RenderDock team talked about their approach to hard-surface modeling and precise recreation of weaponry, their animation, texturing, presentation.
RenderDock team kindly talked in detail about their approach to hard-surface modeling and precise recreation of weaponry, vehicles, and mechanisms, their animation, texturing, and presentation.
Today, RenderDock studio specializes in hard-surface modeling, PBR texturing, mechanics animation, and concept design for various vehicles and weaponry with the highest accuracy. At the same time, specialists are not afraid of the complexity, be it a small shooting knife NRS-2 or the main battle tank T-72 taken to pieces. Everything depends solely on the available resources, time and (in some cases) the project’s fascination.
The team began to form in 2015 when two people started working together. Over the next few years, they were part of the division of Noble Empire, known for its projects Guns Disassembly and World of Guns – the largest interactive 3D weapon libraries to date. During this time, a whole series of most accurate and detailed models in these projects was created including six variants of the Kalashnikov assault rifle (ak-47, ak-74, aks-74u, rpk-74m, galil, bison), the most famous Browning M2 and DShK heavy machine guns, a large number of pistols and some more. In total, the team created 43 models (from modeling to final animation and textures), without taking into account those that were partially made. Alexander Yartsev, the founder of the team RenderDock and a designer with 12 years of experience, says:
“It was a really invaluable experience in working with drawings and extremely accurate modeling from photographs. But nevertheless, this work, initially creative and interesting, becomes purely mechanical after all aspects are studied. A creative person is not able to sit for a long time in the same familiar framework where you can work with closed eyes, so we decided to move on.
For a long time, we have been keeping an eye on the outsourcing market for computer games and cinema. Realizing that this market will only grow in the coming years, we began to assemble a team, primarily from people who wanted to learn and create cool projects for production. Today we are still a small team of developers, but we are already working and negotiating with a number of companies and recruiting new employees”.
Why Is It Interesting for Us?
Alexander Yartsev: Over the years of my work, I have come across the fact that many 3D modelers and concept artists often have a poor idea of how things work. I am sure that in many respects just because of this we often see clearly weak designs in films and games (I will not give any examples in order not to offend anyone). Often ignorance and unwillingness to understand the device or a particular object lead to the fact that the final result is very different from the original. Basically, all this can be justified by deadlines or by the fact that many of the artists have no specific education. This approach, of course, is also economically justified in many cases. But this is clearly not how we want to work.
I, as a person who has an engineering diploma, often find it very unpleasant to look at such works in movies and games when the designer really does not know what his work consists of. Since childhood, I was fond of building a variety of objects, often trying to get them to fly. With such tasks, it was not up to embellishment, but purely rude functionality. It helped to understand what is necessary and what is not. I learned from aviation that the external form is only a reflection of the content and not vice versa. The outside observer must understand the purpose of the object and most of its parts, be it a plane, a boat or a spacecraft. It should all be represented in the design.
Consequently, when I discovered 3D editors, I already had an experience in detailed design and development. And above all, at first, CG has become not a means of making money, but an aid to my hobby. The desire to create detailed models exactly following the drawings led me to where our team is now. Long work with Noble Empire allowed to pump up skills in terms of speed, intuition when analyzing the functionality of the mechanisms, and the accuracy of the modeling. In fact, having created so many of the most accurate models, my company and I cannot afford to do unskilled work. Our experience allows us to deal with the functionality of various mechanisms and systems, doing everything accurately and efficiently. We understand that most projects are not that focused on the internal structure, but our approach makes such projects even easier. From my own experience I will say that even if a purely external model is needed, rough blocking of internal mechanisms allows making it much more accurate. Gradually, it came to me that this kind of content is not in plenty in the huge 3D market and we will be able to stand out very well thanks to accuracy and quality while doing work that brings pleasure.
About Modeling and References
Alexander Yartsev: What we do with weapons can be called “reverse engineering”. There are often scattered and contradictory data about the specimen, its photographs, textual description, or even factory drawings. We begin to take this information into pieces, and, ultimately, make everything work. Perhaps the pleasure of solving this problem can be compared to the successful completion of a complex puzzle. And, with the acquisition of experience, you begin to see some details most people do not pay attention to.
It often happens that considering one or another 3D model, you understand that even though it is recognizable and similar to the real one, something is not right in it. Some errors in the proportions bring the difference. With experience, you begin to find these inaccuracies in the creation process and easily deal with them. But let me give you some advice that would warn against the beginner mistakes.
First of all, if you have decided to do something precise, you should practically forget about the schemes found on the internet unless you get the factory drawings, but this can most happen only with very old weapons. Schemes that are spread over the network are often the work of unknown authors with dubious accuracy. Therefore, you should trust only what you see in the photos or video. Of course, using an isometric photo as a reference, you should keep in mind any possible corrections for distortion. But it will be much more accurate than using questionable quality schemes.
Size reference helps a lot. Information about length, thickness, height is often publicly available. However, there also can be some surprises. You need to be extremely attentive. For example, you can find the length information for the barrel, but not the stake. It is logical to assume that the length of the barrel is equal the length of the rifled part since this is an important characteristic of the weapon. But there were cases when the length was different. This must always be remembered.
The search for various references should be carried out both before the start of the general work (pay considerable attention to this) and during the modeling. Of course, in the process, you will come up with more and more very specific questions. I believe that the search and use of references is one of the most important habits for a 3D designer. And with all the importance of this work is facilitated with each passing hour. The number of necessary images on the network is constantly growing, and if five years ago it was a problem to find the necessary information, now it is not. If you didn’t find anything, you looked for it poorly. Be sure to use different search engines because their results are often very different, and make specific requests. Maybe it’s not enough to just write “insides of Ak-47”. Ask specifically: “Ak-47 barrel”, “Ak-47 sear”, “trigger”, etc. and you will find what you need.
I always advise starting with the cartridge. Finding the exact geometrical dimensions of almost any cartridge is easy enough. I should remind you again that it is the sizes that should be believed, not the schematic images. Next, it is necessary to make a rough blocking of internal parts and already at this stage, you can understand how they interact. Do not be lazy to produce simplified animations at this point. Detailing should begin with the details in which you are most confident.
Perhaps the main tool in our work with weapons is the Boolean. There were many prejudices associated with this tool in the past, but they are mostly associated with poor-quality performance. We create pieces related to technological production where drilling, milling, etc. are commonly used. Even cast forms often have these elements in themselves since they are made based on the form prepared this way. This approach often helps when you need to subtract one form from another (usually based on the same simple samples). Assumptions about how something was done in reality allows us to accurately model the forms that are poorly visible in the photos. It also makes our work close to CAD modeling.
What needs to be remembered when applying boolean operations is that you should pay particular attention to the mesh as booleans can often affect it.
For us, the main guideline has always been and will be that the final model should look like a real one from all sides. If at any angle of view there are doubts, it means that the work is not yet finished. I remember there was a case with a GSh-18 pistol: it was ready for the animation, but I was still confused by the fact that it obviously looked not as it should have. It turned out that even with ideal geometric height, an error was made in the proportions and the height of the slide was much larger. I had to urgently redo and pull everything up. It would not be a problem for an “exterior model”, but it took a lot of time to refit all the internal parts. But the result was perhaps the most accurate model after the factory one. I was amazed at how well the parts fit together in this pistol. It practically involved every millimeter of internal space. We even printed this model on a 3D printer. To my surprise, it really worked despite some unusual and precise mechanism. And it’s just incredible how good it felt in the hand.
About Animation and Texturing
Animation is the most important stage in the finalization of work. We often leave some unresolved issues for this stage. With detailed animation, the final fit is down to millimeters, and some strange moments become clear as day. Sometimes it might turn out that the weapon functions slightly differ from the way it was supposed to. Usually, this does not lead to serious alterations, but anything might happen. As a rule, after going through the entire modeling stage, there is nothing difficult in creating the right animation.
The person who participated in the modeling is not always involved but advises on some questions instead. Our modelers do not like it when someone spoils their work at the final stage, so they are always happy to help. It is important to solve all the problems even before the creation of the sweep, especially before texturing. This will eliminate all sorts of complex modifications.
Ivan Filipchenko, lead artist at RenderDock talks about the texturing stages:
“We split the texturing itself into several stages. It happened so historically when you had to texture all the details in a classical way in Photoshop. We pay special attention to preparation, collection of references, clarification of design features, if possible, and clearing of production conditions. This affects how the detail will look in the final result. We study all the smallest traces of processing, be it milling, casting, forging, stamping, etc. The next step for us is post-processing. As a rule, it is either longitudinal or radial grinding. It is important to remember that you should not overuse the height parameter and extrude all the elements with normal maps. Only after the base metal is created, do we proceed to the final processing (bluing, painting, anodizing). To make the surface layers realistic, we create a light color gradation for, at first glance, absolutely homogeneous objects. Then we do the same for roughness and metallicity. It is important that these tricks do not immediately catch the eye, so apply the layers with transparency twisted almost to zero. This creates an effect of presence and imperfection, forcing a person to peer into every detail on a subconscious level.
The next step is “aging”. It is clear that parts that constantly interact with each other are worn out, and the outer case suffers from constant use (falls and other damage). It is much more interesting to look at a “warrior” weapon, so we do not hold back the creative impulse and throw a lot of different traces and battle scars. In the end, we check which layers of damage are needed by sorting through them and remove everything unnecessary or anything we are not certain about. This helps to keep all the fun and delete unnecessary details. “Do not leave a living place” on the model if it is unnatural and straining the eyes.
Last but not least, we deal with the so-called “weathering”. With the help of grunge textures and procedural masks in Substance Painter, we apply traces from the use of soot, particles of gun grease in hard-to-reach places, greasy handles and control levers. In the end, there are a few fingerprints that give a special realism, if arranged and configured correctly.
It is important to use high-quality photo textures combining them in various proportions and blending modes. It makes textures look more unique and interesting in the result. We pay a lot of attention to generating the procedural masks, while hand painting is an auxiliary tool that allows the designer to add some individuality to surface elements”.
Effects in Video
Over the past years, we have accumulated a lot of completed projects that have not been published in the portfolio yet, and here the question about how to present them to the public became relevant. We wanted to show everything we are capable of clearly. The final answer to this question came not immediately, but, as usual, in the process. We concluded that animated images with various visual effects and light and shadows will be most interesting to the viewer.
In recent years, convenient software solutions have appeared that allow you to create your own unique effects of a shot, smoke, and sparkles. But at the moment, we cannot afford to spend much time on it. Therefore, it was decided to use ready-made video footages, the benefit of which is sufficient enough for sale. To give the effects originality, we almost never used only one effect. As a rule, it is a combination of 3-4 layers of different effects of shots, smoke and, sparkles. Naturally, the main task is to synchronize them with the already existing video. The usage of dynamic masks and color correction is also valuable. You can easily cope with this knowing the basics of modern video editors.
Naturally, it is impossible to achieve high quality without constantly controlling it. Being a small team, we have formed our own approaches to work, understandable in our narrow circle. As the team grows, these rules should be formed, as they say, “on paper”. We are going to that. For the basic rule, we take the purity of the grid and its accuracy, a clear triangulation. We do not proceed to other stages without taking into account all these requirements. Of course, the limitations of the 3D engines often do not let the creative impulse roam, and we have to save polys. In such cases, it should be remembered that you need to save polygons on flat areas first of all, and not on curved surfaces. At the same time, if it comes to detailed weapons, you can save more on the insides, especially on the internal cavities of the parts – no one usually considers them. We take the smallest pin as a point of reference in the grid construction and choose the cross sections of the remaining holes depending on how large they are. Based on this, we very rarely go beyond the limits. Usually, there even remains a decent gap of triangles which we then use in the most critical places.
Of course, all of the above is only recommendations and a story about how we do it. Other teams may have other approaches, and you are looking for your own. Remember that the experience gained at the cost of your own mistakes may be much more useful than a borrowed one. If this does not make you a high-quality specialist quickly, then at least it will give you the courage to move in this direction despite the difficulties and time spent. And we will be glad to cooperate with creative talented people in our turn.