Joe Seabuhr talked about prop art and his workflows including high & low poly, Substance Painter, presentation.
My name is Joe Seabuhr, I’m a freelance artist currently residing in Sheffield. I am in my final year of university and after that, I plan to make my own game asset marketplace in order to sell high-quality game props to whoever wants them.
I got into 3D modeling on a whim. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school, I scored badly in a lot of my subjects because my brain isn’t wired for exams. I know I needed a college education and I thought picking games design would be a fairly easy, laid back course. I was wrong. I then got addicted to learning 3D art and it has consumed my life over the past 3 years. I absolutely love it.
About Prop Art
I think the most important part of a game prop is the roughness map. Without a convincing roughness map, you cannot really sell a prop’s realism. I care more about that channel than any other when creating props. I think creating a small prop requires the same amount of love as say a vehicle or weapon personally. It can add so much to an environment and really tell a great story without needing obvious story prompts like blood on the ground, bullet holes, broken glass. You can tell with the Fire extinguisher that the landlord of the building is probably very poor, and the upkeep of this extinguisher is poor, too. What can this say about the rest of the interior? Each job is worthy for its own merits no matter what the size is.
Prop Production Workflow
I follow a fairly standard prop pipeline: Blockout, High poly, Low poly, UV, Bake, Texture. I make sure each step is done as well as I can make it before moving onto the next one. I used subD modeling to create high poly for the Fire Extinguisher prop as I plan to sell it as part of a pack further down the line and give people the option of using the high poly. SubD modeling is simply the most universal technique for creating high polies and is used in nearly all 3D related fields so knowing how to effectively use it is an important skill to have. That being said I struggle when making organic forms with this technique so I’m still focused on learning as much as possible.
I currently use 3ds Max to model my work however I want to make the move to Blender soon. When it comes to baking I use Marmoset, which is the best program out there to bake models in my opinion. It’s fast, user-friendly and I have never had trouble with it. Bringing realism into my props comes down just to having brilliant reference to the things I’m making and a good understanding of PBR values: knowing how metallic surfaces work with non-metallic surfaces, knowing the correct albedo values for metallic surfaces, that sort of things. With that knowledge, I look at my reference and portray what I see as accurately as possible.
High & Low Poly
As I’m using a blockout/sub division high poly I can take a lot of my low poly from the blockout and the highpoly with 0 subdivisions. With the high poly, however, I typically make the number of cylinders divisible by 4 for if I need to change the density or revert the density to fewer sides: 8, 16, 32, 64 etc. Sometimes that doesn’t cut it for low poly and I might need 13 sides for a cylinder so I would just remake the piece. This being said, I make everything in the high poly as I’m still learning. I stamp normals very rarely and usually do it only for saving time. An example of this would be the CE mark on the metal part of the extinguisher, making that type of detail sub d is a waste of time.
Substance Painter Workflow
My Substance Painter workflow is extremely simple, somewhat laughable compared to some people’s workflows but it works for me. I’m not a technical person, I just like making art, and my workflow shows this. I use smart masks, fill layers, and alphas, that’s it. I have a lot of alphas that I make for each project and then some that are universal for other props. I make almost all of my alphas looking on Google and other image sites for grunge maps with resolutions higher than 4MP. I color select the scratches, inverse the selection, delete that selection, then use a color overlay and make it white, then throw it in an alpha channel. I then keep plucking away at the texture until I’m satisfied with the result. I think that’s my main secret for how I make the textures look so real. It’s just adding a lot of grunge and scratches that look natural and knowing the fine balance between good readability/interest and making things too noisy.
Adding the Details
I have 3 main steps when I make textures: I start with a series of smart masks to see if I can get any interesting shapes formed with them playing with the sliders until something peaks my interests. Once I have a good base down I’ll use a series of fill layers with some grunge alphas that I use from project to project. These can help get somewhat finer detail like dust specs or subtle rusting. I will establish those shapes more with a brush on the mask. Something I often do when making wear like rust is duplicate the layer and mess with the levels so the original mask becomes a border to the duplicated mask giving a good wear effect when looking from far away.
Through this process, I am constantly tweaking layers to see what I can bring out. I’ll have a ref up for the way materials are formed but often it can be guessed. However, it’s important to be able to back up an argument of why you textured that bit of grunge like that. If I can show reference that can support my statement then that’s fine. If I can’t I should get rid of it and start again. That happened many times with this Fire Extinguisher as there were very few references for the wear level. Fire extinguishers were either brand new or completely ruined so it was somewhat a fun challenge to get in the middle.
As this prop would eventually be in Unreal Engine, in the Substance Painter viewport I used Brian Leleux’s ACES LUT for Unreal Engine 4 in order to get an accurate portrayal of what the Prop will eventually look like when imported into the engine. In Toolbag, I used the ACES tone mapping and had an exposure of 1.45 to get a similar result in Painter. From there I chose a nice HDRI found on Google. I’ve learned that something with blue, purple, and orange tints always works well if you want to show off metal. From there I added lighting to compliment the HDRI. I use lighting similar to what is used in a 3-point lighting setup: a key light, a fill light, and a rim light. This gives the best results. Each shot has different lighting to best compliment the final image.