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How to Build a Realistic Gun for Video Games

Simon Fuchs talked about his new handgun tutorial that will teach you how to create a realistic weapon for video games using the latest industry techniques.

In this interview, Simon Fuchs talks about his new handgun tutorial that will teach you how to create a realistic, current generation weapon for video games using the latest industry techniques. You can get the full tutorial on Gumroad or on Cubebrush.

Life Updates

80lv: Simon, it’s been a while since we’ve last talked to you. What have you been up to in the meantime and what projects have you been working on?

It has been a while indeed! Thank you for having me again. I’ve been working on Overwatch full time as well as a few small side projects. Most recently I’ve been looking into Autodesk Fusion in my spare time to learn more about CAD-based workflows. Other then that, I have mainly been working on this new tutorial. Tutorials tend to take quite some time to finish and I usually take a few breaks while working on them, just to clear my head every once in a while. On top of that, I have been doing a bit of mentoring with a few students, which has been really rewarding. Seeing someone grow as an artist and helping them improve their artwork is one of my favorite things to do.

About Handgun Tutorial

80lv: Can you talk a little bit about your latest tutorial? When did you start working on it and why did you decide to model this gun? 

I’ve started working on this tutorial about 6 months ago and wanted to focus on another course for 3D Studio Max. People really liked the military radio tutorial and I wanted to make a new one that shows a boolean based workflow in 3D Studio Max as well as deep dive into texture creation in Substance Painter and rendering in Marmoset Toolbag. A lot of people really like modeling guns so I decided to create a high-quality version of a handgun based on the Mauser C96 Broomhandle and make it into a tutorial. The reason I chose this gun is because of its unique design. I especially like the wooden handle of the gun. It’s a clever design where the stock both serves as a transport case as well as a long range stock for the gun turning it into a carbine version when attached.

80lv: What are the topics you are covering in this tutorial?  

In the tutorial, I’m covering the entire creation process from start to finish. Everything is recorded in real time so that you are not missing any steps. I think this is the best way to learn since you can follow along at your own pace.

There is a 5 and a half hour introduction to 3D Studio Max and ZBrush included in the tutorial where I am covering all the basics that you need to know to follow the course. In addition, I am giving you all the scripts and plugins that I use to create this model and I will show you a high-level overview of the workflow. You will learn how to create complex geometry using boolean operations and then take your objects from Max to ZBrush to generate highpoly geometry.

After the introduction chapter, we start with creating a blockout of the gun that will be used as a base for the highpoly model.

Once the blockout is done, we’re going to create the actual highpoly using boolean operations. No support loops are needed to create this gun as I am relying on ZBrush and smoothing groups to create all the bevels. This makes the creation process fast and simple.

Once the highpoly is done, we’ll take the model to ZBrush where we will create all the bevels. After those are finished you will learn how to add believable damage to your model. This makes it look realistic and stand out from all the other guns out there. I’m going to teach you in detail how to add damage to your model and show you the different tools available in ZBrush to make the model look realistic and convincing. Once the sculpting process is finished, we will take the gun back to Max and create the lowpoly and the UV coordinates for baking. I’m giving you a detailed overview of the UV creation process and you will learn how to create an efficient UV layout.

With the lowpoly finished we’ll set up everything for baking in Substance Painter. I’ll teach you all you need to know to create perfect bakes from your highpoly model as well as how to fix baking errors and create color ID maps for your mesh.

Once the bake is done we are going to deep dive into Substance Painter. We are going to build every material from scratch and I’ll teach you all you need to know about PBR texture creation for game assets in Substance Painter in over 5 hours of video. We’ll deep dive into the creation of the metal and wood materials on this gun and afterward, you will be able to create your own, stunning materials for any other project.

After the final textures have been created we’ll export them and take the model to Marmoset Toolbag. In the last section of the tutorial, I will teach you how to properly light your object to create portfolio ready images of the gun and make use of the latest features in Toolbag like Global Illumination.

The course contains over 50 hours of video and you will learn the entire process of creating this high quality, game-ready gun from start to finish.

Integrating a Number into a Grip

80lv: How was the number on the handle done? How did you manage to integrate it so well into the material of the grip? The transition looks amazing! 

I’ve tried a couple of different approaches for this and decided that I would get the best result when using actual geometry to create it. I started modeling the geometry for the number and then skin wrapped it to a plane. That plane was then projected onto the surface of the handle, deforming the geometry of the number at the same time.
Once I was happy with the position, I took everything to ZBrush and used live booleans to subtract the shape of the number from the grip. After that, I polished everything which created a small bevel on the transition from the grip to the number and then proceeded to sculpt some minor imperfections and scratches into the transition area, which made it integrate so well into the handle.

Usually, I would rely on Substance Painter to add these kinds of details, but since this is one of the centerpieces of the design I decided to spend some extra time on it to really make it stand out.

Detailing the Surface

80lv: How did you create all the subtle details in the metal? The weathering on it looks great and really realistic, how did you achieve this look?

Thank you, I think the materials turned out pretty convincing as well. They were created using a combination of sculpted damage in ZBrush and procedural generators in Substance Painter.

Most of the small dents and damages were sculpted into the highpoly mesh. This gives me full control over where the damage appears and allows me to make it look realistic. I`ve focused on adding damage in areas where it would naturally appear like the wooden handle of the gun or the front part of the body. These areas are more exposed and would naturally accumulate scratches, damage, and wear and tear over time. It’s really important to think about which parts of your model would touch other objects and focus on adding believable damage in those spots. On top of that., I have looked at a lot of reference images of this handgun and use them as inspiration for the damage details. In the tutorial, you’ll see me add a damage pass to the entire model and I’m explaining the different techniques in detail that I am using to achieve this look in ZBrush. Here is a screenshot of the final sculpt of the gun that shows the level of detail in the damage.

On top of the sculpted details, I’m also relying on procedural generators in Substance Painter to make the materials look realistic. I build the materials starting with a base layer and then add detail layer by layer. I create a new layer for each additional detail that I want to add to my base material, which gives me full control over every aspect of the look. In the end, it allows me to tweak the look of the material by turning layers on or off or by just reducing or increasing their opacity. In the tutorial, I’m going through the creation of each material from start to finish which will give you a thorough understanding of how to use Substance Painter and allow you to create your own, unique materials.

Here is a breakdown image of the dark metal material that I am using for the body of the gun that shows you how it was built and how each layer affects the base material.

Wooden Stock

80lv: Simon, we absolutely love the wooden stock of the gun. It’s such a cool mechanism with a lot of different elements. Could you talk a little bit about how you approached building this part of the gun?

To start out, here is an animation of how the stock actually works:

When I started working on the gun I’ve decided that I wanted to be able to animate the stock and have the gun sit in there for one of the final images. That meant that I had to build out the entire mechanism and really study how it works on the real version of the gun. After spending some time looking at various different youtube videos and images of the gun, I had a general understanding of how it works and what it was used for. The ring at the bottom of the handle allows you to attach the gun to your belt and the wooden stock protects the gun from damage when transporting it when it sits in there.

After figuring that out, I proceeded to model out each element, just like I did on the rest of the gun. I made sure that the hinges to open up the back of the gun were in the correct spot so that it can open and close correctly. The opening in the stock was created using boolean operations. I first created a piece that represents the general shape of the body of the gun and subtracted that from the stock. After that was done, I still had to create an opening for the gun handle, so I just duplicated the handle on my gun, scaled it up and subtracted it from the stock. As a result, I had a perfect opening for the gun to sit in. After all of that was done, I proceeded to create the rest of the elements like the button to open the stock using the same technique.

Here is an animation that shows you the process:


80lv: What are your thoughts on presentation? Can you share some insights on how you approach lighting this gun?

Absolutely. In the tutorial, I’m going to show you how to create realistic looking renders for your portfolio and I’m going through the entire process of lighting the asset, rendering it and then adding post-processing in Photoshop to create the final images.

Whenever I light an object, I try to set up my lighting so that it compliments my model. The biggest mistake people make in Marmoset is to only choose an HDRI image and not use any manually placed lights. Don’t be afraid of adding multiple lights to your scene. Good lighting takes time to set up and there is a lot of iteration involved, so don’t just choose an HDRI image and call it a day. There is so much more you can do by manually placing lights and shadows to make your model stand out!

Here is the process I usually go through:

First, I choose an HDRI image in Marmoset that has some nice contrast to it. After that, I usually increase the brightness of the image a bit so that the model doesn’t look too dark. Once I am happy with the base look, I will start by placing some rim lights. I want to make sure that I am getting some nice gradients and highlights on the silhouette of my model to really make it stand out from the background. This step is really important, especially when using a dark background. You don’t want your model to bleed into the background, it makes the image really hard to read. Once those are in place, I go ahead and place my main light source to emphasize the part of the model that I want the viewer to focus on. In the example below that is the body of the gun, so I’m placing a blue light that really highlights that area. With that in place, I’m focusing on other areas that are still looking too flat. Whenever I see large surfaces that have no hue or value variation, I go ahead and manually place lights in those areas. This introduces some nice looking gradients, which makes these areas look a lot more interesting. In the image below, you can see me do that for the stock as well as the magazine. Be careful to not overdo it, those gradients should be subtle so that they don’t compete with the main focus of the image. On top of all of that, I try to make sure to use different colors for my lights to get some hue variation. After all the lights are in place, I adjust the curves on the camera to get some more contrast.

With the lighting all set up, I render out the images and then take them to Photoshop.  I’m adding some vignetting to my images, do some minor levels adjustments as well as add some bloom to the highlights of the gun. As the last step, I like to introduce a little bit of lens dirt and subtle scratches and dust to the image to get the final look. I think this works especially well with this gun as its been around since the late 19th century and ties into the theme of it being old. Here are some of the final shots for the gun:

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80lv: Thank you so much for all the information, Simon! Where can people find more of your work and where can people get this tutorial?

Thank you so much for the interview!  You can get the tutorial on Gumroad or Cubebrush for 34.99$.

I’m on:

Simon Fuchs, Senior Environment Artist at Blizzard Entertainment

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

Join discussion

Comments 2

  • Leszek

    Fantastic work Simon, big thx for your hard work and sharing delicious results with us.
    @Warkarama - Did you hold one in your hands that you said "does't look realistic"? Try this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOS3dliHK_o



    ·5 years ago·
  • Warkarma

    Looks great, but it doest look realistic. I believe it has a bit too much colour



    ·5 years ago·

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