Building WoW Dioramas with Maya & Toolbag

Jacob Wheat did a little breakdown of the amazing 3d diorama with beautiful hand-painted materials.


Hi everyone! My name is Jacob Wheat, and I am an environment artist with a passion handpainted stylized game art. I’ve worked on a few previous projects, but my most recent being some freelance work on Brimstone Brawlers.

My introduction to environment art started in college. I attended Full Sail University to get my degree in game art. Now I’m living in Wisconsin while searching for a full-time job in the games industry.

The project

The Old God Ritual is a fanart piece from a new dungeon in the World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth expansion. I’ve always loved the art style of World of Warcraft, and working at Blizzard is a dream of mine. My main goal starting this project was to make something that I enjoyed while also being portfolio worthy.

I like to dive into modeling either after or during the concept phase to help flesh out initial ideas. World of Warcraft is known for having lower polycount, so I started with primitive blockouts in Maya. After this, it’s a combination of edge loops, extruding, and mirroring until it takes shape. Something I like to keep in mind when modeling is shape language. Shape language helps make the viewer feel what you’re trying to portray. For example, sharp points on models could mean danger or rounded objects feel safe. I modeled with the intention of being inviting, yet more evil-like the closer you looked towards the center.

The tentacles were really fun to work on! I started with a basic cylinder in Maya and extruded out/scaled down the top faces until I got an interesting shape. You can do this with splines as well, but since these were not too complicated opted for the other method. Something else I’d like to mention as a tip here is to turn off the lights in your modeling program to get a better view of the silhouette. This can tell you if your model is too difficult to read, or falls flat at another angle.

For the base, I wanted to experiment with trim textures. This influenced my UVs and early planning. To start the texturing process of the bowl, I mirrored the geometry a good bit. This makes texturing much smaller and easier to deal with inside of Photoshop. I created an x512 size UV snapshot in Maya, which was imported into Photoshop to start the texturing. My main method for painting is using lots of references and comparing your work to the level you want to be at. For this project, I really admired Lianna Tai’s textures. I had to pay attention when adding the small defects, however, or else the mirroring would be too obvious.

For the water, I used a cylinder face and expanded it until it fit the inside of the bowl. I made it a blue/greenish color and set the transparency to dither in Marmoset Toolbag 3. There are also ripples around where the rocks meet the water. This was done using a flat plane with a basic ripple texture painted on it. You can do fancy things like making the water reflective, but I decided to keep it simple so the attention is drawn back to the centerpiece.

The materials were heavily inspired by the most recent World of Warcraft expansion. Luckily, I was able to grab awesome reference from ArtStation as well as in-game screenshots. I think one of the most important things to remember when doing handpainted texturing is to work on your values. By putting my renders into Photoshop every once in a while, I can use a black and white filter to make sure the values in my textures are not too close together and feel more natural. The lighting is a basic directional light with slight Global Illumination within Marmoset. For the most part, the lighting is painted in the texture itself and not from the 3D viewer.

I don’t think that speed should be favored over quality, especially for handpainted textures. It can be time-consuming for sure, but I think that’s natural for everyone. The quality bar is constantly rising, and everyone has different paces they prefer to work at which is totally fine.

Useful guides

There are a lot of awesome tutorials out there, but here are two I really enjoyed:

Finally, I think it’s important to get feedback on your work. If you have Discord, the Hand Painter’s Guild is a friendly group of artists willing to help any level of skill.

Jacob Wheat, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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