Stylized Characters in 3D | CG Master Academy

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Stylized Characters in 3D

An 8-week course for recreating the concept of an existing character and going from cartoony stylization to comic-book realism

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Stylize cartoon to comic-realism characters

The main objective of this class is to understand the process of creating a stylized character, and to have a finished stylized character at the end of the course. Students will start out by gathering their favorite concepts then laying down a foundation with fundamentals of the form. Students will go from primary forms to secondary forms which really boils down what it takes to make a stylized character. Furthermore, the course will go over features of the body and face to create that sense of appeal. What students will get out of this class is understanding how to get a stylized character from start to finish.


Course Format:   Custom; Recorded Lectures, Live Feedback
Lecture Type:   Recorded
Feedback:   Live Feedback during Q&A
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 10-15 hours per week viewing lecture videos, participating in q&a's, and working on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Zbrush and Maya (3Ds Max also acceptable, but the instructor will be working in Maya)
Skills level:   Intermediate to Advanced
Prerequisites:   Strong knowledge and skill in modeling stylized characters. Recommended prerequisite courses: Anatomy for Production, ZBrush for Concept & Iteration. Sculpting Anatomy: from Animal to Creature

Stylized Characters in 3D WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Gather concepts to model for class
Blocking out character with primitive shapes | Thinking in broad strokes
Adding in Secondary forms of the character
How to sculpt in eyes, eyeball, nose, ears, and mouth
How to sculpt hands and feet
Blocking out costume and cleaning them up
Cleaning up your character model
Polypainting and posing your character for final presentation. Taking a final critique at everyone's character.

Igniting your imagination

Hannah Kang works as a Digital Sculptor and Designer at Dreamworks Animation in Los Angeles, California, previously worked at Legacy Effects Studio. Hannah believes her best art makes you laugh! Your art is at its best when you know what you want it to do! Hannah Kang graduated the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in 2014. Hannah has been delivering characters, creatures, and assets on projects like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Pacific Rim 2, Underwater and many more. Legacy provides one of the industry's most diverse portfolios requiring you to work on projects styles ranging from Call of Duty, Doom, and Crash Bandicoot to Avengers, Iron Man and the Georgia Lottery's Flying Pig!!!. While Legacy tends to focus on real-world translation of costumes and character builds that are created to be worn by actors. Hannah's personal style is often referred to as "bleedingly cute," showing a love for a feature animation style and a strong side of dorkiness--all with the aim of making viewers' first response to laugh out loud. Hannah has been teaching professional and student artists improve their portfolios for the past two years, and considers herself a student still--with a strong pursuit of continuous education. Hannah would like to someday work on children's books and create a universe of her own.

Student interviews


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Feb 10, 2020 - Apr 29, 2020




April 28th!

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Animation Guild CSATTF

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  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

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Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

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Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

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Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

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The Warrior Sculpt

Interview with Christian Gonzalez

Christian Gonzalez took CGMA‘s class Stylized Characters in 3D and talked about the Warrior project created during it.

The Warrior Sculpt


My name is Christian Gonzalez, I am a Chicano artist born and raised in Santa Ana, CA. I am a graduate from California State University Fullertonwhere I got a bachelor degree in Fine Arts in Entertainment Art/Animation. I currently work as a 3D Visualization artist at Norman International Inc. I have also interned and freelanced for Gadget-Bot Production where I created a couple of characters for their I.P. (Kaidro the Awakening) In the next upcoming months I hope to join my fellow titans and colleagues in the animation industry creating characters and worlds that bring every animation to life.

Picking CGMA

Ever since I was at CSUF I’ve wanted to expand my knowledge in 3D, especially character modeling and countless times I was suggested to take a course at CGMA. It was 1 year and a half after graduating school and many stubborn attempts into teaching myself how to properly create a stylized model that I decided to start my journey at CGMA. Honestly, it was the best decision I have made. I learned so much from Hannah Kangin 3 months than what I learned in a year and a half on my own. For this course, I wanted to understand a more cohesive approach to creating a character from a concept. I also wanted to gain speed and knowledge into how to fix any issues I could possibly have with any form of a model like this.

Going into this course I already had an understanding of a character pipeline in ZBrush. This allowed me to focus on Hannah’s main objective for this course which was making the concept come to life. Hannah broke down the process of creating a character to a T. During the first week, we picked out a concept. Out of the 3 characters I had gathered the Warrior by Anton Voronovich stood out the most to me for its distinct shape. I loved the proportions of this character and I knew this character would turn out great. Throughout the weeks Hannah sculpted alongside us so if we ever had any question of how something was done, we would know how to solve it. She is one of my favorite instructors alongside many from CSUF. She taught me how to read a concept and create a mesh that was studio-quality.



Warrior Sculpt

Start of the Character

When it comes to creating a unique and neat-looking stylized character I am the kind of person who isn’t afraid to push forms or start a model over if it is not working for the project. Luckily, I didn’t have to start this character over except for usual touch-ups.

After selecting my concept I mapped out my character with paintovers. Hannah pointed out that they would allow us to see the different parts we would need to complete our character. A simple but necessary step for a character like the one I selected with such dramatic proportions throughout his body.

Next step was blocking out the form into simplified shapes. In this case, I used a combination of spheres cut up and transformed to create the base mesh.

Detailing & Working in Maya

For detailing, I relied on two of my favorite tools which are Anatomy for 3D Artist by 3D Total and male anatomy figure also by 3d Total. After preparing the blockout mesh I dynameshed the pieces together and started to cut out planes and add secondary forms and muscles.

In the week that followed, I got pretty far in the model and decided to bring the character into Maya for retopology. After that, I started modeling the clothing.

My sword and other small props are all created within Maya. I blocked out the proportional shapes with primitives, then subdivided and manipulated the mesh in order to get the shape I wanted.


To make a character feel organic one must understand the body mechanics of a human really. Whether you are going stylized or more realistic, a general understanding of anatomy is key in order to make something look real and not bizarre. Now, to get a pose to look more organic, I usually study the human form and take reference that will allow me to create the subtlety in the pose that makes every overlapping mark work together to get a clean and organic result. Hannah said that silhouette is key and no matter what pose you go for, remember to balance your character.


My main texturing tool for this character was ZBrush poly-paint although I would normally export my characters to be textured in either Mari or Substance Painter.

When it comes to texturing a character whether it being stylized or not I always try to keep it as close to the concept as I can. For this character, in particular, I painted as I modeled in order to get a better feel of the character.


Once the model was complete it was time to render for presentation. Since this course focused mainly on the process of creating a stylized character in ZBrush I decided to use Keyshot. This external renderer allowed me to play with different HDRI lights and get great previsualization render as well as add different materials with no UVs.

Zbrush Render

Keyshot render


To anyone who wants to improve their craft, I highly recommend checking out CGMA and their online courses taught by professional studio artist. It helped me develop a better eye for modeling. Thank you, CGMA and Hannah Kang for your awesome course!

Christian Gonzalez, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

Crafting a Stylized Character: ZBrush-Maya Workflow

Interview with Nabil Chequeiq

Nabil Chequeiq shared the production details of his stylized character made at CGMA during the course Stylized Characters in 3D.

Crafting a Stylized Character: ZBrush-Maya Workflow



Hello, my name is Nabil Chequeiq, I’m originally from Morocco and I love 3D character art. For someone like me, it was hard to specialize in character art in Africa, especially since there’s no one to learn directly from, so I spent the last couple of years developing skills on my own. Recently, I had the chance to move to the USA to learn more and after that, I moved to Canada to work at ReelFX.


Working with someone from the industry and having the chance to talk to this person is a really great experience, especially if you enjoy what this person does. Before CGMA, I didn’t have an established workflow, but during the course Stylized Characters in 3DHannah Kang showed us the way she works and I enjoyed it. Now, every time I want to start a new project, I use the same workflow learned at CGMA. I recommend this class to everyone who wants to learn stylized character art.

Start of the Character

I chose to work on my own design, so Hannah told me to do work on shapes to develop a better idea of my character. Then, she chose the most appropriate shape that would serve my design best. When working out the idea, I started playing with cylinders and other forms – I found them to be easy to manipulate as you have more control over them. The biggest problem here was to envision the final result in my head and try to transfer it into 3D.



Most of the accessories were either created in ZBrush and retopologized in Maya or made from scratch directly in Maya. I’m a traditional box-modeler so if I want to start an asset in Maya, I choose a plain or a box with low resolution and then keep iterating as I go. If I want to do something in ZBrush, I use a simple curve brush, then export the result into Maya with a plugin called Styx to add holes and edges. Styx is a really a good export-import tool that makes my life so much easier.




For UVs, I really like to utilize the UV tool in Maya 2018. The biggest challenge with UVs is to know where to put your seams, plus don’t forget to add holding edges to your geometry so that if you smooth the object you don’t have stretching textures. It took me some time to figure out the right places for my seams because I wanted to use Substance Painter for texturing instead of Mari. I had to be careful with the cuts.





Texture Details

For detailing, I used Substance Painter and Arnold (for rendering) and for the small cloth details, I used XGen’s hair generation system. Then, I applied a hair material with the same texture I have on the object to make the overall colors uniform.



For the leather, I looked for a lot of references on the internet to learn how the leather is made. After the research, I jumped to Substance Painter and began exploring and testing different custom and smart materials to match the real-life references. For the stitches and seams, I used a MultiTool Pack for Substance I found here. It’s really a good painter brush that has all the seems and stitches I needed for the project.



I started using XGen only recently but I have found it really good and easy to work with. As a beginner, I don’t start directly in Maya and always use ZBrush to create my hair base. Then, I go to Maya to extract curves and convert them into guides. During the process, I faced a problem as I didn’t know how to give the hair multiple color gradients. What  I did is create separate groups and then give each group its own gradient with some variety which worked perfectly as I had more freedom in terms of colors and control. For those who want to learn XGen, I recommend Tarkan Sarim, he is a really good teacher.





For me, every project has its own challenges from defining shapes to rendering or material and I learn new things every time. A good way to test your character is to ask people for feedback and always try to work outside of your comfort zone to learn more and more. During this particular project, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to talk to Hannah Kang and get feedback from her. And don’t be afraid of re-doing things!

Nabil Chequeiq, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev


Yuzu: Stylized Character Production in ZBrush

Interview with Jason Chan

Jason Chan described the process of creating a stylized character Yuzu made during 3D Stylized Character course at CGMA.

Yuzu: Stylized Character Production in ZBrush


Hi, my name is Jason Chan, I am a 3D Character Artist from South Africa. At the moment, I am working as a Motion Graphic Designer at a small advertising agency. I have a bachelor's degree in graphic design, but my true passion still lies with 3D character design. I taught myself how to make 3D art in high school and kept frequently entering online competitions to improve my creativity. Recently, I have finished my contest entry for ArtWar4 at Cubebrush.  It was a challenging process to create a unique character, but I managed to save a lot of time using the tips and tricks that I have acquired from Hannah Kang’s 3D Stylized Character course at CGMA.


I used to be a traditional 3D box modeler and all of my characters, up until Yuzu, were created using only a mouse and keyboard. Modeling organic objects was a painful process, and that is why I decided to join this course. For almost half a year, I struggled to teach myself ZBrush and didn’t find using a drawing tablet easy. My attempts weren’t appealing and they made me really doubt my artistic abilities. Hannah Kang made sculpting fun and easy, I managed to learn a lot in 9 weeks.


      Concept art by Manda Schank


I enjoy creating my own 3D characters but now I want to focus more on digital sculpting, so I've been sculpting concepts made by other artists. When I do create artwork, I think about the content that I am presenting on my portfolio, and thus a lot of time is spent searching for ideas. Out of the blue, Manda Schank's Yuzu illustration struck a cord one day when I was browsing through Twitter. This character covered all the aspects that I wanted to learn in ZBrush. The theme also fits well with my baseball girl design BURN!!!.

Fortunately, Manda had followers who drew fan art of Yuzu for her. Those artworks became bonus visual references. I also took reference from character concept art for Disney’s recent movie. I liked how their facial expressions were illustrated and how simplistic yet impactful their characters were presented.

(Don’t forget to ask the concept artist for permission before you do anything. And always remember to credit them in your final work if it is not your idea).

The Beginning

In order to better understand the character's body shape, I like to do a quick paint-over of the concept. This traced sketch allows me to notice things that I might have ignored during the first glance.


The workflow is exactly as it is described on Hannah’s CGMA webpage. I try to keep my process clean and simple. Once I have done my high resolution sculpt in ZBrush, I bring it into Blender for Retopology and UV unwrapping. Then, I texture it in Substance Painter and render in Blender Cycles. I often go back and forth between different software because there are always changes.

During the course, we were made sure to have a solid anatomical foundation before we headed towards sculpting. The move, smooth, and pinch brushes were used at the beginning to build the body using simple shapes. After dynameshing and zremeshing it, the clay buildup and smooth brush came in handy. Hard-surface objects such as shoes, cap, baseball bat, and small accessories still had to be box-modeled inside Blender, because sculpting them wouldn't give me a clean result.


When I was posing Yuzu, I paid a lot of attention to the silhouette and focused on the parts where the body would turn. I used the transpose tool inside ZBrush, which is really convenient when it comes to posing quickly. However, using this tool sacrifices the chance for your character to be animated, leaving it as a digital statuette.


My biggest challenge in this course was sculpting the jacket. Provided with a limited amount of illustrations of Yuzu, it was difficult to imagine the whole posed jacket as a 3D shape in my mind, so I took photos of myself in a thick jacket, holding a baseball bat, as an extra reference. Hannah also suggested me to look into apparel wrinkles, as the thickness of the jacket is determined by their size.

The jacket was the only object that I didn't manually retopoligize, simply because Zremesher did a better job. As presented below, I have masked each section into poly groups so that ZBrush could cleanly Zremesh the whole jacket. In order to give the jacket that fabric impression, I polished it up with the alpha brushes from Poliigon’s fabric wrinkle brush library.


I intended to give Yuzu particle hair, however, for this specific character, poly hair worked out better and it used less time and power when it came to rendering the final image. A new material was given to the hair and tail so that each strand started off with a different gradient. You can follow the Blender tutorial by Pancake_Manicure on how to make poly hair (find it below).


I used Substance Painter to create different UV maps. This character wasn’t planned to be submitted for a game, so I gave her 4K texture maps. An additional subsurface scattering map was hand-painted which allowed me to control the skin’s translucency at different areas of the body. I also tried to keep the texture details minimal so that it doesn’t take the attention away from the stylized look and feel. Photoshop was used to enhance the UV maps so that they would come out more vibrant.


When it comes to lighting a character, I like to use a basic three-point lighting setup. An HDRI of an indoor environment was added to give the materials more reflection. A small point light is positioned in front of each eye so that the eyes have a white dot reflection. This is important because the reflections make your character look alive. Based on my observation in photography, I also added in a big soft light at the bottom pointing towards her face to act as bounce light.


The final result was color-graded inside Photoshop. A vignette was added to bring more attention to the character.


There will always be some form of challenge in art creation, but that’s what helps us grow as artists. I am glad that I had the chance to learn from Hannah, as I really enjoyed the course. It was worth waking up at 5 am every Friday morning to have a live Q&A session with everyone in the class (time zone issue). I recommend this class to anyone who wants to improve their stylized character art. Receiving advice from Hannah gave me a boost in my confidence and artist abilities.

It was also a great opportunity to meet new friends. Feel free to check out the rest of my classmates’ works: James HyunAhmed Essam, and Jospeh Buehrer.

Jason Chan, 3D Character Artist 

Interview conducted by 80.LV