3DS Max Character Modeling Breakdown – Creating Stylized Characters

Bram Van Gerrewey shows us his 3DS Max Character Modeling workflow, along with high poly sculpting in Zbrush

About the Artist:

Hi! My name is Bram Van Gerrewey and I’m a 3D artist from Belgium. I attended the game development course Digital Arts & Entertainment where I first learned 3D. In my spare time I used to make skins and hats for Team Fortress 2, some of which were picked up by Valve and added to the game in several updates.

Currently I like to focus on stylized character art. More specifically 3DS Max Character Modeling. 

You can find my work on ArtStation 

 I also have Twitter and Instagram


I wanted to model a stylized character in 3DS Max for my portfolio and came across this awesome concept by Shen YH while browsing ArtStation.

She looks like she would fit in the Overwatch universe which is the style I was aiming for.

The concept provided me with a lot of detail already, but I also searched for additional references. 

I looked at Overwatch’s designs of course, but I also gathered images of other artists’ work that matched the style. I used PureRef to keep all my references in one place.

I kept adding more and more reference images as I continued working on her. There’s no such thing as having too much reference.

Sculpting the High Poly

The high poly character model was done in ZBrush & 3DS Max. 

I started out in ZBrush with a rough blockout and focused on silhouette and proportions. 

It’s best practice to get these right as early as possible. 

Team Fortress 2’s characters are a good example of the importance of silhouette for better readability.

After the initial blockout I imported everything into 3ds Max and started modeling the hard-surface pieces using the blockout as reference (I haven’t tried ZBrush’s ZModeler yet, but it’s something I want to look into in the future).

I generally use Quad Chamfer (a setting of Chamfer modifier) combined with TurboSmooth as it gives me more control over the roundness of the edges. 

It also helps keep the base model simple, which allows me to easily reuse it later on for the low poly model.

I switched a lot between ZBrush & Max at this point for additional sculpting and refinement.

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Baking and Low Poly

Once the high poly was done I did the retopo & UVs in 3DS Max. I separated the UVs into different sets: head, body, hair, eyeball & cornea (outer transparent layer of the eye).

For baking I used Marmoset Toolbag. It was my first time baking a more complex character, but Marmoset has a lot of nice features that make the baking process easier.

I still ran into some issues though and had to rebake a few times. During this process I learned a lot about the importance of smoothing groups and UV seams to get cleaner bakes. 

Check out this video below that explains the technical side in greater detail.
The low poly model ended up at 25k triangles.



For texturing I used Substance Painter with metallic/roughness workflow. 

I tend to keep my textures simple: a base color with subtle roughness variations (dirt, dust, scratches, edge wear…).

For the dirt I experimented with Photoshop’s Cutout filter on a grunge texture I found online. 

I made the resulting textures tileable and applied them as a mask in Substance. 

I ended up liking the effect and decided to keep it.
I also overlaid some of the maps I baked: the green channel of the object space normal map to simulate lighting coming from the top, a black to white gradient covering the whole body and the curvature map with adjusted Levels to highlight the edges.

While texturing I also set up a scene with some lighting in Marmoset to get an early idea of the final result.

 I regularly went back and forth to tweak the textures, lighting and materials.

Animating the Blade

I really liked the design of the blade in the concept, so I decided to go the extra mile and animate the laser.

 I animated the frames by hand. The first keyframe of the animation is the one from the concept, then I drew the rest of the frames myself.

I organized the frames into a sprite sheet and keyed the UV offsets of the laser material in Marmoset to playback the full animation sequence.


The final renders were done in Marmoset using a simple 3 point light setup.

In conclusion

I mostly worked on her in my spare time and on weekends over a period of 3 to 4 months. I’m very happy with the final result and I love how the blade animation turned out.

Check out the full project with Marmoset Viewer files on ArtStation

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed learning about 3DS Max Character Modeling.


Freelance 3D artist and lover of all stylized art. Owner & Creator of StylizedStation.com

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