Making a Stylized Biker Girl in Maya & Substance Painter

Isabella Omohundro talked about making the Biker Baker project, discussed the workflow in Maya, and explained why it is important to try new techniques during production.


I am Isabella Omohundro, I have a BFA in animation from SCAD and have recently completed the 2-year program at Gnomon in the 3D Modeling and Texturing track. I have worked on a lot of productions, however, my favorite projects/studios I have had the pleasure to be a part of are DHX media on “Blaze and the Monster Machines” and at DreamWorks Feature on “Abominable” and “Trolls World Tour”.

The Biker Baker Project

In my Demo reel class at Gnomon, I had decided to do this type of project due to previous work experience as I noticed a trend of these very stylized 2D drawings coming to me however we had to make them far more detailed in 3D. If I was to submit a one for one recreation of the work it never really impressed the Directors they always wanted more stitching and more details there were always changes to be made that differed from the 2D original concept. This seems to be a common practice in the industry, however, I do not often see it replicated in student work. Most of my time as a student has been matching things as possible; however, this never seemed to be the case in the industry. So, I thought since I already have a few for one translation of 2D artworks to 3D; it would be a good idea to go off the beaten path and try putting something more like what I had done in the industry on my student real.

I discovered this artwork on Pinterest designed by Julia Blattman and thought it was just adorable! However, it was very stylized and why I could go the cell shade route and do a nice copy; in this new modern area we have a lot of technology at our fingertips and more render power compared to previous generations. That it would be quite rare for this to be the path a studio would go down. Most studios want to have as much detail as possible to show how advanced their technology is compared to a competing studio. It would be very uncommon to make a character with just a solid-colored skirt with ambiguous material composition, so to speak. In my experience Directors and my Leads would always encourage me to think bigger and ask questions to myself on how the object would be in real life. Denim? Silk? Does it sparkle? Does it have any embroidery? Is there any fraying on the hemline? So, on and so forth.

I thought about this for a while, and I decided it would be best if I took this design and treated it as if I were in the industry. Asking myself: What would they most likely tell me to change? I came to the conclusion that age and material detail would be the most likely changes. So, in my adaptation of this design, I made her slightly younger in appearance and added a lot of detail to all of the artifacts in the artwork. I went into this project from the start with the idea that changes would be made and even adjusted the final pose to not be identical to Julia’s. It was important to me however that I keep the same feeling of the original.

Creating The Girl

I started in ZBrush with a basic Blockout, then from there, I moved into Maya for retopology. When it comes to making appealing stylized anatomy, I tend to go by the silhouette. I will often look at it and see if the curves are all flowing nicely.

For clothing, I mix things up and use the tools best suited for the job for each artifact. I try not to box myself into using one program for all clothing, and instead think which one logically is best for the job. The skirt, for example, due to its very flowing nature, was made in Marvelous Designer and then retopologized in Maya. However, the other objects like the helmet, boots, and jacket were made entirely in Maya, as they were far stiffer and more modular in nature. To attempt to make them in ZBrush or cheat them via texturing ing Substance would be far more time-consuming and not as precise as I would like. I could have simply sculpted the seams in ZBrush on a high poly mesh for things like the jacket, however, for me personally, it always seems like double the work when using that method; being as those objects would need to be retopologized anyway to have an edge flow that flows with the seem in segments for an animation pipeline. The more technology advances the more studios no longer wish to use displacement cheats and wants the seem geo there so when it is rigged/simulated, so it deforms better.

For the hair I used X-gen. However not the X-gen that most have come to know over the years. I used the new version called X-gen Interactive Groom. This new version of X-gen is far more stable and user-friendly than the old version. It also allows for more customization as well as flexibility. I honestly believe it is the future for hair and fur and the old version of X-gen will be phased out completely as technology continues to improve. This new version allows live updates as well as a layering system built into Maya. It also allows for all masks to be JPG and other file types; meaning you can edit your masks inside of Photoshop if you wish. It also does not require the complex excess folder system and saves right into your Maya scene. It really is quite a lovely program, and I am very thankful to have learned it at Gnomon from Philip Duncan. He did not help me with this project in particular; he taught me how to use the new Interactive Groom system during my time at Gnomon.

The Bike and The Boxes

As for the bikes and boxes, the entire thing was constructed in Maya and textured in Substance. I only had one front image to go off, so it was quite a task to complete. I thought about physics and how all these boxes could be latched together realistically. What type of device would this girl create to attach it all? All I had from the well-drawn 2D concept was a covered front view. I had to add and create a tone of new objects to make it all come together appealingly and believably. 

When it came to creating the pipework, I used the wire tool Wire Mesh from Curve. With it, you can convert curves into geometry and keep them attached so you can then move that geo with the Control Vertex of the curve. This method made making the ropes, bike parts, and many other parts of this build quite simple and easy to do.


Texturing this project was very much a creative guessing game. The only restriction I gave myself was that the color palette must be similar to the drawing. It was quite a task with the jacket, boots, and helmet, which were just very well-placed solid shades of brown in the 2D concept. I thought, okay, I know I want detail, but what would this girl want on her jacket/boots and what type of helmet would she find that was brown of all things. Eventually, I came up with the idea to do a spiky cupcake biker jacket, an old 1940’s leather rugby helmet, and some girly combat boots. I did countless hours of research into how to adapt these objects to fit with the tone of the 2D concept. I ended up with a result that honestly, I wish I could own myself in real life.

When it came to the skin, I used a simple SS shader setup. All of the skin texture was hand-painted in Substance. The eyes were made as multiple peace’s taking advantage of refraction, similar to how eyes work in real life. For the bike, I once again used Substance Painter and hand-painted rust, scratches, and other forms of damages to make the bike look used. Substance Painter is my go-to for all forms of texturing. Over 95% of my texturing work is done in SP the other 5% is done in Photoshop. 


I used a simple skydome and V-ray Light rectangles to light my scene. I tend to try and make the render leaving Maya to look as nice as possible as it saves me time in the long run. For post-production I did have a render layer set up for the Rim Lights and shadows, to give me more control if I needed it.


Miguel Ortega was my mentor, so to speak, during this project, as he was the Professor in charge of my Demo Reel class. Two of the most valuable recommendations he gave me were for texturing the pink bakery boxes. As originally I just had them being shades of solid pink, however, he recommended I add subtle stripes and embossing like how bakery boxes are in real life; to make them feel more in tune with the stylized realism I was going for. I am very happy about this feedback as it made all the difference and really was worth the extra day of work in Substance Painter. The second recommendation was to keep the background black, as originally, it was a solid gray. Though I was hesitant at first, as in the art industry we are always told never to use solid black for a background. However, once again he was right and with the lighting, I had set up it really made the artwork pop out as if she was doing some late-night deliveries.

It just goes to show how sometimes breaking the rules and standards set up in our industry is not always a bad idea and can sometimes lead to a very impressive result. A lot of the technical rules and regulations that we are told in classes are old and some even outdated, as technology has improved drastically in such a short amount of time. I think the best advice I can give to aspiring artists is not to let the old rules box you in. Have higher geo, add more asymmetrical detail, and if you want a black background – go for it. Test the waters and try things out. Technology has improved so much in just the past 5 years, it is astounding. The topology I have on this girly runs very fast. Something during my first years at SCAD back in 2015 would not have been the case. Always stay up to date on technology specs. There is no reason for you to hold back or use the old cheats if the computing power is there. 

Isabella Omohundro, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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