Pixar Styled Portrait

Hello guys, This a portrait of a stylized African female character I created and her name is Kesha. I’m starting my portfolio and this image is my first entry and I’m trying to achieve a Pixar styled character. I initially posted it to the WIP thread but after making a number of adjustments I decided to post it here for good a critique.

Please give me some tips on creating better skin texture, and I am willing to accept any feedback you have, Thank you!

rendered at 500 samples.


First. You are using the term Pixar Style too freely. There is no single ‘Pixar’ style. Just compare the style of Toy Story, Brave, Up, Wall-E, Inside Out, and Good Dinosaur. You will see how many various styles that Pixar used. This would become even more divergent when you include the shorts like Geri’s Game, Knick Knack, For the Birds, Night and Day, Blue Umbrella and La Luna.

As for your model itself. It is somewhat decent. The head itself is well modeled and have pleasant forms.

However, she doesn’t really look like she is of African descent. This is a cartoon model so you have some leeway, but, just giving a female model a dark skin doesn’t make her African. This is a failure of design because you fail to capture in cartoon form the qualities of an African.

Also, the hair has shading issue as can be seen on the top of her hair. The modeling and material of the hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes) is rather plain. It lacks the effort that was given to the head.

And is that a horn at the back of her head?

As for the skin texture. Since this is a cartoon, you can get away simple textures. In fact, too much work on the texture would not go well with the cartoon model. Though if you want, you can add some subtle color variation. Maybe a tad of yellow on the forehead and some red blush on the cheeks and inner part of the eyelid.

Another aspect that you didn’t get right in this image is the lighting. The lighting here is just not suited for portrait shot, or beauty shots. It cast unappealing shadows, creates ugly highlights and a stray light is cast on her right cheek. Not to mention the extremely bright area on the lower left corner.

This is meant as a portfolio piece but it doesn’t really display any strong qualities as a 3D artist. You need to improve it some more.

Thank You so much for your feedback, I guess I was using the term ‘Pixar style’ too freely. My main inspiration was Elsa from the movie Frozen and the idea was to bring out that style in the portrait. I will take your advice and do some research on African woman so that I can add more of those element to the design of the model.

Yes, I should put more effort in the hair (The most I did was mix in a diffuse and a anisotropic shader) and no it’s not a horn it was suppose to be a more like a kink in the hair.

Materials and lighting in general are my weaker areas, So I will try a better lighting setup and lookup what works best for portraits in terms of that.

So after utilizing some more reference images I realized that the nose and the lips needed some adjustments. I tweaked the nose topology to make it appear more African, increased the size of the lips and slightly adjust some other forms.

I also changed the colour of the background in an effort to add more appeal to the design of the image.

As far as the lighting is concerned, I’m having difficulties deciding what works. I came across various methods of portrait lighting on the internet (head shot lighting, butterfly lighting, broad lighting etc.) and after hours of experimenting I went with the three point lighting method which seemed to give better results. I am more than open for advice on lighting this model as I am still not sure about the results.

The is the results that I got from using the butterfly lighting method:

Three point lighting method:

and this is the three point lighting setup:


I’ve removed the geometry hair from the model for now as I haven’t started working on the shaders for them yet. I would also like to know how I should go about modeling an Afro as I cant find any results on the internet.

Please let me know how I can improve the image some more, Thank you!


The butterfly lighting is more flattering. It does needs some adjustments. Maybe a stronger main light and a bounce light from underneath the face.

The back ground also needs help. It seems that you are doing the model and the background in one whole setup. Why not cheat a bit. Render the model and the background in separate layers then join them together. That way you could have more control on how the model and the background would look.

Also, I’m not sure if you already did this but, try using the fresnel node in your textures. That often gives great effect to the materials.

The hair can be done with hair particles. Like this girl here

Or you can try modeling it like how Andrew did in this image:

You can also just create a ‘cloud’ shape and use textures to represent hair.


wow it,s nice for a style nothing can be say,d the skin the hair the face it,s awesome man good work

Thank you again for your response, I realized that my skin shader had some issues, so I went on BlendSwap and got a skin shader that worked well for animated characters and then reapplied my textures.

After doing further research in lighting it came to my knowledge that I wasn’t using the lamps correctly. I stumbled upon a three-point lighting tutorial in cycles by Reynante Martinez and I also took your advice and went with the butterfly lighting technique. So after applying some of the knowledge I gained from the three-point lighting tutorial and using it with butterfly lighting gave me what seems to be better results.
I used two sun lamps as rim lights to separate the model from the background and it also outlined the silhouette of the model. An emission plane was also used to light beneath the face.
You were indeed correct that I was doing the model and the background in one whole setup, so I followed what you said and did them in separate layers thus making things much easier to control. And yes I used the fresnel nodes.

Thank you again for the advice on the hair along with those nice pictures you upload (which are very inspirational) and as always I’m still open for any more advice you have on the lighting.


By the way the skin Shader was by Tawonga Donnell Msiska.

It is definitely better. However, the nose is strangely lit. I think it is because of the rim lights you used. Sun isn’t really meant for this. It also seems that you turn off shadows because it lit up parts that it should not have reached. Try using spot lights or area lights instead and turning on the shadow. Might cause longer render times but should give better results.

It is starting to come together nicely. I second what Ralmon is saying. Though you can use a sun lamp but not for a back light. I am also seeing that your bottom emission is a bit too strong and it is taking out way too much shadow from underneath. I do recommend halving the strength of that one by half.

Your subsurface scattering seems a bit muted even for a cartoon stylized bust. Try a light orange to a light red color in the radius value of the SubSurfaceScattering shader. Remember top to bottom of these values are Red/Green/Blue. What has worked for me is are these values; orange RGB(0.80/ 0.40/ 0.20) and a red RGB(1.0/ 0.5/ 0.2).

If you would want to go further into it. You could even make a SSS Scale map for the thinnest parts of your mesh. This is where most of the sub surface scattering is taking place. Ears is one area to look at first. This will make the bust feel more alive and may give a nice visual pop.

Hopefully this helps :slight_smile:

You are making good progress with just the first image. Even If I have to agree that she doesnt really look like an african, it does have a good cartoon feeling.

Just keep exploring and move on from this piece, the more you make the more you will learn.

Thank you guys so much for your support and feedback. Ralmon Meril, I replaced the rim lights (sun lamps) with spot lights and re-enabled shadows which gave what seems to be natural looking results.

RodDavis, I reduced the intensity of bottom emission by half like what you said and it brought out the shadow a bit more.
As far as the Subsurface scattering is concerned, I made a very dumb mistake by using my specular map as the SSS scale map which is why the SSS seemed muted. Your feedback was really helpful.
So here are the updated results:

Alvarocgi thank you for the motivation, I have learned a lot undergoing this project which is why I kept pushing forward because I am always excited to learn new things.

I tried my hands at blender’s particle system but my machine is not powerful enough to give the results I wanted not to mentioned the lagging. I tested the noise texture on the spherical object you see below to get something ‘Afro looking’, though I am not sure about the results.



The model looks pretty nice overall, but since this is in the critique section here’s some changes I’d recommend:

-Push the mouth/nose up just a bit, right now her lower jaw (given space taken up by teeth) is way too thin.
-Smooth out the transition between the nose ‘bulb’ and the nostrils. The examples posted by Ralmon Meril for instance have virtually no crease between them.
-Bring the ears slightly further forward on the skull, and make the bottom more flush with the jaw.
-Give some definition to the area under and at the outer corner of the eyes. The lower eyelid is currently non-existent.

Hope that helps :slight_smile:

Very nice. If you are still willing I would recommend you to play with light strengths. You can keep current lights on one layer as you play with another set on a separate layer. This can help with some light studies.Your approach to the afro isn’t bad. Try more levels of displacement to give it more roughness. Also blending the gloss with fresnel in the mix node.

So following you advice MrHobbyBot, I adjusted the necessary forms and the model appears much better. I also adjusted the lighting a little, added some freckles to the skin texture, tweaked the eyes’ shaders and applied hair to the model.
I used a image texture for the eyelashes and poly modeled the eyebrows, I am not sure about the shader for the eyebrows so it would be nice if I can get some advice on that. I didn’t go with the afro because I thought this hairstyle would look better. Thank you!

That is actually pretty. A really great job! I recommend that you make the hair and eyebrow less glossy; also make the hair and eyebrow a very dark brown, almost black, instead of pure black; and reduce the bump for the hair, or, use an actual displacement. Also, you should remove the sideburns.

This is looking pretty cool, if you are truly done with the modeling stage of things I would suggest perharps playing around with shape keys to maybe add a smilefor example. I think this will help the model move away from dead pan emotionless face that faces tend to be modeled in.

Thank you guys again for your wonderful feedback. I’m sorry that I took longer than usual to reply because I had internet issues. I made all the necessary adjustments based off your advice, though I went further and removed the subsurface scattering scale map. I removed it because blender seems to handle the subsurface scattering better in this scene as it gives the model a more realistic look to the skin. I also slightly adjusted the lighting and used a map to control the displacement in the hair.

Initially I underestimated the scope of this project, If it wasn’t for for the help of this community I wouldn’t have gotten this far and have learned this much so thank you guys once again and as always I’m still open for any advice :)…

Y’know, it’s perfectly okay, at least to me, if you decide to have “plastic hair” as you did in image #1. (The only comment I’d make about that image is that the lighting was starting to “blow out” towards the end of the hair, and that, being plastic, it probably ought not obscure her left eye.)

As a model-builder, you alone get to decide what you prefer to have the model be “made of.” At first glance we see that this model is stylized. We see that it is “made of plastic.” And, we accept that, “at a glance.” To me, there are no “rights” or “wrongs,” only artistic decisions that need to be applied consistently throughout the feature.

Now, with regards to the image that immediately precedes this post, I would observe that the hair is too dark. It does not “separate” well-enough from the background. The luminance level of the hair is much too close to that of the (gradient …) background. Fact is, it is hard to see!

… but, otherwise, “a flattering portrait of a lady.”

Thank you for your advice. For image #1 I was not so sure about its look seeing that I asked for a critique. As far as the hair is concerned, my intentions was for it to help promote the look of an African character and the plastic hair didn’t seem to help that but I had to achieve it without using the particle system at the time. Since it is a piece that I want to include in my portfolio I had to get the best advice I could in order to help me achieve what I going for…