Creating a Digital Painting from a 3D Art Render: Part 1

A postworked likness in 3D of an actorLately I’ve been playing with ways to achieve a hand-painted look with 3D renders. This includes actual digital painting but also quicker fixes with filters. I thought I’d share that process.

First, of course, you need a suitable render… and that step is entirely up to you. It doesn’t matter what render engine or software you use. Some people create all their content themselves, others use ready-made figures, clothing and props. Do what works for you.

I chose to do a male portrait. Female portraits are overwhelmingly popular in the 3D world, as you won’t have failed to notice. I found it interesting to work with a male character instead and my approach to post-processing and even lighting choices was influenced by that.


Creating the Character

A 3D morph project inspired by an actor

A work-in-progress test render of my custom morph

For those interested, I rendered my image in Iray, and used a Genesis 3 figure as a starting point (I’m a Daz3D.com vendor so have a large library of Genesis content). I then made custom alterations to the skin textures and did some extensive morphing to achieve the right look.

This character was inspired by an actor but I wasn’t trying to achieve a perfect likeness at this stage. It’s not fan art, I simply find he has a captivating look and liked the challenge of recreating it. I won’t be offended if you can’t figure out who it is (the hair is a good clue) since that wasn’t my goal. If I had been going for lookalike rather than ‘inspired by’ I’d have needed to reproduce skin features from reference images. I’d also have refined the morph further in other software.

Here (above) I achieved the best morph I could first with the Genesis 3 Male Morphs. I always try to use as few different morph dials as possible, as it makes it easier to identify conflicts and make changes. Even so, there are 75-80 head morphs alone in this combination. I also have Leo 7 (one of the Genesis 3 family of figures) partially dialled in there. He doesn’t make a huge difference but adds some definition lacking in the base male figure.

Render of Kyle 3D figure by Raiya at Daz3D

Kyle character by Raiya: a gorgeous texture and morph but a very different look than I was going for

Interestingly, there was an in-store character by the highly-talented Raiya that I believe was also inspired by this guy but taken in a different direction. I didn’t own him when I created my initial morph. When I was done, as luck had it, Kyle for Michael 7 came on sale and of course I grabbed him. Raiya characters are always worth owning, regardless of whether I could use him in this project.

It turns out that the skin texture, beautiful though it is, didn’t give the right look for my custom morph at all. I do love it though, and will use it for other character creations. I couldn’t resist those stunning eyes but otherwise stuck with my original (tweaked in GIMP) textures.

The morph was useful when partially added, but didn’t change my own morph combo as much as I had expected. Also I had to manually dial out some of the Kyle characteristics such as the wide-spaced eyes that are common to all Raiya creations.

No other characters were used in my morph, beyond the tweaked versions of Leo 7 and Kyle. I think my work-in-progress morph above (before adding an altered Kyle to the mix) demonstrates that the custom morph was already close to my final result below.

Rendering in Iray

An actor  character likeness created with a 3D figure

The raw render: nice mood but has flaws

Regardless of render engine, lighting is key to getting a good starting point for digital artwork. As a time-saver, I tweaked an existing set, J.Cade’s fantastic Painter’s Lights. They were a shortcut to just the kind of mood I wanted from the light rig. J.Cade is both a talented and helpful 3D model artist, and one I’m grateful to for all the information she has shared.

Purists will of course do their own lighting. It’s something we all should take the time to learn, but even though I make a lot of my own models I’m no snob about using the best tools for the job.

The clothing isn’t a big feature here so I simply tweaked some textures on existing items. I used a similar approach for the hair. I would love to make this guy a custom hair myself, it’s a future project. For now, what he has will do fine despite the crinkles from morphing near the ends.

All materials here were tweaked for Iray. The original skin settings were too tanned, and I found it useful to play with them for a better look.

Here’s the raw render. I was pleased with this as a base for a digital painting. Clearly it needs some basic postwork at this stage to clear up flaws.

Initial Postwork: Getting a Good Base for Digital Painting

Initial post processing steps for cleaning up a 3D portrait render

Making corrections and improvements to a 3D render

Some people don’t believe in post-processing. I’m not one of them. I get the best result I can from the render, but then the work starts.

Some of my alterations will be difficult to see in the animation, but I’ll quickly talk you through what I did. If you are eager to experiment with digital painting, you can skip ahead to those blog posts.

First up, the nose was too large. I slimmed it down, did a spot render, then worked on seamlessly merging that into the original image. I find spot renders change the lighting a little and there’s always some blending to do around the edges.

At this point, I did some post-processing that I had to backtrack on. This is the stage for getting the facial proportions right, not for pretty little touches like whitening eyes. So we’ll focus on that. I figured out here that the eyes needed bringing in a little. Plus I didn’t like the red glow of the subsurface scattering (see the side of the nose and over the left eye especially). I was interested in getting a good base for a painting rather than being as physically-accurate as possible, so I tweaked skin settings with that in mind. I then re-rendered the entire face.

OK, this looked better but the lips still had a glow and didn’t fit the rest of the face. I played around with them and did a spot render. I was never fully satisfied but got something ‘good enough’ with a little post-processing.

Now let’s pretty up that portrait. The changes here are subtle but add up to a more interesting base for the painting. I use the clone and heal tools in GIMP a lot at this stage. Changes included toning down the backlit hair, dealing with unwanted shadow from extreme morphs (e.g. on the nose and chin) and any tiny cosmetic enhancements such as brightening the eye. Those need a very light touch.

So, this is where I finished the initial post-processing. This gives me a good point to start a digital painting, which we will look at in the following blog posts. The first of those shows a very quick and easy way to a painted effect via open source software.

A postworked likness in 3D of an actor

After initial postwork to create a good base for digital painting


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About Indigo

As a digital artist on a budget, I'm fascinated by what happens when art and technology meet, and love discovering affordable ways to make that happen.
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