Art Spotlight: Sauce Dragon

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Hi, my name is Topias Airas! I am 3D animation and visualization student/artist from Helsinki, Finland. I’m currently working at Anima Vitae animation studio as a Layout artist. I love every aspect of 3D art, but my biggest passion so far is visual storytelling. For me, it’s amazing that I can share my stories with people all around the world through Sketchfab in beautiful 3D form.

This Sauce Dragon project started like most of my projects. I casually played with some ideas when this one hit me. Goofy little Baby dragon wearing rompers…brilliant idea!! Is it?? I went with it anyway..

I started the modeling/sculpting process with a simple sphere in Blender. I wanted to maintain a round and pillow-like body with short limbs poking out of it. Here you can see some early sculpt versions.

Dyntopo feature in Blender really helped me in this sketch phase, because you don’t have to worry about topology that much and experimenting with different shapes is easy and fast. It’s also the main reason why I tried to pull up the neck/head, which improved the overall design significantly, as you can see.

After that, I exaggerated a couple key areas like the nose and mouth with lattice modifiers and added more details.

Through the process, I tried to keep the visual style simplistic and cartoony with as few details as possible. I sculpted the character in a symmetric pose and ran a quick and dirty retopology with free software called Instant Meshes. It was only for posing, UV map and texturing and not suitable for animation, but that was ok for me.

At this point, I had only the character ready but I still wanted to add some kind of a storytelling element. Like, give the viewer some kind of a hint about characters hopes and dreams. A hot sauce bottle was a perfect solution in many ways. At the same time, it gave the scene a sense of scale and provided both a visual and symbolic counterpart to the dragon character. It also required only a small amount of modeling, unlike my other ideas (including whole kids room, etc.). I also added some details to the dragon like a zipper, pacifier, and teardrop for that innocent look.

For posing, I made a simple bone setup in Blender with an armature modifier. With it I was able to make a reasonable pose without major mesh distortions. After I was satisfied with a rough pose I applied an armature modifier and removed remaining distortions with sculpting tools. Blenders multiresolution modifier helped me a lot during this process.

Armature rig and posing in Blender

For texturing, I mainly used Substance Painter 2 except for the bottle label and rompers pattern designs. Those were made in Photoshop.

Final logo and original sketch for bottle label

With Substance Painter it’s easy to get carried away and add too much of realistic details because it’s so effortless with all the procedural tools and filters. I tried to keep that in mind and limited the amount of detail to give a scene a semi-cartoony look.

Surface detail in Substance Painter

I wanted to create a scene with vivid and warm colors. Red and green was a nicely balanced combination and widely used in hot sauce containers. The inspiration for the dragon’s skin texture came from red pepper/chili surfaces.

The romper’s tileable pattern is designed using an offset filter in Photoshop.
1. I drew a couple simple Tex-Mex themed shapes.
2. Scattered them on a rectangular canvas.
3. Used an offset filter. Values need to be canvas height/width divided by two.
4. Erased all incomplete shapes and added new ones to fill empty areas.

Because I wanted to keep the background clean and simple, the choice for primary color was challenging to make. I studied food commercials and decided to go with rich appetite Yellow.
Blenders interactive renderer (Cycles) helped a lot with this one because it’s super fast to change colors and light properties almost in real-time.

I had proper PBR material setup only for the dragon character so I created the rest of the materials (plastics, teardrop etc.) in Sketchfab scene editor.

Decimated mesh for Sketchfab (left) and high poly mesh wireframe (right)

For Sketchfab I made a low poly version of a dragon by simply using the decimate modifier in Blender. Decimate modifier reduces polycount but tries to retain as much surface detail as possible. It’s kind of a quick and dirty way, but provides surprisingly good results if you don’t need to animate your model.

On Sketchfab you can sometimes find stunning models which are ruined with over the top post processing. I wanted to avoid this and tried to only add things that clearly boosted the look I wanted to achieve. Ironically I ended up using all filters except bloom and chromatic aberration, but the trick is to use relatively small values, especially with effects like sharpening and noises. If you want to learn more about post processing please check this very informative tutorial by Shaderbytes.

In the end, this project was a learning process for me and I’m glad that I have this awesome opportunity to share it with you. I hope that you too learned a couple of useful tricks.

Remember to stay curious. Its a solid starting point for learning!

If you want to see the high quality still render of Sauce Dragon you can find it here.

About the author

Topias Airas

3D Geek and layout artist at Anima Vitae


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