Character artist Danny Mac: "Once I switched to Blender, I fell in love"

Danny Mac is a brilliant Blender artist with a distinct stylized approach to modeling his characters. You may now his popular YouTube channel where he shares his modeling workflows.

Recently, Danny did a CG Cookie takeover with a tutorial about modeling stylized hair. Today, he shares the story behind his stunning character art.

Danny, are you a self-taught 3D artist or do you have a formal education?

I guess I fall into both categories really. While I went to university I would say only a fraction of what I know was learned there. I have acquired much more knowledge through online materials but I don’t really count that as “self-taught” as it’s like having a school on your computer. 

However, once I became more confident in my abilities, I realized that there are undiscovered ways of doing things and have learned a lot through trial and error too.

Maddie Ziegler, 2019

Is 3D your full-time job or more of a side hustle?

3D is my full-time passion! I earn a living by developing 3D tools and techniques and selling them online. The appeal of self-directed content lured me away from applying for work in a studio.

Why did you choose Blender as your main tool?

Blender is my main “all-rounder” which I mainly use for lighting and rendering. 

I initially swapped Maya for Blender because as an independent artist I simply don’t have the means to pay for Maya. So Blender being free was the main draw, but I quickly noticed how nimble it is compared to Maya and fell in love pretty quick. The community behind Blender is also great. There’s naturally more support for the independent artist within the Blender community.

Angel, 2018

What is your favorite thing about Blender's hair system and your least favorite?

I haven’t actually used it for a while so...I’m struggling. 

It would definitely be nice to see more integration with other tools in Blender such as converting curves and geometry into guide hairs. You can do this now using the Hair Net addon but I think this should be a standard feature. I do like how well the hair system integrates with particle physics, meaning I can easily control parts of the hair using a curve-guided force field.

Watch Danny's Blender tutorial: Modeling Stylized Hair

You are strictly a character artist: do you choose your characters or do they choose you?

I think it’s important to distinguish between a concept artist and a 3D artist. 

Generally, you’re better at one or the other - and I lean towards the 3D side. Most of the characters I’ve created are concepts from 2D artists that I’ve fallen in love with when scrolling through social media (so I guess they chose me?). 

I always first ask the artist if they mind me translating their concept into 3D and they are usually excited by the idea. I do sometimes create a character not based on somebody else’s work but the result tends to not be as good - something I’m currently working to improve on!

Cyarin, 2017

You can wield a pencil as well: how important is it for a 3D artist to be comfortable with other mediums, too?

I’m not sure how strong my pencil skills are to be honest but what I have noticed is that drawing and 3D complement each other very well. 

They are basically the same journey but with different obstacles. For example, lighting an object in 3D is technically easy. You just add in a few lights and let global illumination take care of the rest. The result might be garbage but you lit your object. Drawing, on the other hand, forces you to add light with purpose which in turn helps you understand where and why to add light back in 3D. 

I don’t think you necessarily need to understand both mediums, but it definitely helps.

What got you interested in teaching Blender as well as "just" using it?

Apart from enjoying putting tutorials together, having learned so much from the online community I almost feel duty-bound to share my own knowledge in return. 

The Blender community is a particularly sharing one and it’s good to be part of that, though I’d be lying if I said my motives are purely altruistic. Aside from marketing, I’ve found teaching is also the best way to learn because it forces you to fully wrap your head around a concept before you can confidently deliver it to somebody else. This often means pushing knowledge further than I otherwise would.

ItsLopez, 2018

What part of creating characters do you find the most challenging?

The finishing part...no, really. My work-in-progress folder has probably 10 times more projects than my finished-projects folder because sometimes you just run into a wall. If it’s a commission I’m forced to plow through it but it’s usually not and it’s very easy to just start something new.

Have you ever tried creating a highly realistic character?

I have studied realistic shapes/proportions and have even drawn realistically but the idea of pushing something highly realistic doesn’t even remotely interest me. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for artists like Dan Roarty who make incredible replications of real-life which requires an insane amount of skill. But for me, the fun, the point even, comes with deviating from reality.

Do you have a hobby unrelated to CG that you've found inspiring to your creative process?

I’m looking for an interesting answer to this but for the longest time art was pretty much all I lived for. It was basically my only hobby and consumed pretty much all my spare time. If anything, art has taught me things that I have taken with me into other hobbies, such as having patience when learning new skills.


Check out Danny's amazing YouTube channel and don't miss his  hair-modeling tutorial here on CG Cookie.


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