I am from Vasai, Mumbai. As a kid, I was very fascinated by cartoons. I was good at drawing and painting so I used to sketch lots of cartoons. Later, I knew that this was something I am good at and wanted to find a job where I get paid for doing this.
After finishing my 10th grade, I knew exactly what I wanted to do but I was also aware of the fact that CG education was super expansive. I was very fortunate that a local computer institute MHIIT started a diploma course in computer graphics. I studied the basics of 3D animation there and made my portfolio. With some luck again, I managed to get my first job as a Modeling and Texturing Artist when I was 18 and I’ve been working in the industry since then.
Joining the Challenge
Art challenges were always a big part of my learning process. Looking at the asset creation process and learning from the useful tips and tricks shared by other artists really helped me in my work.
I wanted to take part in the environment challenge first, but due to crunch time at work, I decided to take part in the prop art instead where I could finish the challenge in the limited time. A bunch of colleagues at my studio had already taken part in the challenge, so seeing them working hard motivated me.
I was a little late for the challenge and had 40 days for 3 props. I decided to work 10 days per prop and dedicate the remaining 10 to the presentation. When I started looking for concepts, Carson Lei‘s works caught my attention and pumped me up. At that time, I decided to make the Round Table, the Sword in the Stone and Solomon’s Ship.
Time was very limited as I had to work after office hours and during the weekends, so without thinking too much, I quickly started blocking out the base of the table. At the time of updating my WIPs, I stumbled upon a tomb submission by Alexandra Minues and got fascinated. Personally, I simply couldn’t resist sculpting a creature. After all, I was here for fun and a nice portfolio piece, so I made up my mind to change the prop and go for the Tomb of Arthur, especially since the Sword in the Stone was made by many artists before.
I put the table on hold and started to blockout the Tomb. In the wonderful concept by Tanya Maksimuk, the creature has something like a beak. Beak, claws, and wings – it’s a Griffin!
I started searching for references on Pinterest and found some really cool lions lying on tombs and a very noble-looking Griffin. I mixed them up and bingo! As for the tomb, I wanted to surround it with 12 knights of the Round Table so I sculpted those knights in the hoods all around the tomb to protect Arthur and keep him company.
At that stage, two of my props were already blocked out. While submitting another WIP, I came across another concept by Benton Dinsmore, Lancelot’s Helm. The concept was brilliant. I decided to use it for the third prop and go for the Phoenix feathers instead of the peacock. When looking for references, I came across a very beautiful Phoenix drawing and that became my base for the Helm.
Creating the Props
It’s always helpful when you can visualize what you are creating on the medium you are using. Observation is the key. I am not a master of it but with time and practice, I improved at translating whatever crazy forms I can visualize into my art.
Lately, I have been using ZBrush to block out my meshes from scratch. ZSphear is my go-to tool for building forms and volumes. It’s a non-distractive process that allows you to get in and do tweaks whenever needed. The possibilities are endless with this tool.
Dinamesh is a lifesaver for building uniform sculpting surfaces. It’s almost a perfect representation of clay. Finally, ZRemesher is great for making a basic clean mesh. Project the high-res mesh details onto the clean low-poly mesh and you are good to go.
I had the opportunity to work with some very brilliant and well-know artists in our community. The best tip that I learned from them is to get a good blockout first, then work on the secondary details and volumes as long as possible until you feel you can stop. Then add the micro details.
Just like most of the artists in the industry, I am self-taught so I don’t know very many tools, though whenever I get a chance, I learn new things and implement them in my asset creation pipeline. Remember that the output matters and as a commercial artist, if you can get the work done with the limited knowledge you have, that’s usually more than enough!
Planning always helps! At this stage, you need to understand the scale, the focal point of the asset in the game, the modularity and the function of the asset in the environment. Whether this is a hero asset or not, those things play an important role in the allocation of the mesh density. Plus, keep in mind which platform the game is being made for.
First, separate the repeating, mirrored, and symmetrical pieces. This always helps in reducing and simplifying your asset during retopology. Keep the mesh density on the borderline of the asset’s silhouette. The inner details can be reproduced using normal maps.
For the challenge, there were no restrictions on the maximum polycount so I used ZRemesher for most of my sculpted assets to obtain a clean workable mesh for texturing.
Currently, I use Substance Painter for texturing which is a very powerful tool for creating good realistic materials.
It’s always very interesting to get a number of different material types in one asset. This helps to bring more realism to it. When you are able to see different ways of how light and reflections react on various material surfaces, it makes the asset look more believable.
A very good tip that I learned is not to keep your albedo map as a flat color for realistic props. Always overlay it with some kind of surface noise at a very low opacity, this helps to bring more detail to the materials. The same goes for the roughness map: the material stands out when the light bounces around the asset that has different subtle roughness values variations. Also, having an ID map helps a lot when painting a multi-layered material surface and masking out the different surface types.
I wish I could say a lot about the creation of the feathers, but my feathers are very simple and quickly hand-painted in Photoshop. They use a simple image of, I think, pigeon feathers from CG Textures and are painted over. What I needed was a rich glowing red-orange color that would represent the fire of the Phoenix. I created an alpha texture using the same image, created some alpha cards in 3ds Max, and mapped the created texture on them. The same diffuse texture was used as an emissive map. Then, I just tweaked the intensity in Marmoset to get the desired results.
The Ship of Solomon was the concept that initially got me excited and motivated to start this challenge. But due to my excellent time management skills, I was left with only 2 days for this prop. I was running very late, yet I was able to push myself and finish the asset thanks to my friends and family support!
For the lady and her dress, I wanted to make a very thin soft cloth on the hard and rough wooden body. Building these contrasting surfaces was challenging. I painted opacity maps in Substance Painter, then used a simple flower pattern from the Substance library to mask out the embroidery-looking design on the thin cloth. Those flower patterns were manually painted onto the cloth surface. The high-res mesh for the cloth was sculpted in ZBrush. Using Marvelous Designer would be definitely a quick and easy way to deal with this task, but I wanted to have some fun.
Speaking of presentation, sometimes, the best option is to choose a concept that already has some mood and lighting. It’s easier to then just recreate the mood as it was painted. If it’s not the case, keeping in mind simplicity and good readability always helps. Sometimes, it’s enough just to not try to do much. It’s also a good practice to look for real-life images and then select a few key moods and presentations that relate to your asset.
A basic 3 point lighting system helps to get the work done most of the times. Just tweak the intensity and hue of those 3 lights until you get good results. Plus, a right HDRI helps in setting up a basic mood of your shot while lighting a real-time asset.
Hatim Mandarwala, Lead Environment Artist at Ubisoft Mumbai
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev