Hello! My name is Anatoly Bazarov, I’m 29, and I’m a 3D artist from Moscow, Russia.
I love video games. Since childhood, I was dreaming about creating my own worlds but didn’t know where to start. Game Design/Development schools and courses were not a thing in Russia until recently. I’ve started my studies in October of 2018, focusing on Game Art and Graphics. Today I want to show you my first finished project.
I hope this article will help you to avoid some of the beginner’s mistakes, speed up your process and, most importantly, give you a slight nudge towards action. This article is aimed mostly at the beginners, but I hope that more experienced readers will still go through it — I’m always open for any kind of feedback!
This project was my first experience with stylization (non-photorealistic) techniques. I chose it because I wanted to master multiple things at once — stylization is perfect when you learn how to work with the object’s form, how to “feel” it. It also helps with learning how to sculpt and how to use textures wisely.
At the very beginning, I immediately decided on the format of the project: a diorama with a whole bunch of objects lying around. The plan was to design and create a lot of detailed models to get more familiar with the process and bring the whole process to the autopilot level.
I wasn’t sure what story to depict initially. Should it be a wizard? An alchemist with a pot full of the magical potion? Merchant of magical stuff who can sell you a pair of Boots of Blinding Speed along with Invisibility Cloak. The only thing that I knew for sure is that it should be somehow referenced to stereotypical wizards and magicians from the popular culture. “Well, if you’re sure — better be GRYFFINDOR!” and all that.
First things first — let’s search for some inspiring references and collect them in one place. You can use websites such as Artstation, Pinterest and Sketchfab for that. There is also a piece of software called Pureref — it’s my recent discovery and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s good and it’s free, although if you use it frequently consider saying thanks to developers with a donation.
While looking for references I was focusing on multiple aspects, namely:
- Overall mood of the scene
- Layout, how different parts of the scene work together
- Individual object ideas
And here you can see my initial board with some ideas on it:
During the search, you may change the way you see your future scene and that’s completely normal. Don’t be afraid to let other people’s design shape your initial idea.
Blocking a.k.a. The Most Important Stage
No matter what scene you are working on or what 3D package you are using blocking is a mandatory and really important part of the process. Some artists do scene sketches at first but that didn’t work for me as I have no idea how to draw.
With blocking you can immediately estimate the scale of the scene, see the composition and guess the amount of work ahead of you. You can see how the light will work in your scene. You can see all of the scene weak spots. You can think of blocking as a pre-pre-alpha version of the final result.
Without further ado, I opened Maya and started modeling and experimenting with the shapes. Already at this stage, I realized that I wanted to have separate sections of different height in the scene, a staircase and some large windows on the walls. While we are talking about windows, why not put a telescope right next to it? I mean, we all know that wizards love staring at the night sky through the telescope, right?
When I was satisfied with my initial draft, I loaded the blockout in Marmoset and started tweaking the lighting. I’ve chosen a nice contrast of cold blue light shining from the window and warm light from a cozy fireplace inside. This helps to set the overall mood of the scene. With the lighting situation figured out, we are moving to the next step.
Earlier during the blocking stage, I’ve already decided on a few different areas in the scene:
- A small observatory by the window
- A chill-out zone next to the fireplace
- Stairs with access to the second floor
To start with the creation of the props, I simply started filling those areas. For each model, I was following the same strategy. First, we create a low poly version of the object trying to maintain good topology and the uniform grid.
Next, we’ll do some stylizing — I’ve exaggerated the shape for most of the objects. By the way, here is a good tip for checking the proportions of your model: turn off the light in the scene completely and take a look at the object’s silhouette.
If you need to tweak the silhouette a little bit, use lattice and bend tools. Using the silhouette, lattice and bend tools I changed almost every object in the scene. When I was satisfied, I moved to the next step.
I exported each model into ZBrush using a plugin called ZOG.
Working with wood, I used several alpha-textures created from the pictures of a tree made with my iPhone. Using alpha in your textures greatly simplifies the work as you don’t need to meticulously sculpt every crack manually. For simple sculpturing, I found Orb brushes to be enough.
That’s my favorite part! Here I’ve tried to strike a line between stylized hand drawing and realistic rendering.
Substance Painter is really a magical piece of software, with awesome user-friendly interface. It almost gives you a real physical sense of pleasure working with it!
After numerous experiments, I’ve come up with some Smart Materials templates and saved them for future use.
Several hours later I had a collection of materials for wood, stone, metal, carpets and so on. Always try and create batches of materials as it saves you a lot of time.
For the planks of wood I’ve decided to try something new (well, new for me anyway). I’ve started with a square plane laying planks on it in a way that there is no gap between planks while shifting them — it may sound confusing, but take a look at the picture below. Right after that, I sculpted the individual planks using the Orb brushes and baked them onto a plane. The final result was even better than I expected!
For the walls and the floor I used Substance Designer — it’s perfect when you need to do so some tiles or bricks. To hide repetitions I highly recommend using vertex color blending in Unreal Engine. For example, here I have three textures: a brick wall texture (no color), a brick wall overgrown with moss (blue color) and a cracked wall texture (green color). Mix everything according to the vertex color and voilà, no repetition!
To Sum It Up
As an outro, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Always start with the greatest/biggest object in the scene and gradually go smaller
- If you see that you have some weak points in the scene — drag the viewer’s attention to a different part of the scene
- Devil is always in the details
- Don’t forget about environmental storytelling or small Easter eggs, it’s always fun!
Well, I hope you found something useful in this article or just enjoyed some of the artwork. If you have any questions, critique or just want to say hi — simply write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Thank you for reading, and until the next time!