I had a lot of questions when commissioning a VTuber model, but I couldn’t find a whole lot of information other than the very general. Even more so when it came to the design of a character, as someone who has no art skills (as you’ll soon see). So I thought it might be worth documenting this – How did I have a model designed and brought to life?
Luckily the VTuber community is great at recommending artists. I run @VTuberTweeter, so I admit I’ve got the advantage in a good amount of reach within that community, but I must have seen hundreds of people ask for recommendations using the #VTuber and #ENVtuber hashtags and get plenty of answers in my time running it. If you’re looking for recommendations yourself, I put together this list of community recommendations for VTuber Model Artists.
Meeting the Artist
While I was asking around, I happened to notice @ahrl_allumer (Ahrl) had a discount on what was already an incredibly low price for a VTuber model. Earlier in that day I was actually on @MidoriChiMi‘s Twitter profile. I’ve always liked her VTuber model and remembered seeing Ahrl listed as the model’s creator.
I wasn’t actually looking for a VTuber model at first. I was looking around for a character design and some art to use on the @VTuberTweeter account, to move away from the Kizuna Ai profile picture I was using and to make it more unique. Plus I wanted to have some fun with the trends that go through the community too and thought that even if I don’t have a model, if I have a piece of character art then I could join in on some, as well as base the visual identity of the Twitter account around it.
Ahrl had a discount running. The offer was $150, down from $200 for the model and rigging – the rigging being what makes it possible to move. In all honesty, it feels too cheap. A lot of models will be 5x-10x the cost. And yes, some of the more expensive ones will be more detailed or complex, but this is still a very good price. I’ve seen models that I don’t feel are as good quality at Ahrl’s at twice the price for just the artwork.
I reached out to two of her former clients, who were both very positive in their praise. A character design and non-model art were going to cost about $200 or more from some artists. I’ve wanted a model for a while and have had the idea for this article for ages, so I decided to take the chance. I honestly feel bad about paying so little, but I’m working on a very limited budget and it’s what she asked for.
Side note: I strongly recommend that you reach out to former clients when commissioning someone. Especially when it’s a large amount of money and/or an amazing deal. Many artists will show you examples of their former work, but it’s better to hear about the experience from their clients too. If there were delays or other problems, or even if the artist was using someone else’s examples, you may never know otherwise. And there have been a lot of examples of scam artists posing as actual artists.
I contacted Ahrl to check if her commissions were still open. The post I saw was from almost a month ago. Fortunately, they were. I’d only seen female models from Ahrl so far and her profile mentions that she mostly draws females, so I checked if she did male models. I was a little concerned that her male models might be too feminine – there are some very cute male VTubers who I’d not guess are intended as male models at first glance and that isn’t the style I wanted. Ahrl did and showed me some examples. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem.
The one snagging issue was that she does character design, but preferred if a design was ready. As noted, I can’t draw (as you’ll see below). So what I did was put together some visual references for style and notes, along with a couple of my terrible drawings. You can see these below. Keep in mind that this isn’t always possible – some artists require a pre-existing character design and some will charge extra to do it for you.
As you can see, it’s not exactly a coherent design that I’ve put together. Most important to me was referencing the second picture, as she’s the NookGaming mascot Claire (designed by our own @KuroKairin) and the colors of our website; white, black, and light blue. More generally, I liked the general look of the hair of the villain in the first picture and he also represented the general build and glasses style I wanted.
Four days later, Ahrl somehow turned my incoherent ideas into the sketch below on the left. I gave the below feedback (alongside a ton of praise) with a quick edit I made to illustrate what I wanted. She easily agreed to implement it and checked if I wanted any other changes. It wasn’t exactly as my terrible drawing and didn’t include the silver piping I noted, but I preferred it as she had drawn it.
My feedback: If possible, could we change the shirt buttons to silver similar to this rough example attached? I’ve used #C0C0C0, maybe something around that color. And remove the book if it’s okay. I liked the idea of it since it was a reference, but I think it looks nicer without.
One thing I probably should’ve done here in retrospect is ask for more information. Her examples are all full body models including the one in the advertisement with the $150 cost. A lot of artists charge different costs for models which are only the top half of a body or less, with several different options listed. I also didn’t ask about anything like the level of rigging (basic), number of additional expressions (none) or for examples of the animation. I’ve seen some really basic rigging before, without mouth or eye movement. Considering that models alone can cost more than the price I paid, I wondered if that might be the case. Some artists will have a lot of information up publicly on a website – it’s probably best if both sides make sure that everything is known before going ahead.
After the sketch came in and the revisions were agreed, this is when Ahrl asked for payment. I paid in full, but some artists accept payment plans. That said, I expected that payment would be asked for even before the sketch.
I was told drawing the model would be finished within a month. The rigging would be passed onto @LenkunPopoto. I was assured that both would update me regularly, but that Ahrl needed to finish up some other work first.
Waiting and Updates
A little under two weeks later, I heard from Ahrl again. She was letting me know that she was going to start work on my model art. The next day I received some line art, with the bald head being the only part with color. I received progress updates with images every day or two after that, with it completed within four days.
With the art completed, it was then forwarded onto the rigger @LenkunPopoto. Ahrl told me it would be added to his queue. I wasn’t sent the .psd file, but requested an image of the model to use in the meantime. I was sent a high-resolution .png file for this.
This is where things got slow. I’ve written up a timeline below, but after Ahrl finished the art, updates regarding the rigging didn’t really happen unless I chased for them until the few days where the majority of the progress was made.
|16th August 2021||I first contacted Ahrl|
|17th August 2021||I sent visual references|
|21st August 2021||Ahrl sent an initial sketch version and I sent my feedback with minor revisions|
|22nd August 2021||Upfront payment was requested and I agreed to send it.|
|22nd August 2021||Ahrl told me that she’d not be doing the rigging, but @LenkunPopoto would be. No deadline was given for this, saying “The rigging takes time but once he starts working on your model, he’ll update you regularly”.|
|22nd August 2021||An invoice was sent and I paid.|
|4th September 2021||Ahrl sent a lineart version as an update|
|7th September 2021||Ahrl sent a colored version as an update|
|7th September 2021||Arhl sent another update|
|8th September 2021||Ahrl finished and sent it to the rigger|
|5th October 2021||I asked Ahrl for a rigging update – Told 7th in queue|
|5th November 2021||I asked Ahrl for a rigging update – Told 3rd in queue|
|7th November 2021||The rigger (LenkunPopoto) DMed directly (after I’d asked Ahrl about the status) to get in touch directly.|
|4th December 2021||I DM’ed LenkunPopoto to request an update and was told 2nd in queue.|
|7th December 2021||Received a DM from LenkunPopoto saying he was starting work and then eight hours later another with an image of my model blinking.|
|16th December 2021||Followed up with LenkunPopoto to ask for a completion estimate.|
|17th December 2021||Received a DM from LenkunPopoto saying they weren’t able to make any progress due to getting very distracted by Endwalker. At least they’re being honest there.
They then went on to say it should be done within 2-3 days and later sent a video of the model with mouth movement.
|18th December 2021||Received a DM from LenkunPopoto with a video of mouth movement.|
|20th December 2021||Received a DM from LenkunPopoto with a video of the VTuber model moving and then later a further video, the files and the global settings used ono VTube Studio|
|21st December 2021||Asked a question regarding the settings as I couldn’t eyelid movement right. Was given some basic advice, but it didn’t solve it. The issue may be on my end, but can’t confirm. I found some settings that partially solve it myself.|
It took a little over four months from getting in touch at first to receiving the final model. It seems that the majority of the work was done over short spans of time, and it was mostly taken up by the three months of waiting time while the rigger worked on other projects or was otherwise occupied.
If I ever ordered a second model from Ahrl or one of the people on our VTuber Model Artist/Rigger Recommendation list, my biggest takeaway would be to ask for a lot more information upfront and agree on timelines. Not knowing whether something would take four weeks or four months was one of the downsides. I found out later in the process that it came with ‘basic rigging’, which is fair for the price but I’m still not entirely certain what basic does and doesn’t include. But when I started the process, I didn’t know what I needed to ask – I’d just seen other examples of people’s models.
I do feel that there are lessons that can be learned on both sides in how the process can be made smoother, but considering the quality of the art and the value, I’m certainly happy with the outcome.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.