, by Paula Lumi

Happiness: Bringing the Core of a 2D Concept to a Stylized 3D Scene

Paula Lumi discusses her process of retraining in 3D, and her approach to adapting emotionally evocative 2D concept art into a full 3D scene.

  • Interview

An Unusual Trajectory

I’ve enjoyed painting and drawing since I was a child, influenced by animation movies, anime, and comics. In a way, this let to me studying Product Design at university when I was 18. I did two internships during my studies; I worked with jewelry, and with furniture accessories. I spent a lot of time modeling and photographing things like screws, and furniture wheels.

In parallel with all of this, I created a YouTube channel in 2012, Presunto Vegetariano, where I taught vegan recipes, which for a long time was the biggest channel of its type in this area here in Brazil. In 2013 I graduated from university, and began to work full-time to growing my channel.


In a sense, my work as a YouTuber prefigured some of the disciplines I’d later come to use in my 3D artwork. Throughout the years with my channel I practiced a lot of areas like framing, scene composition and plate setup (taking into account colors, textures, elements, angles), as well as lighting and photography. Some of these skills were certainly transferable to working in 3D, I feel.

2018 was a difficult year for me. I lost my grandmother and one of my adorable cats. And working to produce content on the internet can be difficult, sometimes – you have to be very focused on numbers, and engagement, statistics; there are always people judging you and what you do. Really, it caused me to develop a lot of insecurities about my appearance, voice, accent, and other things. It started to depress me; I wasn’t happy.


This artwork, Happiness, originally came about as a result of a 3D modeling course I was taking. This was in 2018; I started a course, studying under Leticia Gillett, as a hobby. I did this in parallel with working on my YouTube channel. Whereas working on my channel was stressful, this course really gave me a feeling of motivation.

This increasing involvement in 3D led me to attend an art event here in Brazil, Topia, in the middle of 2019. I had the opportunity to meet some artists that I admire, and to show them some of my artwork. They liked it, but they said that needed to know more about the different steps in the 3D process overall, if I wanted to push my artwork and my career further.

They were right. At that time, I only knew the basics of modeling. I only made high-poly models; I didn’t know about retopology, UV, texturing, or almost any of the steps that are important in a 3D pipeline. These artists recommended I learn Substance Painter – and when I saw it for the first time, it blew my mind. It really seemed magical to paint in 3D, using all the different maps and materials that were available. (Don’t judge me – before this I’d been in a completely different career; all these things were new for me!)

Kid’s Room, a scene created during Paula’s studies with Marcio Gomes.

So I started studying these programs using online tutorials and basic workshops. And I discovered I was really happy creating 3D artwork – much happier, I realized, than when I was creating content for my YouTube channel. So, at the end of 2019 I decided to pause my channel to invest in my 3D career.

My husband, Marco Alvares, was very important in this phase. He’s an artist too and encouraged me to try working in 3D. Still, I was 30 years old at the time. I saw a lot of young guys doing amazing things, and I felt old (yes, I know I’m wrong about that).

Your thirties is a period when something inside you wants to change – but at the same time, I felt pretty insecure about starting in a completely new field in my thirties, principally because I’ve started a lot of things, so many times. Of course, I can say that so far nobody has ever asked about my age in job interviews. I feel a bit silly, now, at the thought that my age would be an issue.

At the beginning of 2020 I started online classes with a mentor, Marcio Gomes, who taught me how to improve my pipeline and use great software like Substance Painter (as it was called, then). And I started dedicating myself full-time to studying 3D.

Finding Happiness

This artwork means a lot to me. It was my first project with a complete scene, with a character, assets, and lights. I created it in a year full of changes in my life, with a new career, while I was learning a lot of new things. True, it wasn’t the first complete scene I posted – I created Happiness, and then I had to update it based on feedback; I worked on other artwork during that phase. But it still matters a lot to me.

I created Happiness for a contest run by my former teacher Leticia Gillett; every year she runs a closed contest like this – she provides the theme, we model, and she gives feedback. It’s all very cool. And the theme for this particular contest was, ‘What makes me happy?’ I think she chose that because we were in the first year of the pandemic, and we needed some reminders of the good things around us to get us through the difficult times.

When she provided that theme, the first idea that crossed my mind was ‘cats’. I love them so much; I’ve had cats since I was a baby, and I’ve always had at least one by my side, throughout my life.

When starting a personal project, I choose a subject that will teach me something new. I have to identify with it, and feel pleasure in creating it. Because I know I’ll spend days – or weeks, or months – working on it. So I started searching for concepts with cats to use as a resource for this challenge, and I remembered the artwork Hey YOU! by Pascal Campion. He’s one of my favorite artists; his artworks are slices of life. We can feel the emotion he puts into all of his work, and this piece has a lot of things that make me happy – a cat, coffee, and a cozy moment in one of my favorite parts of a house, the kitchen. I think I saw myself in the girl he’d drawn.

Hey You! by Pascal Campion

References and Modeling

Leticia had given us 45 days to complete this challenge, and I’d already taken some time searching for the artwork I’d use as inspiration. So I started by blocking out the scene with cubes and cylinders, to get a better feel of the scene’s mood, volume, and where things were going to be. Then I searched for references for the girl, and for the other assets in the scene.

The next step was modeling the girl. I started with her because I knew I’d need a few days to make her. I modeled her with ZBrush, carried out the retopology, and opened the UVs in Maya. I made the textures in Substance Painter. Some things work differently in 2D and 3D, so I had to make some changes to positions and angles, mainly in the girl’s feet and legs. Here, again, I had a lot of help and feedback from Marco, my husband.

Then I made the cat with the same process. And I used my cat Anderson as a reference for the cat stripes.

Anderson, a cat.

As I was still learning some things, the issue of the anatomy of the girl and the cat took me a long time. I ended up interpreting them with personal references, trying to keep the essence of Pascal’s work.


After that, I made the assets on Maya. I translated these cubes and cylinders used for blocking out the scene into objects, following Pascal’s artwork; I textured these in Substance Painter too.

As I had very little time to make this project, I used some textures, patterns and Smart Materials available in Painter, which helped me a lot, as I only had to make a few modifications. I made the bricks, for example, using a pattern available in Painter itself, and I simply lowered the height to give depth. And I carried out the same process with cabinets and kitchen counter details.

For this project I also used Painter for the walls and window glass, because I also wanted to add some wear and tear to bring a more natural feel to the scene.

I also used a lot of curvature and dirt generators to give more volume and contrast, and to bring in a little more interest to the objects – some of them are a little worn, or dirty, or unpolished in some areas.

A Light Touch

The lighting of Pascal’s artwork creates an impression of welcome, intimacy and nostalgia. I can easily imagine myself inside his illustrations, and feel the emotion he puts into his work. It was a little difficult for me to try to capture this.

As it was my first scene with a more complex lighting, I had to do several tests with a dome and spotlights, testing them in different locations, as well as creating something to bounce the light. In previous works, I used 3 lights (key, fill and rim light).

This project’s final scene has one dome with an HDRI image and 5 spot lights, on different sides, of different sizes, and with different tones, and an object to bounce light off.

Lights can alter the color of the elements, so I had to go back and forth between Painter and Maya a few times to ensure that, even taking into account the color interference from the lights, the tone of the objects in the scene was close to Pascal’s painting. If, at any point in the process, I felt that the color, glow, or texture effect wasn’t so visible, or wasn’t close to the original artwork, I’d change it. I rendered the final scene in V-Ray.

To achieve the result in the final image, I depended a lot on help from Marco, who provided guidance on this issue of colors, and light intensity. He also helped me in Photoshop, where we used a color lookup filter to bring the colors even closer to those in the original artwork, and added some final touches, such as increasing blur to give more depth to the scene and to make the main character stand out more. I also made some tweaks to the reflection of the character’s hair and reduced the light shining off the cup.

Lessons Learned

Today I know more things than I did last year, when I made this artwork, so I see some problems with this project which I think I could solve better, if I were to create it now. But I still like this piece so much, and I have a lot of affection for it principally because I made it at a significant moment in my life, and because it helped me to learn a bunch of things about 3D.

Going forward, I’m continuing to work on personal projects, and trying to learn something new with each one. I want to improve the quality and final result of my artwork, so I keep studying, with Marco’s help. I’ve started a new training course – just now, I’m learning handpainting for 3D models, and also low-poly objects and characters for games.

Meet Paula Lumi

Paula is a freelance 3D artist with graduate and postgraduate degrees in Product Design from UNESP (Universidade Estadual Paulista). After spending seven years creating vegan recipes online, she switched to her passion for 3D artwork. What began as a hobby is today her profession.

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