Barbel- Notes from the character creation process

Barbel- my Overwatch style character design- is finally complete. Two and a half months of focused work has left me with something I’m relatively pleased with. There’s always room to improve though, and one of my favourite ways of doing that is to review the latest project and think of how to get better results next time.

The idea for Barbel was born sometime in early 2017- I knew I wanted to make a 3d character in the style of Overwatch, but I din’t have any specifics beyond that.  Then one day, the idea came to me- almost fully formed- which never happens usually and is not be relied upon.  I wanted a giant catfish armed with a trident like one of those Roman gladiators. I could see him hunched there in my mind’s eye doing some kind of daft “play of the game” pose and making weird fish noises. He had a space helmet full of water though. I ditched that early on.

What I learned:

In concept art 3d is superior to 2d.

Sketching is obviously a very fast way of presenting ideas, but the fact is that some ideas just don’t occur to you simply because you’re thinking in a 2d way.

When you have a lump of 3d clay and you can quickly manipulate it without preconceptions- you begin to think in a more 3d way and consider how forms twist and turn as they travel through space- how the silhouettes look from all angles rather just one or two key profiles, or how things overlap. All this stuff is obviously possible in 2d- it’s just harder.

It’s also pretty tedious to redraw a character from the back or the side, just so you can see a few areas to decide how they’ll look. In 3d you have one model- and you can see any angle you desire and what’s going to go there. Playing around in Gravity Sketch and Oculus Medium led to a few happy accidents that helped me overcome design challenges I was having at certain points. Which leads me on to my second point…

VR is the best way to concept design in 3d.

Wherever I thought that the 2D concept was underdeveloped or not clear enough I would play around in Medum or Gravity Sketch and quickly come up with a solution. Arguably you could use Zbrush or Maya or something traditional, but the immediacy of reaching out and drawing a line in the air, of genuinely working with three dimensions of input rather than the two offered by the monitor screen, of  being completely immersed in a world where only you and your work exist- is pretty damn special! VR may be a little clunky at the moment, but it more than compensates for it by allowing for a state of flow that surpasses traditional modelling.

It’s also really fast. The aforementioned three dimensions of input mean you don’t have to move the camera every time you want to do a simple operation such as moving an object along an axis that isn’t perpendicular to the viewport. True stereoscopic vision means you don’t have to move the camera to get an understanding of form either. On top of all this- you can move, rotate and scale objects all at the same time, even as you move your view around.

Colour and form should be designed together

Good colour design requires you to balance different key colours, secondary colours and accents. If you have a model ready to texture and you haven’t decided how to balance these colours, you may find some areas of colour or material are bigger or smaller than you’d like, and it’s too late to change it easily.

By contrast- if you deal with colour and form at the same time you’ll get a much more immediate impression of how your design is going to look when it’s finished and textured. If you deal with this at the concept stage you have a lot more freedom to play with the design so that the hierarchy of shape and colour works as you’d like.


Work continues slowly (and when I get the time) on my passion project of recreating the town of Suran from the Elder-Scrolls universe. Looots to do yet, but I’ve recently passed a milestone of completing one of the most characteristic and recognisable elements- the siltstrider!


Here he is- waiting for passengers to the nearby city of Vivec, and other spots on the south coast of Vvardenfell. Why walk when you can ride?ss_town


Here’s some 3D things I made recently:

gargoyle Gargoyle. Sculpted in Zbrush. Rendered in Blender Cycles

A cartoon alien

Alien. Based on an old drawing of a potential kid’s book character. Sculpted in Zbrush, retopo in 3D Coat, rigged in Blender and rendered using my rudimentary PBR shader in Blender Cycles.

3d Game Character- Faisal the Wizard

Lately I’ve passed a major milestone (for me anyway!) in that I’ve finally completed a project I’ve been working on now for months. It’s been a long but enjoyably challenging process. I started with no idea what I was doing and have gradually reached the point where I feel confident and enthusiastic about the whole process. I’ve been sculpting in Zbrush…


Modelling in blender…shot04b

Retopologising in 3D Coat…shot11Painting in Zbrush…

More painting in 3D Coat..shot08

Tweaking textures in Photoshop…TextureDemo

Rigging and posing in blender…

Until I ended up with this:

And that’s not to mention trying and learning other software- deciding what and whether to buy. It’s been a loooong process.


I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out though. Now for some more.

Morrowind: Suran in Unreal Engine 4

GatewayFor those interested in this sort of thing- I’ve made a new sketchbook on to post my 3D artwork development. I’ve decided to invest more heavily in 3D from now on so hopefully I’ll have plenty to show there as time goes by.

The first thing on there is a rather ambitious project that I’ve been working on for the past month and a half. The plan is to recreate the fictional town of “Suran” from the game Morrowind in a more modern game engine (Unreal Engine 4)

The town of Suran
The town of “Suran” from the game Morrowind. (Via

What this means in real terms is learning a load of new techniques in 3D art then putting them to the test in recreating an entire detailed environment. There’s houses to build, trees to grow, cobbles to lay and a whole lot of placing, refining and adjusting after that. It’s all pretty ambitious for a noob like me but it should be a great way to improve I think. If you’re interested in that sort of thing you can follow along here:

Foray into 3D

In an effort to make myself more flexible as an artist I’ve been forcing myself to learn some 3d. Forcing isn’t really the right word I suppose- I enjoy it too much. I have to force myself to do 2D at the moment. I was rather proud of this car I made though, so I thought I’d show it off:

A 3d model of a vintage car

It’s modelled in Blender based on the one from my “Great race” picture. See:

A steampunk themed race

Now, how the heck do I texture things?

General Wisdom for Artists No. 6

6. Strive to learn stuff outside your own discipline.

Scientists say that new and original ideas are the product of new pathways forming in the brain, like a join the dots picture of sorts, but with an almost infinite number of pictures hidden within. If you have a lot of dots to draw lines between then you can make a lot more pictures!

That’s perhaps a rather simplistic metaphor for cutting-edge cognitive science, but nonetheless it does hold true. If you have a number of different interests and sources of inspiration to draw from, your art will be that much richer and more personal to you. This is really important. There’s lots of artwork out there, and much of it is so similar to other things we’ve seen before that we just skip over it in search of the original stuff.

On top of this, learning principles in one discipline may transfer surprisingly well to another discipline. I’ve recently started trying to teach myself 3d art. It’s quite a steep learning curve, but I’ve found that a lot of knowledge from my 2d digital work transfers exactly into 3d, which has given me a considerable advantage over those starting without any knowledge of digital art at all. This new knowledge of 3d art benefits my 2d artwork as well. Being able to create 3d models and apply different lighting conditions to them gives me a great source of rudimentary reference for anything I want to draw from difficult angles or in unusual lighting.

Another example might be photography. A good understanding of how light reacts through a lens and how to compose a cinematic shot through a camera can only benefit you when composing a picture with a paintbrush. Even if whatever else it is you choose to do doesn’t help your art so directly, it will help if you ever have to draw, paint or write about it!

Having multiple projects or interests in different disciplines also stops you from getting bored doing the same thing all the time. If you’re fed up drawing for the day, you can always go snowboarding and practice some flips. (I’ve got a niggling but baseless certainty that skill in snowboarding benefits skill in drawing. Sadly I’ve never been snowboarding, so have yet to prove it.)

Basically, the more things’ you’ve tried, the more ways of thinking about things are open to you, and the more informed your artwork will be. It’s a no-lose situation right?

Incidentally, here’s some of my first attempts at proper 3d art: (I don’t count google sketchup as proper 3d)

3d1 3d2

These were done in blender, which is an excellent and importantly free program which you can download here:

I’d encourage other artists to get it just for the sculpting features, which allow you to quickly sculpt all sorts of things. I find it’s a very good test of one’s anatomy knowledge. I was doing cheeks wrong.