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Space Cadet: Creating a Manga-Style Character in Blender and Substance Painter

Alex Treviño did a breakdown of his personal 3D project, Space Cadet, based on the manga-inspired concept, discussed his modeling workflow in Blender, talked about hair production in Substance Painter, and shared his approach to lighting setup.


My name is Alex Treviño. I'm a 3D artist, and after the last interview, I continued working mainly modeling and texturing for Film Studios. In November 2019, I was reached by Blender to be the Splash Screen for Blender 2.81 using The Junk Shop Project, which makes me very proud.

The Idea of Space Cadet 

To start this project, I was eager to make a Sci-Fi Anime-ish concept. I was searching for an attractive idea to interpret in 3D, and I found an image created by the comic book artist Guillaume Singelin and made me fall in love with all his works. His style is strongly inspired by manga artists such as Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball) and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira).

The beginning of this image was not difficult, but at various stages of the process, I was not sure how to solve the model, like the face and hair particles. And although I would like to have more images of the character, there is only one drawing.


In the beginning, there is always an artistic blocking. The solution to this problem is to take the mind out of the way and start solving the form with basic shapes. Having the project complete with basic shapes, begin detailing area by area. To keep me focused on what areas to detail next, I do a simple exercise, consisting of drawing over the render the details that should change and the areas that are missing.

To model the face, I reused a base-mesh built for The Junk Shop girl, but I modified it enough to take the shape of the new concept and add the Subdivision Modifier. And to create the suit, I only model the parts that you see in the image and avoid what is not in the picture. 

Main Tools Used:

  • Extrude / E
  • Scale / S
  • Fill / F
  • Add Loop / Ctrl + R
  • Bevel Edge / Ctrl + B
  • Bevel Vertex  / Control + Shift + B
  • Select Loop / Alt + LMB
  • Grab / G (Twice)

To control the angle of a corner, you need to have Three edges and the Subdivision Modifier. If you have the edges very close to each other, you get a sharp angle, and if you have the edges apart, you get a smooth angle.

Also, have in mind that depending on how we place the edge flow, you will produce different shapes when subdividing a mesh. Having the same mesh as a base; in this case, the default cube, we can see how the direction of the edge flow affects the behavior of the shape when Subdividing the model. 

Hair Production

To create the hair, make a mesh based on curves. This way, handling the shape is much more comfortable, having fewer vertices to determine the silhouette. After that, use that mesh as a base for the hair particles to follow. 

Divide the hair particles into three types of strands. The first type was a thicker one and covered the basic shapes. The second type was to add variations to the first type. And lastly a general noise of small hairs.

Working on UVs

On occasions like this project, I avoided sculpting the character, and therefore the process of retopology did not happen. The project has a simple topology, and that made the UVs process very easy. 

Having the UVs ready, I focused on having the same orientation, which makes the texturing process much more manageable.

Then, scale each UV island to have the same texel density using the Free Add-On Texel Density Checker. With this, put together multiple meshes in the same tileset. This project reached a total of 9 Tilesets in 4K. Having the UVs ready, we can now export the character to Substance Painter. First, we select all meshes and Export as FBX.


I bake in Substance Painter and don’t bake all the TileSets at the same time. Avoid using more memory than necessary and speed up the work.

For the dirty fabric, I wanted to emulate a complicated material, and for that, I added four layers. First, I use Pre-made Fabric material as a base. Then add a layer, using a Dark Tone and a mask of Ambien Occlusion. For the next layer, I used a Bright Color and an inverted Ambient Occlusion mask. And for the last layer, I added a Black Tone using several maps to give the effect of Dirt. 

To make the metal parts of the character, I always make a Reference Board that has a base idea and not invent everything from zero. However, I do not attempt to copy the reference material, one hundred percent either. 

Substance Painter includes fonts to add simple texts, but if you want something more specific, create a Black & White image called Alpha Map. You can use any vector graphics editor. Keep in mind that they need to be squared to work correctly in Substance Painter. I usually use a 4K size (4096 X 4096px) to avoid pixelation. (06B)

I use a simple Substance Painter skin material, adding three colors per area. On the forehead, add yellow. At the nose and cheeks add red. On the bottom part of the face use blue or green. Finally, I add Freckles and raise the height of the pores to make them more noticeable.  

The trickiest part to texturize was the Holter Monitor, but in the end, it was solved in four steps.

First, I add the Alpha as Emissive. Then, added an Ambient Occlusion where the most intense Emissive was the center, and the weakest was the corners. Added a pattern of horizontal lines and finally, used yellow color in the center and orange color in the corners.

Lighting and Post-Production

I always divide the lighting into five types of lights. The Key Light is an Area Light with a Disk Shape that brightens part of the character. An HDRI is a Fill Light to illuminate the whole scene slightly. A Rim Light is an Area Light with a Disk Shape to separate the background from the character. A Kick Light is a Spot Light to give more shine to the hair and finally, a Bounce Light is a Point Light to illuminate a little more the whole character.

For the background, I just added a plane and used the blue color to contrast with the orange suit of the character.

Having the render finished, I do basic post-production in Photoshop. The first step is to go to Camera Raw and use tools like Clarity, Exposure, Sharpening, and Noise Reduction to achieve a more balanced image. Then add some Dark Areas on the outside to give it a lateral emphasis. I also add a Brighter Spot in the middle to provide the face with an accent. Add a LUT to create an atmosphere. And finally, play with Levels to lighten the image slightly.

For character renderings, I strive for two things. To have the face illuminated to give it more importance. And avoid illuminating the whole scene, because you will get a dull result, having dark areas adds depth, and is necessary to make it more attractive to the viewer.

Biggest Challenges

In this project, the most complicated thing was to make the hair. I had to do many iterations to reach the final version. Many times I was very disappointed with the result, and I thought that I couldn't make it. At this point, I just needed to rest from the project some days, and go back and solve it. The project took a month and a half, including videos, the presentation, and my website.

Alex Treviño, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 1

  • Movchan Gregory

    I enjoyed reading the article. Thx


    Movchan Gregory

    ·3 years ago·

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