Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Freelance 3D artist Juan Hernandez from Mexico discussed the main things to keep in mind while creating 3D models. He also talks about choosing the right lighting, applying materials, the obsession with details and
When I was young my dad was always reluctant to buy me video games because he said they made kids disobedient (he was right). Naturally, when I finally came to own my first console, I instantly became a videogame addict. But there was one thing videogames and movies never satisfied: they didn’t have my characters in them, they took place in worlds different to those I wanted, the stories were not quite right either; and creating my own universes and showing them to others was something I desperately wanted to do.
Thanks to a bunch of “the making of” type videos I found in my Halo 3 collector’s edition disc, I discovered 3D modelling and how it was used in my favorite video games. I immediately knew this was something I had to learn.
You would think writing would be the best form of expression for a storyteller like myself, but 3D art has become MY ultimate storytelling tool.
Building 3D Models: Tips and Tricks
I find the early stages of creation, where your character takes form and gains his identity, to be the hardest; so here are some tips to help you get through it.
1) Gather references
Look for real world examples or even work from other artists. Even if you don’t want to use them as references, they can still spark your imagination and help you come up with shapes and details of your own.
2) Never start with the detailing
Or as my art teacher used to say: “go from the general to the particular”. Come up with the big shapes and silhouette first and work on the proportions for as long as you must. I found the best way to stop the temptation of early-detailing (especially in Zbrush) is to keep my model in a low subdivision level for as long as possible.
3) If you don’t like it, get rid of it
Out of place or flat out ugly elements will draw a lot of attention and undermine the rest of your work.
4) Wear and Tear
Sometimes you might be unwilling to add damage or dirt to your super shiny armor because it looks pretty just as it is. A bit of wearing adds tons of realism. Don’t overdo it though.
5) Name things
This is probably my favorite part. No matter what you create (a character, an environment, a weapon) give it a cool name. And don’t forget a short backstory! I usually do the naming at the beginning too. Something as simple as a name can be a surprisingly good source of inspiration.
I have grown very fond of sculpting in Zbrush, I use it often. It’s so fast because it gives you so much freedom. It excels at concepting base meshes or just getting shapes and ideas out quickly. Some people think Zbrush is purely for organic modelling but it’s really good for hard-surface modelling too.
Sculpting is different from polygon modelers such as Maya or 3DS Max in that it resembles working with real life clay; adding some here, removing some over there, flattening the surface and carving details on it with brushes, etc. Which is what makes it really intuitive. In something like Maya, you have to constantly deal with polygons and edge flow and making sure everything subdivides correctly.
Both have their uses, sometimes you want the freedom of a sculpting tool like Zbrush, but other times you need the precision of a polygon modeler like Maya. If the universe forced me to pick one though, I would go with Zbrush.
Applying Textures and Materials
If It’s a conceptual piece, then I will use Keyshot to render out my 3D model with a bunch of different materials. Then I will take any renders I made into Photoshop and blend them together to get different effects, change materials or maybe paint some scratches and decals.
If the model is destined for something like a Game Engine (where it will be viewed from multiple angles), then I’m forced to make UV sets and texture every 3D piece. Quixel Ddo and Substance Painter are very good at this, because they can generate stuff like edge wear automatically, which saves a lot of time.
As for achieving the best results I can give you a few tips:
- Try out different material colors and combinations, you might discover better color schemes than what you originally planned.
- Only add wear and tear in places where it makes sense, for instance: scratches might be more common on outer edges while dust might accumulate in cavities.
- Don’t forget to add decals and other patterns, they give your character a lot of… well, character.
- Real world material references can be very helpful, especially if you don’t know how to start.
Good lighting can make any model look good, even one without textures. Just the same, it can make an already amazing piece look even better. The lighting setup will change depending on what you’re trying to illuminate or the type of mood you’re looking for, but if you want realism then make sure to at least use an IBL (Image Based Lighting). Renderers like Keyshot and Marmoset Toolbag make this really easy. Just pick a surrounding background image and it will be used to light up your model from all angles. This background image will automatically be used for material reflections.
The Importance of Details
Details are always important. You want to use enough of them to give your character realism and complexity (or at least the illusion of complexity, but make sure to use them in the right places. Completely covering up your model with the same density of details means no particular area of your model will stand out, which is something you don’t want.
The Difference Between Organic and Hard-Surface Objects
Just that organic pieces are attained faster by sculpting while hard-surface is easier with polygons and controlled subdivisions. Nowadays you can achieve both with most 3D software. My affinity for hard-surface has more to do with my love for the mechanical and less with how easy or hard it might be to create. The truth is everyone seems to have their own personal techniques.
I’m sure there are often times where organic modelers are fascinated by what hard-surface modelers can do and vice versa. One this is for sure: amazing things can be seen in both realms, and knowing a bit of both is never a bad thing.