Hello everyone, Andrea here! I’m the 2d artist and manager for CobraMode, and my husband Erin is the lead sculptor. Though we’ve expanded our team to include a few freelance 3D Artists, Erin still does the characters of the main release himself in order to maintain the distinct style and flavor of our minis! We want to share with you a basic overview of the steps he takes to bring the miniature sculpts from rough concept to finished product. Though this won’t go into the details of how to sculpt in 3D, patrons should feel free to drop by our Discord server and ask questions in the patron exclusive 3D Modelling channel, where Erin often gives advice and tips. To access the channel, become a patron today: https://patreon.com/cobramode
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:
3d Sculpting and Polishing
Erin uses sculpting tools very much like a traditional medium to create 3d models. For this sculpt in particular, he used a few different programs to create the different parts of the model. Blender and 3DCoat were used to create the more organic parts of the model, while the giant scythe was created in a different way. Poly Modelling is a much better method for creating geometric forms or objects that must have a uniform thickness, while sculpting is better for organic forms.
The wings and fur collar are quickly blocked in with poly modelling
Poly Modelling vs Sculpting: What’s the Difference?
Poly Modelling is a type of 3D modelling in which you edit the vertices (corner points) of a model directly. This type of modelling would usually be used in video games where the computer needs to calculate the movements of the model, and therefore you want there to be as few polygons as possible. But it’s also useful for objects that have a more manufactured look to them, such as the Scythe blade and handle. It also works well for things that need a consistent thickness, such as the base of the wing shape and the fluffy collar in the above image. Erin created these shapes by setting up a basic geometric shape (primitive), like a cylinder, cube, or sphere, and moving or adding vertices to achieve the designed shape at the end. Models created in this way are usually Low Poly, containing 5000 polygons or less.
Sculpting on the other hand, is just like what it sounds like! Instead of selecting points on the model to move around, you would use a tool that does it for you when you apply it to a surface. Similar to how you might use your finger or a stick to indent parts of a piece of clay, or use strips of clay to build up a surface. The sculpting software or tools will mimic this for you on the 3D model, pushing or pulling the vertices as you use each tool. Because you can push or pull many vertices at once, it’s beneficial to have more polygons to work with so you can get finer details. Sculpting is generally used on a high-poly model, which could have millions of polygons. A typical CobraMode model has around 2 million polys, although larger models with more detail could have more.
Building Up and Refining Shapes
After creating the basic forms, it’s time to push and pull the form into a more refined shape. This means adding details, making some parts larger or smaller, flatter or puffier, etc. It’s necessary to study 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. To look correct, these parts must all be carefully shaped.
Differentiating between materials is another big part of the sculpting process. 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 pose, weight, and motion in the previous phase, we observed the subtleties of smooth and rough surfaces, hard or soft, fluid or contained.
An example of the many different types of surfaces in the model, and how they are handled to show their different properties
Additionally, an element of stylization must occur in order to represent certain materials. A fur collar on a physical sculpture could be made of fur material. But our sculpt is going to be printed in resin, which has none of the properties of fur! Making a million thin strands of resin to emulate real fur wouldn’t print out properly. The surface texture must be stylized and simplified to give it a fur-like appearance. The same goes for hair, fire, mist, or other special effects.
My original concept made the smoke very stylized. Similar to Chinese bronzework, the clouds were drawn in a flattened relief shape with swirls and lines. I 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. It looked nicer from more angles and gave more sense of motion. That’s a pretty interesting interplay between our separate skills; because I’m a 2D artist, I think of things in 2D. I only consider how something looks from the front or the back. 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. We were able to blend our strengths to create something better than what we could each create separately.
Original idea for the mist
What we settled on for the final
After sculpting out the main forms and details, it’s time for polishing. Here, Erin will 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! He said, “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. During this time, new concepts are being generated by either Paul Ferret or myself. Erin and I discuss the developing sculpt and make adjustments as necessary, such as adding or removing certain details and elements, adjusting the pose, or scaling up parts that we’re worried will break easily or not show up well when printed. And 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 take a lot of pride in this work, and want to create art that shows off what we’re capable of!
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 modelling can hang out, chat, and help each other. If you’re interested, please leave a comment below!
Check out our MyMiniFactory page: https://myminifactory.com/users/cobramode
Or our Patreon: https://patreon.com/cobramode
See you next time!