Japanese Oni Mask

Prop Breakdown

Paul Carstens


Paul Carstens

Principle Environment Artist


Hello there. My name is Paul Carstens, nice to meet anyone who decides to give this a read.

I'm a Principal Environment Artist that has been knocking about the industry for nearly 10 years now (wow that makes me feel old).
Currently I'm with Torn Banner Studios here in Toronto (we're the folks who made Chivalry II).


I think like most Western artists, Japanese art and design just have such a draw to it that is both alien and totally beautiful to look at.

I’ve always enjoyed trying to emulate the balance and elegance (fancy word) that I reckon makes Japanese art so awesome.

These days, I have less time for personal projects, so I wanted something that wouldn’t allow me to tweak it forever.

Masks have always fascinated me, and I even own a few of the real things.


Being originally from South Africa, we had a fair bit of African art around the house.

I felt that the obvious thing to do was try and make a Japanese-style Oni mask that I could really focus on the details of and eventually add my own twist to.


In terms of the reference I was aiming for, I wanted to work on something ornate but also handmade, with those classical Japanese proportions that feel so good.


Blockout and Sculpting

I started with carving a pretty traditional shape in ZBrush as a base, and then, using the Japanese alphas from Textures.com, I began to lay ornamentation and carved it into the form until I was happy enough with the result.

Keeping the elements as separate subtools was super important for a non-destructive workflow and meant I could move, add, or remove elements until I liked the composition and balance of the whole thing.

But there comes a time when you just have to commit and merge the whole thing together, particularly to start working on more of the organic, carved elements that would need to run seamlessly from one shape to another.


By the end of the sculpting, I started to see glimpses of Darth Maul in the piece, so I decided to lean into that aspect a bit more and exaggerate the dimensions and shapes until I reached something a little more flamboyant but still keeping the aspects that I felt made it feel obviously Japanese in origin.

Once I had my base dynameshed, I gave it a quick half-cylindrical UV projection and then used a wood grain texture I had made about a million years ago as a mask that I would then “deflate” in ZBrush to add the grain and imperfections.

I wanted to push the handmade feel, and this ended up with me starting with a perfectly symmetrical sculpt that I then started pushing and pulling to achieve some kind of subtle imperfection and “wonkiness” in the piece, as if the forms were influenced by the grain of the wood and time gone by.

The damage and wear pass was next; I wanted to focus this in places that made sense to have it, like along the edges and under the loops for the strap that would have been used to secure the mask onto someone’s head, for example.

After retopologizing (fun), I threw the low and high poly meshes into Marmoset to bake my maps out, and then we were off to Painter for the best part.



Starting with a simple rough, raw wood texture from Quixel as a base, I then made a quick paint smart material that I simply adjusted to achieve the varying colors and roughness/metallic values.

The most difficult aspect turned out to be practicing restraint and not going too crazy with the number of colors and patterns applied to the mesh.

Lots of painting in one “section” at a time and then stepping back to see if it worked or was too busy.

The fact that I had made the mesh asymmetrical also meant that I would need to paint each side individually, which I liked because that would be how a physical version of the mask would have been finished.

The colors were very much chosen from Japanese tattoo illustrations (Japanese tattoos are another incredible element of the culture).


Now with the main PBR values in place, I started to treat the piece as more of a physical model (which I often do with my 3D work).

By this, I mean that I start adding highlights and emphasis in areas to exaggerate the shapes and avoid any feeling of “flatness” that CG work can often have.

Heavy AO and cavity work, along with almost baked lighting, add gradients and interest without going too overboard (hopefully).

As good as 3D renderers and lighting get, I often find myself exaggerating aspects of shapes and lighting to make the piece feel grounded and real.

A strictly realistic and strict PBR workflow feels quite cold and sterile to me, and practicing a bit of creative license helps a bunch with this IMO.


And that’s pretty much it.

With a simple(ish) 3 (and more) point light setup in Marmoset, I had a piece that I ended up quite liking and had a bunch of fun working on.
If you’ve made it this far, then I hope you weren’t bored and maybe learned a little something useful, even if that something is just that Japanese art is cool.

Paul Carstens – Principal Environment Artist, Toronto paulcarstens.artstation.com