The Absurd, Grotesque and Surreal -- Characters by Luis Santos

Posted by Fianna, 31 August 2012 3:25 am

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Edsel Flat

Hello Luis - you are the artist behind the latest Mudbox splashscreen image. Edsel Flat is certainly an interesting looking character, but even more interesting is his great skin texture. Can you tell us how you achieved that nice result -- how did you do the texture and tell us about the shader type+settings used?

Hi Fianna, thank you for your interest! The textures are painted, like all my skin works (except the zombie, which also has photos blended in). My experience with Mudbox enticed me to believe that its creators had true production needs in mind, thus I use the default stamps and stencils 95% of the time with no regrets so far. I use Lightwave3D with the simpleskin skinshader node, then I go through a trial-and-error phase in which I perform several setting changes and tests until I'm fully pleased with the result. I do not have a fixed setup or a global solution for everything. Edsel Flat features 8K texture maps, but Mudbox worked perfectly even these huge dimensions (mind the section where I mention my machine setup as well!).

Edsel Flat

Edsel Flat

What is your background and how long have you been doing 3D?

I got into 3D back in '95 while working in a post-production house: animating 3D flying logos - quite trendy at the time! - and other small assets. I've always loved drawing wicked characters and painting crazy figures, which led me to think I might enjoy seeing these characters from multiple angles and different perspectives. With that in mind, I decided to fully embrace character creation since 2004 - as a self-taught artist - with a continuous yearning to learn and evolve. Digital sculpting software such as Mudbox felt like a natural and logical mean to achieve my goals..

How long have you used Mudbox?

I've been using Mudbox since its first version and have sculpted all my works with it. As soon as the paint tools became available, I began to texturing with it as well.

Edsel Flat

Edsel Flat

As you know, there are other sculpting and texturing programs available, and every artist has unique preferences and different ways in which we think/work/process. So what is the reason you chose Mudbox?

Mudbox is an incredible and often underestimated sculpting and texturing program. I like the fact that it's so well organized and has a seamless artist-targeted consciousness in every aspect of the interface and user experience. The navigation is perfect IMO - I like to rotate and move the model plenty of times, so for me this is a great deal of the creation process. I own a SpaceNavigator and Mudbox's support for this 3DConnexion device increased the navigation options. I've also grown accustomed to changing the pressure and size of the brush with Mudbox's shortcuts without hassles. I know it might seem that I'm focusing on little things, but these are the actions that take place more frequently and for me it can only make sense to make each basic action as smooth, reachable and efficient as possible. Mudbox painting system allows me to complete my textures with little-to-no visits to Photoshop. The "Flatten to UV Space" option is handy when you want to paint difficult areas, hardly reachable in 3D mode. I cannot imagine myself working on software that does not allow me to sculpt the model and simultaneously paint the textures in a layered Photoshop-like manner; Mudbox definitely "spoiled" me with the feature.


Out of the version that you are using, what would be your biggest wish for Mudbox -- it could be new brushes, saving out UI settings, filesize management, retopology tool, voxels...what would you want most?

I can't pick just one, but these would be my priorities: 1) geometry creation would be the biggest step forward in Mudbox; 2) retopology; 3) Translucent channel and materials; 4) Folders in the layer panels.

What is your computer config and what are your tips for handling dense meshes and big texture maps?

My computer is a core i7 2600K, 16GB of RAM, SSD, GTX 580 with 3GB of VRAM. I use a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet and a 10bit NEC 27-inch P-IPS monitor. Mudbox's performance runs smoother with a powerful graphics card and the textures themselves are stored in the VRAM, so get a graphics card with as much VRAM as possible. Mudbox also allows you to hide specific textures from the VRAM, easing the strain momentarily. The setup I described handles dense meshes very well, but you can follow two good practices: 1) hide unimportant objects while you’re focusing on one part; 2) isolate each part in a different scene, work on them separately and then import them into the full composition. Be sure to check Mudbox's requirements and technical specifications for further acknowledgement.

Generally what size of textures do you work with?

I use 4K maps mostly, but sometimes I use various 2K maps for one object.

Which artist works inspires you in your character designs?

Ron Mueck, Salvador Dalí, David Lynch and Roman Polanski, to name a few. I'm strongly inspired by music, cinema and nature. I also find myself inspired with casual bystanders during my inspiration strolls around town.


You have a preference for exaggerated extremities... flattened skull, exposed skull, oversized teeth. It really adds to the overall visual effect and makes the viewer wonder about the narrative behind each character. Are these guys sharing a story together? Future comic book series? ;-) Who designed them?

The characters are designed by me, some live inside my head for several months before I let them out. Others, such as Edsel Flat, are improvised on the spot. I really enjoy creating characters for myself and most of them are driven by background narratives which are filled with non-sense, the absurd, the grotesque and the surreal. I also write down this kind of narratives as an extension to the creative flow :) The aforementioned characters do not share a story, but they abide by my common goals: to place a smile on your face - may it be a true smile or a freaked-out one - and to let you wander in your own version of the character's story. I don't mind taking chances by depicting unusual themes, keeping in mind they might not suit common tastes.



Generally how long of a sculpting session do you spend on a character, obviously taking into consideration certain characters are more complex than others...

When I'm fully dedicated to just one work, it might take me around three weeks to finish a character all the way to the final render. However, as I'm usually working on several pieces at once for my clients, I tend to work on my personal projects during multiple short sessions across long periods of time. I can say that sculpting and texturing are the most liberating stages - and also the ones I accomplish more quickly. Lighting, shader setups and renders are the most time consuming phases of my workflow.

You mentioned that you are primarily using default Mudbox stamps and stencils – is there some special technique in how you use them, that you don’t need to make custom ones?

Yes, I do use the default stamps and stencils more often. I just prefer to sculpt many details without "mirroring", as if it were a traditional sculpture.

Thanks for sharing your art with us, and showing your personal workflow Luis. Obrigada!

It was my pleasure, thank you for the opportunity :)

Link: Luis Santos


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