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Behind the Scenes: Kokeshi Dolls



Hi everyone! My name is Verica Hupe, and I'm a 3D artist currently living in the United States. For the past several years, I have mostly done rendering and assembly of premade 3D models.

However, it wasn't until I took the Polygon Runway 3D Illustration course last summer that I finally started creating my own 3D models and diving deeper into stylized and low poly modeling. Thanks to the Polygon Runway and Blender community, I have developed a whole new passion for Blender software and learning more about 3D.


I learned about kokeshi dolls several years ago when I noticed a lot of illustrators and vector artists online adding a more modern spin on these traditionally wooden small Japanese dolls. I completely fell in love with the idea of them.

Most influential to my result was probably the artwork of Natalia Linnik, who has done a whole palette of vibrant chibi-like kokeshi designs. I attempted to do something similar but in my own style using 3D. I have also always been in awe of Japan's picturesque views, usually consisting of a lot of sakura trees and snowy Fuji or its sister mountains in the background.


For example, here I started by creating my main "actors", which are round cubes that I subdivided. Then, I duplicated and solidified parts of their main mesh to turn them into hair and outfits. This process is very repetitive, as I also had to create the belts and hair for the other two dolls.

For more detailed items, such as ropes, I used a screw modifier shaped onto a curve. Keeping most of my modifiers active instead of applying them also helped me to stay disciplined. This way, I was more likely to adapt to the modifier's behavior than to resort to a higher polycount in the scene.

Once I settled on creating my three kokeshi dolls, I got the idea to use the same number for other elements too, like three mountains, three tea cups, and three sakura blossoms scattered around the platform. This offered consistency in design that I thought viewers would aesthetically enjoy.


I continued building the scene by employing more repetition and deriving new details from existing meshes and primitives.

For example, the mountains are simple triangulated planes shaped using proportional editing and then copied as linked duplicates with variations in rotations and scale only.

The platform consists of an array of simple planes that are solidified and beveled for a stylized look, while the tea set is modeled from primitives with solidify where applicable.

My goal with this workflow was to add enough details while keeping them very simple in nature.


The most interesting part of the scene is probably the sakura blossoms that brought it to life, prompting me to turn this piece into an animation. For this, I modeled a small set of flowers and then used a particle system to align them on the branches. My first instinct was to use the hair particle system, but I didn't like that I had to choose between a lower count of flowers or having them collide through each other due to their shape.

So, I went with the timed emitter particles instead, and with a few settings tweaked, my sakura started blossoming and popping flowers into the scene as if they were naturally blooming and moving on the tree. This method provided me with 240 frames of blossoming animation that I really liked for my project.


As with everything else, I tried to keep my texture and shading system very simple to preserve the stylized look of the scene. For this, I used a seamless flower pattern from a vector stock and quickly hand-painted some cheek blush on the dolls' faces.

Since I wasn't going for a complicated lighting setup, my shaders looked flatter than I preferred. To add more depth to my materials, I used the mixed shader with an added Ambient Occlusion effect in Cycles. I applied the same shading system to most of the other props and elements as well.


As for the lights, I always start with one round Ambient light from the front and one from the top of my main model to bring them into view and help me organize my scene. However, since I had other elements in the scene, such as mountains in the back and sakura covering the sides and top, global illumination wasn't coming through. To address this, I added several point lights around these elements to make them stand out better.

Since the scene was becoming crowded, I used depth of field in the camera settings to visually separate the main elements from the background/secondary elements for the viewer.


Since I had already animated the sakura blossoms and baked in the animation from the particle system, I wanted to make the scene more interesting by rotating the dolls during those 240 frames. To achieve this, I parented the dolls to their respective round stands and rotated them 45 degrees each way and back, mimicking a music box behavior.

Finally, for the animation render settings, I restricted the scene to 160 samples per frame and used the Optix denoiser in Cycles. For still renders and beauty shots, I increased the number of samples to 1000 or more.


You can watch the final animation at this link:

This is how my Kokeshi dolls project came to life. I hope you enjoyed reading about my process, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share it here!

About the Artist

Verica Hupe aka "V. (3dlint)",
a freelance 3D artists from the United States. Currently working on advancing her 3D skills and helping others on their own artistic journeys.                                                                              

About the Author

Avatar image for Alina Khan
Alina Khan

A self taught 3d artist, who seeks to excel in the computer graphics field. Currently a student, freelancer and the editor for the 'Behind the Scenes' at Blender Nation.


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