Hey my name is Francois Conradie and I have been working in the CG industry for almost five years, specializing in 3D modeling and texturing.
I gathered together a couple of references and put together some of my favorite influences and inspirations to create this image (Fig.01).
This image started off as just a doodle in my sketch pad and after looking at the black and white sketch, I wanted to see how I could make it work in 3D with rendered hair and dynamic lighting. I have always found nutcrackers to be very interesting but I wanted to do a twisted and comedic take on the traditional character.
With the Tim Burton vinyl toys on my desk as inspiration, I wanted to create a toy-like character with a very simplistic shape, the character of the toy primarily coming from the paint work (Fig.02).
The modeling was pretty straightforward, the model consisting only of basic shapes and some hair generated from the geometry for the character's hair and beard.
UV unwrapping was very straightforward as well. After finishing up the UV layout and basic lighting, I then quickly moved on to the texturing, as this is always the most important and fun part of the job for me, and I wanted to focus as much time as I could allow on it. Modeling and unwrapping was done in Softimage XSI (Fig.03).
The materials I used for the different parts of wood were mostly basic Phongs with some specular detailing, with the textures also playing an important part in the resulting spec, reflectivity and bump of the materials. For the lighting, I used a fake FG setup with soft spotlights facing in various directions, with low values to get an overall ambience. I added a spotlight facing the model at an angle for interest and then placed numerous orange and red point lights around and behind the nutcracker to get that rim lighting from the fire background of the scene (Fig.04).