How to Turn a 2D Drawing into a Stylised 3D Character

How to Turn a 2D Drawing into a Stylised 3D Character

Recent ARTFX SCHOOLS graduate Adrien, a skilled 3D Generalist in Modelling and Texturing, is now venturing into rigging, with a particular focus on Facial Rigging. In this article, he sheds light on his Adult Amphibious Squirrel Project which has a focus on the new skills he is acquiring.

Adrien Anastasy, a recent graduate from ARTFX SCHOOLS, is a 3D Generalist with expertise in Modelling and Texturing, acquired during his studies from 2017 to 2022. In pursuit of new opportunities, he has embarked on learning rigging, specifically focusing on Facial Rigging. In this article, he shares more light on his Adult Amphibious Squirrel Project and his motivations for creating this loveable character, which was to increase his skills and knowledge of Rigging.

Adult Amphibious Squirrel Project

This lovely little monster is based on a concept made by Thierry Lafontaine (Senior painter at Imaginism Studios) and Bobby Chiu. I was looking for a new concept on ArtStation, something cute but not too cute. I loved the shapes and the fact that it was a mix between a squirrel and a frog/axolotl, was adding craziness to this concept.

When I’m working on a personal project, I always want to create a version that extends beyond the original concept. This is why I decided to imagine the adult version of the character.

This character is from a series of projects aiming to increase my skills and knowledge on rigging. It required the usage of various software such as ZBrush, Maya, Substance 3D Painter, Arnold, and Photoshop.

When selecting a concept, I consider specific criteria:

  • Feasibility on my computer: Given my computer's limitations, projects involving fur/simulation are not viable.
  • Personal passion: I prioritise projects I can enjoy working on for 1/2 months, ensuring a fulfilling and successful completion.


I use PureRef to gather references that help me in the modeling and texturing process. It’s always good to get references from real creatures/animals even if the base concept isn’t. It gives credibility to your subject in the end.


ZBrush was utilized for both modeling and Blendshapes. My main emphasis was on learning rigging, so I initially focused on basic shapes for a quick blocking, treating the base model as a secondary concern.

I added details for subsequent reprojecting after retopology. Creating alphas and utilising ZBrush's brush features allowed me to easily incorporate pimples and intricate details.

For the retopology, I used Maya's Quad Draw tool and also used Maya for all my UV’s. On this project, I worked with five UDIM's which was sufficient, as I wasn't looking to have a close up of the character however wanted enough details to get a realistic texture.  UVs and retopology can be done with various software options—it's all about your preference.

From ZBrush to Maya

After completing retopology, I imported the mesh into ZBrush and reprojected details from the high-poly version. I then exported the displacement map and low-poly mesh from ZBrush. In Maya, while integrating the new mesh and displacement map, adjusting the scale in ZBrush is crucial to prevent potential issues like model distortion in Maya.


Texturing was all done with Substance 3D Painter.

I start by layering blood in Perlin-noise for the skin, adjusting transparency for a realistic look. Multiple layers are then added for various skin colors, details, and mouth/tongue features. Additionally, I focus on creating a detailed roughness map to ensure consistency. Constant reference checks help maintain the intended goal throughout the process.


Here is the tricky part, rigging! It was really fun and with this project I learned many things. I began to create a basic rig with Ik/FK for the antenna and joint system for the mouth. I also created blendshapes for the eyes and the jaw. I wanted something that would resemble a whale and that could open its mouth bigger than normal.

Encountering an issue where controllers didn't follow geometry during Blendshape activation, I resolved it by implementing UV Pinning. Modifying the reverse matrix eliminated the double transform caused by UV Pinning. Now, my controllers seamlessly follow the geometry's movement, allowing simultaneous control during Blendshape usage.

The thing I love about rigging is painting skin weights. It's relaxing. I use NgSkintool for the skinning, it’s really cool and more “user-friendly” than basic Maya. I also used ribbons for the tongue and it was really cool to learn that with this project.

Once the rigging was finished, I also needed to animate my character to be able to showcase my rig.


FFor rendering, I opted for Arnold. Lookdev involves plugging color maps into three Aicolorcorrect nodes for SSS color, base color, and radius. Adjusting the radius parameters adds redness to simulate blood under the skin. Lighting utilises an HDRI for direction and atmosphere, complemented by a fill light, rim light, and a sun-enhancing light.

There is no compositing on my final render, only grading in Davinci Resolve.


This Squirrel is a Personal Project I thoroughly enjoyed. Despite the initial challenges in rigging, I learned valuable lessons. Remember, persistence is key. Keep working, even in the face of limited opportunities or no response from recruiters. Your credibility is built on the effort you put in, and someday, those efforts will bear fruit. Hope you enjoyed reading it!

Check out more of Adrien's work and contact him via his Rookies profile here.