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Creative Process Pt 3: 3D Modeling the Noctuoidea Mage
Hi, I’m Andrea Lam, 2D artist and half of the CobraMode team. I work with my husband Erin McClellan, the 3D sculptor and visionary behind our minis! This is Part III in a three-part series that goes through our creative process for creating Psychidae, the Noctuoidea Mage, from start to finish. Check out Part I and Part II, and if you’re interested in the model, you can get it here:
This post is covering the Sculpting and Polishing stage.
Sculpting and Polishing
Erin uses sculpting tools very much like a traditional medium. He mainly uses 3DCoat, a program that allows voxel sculpting. Voxel sculpting uses volumetric pixels to create a 3d form or volume. It’s much more like sticking lumps of clay together, and allows you to throw down forms very quickly. Unfortunately, this can create some very lumpy looking models, and there is a significant amount of smoothing-out that has to be done. So we also use poly modeling to create certain forms. For example, the wings and the staff are mostly made through poly modeling in Blender or Wings3D. Forms that are more geometric, or need to have the same thickness over a large area, are much better created with poly modeling.
After creating the basic forms, it’s time to push and pull the form into a more refined shape. That might mean adding details, making some parts larger or smaller, flatter or puffier, etc. A lot of this involves studying reference images to make the shapes more realistic and proportional to what you might see in real life. For example, in the image above Psychidae’s arm looks like a puffy sausage with a mitten on the end. A real arm isn’t just a tube with a hand on the end of it! The parts closest to your wrist are narrower and become flatter, while the part near the elbow is more round and thick. This all needs to be carefully shaped in order for it to look right.
Another big part of sculpting is differentiating between materials. Psychidae’s collar is furry, but her corset is smooth fabric. Her staff is smooth too, but it is hard and rigid. And then there is the mist that is coming off the moon part of her staff, which is fluffy but also wispy. To make each part look distinct, they have to give the impression of being totally different surfaces from each other with different properties, despite the fact that it will all be printed in the same material. Just like we observed the subtleties of poses, weight, and motion in the previous phase, we observed the subtleties of smooth and rough surfaces, hard or soft, fluid or contained.
There is also an element of stylization that has to occur. In real life, a fur collar would be made of fur. But this is going to be printed in resin, which has none of the properties of fur! We can’t make a million thin strands of resin to emulate real fur, because that wouldn’t print out properly. We have to simplify and stylize the surface texture to give it a fur-like appearance. Same with hair, or mist.
Originally I had gone pretty far with stylization and drawn out an Asian-style cloud with swirls. I had envisioned this being kind of like a flat ribbon with a bit of raised relief detail on the back and front, which would be simpler to model in 3D. In the end, Erin preferred the more realistic mist he sculpted later, because it looked nicer from more angles and gave more sense of motion. That’s a pretty interesting interplay between our separate skills; I only think of things in 2D so I only consider how something looks from 1 or 2 views, but I have a strong sense of silhouette and compositional/cinematic framing. Erin thinks of everything in 3D, so he considers the whole volume of the form and how it might look as you rotate around it, but can get caught up in making it realistic and sacrifice some of the style. But through working together, we were able to blend our strengths.
After sculpting out the main forms and details, it’s time for polishing. Here is where we smooth out lumps, sharpen up edges, and make adjustments for printability. This is typically the longest stage, partly because it’s very labour intensive, but also partly because Erin just loves to massage and rework details. He once worked on a single model for a whole year and never showed it to anyone but me! “It’s not finished yet! I can’t show it to anyone!”. It’s really a common artist’s dilemma. I feel more freedom because the 2D art I create isn’t the real end product, but Erin is constantly worrying about people noticing mistakes or shortcomings in his work. Though he also just enjoys getting into the fiddly details!
The sculpting and polishing stage generally takes about 5-7 days to do. We usually work on a few models at the same time and rotate between them depending on our mood, so it’s almost never a solid week of working on one model. This helps to break up the monotony and keep us from getting too deep into details that can’t be seen in the printed mini. But we always strive to make everything as clean and well-formed as possible, even if the imperfections aren’t noticeable in the printed mini. We want our minis to scale up nicely, and look clean and sharp in our renders!
I hope you enjoyed this look into the process of creating one of our minis! We are thinking of hosting a weekly online sculpting day where people who want to learn and practice 3D modeling can hang out, chat, and help each other. If you’re interested, please leave a comment below!
Check out our MyMiniFactory page: https://www.myminifactory.com/users/CobraMode
Or our Patreon: https://patreon.com/cobramode
See you next time!