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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
Nicholas Hunter from University of Central Florida did a little talk about his way to approach the creation of awesome materials for hhero assets. This time he studies the way you can create metal surfaces and build a unique Japanese blade. His work also features some amazing hyrogliphs, which make it even more intriguing. Read about the various techniques he used in this article.
My name is Nicholas Hunter, and I am a senior game design student at the University of Central Florida. Like many others, it took me a while to figure out where I wanted to go in life; my first degree is in film production, and I spent some time doing photography work on my own. I was spinning my wheels for a while, but when I saw the incredible work that Naughty Dog did with their cinematic approach to Uncharted 2, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that marriage between film and video games.
I am currently enrolled in a summer workshop at UCF, where I and a team of 12 others have grouped up to produce a game, from concept to shippable quality, in 10 weeks’ time. As art director, I spend far more time in engine than I do in Maya, Quixel, or Zbrush. It is my job to establish the workflow to achieve our art style, help others meet their goals in art production, and assemble the scene in engine. The katana project was the result of being in the middle of an asset dead zone; all of our artists were working on assets, and I had nothing to do in engine until they were ready. I was very excited to have a little bit of spare time, so I went to Pinterest to look for an interesting prop to create. I had never seen a katana in a wooden scabbard before, and the reference images I found were beautiful. I chose this project because it was simple, and could be used to show off materials work.
Modeling this katana was done entirely in Maya. Because I am still very new to 3D modeling, I try to keep my work focused on modeling as if I was making a game ready asset. This helps me hit every part of the pipeline, like high and low poly modeling, baking, and materials – the more I do it, the better I get at it. My workflow starts out by building a low poly mesh which hits all the important parts of the reference material, while being mindful of what I will need to do when smoothing a copy of this mesh to create the high poly. I first made the scabbard by creating a basic shape that matches the width of the object, and then extruded that in a line to a length which fit the reference image. I then cleaned up the end, duplicated those faces, and sewed them up to the oppose end to match. After tweaking the handle’s shape with soft select and scale, I went on to complete the blade in the same way. Once both pieces were complete in their basic shape, I created a curve, and used the bend function to shape both of them at the same time to match the curve of the reference image. Next up was to cut the handle out of the scabbard, bevel the edges where it splits, and fill in the holes appropriately, being mindful of topology for smoothing later down the line. The last part I focused on was the collar, which was simple enough.
I use Quixel for all my texturing and materials. Amazingly enough, everything in this project uses the standard smart materials Quixel provides as a base. I selected a wood smart material that was close to the color I wanted, and then proceeded to fine tune the albedo and knock out some unwanted knots in the material’s colors. I hand painted some very light roughness down the edges and across the faces to break up the roughness values, as well as some light nicks and scratches.
The paint on the scabbard and handle highlights why I enjoy using Quixel so much, because it’s as easy as dropping a new layer into a Photoshop document, and aligning it with the UVs. I first made a paint material, and set the blend mode so that the curvature detail from the wood normals would bleed through to the paint normals; this helps the paint look more authentic. I then set the paint material’s mask to black, took a selection of my Japanese text characters, and painted those in with white. Lastly, I added a bump layer to give the paint an ever so slight edge so separate it from the wood.
The tempered line of the blade was the one thing I feared doing, because I didn’t know if I could do a satisfactory job. I started out with a pure metal smart material, and shifted the albedo to a point that matched the reference materials. I played around with the roughness values to get it shiny, and then used dynamask and a brush to make it shiny in all the right places! To get the metal material to be consistent in its wear and direction, I duplicated it – this ensured that any masking I did would line up perfectly with the previous material. With this new duplicated material, I set the roughness and albedo to match the tempered line of my reference, and then masked it out with black. Now here is the most important thing I learned while making this piece… when texturing in Quixel, sometimes you need to model for Quixel. What I mean by this is that I have made a number of blade weapons, and often times, Quixel’s brush in paint mode will bleed through to the other side of the model when working on the blade itself. To solve this, I decided to take my blade, split it down the spine and cutting edge, and import an exploded mesh to paint on in Quixel. This way, the paint brush can’t possibly bleed through to the other side. Once I figured that out, it was nothing more than going into my second metal material’s dynamask, and hand painting the temper line down the edge of the blade. I then copied that mask, applied it to the original base metal, and inverted it.
Splitting the model up and exporting a mesh specifically for Quixel’s workflow is going to be something I do every time from now on. I have always had trouble painting in tight areas within Quixel, but with this method, I hope to get precise brush strokes only where I need them. Just be sure to arrange your exploded mesh in such a way that it represents the intended orientation in game, so you can get correct weathering patterns if you intend to use those smart materials. I am still a student, and I will always be a student, because I hope to learn something new from other artists as often as I can. Game industry artists are some of the most helpful people I have met online, and I love that professionals regularly provide the community with information. I think it’s awesome that I get the opportunity to do that right now for others. I haven’t had an internship yet, but I can’t wait to step foot into a real studio and see how the professionals work.