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Learn To Create A Realistic Female Portrait With Maya & 3D Painter

3D Artist Vladimir Minguillo has shared with us the creation process behind the Evelina Lauren 3D portrait made with Maya, XGen, and Substance 3D Painter, and talked about the challenges of achieving realism in women's portraits.


My name is Vladimir Minguillo, I'm a freelance 3D artist based in London. I've been working professionally in 3D since 2005 so almost 20 years now. I started my path in 3D modeling out of curiosity, after watching movies like Toy Story back in the day, I was curious about the creation process of such characters and environments, so I bought some books about 3D modeling and started my 3D journey with LightWave 3D. Not long after that, I began a video game development career at the University of Skövde in Sweden where I learned Maya, which is still my main tool.

During all these years, I've worked on different video game titles and Hollywood movies as a Senior Character Artist and Character Designer in movies like Total Recall, Avengers, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Thor, Ant-Man, and others. I developed my skills just after hours, days, months, and years of hard work in front of the screen, lots of anatomy studies, and especially working on projects with the best artists in the VFX industry in a company such as DNEG.

The best way to learn is by being surrounded by the best artists in the industry and studying the process, tricks, and solutions for the best 3D effects in VFX. However, it never felt like hard work since it became my passion and something that I really enjoy doing. I always loved art, and I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. Art has always been a part of my life.

Evelina Lauren Project

As a freelance Character Artist, I'm always looking for ways to become better at my likeness skills, texturing, grooming, and lighting, so I'm constantly practicing in between professional projects.

I find realism in women's portraits harder to achieve since the skin and features are always softer than men's. With the help of beard and skin impurities, men's portraits are easier to sell the realism easier than women's portraits. That's why I always strive to become better at women's portraits.

I thought that Evelina Lauren's freckles would help in the realism of the 3D skin, as imperfections on a 3D skin or features are what help 3D faces to appear more realistic. I gathered reference images of her face from her Instagram account and started modeling.


For skin details, I used Substance 3D Painter. I projected my textures onto the mesh, and with the help of the brushes, I was able to add freckles and imperfections. Diffuse maps allowed me to generate specular and roughness maps.


XGen is my main tool for grooming. I painted masks for the specific areas where I wanted to place hair, then I created guides to give the main shape of the hair and proceeded to manually sculpt the shapes with a sculpt modifier. Finally, I applied different modifiers like noise, and clump and added expressions for better realism.


The way I make eyes is not very complicated. I use two geometries, an outer part of the eye which is the lens, and an inner part, which is the sclera and iris. Having a good texture in this area is very important since is the most tricky part of a 3D face to get right. Still, a good shader and the right amount of SSS are important, as well as the right balance in color between the sclera and the lacrimal caruncle.


For the skin, it's important to paint an SSS map, since some areas need more SSS than others, as well as having the right color-corrected diffuse map for the skin color.

This part is the most challenging since bad lighting in the scene could dramatically change the way the textures or skin looks, so I find it useful to use "white light" as a light source in my scene to see the skin colors correctly.

This is the longest process between Photoshop and rendering in Maya, constantly tweaking the skin tones in Photoshop until finding the right one. Obviously, the right amount of skin detail on the displacement map is crucial since either too much or too little can make the skin look too rough and with not much specularity or too soft and too shiny, almost plastic.


I mainly use Arnold for rendering. For this project, I did different tests with different area lights and HDRI lights and ended up using only one area light and a very dim HDRI light just for extra soft illumination.

For post-production, I use the tools that Arnold has to offer, like color correction, brightness, etc., and some extra tweaks in Photoshop, like the LUT effect to give a more photo effect to the final render.


This portrait took me a few weeks to make since I was working on it in between projects and as well I was trying to improve in every single area of the process.

I'm very satisfied with the final result, especially the eyes that were giving me trouble as well as the specularity in the skin. I'm still learning, and I keep learning with each project, there are always areas where I see room for improvement, so there is no secret in the process, apart from hours and hours of failing and improving and enjoying the process of learning.

For the new artists, I advise them to see this as a never-ending curve of learning. We evolve with the tools that become available to us. Render times are becoming shorter every year and render engines keep improving, so characters are becoming more and more realistic not only thanks to our skills but also because of the tools. Set yourself a goal in your 3D career and work for it, don't give up, and you will achieve it. Make yourself a good foundation on anatomy knowledge, illumination in photography, and always keep practicing.

Vladimir Minguillo, Senior 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    Wow, awesome job. What software did you use for modeling?


    Anonymous user

    ·24 days ago·

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