Lisa Barber and Abderrezak Bouhedda both participated in The Legend of King Arthur ArtStation Challenge and together created amazing props.
Hi everyone! My name is Lisa Barber, and I’m an environment artist at Sony Bend Studio. I’ve also been a freelance illustrator for well over a decade, working on everything from custom illustrations and tattoo designs to contributing to various Kickstarters and toy products.
Joining the Challenge
Shortly after shipping Days Gone, I had been looking for a personal project to take up. I had previously entered an ArtStation challenge in Fall 2018, the Feudal Japan one (you can see the submission here), so I decided to participate in The Legend of King Arthur Challenge. My final submission can be found here.
My goal was to try out the concept and design side of the challenge. I actually knew very little about the legend of King Arthur and the stories around it, so I wanted to use this as a personal challenge to not only incorporate storytelling elements from such impactful mythology but go about researching and collecting reference from something out of my comfort zone.
The ArtStation Challenges are great opportunities for students and industry artists alike to interact with the community, add a piece to the portfolio, and motivate yourself to complete a larger personal project in a short amount of time. I learned a lot from the Feudal Japan challenge last Fall – it taught me a valuable lesson in time management and self-discipline, especially during a very busy time in my life.
Developing the Concepts
Because I knew very little about King Arthur, I had spent the first two weeks of the challenge researching the different characters, settings, and events. This mainly included online history and mythology sites. Pinterest was my main source for finding visual references as it allows looking for a specific photo/mood you like and easily staying on a similar path under the related topic. In terms of collecting and organizing my references, PureRef is an amazing free program that makes it easy to organize photos and customize them however you want.
Let’s take my first prop, the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur, as an example. I often start with the mood/theme I want to go for, which, in this case, was unsettling and ominous. The object was also exposed to water for a long period of time.
I first started with researching the kind of a vessel that would contain the Lady of the Lake herself. My main inspirations were simplistic medieval chests and mimics from dark souls. Her arms were the only part I wanted to be visible for an ominous feel, so the majority of my sketches were centered around how to present that aspect of the sword. My process was very straightforward and focused: taking a theme or concept from the Arthurian legends, researching and collecting reference, sketching out a concept, refining the sketch and color scheme, and then rendering out the final image.
The final design:
I’ve always found stained glass to be a really beautiful medium. In cathedrals, it often told biblical stories during an era where very few people were literate and it was something I wanted to incorporate into one of the props for this challenge. I thought it’d be a good opportunity to illustrate some of the aspects of the Arthurian legends, including the shields for the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, and Excalibur. It also was a creative way to add some form of natural illumination to the Holy Grail.
A lot of the inspiration for this actually came directly from some of the stained glass my mom created herself before I was born. I used it as my main reference for how to paint the details.
Stained glass window by Lois Barber:
The final image:
Working in Procreate
For my shading/rendering, I used Procreate on my iPad Pro which I’ve found to be a really powerful tool for drawing wherever and whenever I want. It really allowed me to draw more and its brushes and frequent updates have made it a solid program for illustrators. My actual process often involves using multiply and screen layers to create the initial shading, rim lighting, and ambient occlusion. I also often end up coloring my line art a lot to add some interesting small highlights or make certain parts of it more subtle rather than keeping everything black.
Transfering the Concepts into 3D
I actually plan on making these in 3D myself soon! While I’d be interested in seeing a more realistic take on these, I personally would love to keep a highly stylized look for these assets and take advantage of PBR for lighting and rendering. On the sculpting side that would mean highly defined planes/shapes and silhouette, and on the texturing – exaggerated painterly colors, fewer tertiary details, etc. Combining realistically rendered materials with hand-painted textures and exaggerated planes is an interesting challenge.
I plan on sculpting each prop out in ZBrush to capture the majority of the details and use Substance Painter to hand-paint the colors and gradients while still be able to have a distinct material definition for each aspect of each prop. I know a lot of people have already recommended the Orb Brush pack for ZBrush, but I will do it once again – it really is a fantastic resource for getting some great definition for stylized props.
I highly recommend anyone who has a bit of free time this summer to enter the production phase of the Legend of King Arthur challenge and keep an eye out for the concept phases for the next challenges (there are usually several challenges each year). It’s a wonderful way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, learn how to incorporate more storytelling elements into your work, and it’s just plain fun!
3D Models by Abderrezak Bouhedda
I’m Abderrezak Bouhedda, I currently live in Setif, Algeria. I’m a 3D Artist and a writer working on self-improvement books. You can find my first book “The Mindshift” on Gumraod, it’s free for everyone. Right now, I’m a Senior Material Artist at CARL Productions. Art is the thing I love and enjoy the most and I like to inspire people and learn from them, too.
The Legend of King Arthur Challenge
I enjoy challenges that’s why I participated in The Legend of King Arthur Challenge (Prop Art) by Artstation. We had to create three different props using other artists’ concepts. I saw Lisa Barber‘s concepts on Facebook and decided to use them for the entry. In this challenge, I wanted to learn new things and discover new ways of working and speeding the workflow plus test some techniques and see if they really work or not.
The second prop – the Holy Grail – was the main subject here:
The last project, Merlin’s Lectern, was the easiest for me because most of the work was just sculpting and topology.
Here’s my submission where you can see all the renders, production details, and WIPs.
The Holy Grail Production
I started modeling the tiling parts – this way I don’t need to model them stuck together in a single mesh, – the I spent tons of time doing the UVs and wasting my time. I did a test in Maya, modeled the tiling parts, UV unwrapped them, duplicated, created the high poly/subdivided/ready-to-sculpt mesh from the duplicated part, then put the pivot of the parts in the center of the grid (0,0,0) and duplicated them using Rotate mode 40°, nine times.
This is the result after duplicating the parts along the circular grid:
This workflow saves a lot of time. After the UVs, I found that all the shells were overlapping, so I just used the UV Layout tool in Maya to re-arrange the UVs perfectly.
To get the high poly, I cleaned the topology for subdividing then used the previous technique.
After that, I took the pre-high poly from Maya to ZBrush to sculpt some details, scratches, etc. I didn’t merge the parts and kept them arranged by Material ID: each group of elements should have a color ID for later use to create a clean Material ID Map.
After I finished the high poly, I move to baking. I assigned each material with color to each part of the high poly, for example,
- blue -> gold,
- green-> old tin
- red-> wood
- purple -> glass
I baked the Normal map, AO, and Material ID inside Marmoset Toolbag 3 – all these maps are gonna be used in 3D Coat for painting. To avoid any baking issues, make sure all your UVs are straight and have no distortions. Cut hard edges in your UVs to avoid bake issues. I prefer to isolate the parts in the space like this:
This will help you to avoid baking the unwanted details in the parts with intersections.
When importing the Material ID Map to 3D Coat you have to isolate each color in Photoshop‘s layers – then in 3D Coat, there will be layers with a mask for painting the textures. Just drag and drop your materials, apply the layer blending, then add the details you want. For the glass, I used Photoshop and the Material ID Map to add the stained glass, then used levels and some effects to get the refraction map and the depth map for the glass. Then, I took the depth map to Substance Designer and added a Perlin noise on top of it to get the realistic look. The grunge maps and dirt were also made in SD, quite basically.
This is the result I got after texturing the grail:
The Holy Grail has one UV set. Some people were wondering how I added the glass: I just created a refraction map which works like an alpha map. I used brighter values, set the caustics value to 2.0 in the material options, and 1.455 IOR to get a realistic look.
After I finished the grail I jumped to the sculpting process to create the dragon. I created a curve inside Cinema 4D as it is faster with the curves and NURBS modeling.
I played around with the graph to scale and rotate the NURB, then took the blockout to ZBrush.
Using Dynamesh, I sculpted the main shapes of the dragon’s head, then detailed them.
For the scales, I used the scales brush in the Lightbox.
The next steps were easy: export the high poly, then ZRemesh (with freeze border enabled) to get the low poly, polygroup different parts (head, body, etc.), then go to UV Master (enable polygroups), unwrap, export the low poly, then bake the AO, Normal, Curvature Maps.
I applied a Smart Material for gold in 3D Coat, exported the textures and got this:
For the render in Marmoset Toolbag, I just applied maps to the materials, added a key, rim, and ambient lights, enabled the caustics and GI to get a nice final look.
Here are the final results:
This project was really challenging but fun at the same time. I lacked time because and had to wake up early most of the time (around 5 AM) to work on these projects. I like to take care of every single detail, keep everything clean, easy to work with and in order, that’s why I used the workflow that goes from the blockout to detailing, from detailing to baking maps, from baking to rendering. Think your workflow through – especially for texturing as it’s the most important part – otherwise you might waste time or get bad results. Besides, always try to work smarter and use what saves you time.
Remember to keep practicing, learning, getting feedback and use it to develop yourself.