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Sebastien Puiatti
by spuiatti on 28 Mar 2024

My interpretation of Flamewar from Transformers, hybrid 2D/3D animation style.

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You know who doesn't have an imposter syndrome? Flamewar, because she knows she is the most Decepticon a Decepticon can be.

Flamewar is another take on translating a Transformers character into an asset for hybrid 2D/3D animation series. I wanted to experiment with Arnold toon shader and explore advanced rigging, mixing IK and FK skeletons and adding a face rig. I also wanted to push myself and do it in as quickly as possible, setting a goal of 4 weeks to deliver a finished asset.

Flamewar is the first part of a larger Work in Progress scene recreating Transformers IDW issue #22 by Anna Malkova with the Heavy Metal aesthetics by Alex Pelayre ( The first challenge was to translate her IDW design into the Heavy Metal one, as she doesn't exist in this media. In the toy line, she is a repaint from Arcee and share parts with Chromia; both exist in Heavy Metal, so I used their model sheet and added key design elements from her IDW style.

Modeling was done in Maya and Zbrush. To give her a more painted and organic feel that will help for texturing, dents and broken edges were added in the sculpt to simulate brush strokes. At the storytelling level, Flamewar is a reckless light bruiser, an agent of chaos fighting opponents way bigger than she can handle. A lot of dents, bullets and laser impacts were added in the sculpt to express this. 

The model was broken in several parts for texturing, and UVs arranged accordingly. A low poly for rigging, skinning and animation was exported from Zbrush, as well as a proxy for texturing and rendering, and a displacement map for rendering.

The base color was made in Substance 3D painter. Each color had a flat layer, with some added randomised brush strokes varying in hue and saturation on top of it, and a subtle world space gradient to give it some life. The recess were further marked using an AO and Dirty generator, with the edges highlighted through a curvature and metal wear.

The biggest chunk of texturing was done in Arnold, where several shaders were mixed to get as close as possible to a hand painted look that would react to light and still maintain the illusion when animated. The first layer of the shader is made with an aiToon, with a small line art varying in opacity and width through curvature and fresnel nodes A standard surface shader with metalness is mixed on top using a fresnel, to give the edges and indirect reflections some extra punch. A flat shader with gradients of dark red in mixed on top using a surface luminance node, to have bright painterly shadows.

The rigging was done using Advanced Skeleton. Flamewar is a mix of bendable, twisting and hard parts, and has triple joints arms and legs, with a mixed IK/FK skeleton. She is one of the more expressive and exuberant Tansformer, so it was the perfect opportunity to attempt my first face rig, also using Advanced Skeleton. The rigging and skinning was done on the low poly, which was updated with the proxy for rendering.

The lighting required to be low-key for the shader to work properly; the surfaceillumination node need dark areas to display the flat shader.

Compositing was done in Nuke. The shader in Arnold get its look by mixing NPR and BPR materials in a specific order, and could not be rebuilt easily using separate AOVs. The decision was made to get an RGBA as close a possible to the final expected result, and mostly do optical adjustments such as DoF, motion blur, chromatic aberrations, lens deformation, sharpening and color grading.

Doing all these new challenges in a short time helped me a lot to reconsider some parts of my workflow; some challenges and snags I hit during animation and rigging changed my approach to modeling on future projects. Same with some early issues in compositing to do the CG rebuild.

In the end, this was an intense project given the time limit and my experience. It was pretty experimental, with a lot of first try. But it was above all a lot of fun, getting to understand a character and not end up with just an asset, but a character that can express emotions and be part of a story.

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