Otherwise, a deformation may create ugly seams at the junctures. Generally, I recommend designing deformable elements with sufficient number of polygons to be able to easily seam them together.

    If some elements are pictured close to each other in the concept and don’t require individual animation, it’s better to combine them into a single volume. But of course, do it only if it will be possible to paint all the elements in the texture with sufficient detailing and no artifacts.

  • Polygon density in the neighboring elements must be proportional and the elements themselves must have more or less the same polygon number to look well close to each other from different angles. A ball for example:
    A pile of snow at the doorstep:
    A container hanging from the belt:
  • Elements coming along the surface of a larger element should be extruded from this element instead of being modeled separately, as a new layer. This recommendation is invalid when the animation of the element should differ from that of the base surface. It applies, for example, to a belt around the waist. If the element is flat or its volume is relatively small, I advise you to just paint it in the texture. It will let you save texture space and avoid interference during animation. If the belt is asymmetrical, it should be also extruded but map it separately from texture of the rest of the body. And the body should be mapped symmetrically, with an empty space instead of the belt.
  • If there’s an edge coming across the plane, try to make it coming along the shortest diagonal possible. This way you’ll make mapping stretches more homogeneous.
  • Try to avoid stretched polygons and make the polygon grid more or less uniform, otherwise the game lighting will be broken. Surely, it doesn’t apply to transitional polygons between the large and small ones.

The design of some elements sometimes requires knowing what exactly is going to be animated, so make sure to find it out. The model should be designed so that all required elements could be animated. Also, hidden parts of the model should have textures if these parts are visible during animations.

Before making corrections according to the feedback, you should first look through the concept once again. For instance, if you need to add a facet to the edge, don’t make it too wide. Most likely, it will be enough to simply make it visible on the model, no more than that.

But don’t make the facet too small either or it won’t be visible. Make it a bit wider, by 15–30%. Not by 200–300% as in the example above.

The main mistakes in modeling are wrong proportions and lack of knowledge of anatomy. The most difficult thing to learn is how to keep the right proportions and anatomic features.

Mapping

The main rule is saving texture space by cloning elements. It helps to make the model more detailed and reduce the amount of texture work. All identical or almost identical elements should be mapped to the same place. Even if the geometry of an element is slightly different, the texture will be mostly the same.

Identical elements with different lighting should be mapped to different parts of the texture or their lighting will be the same.

Identical elements with different lighting should be mapped to different parts of the texture or their lighting will not be different.

For the semi-circular elements such as branches, ribbons and everything curved, I recommend mapping as a line to save texture space which otherwise will be wasted. The texture will be stretched but its density will be higher, resulting in fewer seams.

In relatively large and clearly visible squares you should by all means avoid major texture stretches. Otherwise, a texture painted this way will look bad and be harder to paint. In such cases you’ll have to use seams and they will be in the most noticeable places, but again, it only applies to large squares!

  • With small and scarcely detailed elements stretches are pretty much acceptable if they help you solve more important issues — to get rid of a seam, for example, or make the texture painting easier. Other stretches must always be fixed.
  • The best way to check mapping is using this template:

When possible, try to place seams on the inner parts of the elements or on the spots where they will be harder to see. For instance, a seam on the arm is best to be placed on the closest to the body side, seams on the fingers — where they are close to each other, a seam on the palm — on the side opposite to the thumb, i.e. if the hand is hanging, the seam will be at the back of it. Some seams are difficult to avoid, such as on the shoulder where the arm detaches from the torso. If you don’t have it, there will be a seam on the side of the torso. Symmetry seams in the center of the model are just impossible to get rid of but quite easy to hide.

Try to minimize the number of seams. When possible, you should place small details together with larger parts, don’t scatter them across the texture. It may result into some stretches but it is better than having a lot of seams. Unless the stretches are critical, of course, i.e. they prevent you from painting required details.

Try to avoid the seam between the surface and the alpha coming out of it. If the alpha covers all or almost all the surface, it would be better to make it an extension of the surface in mapping. This way it’ll be much easier to paint the texture and make variations because you won’t have to struggle with seam blending. For instance, fur around a horse hoof:

If alpha doesn’t fully continue the body (such as brows or a flock), it’s better to map the alpha separately to avoid cutting the surface with excessive seams.

You should use various mapping density for different elements.

  • There’s no point in adding too much detail to the elements that are not visible. Therefore, their texture density can be two or three times lower. I mean such surfaces as the inner part of a hood, cloak, a shoulder or knee piece, etc.
    The same could be applied to the places that will be filled with simple color and smooth gradients without any detailing. Usually they can be seen in the concept but don’t be afraid to ask. If all these hidden surfaces are visible in animations and they need detailing, you’ll need to make proper mapping for them, so be sure to ask about it!
  • Always make high detailing for the head of the character, especially the face. It means that you need to enlarge the face in mapping by 1.3-1.4 times and other head-related elements — by 1.1-1.2 times, including the hair, headwear and other accessories. Of course, if it doesn’t go against the point above, when, for example, there’s a black hat that doesn’t need any detailing.
  • The bottom of the character (below the knees) can be reduced in mapping by about 0.7-0.8 times. The part from the waist to the knees — by 0.8-0.9 times. But don’t reduce any objects hanging around the belt.
  • When it comes to other elements, I recommend making them with the same detailing. Small and visually unnoticeable defects are acceptable.

It’s advisable that the space between the mapping elements is about 3-8 pixels. You’ll need to find out the resolution of the future texture and plan this space accordingly.

Try to minimize empty areas, first of all, by rearranging elements. If it’s not possible, you can slightly enlarge small elements.

The texture DOESN’T HAVE TO BE square. You can make it prolonged, with ratio 1:2, 1:4 or 1:8, for an area that covers half or quarter of the width of the square and its full length. After that, stretch it along one axis covering the entire square. It can be useful when you need to map long objects without cutting their mapping into pieces, or to increase the texture density twice instead of four times (for example, when you make both sides of the texture twice longer).

It is recommended to make straight mapping for straight elements.

If an angle is more than 60 degrees you’ll have to fix unwrap stretches there.

To check mapping, I recommend using a scale of the checker that will make stretches very noticeable.

Textures

First of all, a texture artist should be an artist. When you paint textures you do not just mechanically transfer the concept to the model but create an artwork! The texture must be elaborated better than the concept. But don’t go too far with it. You will most likely need to change the lighting, increase detailing, but generally the model and the concept should be very similar.

Sometimes, in order to optimize the artist’s work, the texture approval has two stages. The first stage includes painting everything that is clear and visible in the concept. Any hidden or unclear details must be ASKED about in advance and then painted in a draft, with no surface details in order to get an approximate structure that shows how the planes are placed. This draft can be further improved and finished in the second stage, after getting the first approval and feedback.

Basic Texture Requirements

Advice number one: paint texture 2 or 4 times larger than you need and then reduce it to a required size. This way it will be easier to paint small details without getting into pixel art. To save the details after the texture is reduced, you can use the Unsharp Mask filter.

Texturing must be done with respect to geometry. In other words, each element must be painted in the exact place where it was modeled. The texture edges must also match those of the model. But don’t try to emphasize any small number of polygons: elements which are supposed to be rounded, should be painted roundly.

And try to hide the angularity of the model in the places where there should be none and the surface is supposed to look smooth, with no edges. You should do it where possible in order not to affect other angles in the model. It could be done by going a little beyond the edges and painting slightly off the geometry. For example:

Avoid the mistakes like that:

They might help to make the surface look smoother from one angle but it will look really bad from another.

Don’t bring into the model any perspective distortions that are featured in the concept. Circles should be circles, not ovals. When you need to paint any volumetric elements (dimples or bumps) on an even surface, which are not created by polygons, be sure to paint ALL their side edges, including those not visible in the concept. It will let you create an illusion of volume from any angle, not only from the one used in the concept. It will let you create an illusion of volume from any angle.

The final textured model should look volumetric and wholesome. It should not look like a collection of volumetric pieces disconnected from each other. A well-made model is a rather precise reproduction of the concept but more elaborated and with higher detailing. It’s often better than the concept itself. You need to learn how to imitate materials authentically and recreate their properties: surface details, gloss, wrinkles, cracks, seams, etc. Don’t forget to take into account the forces, light and other factors influencing the materials. Here is an example of a textured model far better than the concept:

And here is another example of how an artist worked hard according to the feedback but couldn’t make some decent fur. The final result was made by our best artists.

Try to make the textures picturesque. It can be achieved by making the color and light/dark spots prevail over sharp lines. It also comes from smooth transitions, open and gradual integration of volumes in space, symmetry, dynamics of the layout and separated composition elements and forms.

Keep in mind the white balance of light and shades. These are basic rules of visual art: when an incident light is warm (light! don’t confuse it with the color of an object!), the shadows should be cool. But if the light is cool, the shades should be warm. As a warm light or a shadow moves away, it gets cooler and cool — warmer. Accordingly, the cool colors will get warmer as they are moving away, and the warm ones — cooler. The darkest undertone, when lit, is lighter than the lightest undertone in the shadow. The most discolored undertone in the light has more color than the most colorful undertone in the shadow. The warmest undertone in the cold light is cooler than the coldest undertone in the shadow.

Use «clean» colors. The feeling of a «dirty» color comes around when this color is made darker by reducing the tone, i.e. it’s shifted towards grey. There is a better way to do it — by adding cool colors to the shadows, purple or dark green.

The same rule can help you avoid making the model monochrome, pale, colorless and achieve attractive and bright game visuals. You can add various tints to the texture areas of different brightness, such as the belly of TermiteQueen.

It looks very cool and interesting. Or let’s take this mortar for instance. It doesn’t seem to have anything special but it looks good:

When you think the detailing through, don’t forget to rely on references from the real world. When you design creatures, keep in mind the animal anatomy such as the muscle and bone structure and how they influence the look of the creature. If you’re familiar with anatomy, you need to consider the body build: a character can be fat, slim, old, young, tall, short, strong, weak, etc. The same applies to the insects because they have their own biomechanics. Even vehicles should be designed meaningfully, with respect to common sense and logic when you design its mechanical joints, pistons, tubes, etc.

Even if the game has a rich color scheme, using pure colors is not recommended. For example, in Allods all objects should have a gradient of a tone and/or a color. Usually it’s top-down, from light to dark. Inner gradients are also acceptable on the larger elements, but don’t add too many of them or bring too much variety. The local color should be easy to see and excessive gradients cause a sense of dirty color.

An important rule: textures must not be graphic, unless it’s specified in the concept. It’s not recommended to use solid color stripes to mark the borders. Instead, you can do it through gradients and different tones of the planes.

Try to bring more diversity of form and volume into the whole texture — uniformity looks bad and dull. Look at this overly monotonous belly of the bug:

It would be better to remove the plates on the chest and combine them into a single piece. Besides, it’s anatomically incorrect, and you can’t come across something like that in the wild.

Sometimes you need to add something that is not present in the concept to make an element complete. Mostly, it’s done using feedback, less often — by using additional information included into the work specifications. Independent actions are not always welcome, but if you take the initiative and offer something like that it will be met positively, even if your suggestion is not implemented in the end.

In the concept, you can see a hint at some chipping plaster but it’s not as evident as in the texture.

Lighting

One of the most frequent texture problems faced by the beginner artists is wrong lighting setup when the tones of materials and planes with different positioning are not separated.

  • You should rely on the concept only in terms of the whole idea, materials, color, and form. The lighting is usually up to you. The concept often has an accent put on a single area to improve the artistic value of the whole piece. But in the texture, I recommend creating lighting from all sides at an angle of 45 degrees.
    In other words, the upward planes should be brighter than the slanted ones, and the darkest planes are those which are directed downwards. However, the brightness of dark/light should correlate approximately within the limits of that area of gradient where the body part of the character is situated. For example, you shouldn’t make the area between the chin and the neck too dark, it should be slightly darker than the shoulders. The shoulders should be a bit darker than the top of the head and so on.
  • Generally, a texture should be very similar to the concept but it should have a different lighting.

It’s better to avoid making the general lighting too intense. At the same time, it should read well and highlight the shape of an object.

It makes sense to divide the lighting of the elements into two parts: the background and the foreground. The surfaces situated deeper, i.e. in the background, should be darker than those in the foreground.

The surfaces with various angles should be visibly different in tone, i.e. in lighting intensity. In this example, the top surface should be brighter than those on the sides because the general light comes from the top. Besides, you need to emphasize the geometry instead of hiding it by lighting everything equally.

It should be easy to read the materials. This means, you need to separate them by tone and saturation. It’s important to understand the peculiarities of each material, whether it is expensive and carefully finished or simple and has some marks of rough forging, new or old, polished or opaque, etc.

Don’t forget about vertical gradients of brightness and saturation. In the real world, the sun illuminates the objects from top to bottom and we perceive it as a natural lighting. For this reason, the lighting of the model should be brighter at the top and darker at the bottom. The same goes for saturation.

It’s important to keep in mind the usual pose of the model in the game. Just like with clothes modeling, the pose is very important for lighting. Let’s suppose, the hands of the character are mostly down and don’t lean forward or spread. In this case, the brightness and saturation gradients should go along the arms to the palms.

It’s recommended to avoid black shadows and white reflections. Games can have their own lighting that will make the bright areas even brighter, that’s why you should keep the brightness of the textures between 40 and 230. In other words, your textures should look like on a bright cloudy day.

Sometimes, the concept doesn’t have the lighting and volume for all the elements, but only for the main ones. In this case, you add the volume to such elements by yourself.

Try to set the highest contrast at «the points of interest» instead of distributing it evenly across the whole model. For creatures and characters, it might be the head and the top/front part of the torso, though not always. You need to analyze the concept to find out what exactly the artist wanted to highlight. Closer to the legs, the contrast and the general tone of the texture should be reduced.

Don’t neglect the light reflections from adjacent surfaces. I don’t mean the glares that come from the light sources, they obviously should be present. What I mean is the areas of the surfaces that reflect the light from either one or more sources and serve as sources of light themselves, just dimmer.

You need to be careful when working with glare. Too much glare can create a sense of a mess and break the form and lighting of the object if arranged inappropriately. The same goes for reflections.

When painting feathers or fur, don’t evenly cover all the surface with identical feathers or strands or spend too much time on painting small individual hairs. It’s recommended to keep to the general lighting and avoid breaking it with small details of high contrast.

To reduce the uniformity of fur and feathers, use gradients, alternate between the contrasting and non-contrasting areas and high/low detailing, and combine such ares into one mass. Here is a good example of the materials use:

Detailing

The goal of the texture artist is to create an illusion of volume, numerous polygons where there are, in fact, only a few of them.

The centers of composition and the points of interest should be more detailed in comparison to the less important areas. It doesn’t mean though, that other places can be filled with color and left unreasonably empty with no surface details. The model will look unfinished in this case. When it comes to mapping, for more detailed areas, I recommend setting higher texture density.

In «Allods» there’s no photorealism, and the surface details are created with color patches. Often, you can use surface detailing, but only to complement the main details after the general lighting and color have been established.

Concepts serve only as references, and different artifacts which they may contain such as inaccurate brush strokes and rough transitions should be transformed into the neat surface details and light gradients. You should not mechanically transfer them to the model as is.

Your main reference for detailing is the texture size. If it’s large enough, you should increase the level of detailing. Avoid the blurred textures if their resolution allows you to improve their quality.

The details shouldn’t be too small or too uniform. There always must be some large, medium and small detailing. The best strategy here is to move from the general to the specific, from large detailing to medium and then to small. Don’t begin painting the folds before finishing the general color and tone.

Avoid excessive contrast of details which otherwise can break the general form, influence the general brightness and saturation of elements, and make the colors «dirty». Soot, patina, wear, scratches and other marks of time bring life into the texture, but when you use too many of them, you get a messy, dirty image.

Go for the kind of detailing suggested by logic. For cloth, for example, you can use seams, folds, wear marks, and patches. For metal — dents, scratches, peeling paint, faint or polished areas, etc.

Be careful when detailing the areas near the central line of the character to avoid making symmetry too evident.

When working with alpha, first of all, you need to create an interesting silhouette instead of cutting it into small pieces of the same size.

In order to avoid unwanted borders around the details cut in alpha, I recommend filling unused space with a color close to the color of the texture used for the opaque elements.

The size of general elements (liners, rivets) should not vary. In most cases, the borders should have the same width across the whole element. The repeating elements should be the same size but can have different shade and/or form because the monotony looks dull and often unnatural. Yet, if you make the buttons vary in size, it will look absurd unless it’s intended to be that way.

Technical Nuances and Requirements

It’ll be more convenient to work with the texture in the future if you make it in PSD with several layers separating each material, shadows cast by the objects hanging from the body and surface details. This will let you correct every layer separately, edit or turn the texture into something new if needed. You don’t have to follow this rule and in most cases, you can just leave several layers separated before sending the texture. If you paint everything in one layer, you probably should reconsider your approach because the editing stage will be quicker if the texture is split into several layers.

If you work in Maya, I recommend using the following viewport settings to make sure that your model is displayed correctly:

The bottom layer should be set as the background, otherwise you will not be able to export alpha into the game.

It is a good idea to paint the transparency in the alpha channel:

When it comes to modeling the mounts (characters) and outfits, you should remember that most of the time people look at them from behind, that’s why you should pay as much attention to the back side of the model as to all other parts.

I recommend blending together the seams of the elements that logically flow into each other. Don’t do anything like this:

Here, it would be better to add some shadow on the face and highlight the hair:

It’s advisable to have most of your pixels in the middle of the brightness spectrum, at about 60% of the histogram. The peak of the histogram for the darker objects will be shifted to the left and for the lighter ones — to the right.

Make sure there are no texture artifacts when the model is viewed in Maya with a scale of no more than 1 meter per 1/3 of the screen.

Don’t forget to texture the hidden parts of the elements and planes if they are seen in animations.

I recommend to paint the legs under the skirt with the same color as the skirt to avoid sharp transition when they get through it.

How to Speed Up Painting

I strongly recommend you to use a tablet. Learn it if you don’t know how to use it because even the simplest tablet will let you paint much quicker than a mouse.

A good monitor with an IPS panel or better is a must-have. It will allow you to see more nuances of color and you’ll be able to tell the difference between the beautiful and «so-so».

Use hotkeys instead of clicking the buttons on the screen and dragging the sliders. It will let you save half of your time: first of all, you can immediately select any tool or setting you need, secondly, you’ll not get tired from moving the cursor around the screen. Imagine how often you change the brush opacity, for example. You can do it just by pressing the keys on your keyboard.

ALWAYS LOOK FOR REFERENCES. Drawing from a reference is much quicker than thinking something up. References contribute to your visual library. With references you can learn how to paint and earn money! These days, it’s difficult to come up with something new, and most likely, another person has already made and improved whatever you need. So, you don’t need to waste a lot of time doing the same work. First, I recommend you to look at the things that were designed before you and only after that try to make something new by combining everything you’ve learned and imagination.

You should pick the colors right from the concept and use them for the textures.

It will considerably accelerate your work if you first project the concept onto your model in ZBrush, 3D-Coat or other programs alike, and then modify it there.

Split the textures into the layers of different materials. It will help you make changes such as alter the color shade or brightness and you won’t have to select the necessary material across the whole texture. The example below is not the most complete one but still:

It’s better to work on two assets at the same time, switching between them. When you feel tired of working on one of them and can’t go with it any further, switch to the other. If you don’t have another project to work on, you can just take a walk or workout.

Examples and Guidelines

Our Internal Guides (in Russian)

Public tutorials

Different resources for inspiration and right examples

It’s worth using the works and tutorials by these artists as a basis of your further training. Don’t hesitate to google these names — you’ll find a lot of interesting stuff!

P. S.

When you look at somebody’s awesome work, it seems very difficult to repeat it, almost impossible. This is only partially true. It’s difficult to change your mind and approach but once you do it, everything gets simple and clear. To understand the work better, you need to take it to pieces, individual elements, areas, gradients. Then, just pick the color and the brush you need, draw a spot/line/pattern wherever needed with a transparency you want and do it as many times as it will take to make the piece look the way you wish. Experiment, get more experience in picking and mixing colors, drawing elegant lines, shaping volume. Finally, just memorize techniques and images you have worked on.

Take care of your memory as bad memory is a problem most people face. Good memory is the key to success in any business or discussion. When your memory is poor, in order to memorize something, you’ll need to repeat it several times, maybe even dozens of times! You’ll have to spend a big part of your rather short life on it.

Good memory comes from good circulation of healthy blood through the sound vessels, with no distractions and other negative factors such as junk information, noise, and diseases. It will require you to drown yourself in your field, use headphones, and stay healthy. Protect yourself from petty news and stupid TV series, spend more time alone, meet with people who share your passion for 3D modeling, — at least on the internet, though meeting in person is better.

Live away from gas-polluted streets, breathe fresh air. Drink clean water or even meltwater which is better. Don’t take it from the streets, though. Prepare it in your fridge instead.

Eat more vegetables, don’t overindulge in meat, sugar, and pastries, don’t smoke — keep brain vessels healthy, don’t drink alcohol and don’t do other drugs. In other words, don’t let the tempting stuff kill you too soon :)

Get rid of bad habits, not just the obvious ones like smoking, alcohol, and drugs, but also not getting enough exercise or overeating, for example. Walk/run 5-10 kilometers outdoors every day. Spend at least 10-15 minutes a day on physical exercises, sleep 7-8 hours. Try cold exposure training — it does work!

Take care of your physical condition: in case of serious injuries such as fractures you can be anesthetized which is much worse for your brain than bad habits. It’s as bad as heavy drugs even though it doesn’t cause addiction.

If you sleep and move enough regularly and follow at least half of the rest of recommendations, your memory and energy will considerably improve (in case you didn’t do anything like this before, of course). Also, walking helps you to come up with new ideas and solutions! These are good habits and you should get to love them just like getting to love life itself. Then, anything you do will be a pleasure.

You should definitely take your mind off the work sometimes by doing something not related to it. Your brain will have time to digest new information and you will get motivated to accomplish new achievements.

Laziness is the mother of progress — find and create new techniques and ways to paint better and faster! And it’s not just about painting, it applies to anything you do! Studying new tools and combining them with old and familiar ones lets you do usual things much faster. Search, learn, experiment, try unconventional approaches, understand how everything works at the level of basic components, pixels, and numbers. It will let you find out how every model is made and that nothing is impossible.

A combination of absolutely different areas of knowledge can bring surprising results and give you new ideas. For instance, fractal patterns that look so amazing and diverse. Who would have thought they come from math? Chemistry, physics, biology, history and other fields can give you many ideas and solutions. You can’t know everything but you should always know where to look for new knowledge. For this very reason there were so many different subjects taught in Soviet schools. Being a student, you don’t really know what you need and 90% of what you learn at school will be pretty much useless. However, the neural connections formed during the studies are going to be very useful.

All in all, broaden your mind, explore new things — live an interesting life!