Hello there! My name is Lara D’Adda, I am passionate about videogames and stylized art. I started learning 3d art a few years ago and fell in love with this world and in particular with this style. I love to challenge myself with different projects. Before I had realized my focus, I studied Traditional Arts. I still rely a lot on the skills that I acquired during those years and I find myself more comfortable when working with textures and shapes. That’s why in my projects I like to also work on the idea and concept part, where I start from scratch, searching for interesting shapes, colors and compositions. I love to see my own ideas taking life!
GOALS FOR CHINESE LANTERN SHOP
The goal for this project was to create a little stylized handpainted diorama inspired by Chinese culture, using some real references but also a lot of imagination (like the panda’s invasion). That’s why I decided to take a famous element like the lanterns and imagine how a little old shop could look. The building and the props needed to be able to tell a story, recall the specific culture, and be immediately recognizable from the beginning. For this project I was inspired by the style of the building in the videogame Albion Online and I wanted to achieve the same wonky, packed and solid look.
You can check the final render on Sketchfab.
First of all, I started by gathering some references, both from real photos and other artists. Then I created a moodboard in PureRef with all these images, and I always kept it open next to me while I was working, in order to prevent myself from always getting lost for hours in details and forgetting what I actually have to create. During this concepting part I try to look for characteristic elements that I want to include in my work. Choosing the right ones is more important than trying to fit everything I can think of in my scene. When I have (almost) everything clear I start sketching some blockouts to find the right shape, always keeping in mind what I decided to include in my scene and making space for it.
When I found my favourite concept, I started translating the concept into 3D. It takes time to create a blockout that gives the same feelings of your sketch. That’s why I always start with basic shapes, low poly as much as possible, mainly cubes. By placing these shapes around, it helps me decide where my objects are, and I also like to add some level of stylization, by exaggerating size and orientation. But sometimes, when I have difficulties finding the right shapes, I prefer to create a more realistic blockout, and then only at the end start to tweak all the models.
The first blockout is usually a starting point, but during the workflow I usually change it a lot, because I start taking into consideration different things. For example I started thinking about the flow of my model. I didn’t like how the rocks weren’t following and driving towards the entrance of the shop. Also, while looking at my model from above, I didn’t like the linearity of all the shapes, so I added rocks to break up the line of the ground plane, and changed some orientations and sizes to create contrast and make it look less boring.
I was looking for a wonky and chunky style, so my building needed to look thick and solid, but also cute. At this point I try to avoid straight lines and little details as much as possible. It’s the deformation that gives the wonky and strong feeling. I tweak the shapes in a bold and evident way, but also, I avoid using complex lines by keeping everything rather simple to make it more readable. In particular, I pay a lot of attention to the contrast created by the direction and intersection of different parts. To have a strong dynamic shape I look for a sort of balance between following the flow and breaking it. Another important thing to me is the relationship between big, medium and small shapes. First of all I try to have different proportions in my models, and then I balance them in the composition so I have a good equilibrium.
For the props I chose some elements that express their function and identity clearly. I went for a few simple objects linked to China and how a lantern shop could look like. I created a little part of the shop where the owner could craft new lanterns with wood, paper, paint, etc. I didn’t use many polygons to model the props, I prefer to have a really simple look and only tweak and deform some vertices, and if I have to create a detail, like the chipped and wonky wood planks, I would make these details pretty big and evident, but still very simple and not scattered everywhere on the mesh.
The texture workflow for this project was different from my usual flow. Instead of unwrapping, creating a uv set and painting the texture over it, I was challenged to first create the texture, keeping in mind which different materials I wanted to have and how much space it would need. So I started planning my texture with a basic block of colors to locate all the different materials while leaving an extra spot to use later, if needed. Then I unwrapped the model and placed the uv in the correct positions.
The second step was to add gradients. After having a color scheme, I always like to start by adding basic gradients. I try to look at how the shape is placed, oriented and what it is surrounded by, then I decide the type of gradient ( dark to light, lighter in the centre.. Etc). In the gradients I don’t only use a dark and light color, I also add some hue variation, usually colder in the shadow and warmer in the light.
The third step is to actually paint the texture details. Based on the material I start covering the soft look of the gradients by adding some grain to it with a texture brush by color picking from the gradients I created previously. Then I try to mimic the material that I want the texture to resemble by focusing on its more evident characteristic. To paint details I always choose colors by picking the one I already have and changing the luminosity and hue. Having the hue variations makes the model look more vibrant and alive. Be careful though, if you overdo it, the texture will look messy and not unified. I try to avoid painting too much information, in particular with bigger projects where we don’t see each object zoomed in, I mainly underline edges with highlights, paint light information, and add some chipped parts in walls, wood, rockes.. Etc.
MATERIALS & LIGHTS
For this project I didn’t use any special material or light. All the materials are standard materials, only using diffuse for base colors and a specular set to 0. A lot of uvs are stacked over the different parts of the texture, and I move them to create some uniqueness. I added to this a different set of uvs for the objects with opacity and emissive. I created textures for both of them.
For the lights I also only use a few basic lights, because a lot of the light is created by the painted lights and shadows in my textures. I like to think of where the light could hit the surface and where the shadows could be. I paint a bit of ambient occlusion where objects intersect, and I give the highlights to the parts exposed by my (imaginary) light.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
The challenges for this project was to create different models that could fit together in the same scene and to create a unified feeling. At the same time, readability was really important, I wanted a packed and cozy feeling but also I wanted to create something to surround my building. What helped me a lot for the planning was the concept part. I already had in mind the props I wanted to include and I created space for them from the beginning. I consider this step really important in my workflow. Another thing that helped me a lot is doing overpaints of my blockout, both for the planning of where to locate objects and change orientation/size of objects, but also for the painting process. Having to color a lot of items in a scene is tough. In particular if I don’t have a color scheme to follow and I start giving everything a random one that’s not connected with another. That’s why I overpaint colors on my blockout, I try to find a color scheme for the main/biggest objects so the overall look is unified and I use some variations of the main colors for the rest.
I add uniqueness to the scene by finding a story to tell. I think it gives a special personality and identity to what we look at, and it makes the scene more interesting. In this case the owner of the shop is out, and pandas are taking over the shop, taking lanterns and eating bamboo. I wanted to have something really cute, that’s also why I chose the pandas.
I like to share my works in different discord servers and I’m always happy if someone gives me feedback, but what I found useful for having good feedback on this type of projects is sharing it also on Sketchfab. It’s easier for people to look at some stuff like textures, wireframe, compositions.. Etc, and have a better idea on how you work. That’s why along the way I received a lot of feedback and I will keep receiving it. I’m happy with how this project turned out, but I still want to make small adjustments in the textures.
Thanks to Stylized Station for inviting me to write a breakdown on this cute little project and for creating a space to share a lot of awesome works, and also, thanks to those who took some time to read through my first real article! I hope you got a bit of interesting informations or at least enjoyed it
You can check out my ArtStation for the rest of my works or if you want to contact me