When I create a portrait, I don't just use photo-reference from one or two faces, instead I try to pick out elements that I find beautiful, such as a particular mouth or eye shape. I'm not looking to create perfect real models. Once I get a clean mesh with correct proportions, I prefer to follow my feelings and intuition, trying to make something appealing.
With the picture above, 'Moon Key', I tried to give the character's face charm. I wasn't aiming for extreme realism. This kind of semi-realistic rendering is not a goal in itself, but a means to give credibility to the character. I try to make my characters believable and bring them closer to the spectator, but I don't want them to be too realistic - I'm after something unusual and more aesthetic than a real human face.
This picture is a completely personal piece of work in which my aim was mainly aesthetic. I tried to express beauty through the facial features of the Moon Key character. To achieve this goal, I tried to mix several ethnicities in her face. With 'Moon Key', I mixed a Caucasian face with an African face, which resulted in this sort of Indian face. I toyed with the idea of putting a monkey on the character's shoulder, but finally decided to concentrate more on her face instead.
I also get my motivation from other artists. I saw a great picture by a Korean artist which really captured a particular version of female beauty. I then said to myself, "OK, let's try to do something better, something more beautiful."
The idea here was to create a mixed-race portrait, so I started with darker skin tones, with touches of green and orange. That's why the blue lighting naturally came up. This colour offers a good contrast with the skin tones and highlights it perfectly. I also decided to add more details to the character by giving her accessories. I wanted to get something light - almost ethereal - always with this idea of the moon and dreams in my mind. So I attached a special necklace, with this 'moon key' on it. The name came from the discarded monkey idea, but also from this soft, blue and light aspect I wanted to give to this character, with the blue tones of the lighting reminiscent of moonlight.
Most of the work here is done in 3ds Max. In Photoshop, I only apply a colour-correction filter, nothing more. No details are added in postproduction.