Juan Novelletto showed us the process of creating the Into the Wild – Trudvang Miniature project, demonstrated how they worked with wrinkles, and talked about rendering done with Arnold.
Hello, my name is Juan Novelletto, and I am a Senior Character Artist primarily working in AAA video games. I also specialize as a Digital Sculptor for the collectibles industry, both on a large and small scale.
My career in the entertainment industry began in 2013 when, after working as a Web Developer for over 7 years, I decided to quit and pursue my passion for art and video games. My first role was as a 2D Artist in a now-defunct company that focused on mobile game development. From there, I moved on to NGD Studios (now Nimble Giant) where I worked as a Concept Artist on my first AAA project, Master of Orion. It took another two years before I fully transitioned into 3D, which happened at NXA Studios for the Injustice 2 project, where I took my first steps in character sculpting.
Throughout my career, I have contributed to various video games, with notable projects including Mortal Kombat 11, Gotham Knights, and Total War: Warhammer III. I have also collaborated with XM Studios, creating 1/4 scale sculptures, and with Heramodels, where I have had an ongoing collaboration for over three years, working on 1/24 scale models and 1/12 scale busts. If I were to pinpoint my specialization, it would be Dark Fantasy, but I am also passionate about all things Sci-Fi.
During my early months at NXA Studios as a Concept Artist, I was surrounded by Character Artists. Observing them work inspired me greatly and played a significant role in my decision to transition from a Concept Artist to a full-time Character Artist. I particularly enjoyed the idea of taking a pre-existing design and adding my artistic touch during the 3D stage, interpreting volumes, and bringing to life elements that the concept did not showcase.
My initial steps with ZBrush were thanks to the help of my colleagues. Having them nearby was incredibly valuable. Additionally, a major source of learning for me was Michael Pavlovich's YouTube channel and tutorials. His content is essential for beginners (and professionals too) as he consistently teaches the latest tools and techniques in ZBrush.
Over time, ZBrush has become an extension of myself, metaphorically speaking. Once you master the software, it becomes a beautiful tool.
Into The Wild – Trudvang Miniature
Into the Wild was my second collaboration with Heramodels for the Trudvang universe. The sculpture is based on an illustration by Paul Bonner, and my objective was to be as faithful as possible to his artwork, respecting all the proportions. Paul has a distinct style, and I wanted anyone who sees the sculpture to recognize his work. To achieve this, I compiled a reference board consisting solely of Paul's illustrations. I had dwarves and goblins depicted by Paul from different angles and in various actions.
Regarding the sculpting process, I typically start with basic, non-detailed primary shapes, focusing on the pose from the beginning. For this type of work, I avoid using preset poses to maintain a more expressive and dynamic finish. An essential aspect I considered was that this sculpture would be produced at a 75mm scale. Therefore, certain elements needed to be exaggerated, and surface detail was not crucial in some areas, such as the hair. Sculpting a subtle sense of movement in the hair was sufficient.
The most important aspect for these types of figures is to have interesting volumes and look good from all angles.
I initially worked on the face in symmetry until the character was well advanced. To achieve this, I added a layer in ZBrush where I could rest the face and work on it symmetrically. For adding detail, I used classic ZBrush brushes such as Standard, DamStandard, and ClayBuildup while also incorporating different alphas. The detailing process was relatively straightforward, but my main focus was ensuring that the face felt like it was designed by Paul Bonner, with a large, round nose and small eyes.
Regarding the beard and hair, I started with a sphere, applied Dynamesh, and then detailed it using the DemStandard brush.
When I began working on the body, I knew I had to sculpt it in the same pose to achieve the desired impact from the illustration. One of the challenges I faced was reinterpreting the wrinkles. The ones in the illustration worked well in 2D, but when replicated exactly in the sculpture, they seemed unrealistic. So, I decided to create my own version of the wrinkles, making them more realistic, without relying on Marvelous Designer but instead using numerous references. I wanted to convey the impression of thick wrinkles resulting from heavy winter clothing. To avoid losing proportions and deforming the sculpture excessively, I created a temporary body underneath that acted as a guide for placing the dwarf.
In general, when starting a sculpture, I add a very basic base with some elements to give the character a sense of weight and help determine if it is properly balanced. Many accessories, such as pouches, are worked on symmetrically using ZModeler and then positioned correctly using a layer (currently, I perform a similar action using the Stager functionality in ZBrush). For the backpack, I utilized a cube, deformed it, applied UVs, and then added a surface noise with the desired texture.
For rendering, I used Arnold in Maya, employing a basic configuration with only three lights: one main light and two rim lights with warm and cool colors. The material used a simple Arnold shader with procedural masks to generate variation in the roughness, breaking the flatness of the color. My objective with these renders is to showcase the figure as a whole. I'm not aiming for something dramatic or cinematic because it's essentially a "photograph" of the product before it goes into production.
The render passes I usually obtain are the ID and Beauty passes, nothing overly complex. In Photoshop, I adjust the levels slightly to emphasize the character more, but I don't engage in extensive post-processing work. My intention with the render is to be as faithful as possible to the sculpture since the person who purchases the miniature should receive the same result they saw in the render.
I completed this sculpture in approximately one month, including client feedback, which took about two hours per day. This timeframe is the average time it takes me to create a sculpture of this scale, which is 75mm. Generally, the phase that consumes the most time throughout the process is the initial blocking phase, where I primarily focus on proportions and the pose. As I mentioned earlier, this is crucial at this scale because the level of detail is not as important.
Additionally, I approached this project by first creating the dwarf and then working on the goblin toward the end of the process.
My advice to beginner artists is to have patience and not try to skip steps. The learning process is essential, and with dedication and effort, the results will come. It may take some individuals longer than others due to various circumstances, but eventually, you can work professionally in this field. From a practical standpoint, having a portfolio with high-quality pieces relevant to your desired area of work is crucial.