Concepting and Animating a Drone-Transformer

Concepting and Animating a Drone-Transformer

Adrian Martuneac shared a few production details of his Transforming Drone done for the upcoming game Insula: modeling in ZBrush, UVing, and animation.


My name is Adrian Martuneac, I'm 32 years old, from Romania. When I was 24 I worked at a company called Neuro Software as a 3D Technical Lead. They worked mobile games, but my aim was way higher so I quit after one year and started working freelance. I got a lot of offers from small and big companies like Ubisoft, Gameloft, 343, EA, but I kept working freelance because it offered me a lot of free time to learn/experiment with different workflows and programs, and I also like the fact that every freelance job offers new and different challenges. Currently, I am working for 3 games: PositronX, Insula, and Project Genesis; as well as some personal projects.

Studying 3D & Animation

I always loved design in general. When I was in my teens, I experimented with some 3D programs like Max, Lightwave, Maya, but they never caught my attention at that time. Instead, I enjoyed drawing and concepting in 2D.

What really influenced me was when I started playing around with ZBrush in college, - then I realized I really needed to step up my concepting game because my models weren't very good.

So I took a pause from ZBrush and for about 1-2 years I started doing at least 5h a day of studying design and concepting from tutorials and online resources, as well as finding like-minded people who were also looking for knowledge in that field.

After that, I got back into ZBrush and found a google hangout group called ZBHO where I met a lot of artists who helped me a lot and became my friends. Now we have a discord channel dedicated to sharing and helping 3D artists.

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Having friends who had skills either more or less advanced in that area or just studying something in general was and still is the best and fastest way to level up your skills. It gets you in that mindset of learning and experimenting and improves your willpower considerably when you know you can always talk about what you're doing and get different sets of eyes looking at your stuff and advising or sharing opinions about it.

I started animating when I was working at the company mentioned previously. Basically, we needed some more complex animations and by that time I only knew how to rig, so I started doing some tests in Maya and ended up losing nights studying animation fundamentals because I found it fascinating.

At one point, I realized I needed more time to push my studies further so when I found some freelance clients I quit my job.

After that, I started making some characters for the Unreal Engine Marketplace, participated in some game jams, won 2 times, and took on projects that would push my development further in design, animation, and gameplay/game design in general.

Transforming Drone: About the Project

The project started pretty straightforwardly, my clients had a character with a drone as its main ranged weapon and they needed a good design for it. I suggested, "what if the drone transformed into different weapons?" because until then they only had a static mesh firing in different modes. I made 2D and 3D concepts, they liked the idea and I started working on it.

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All work was done in ZBrush. The new layer system helped a lot because I made the drone closed first using the Clay Buildup brush and the Topology brush/Panel Loops function. After that, I modeled some gun/internal parts with the ZModeler tool and started playing with the shapes. During that time, I was in close communication with my clients so we could make sure the guns looked good. The designs of the weapons were inspired by the concepts I made.

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I used 3D Coat for unwrapping and arranging UVs. They are all mirrored and overlapped so before unwrapping them I only imported the main parts that were going to be duplicated/mirrored, then imported the UVed meshes in Maya and replaced the placeholders with the UVed meshes after mirroring and duplicating the geometry.


First of all, I duplicated all the different arrangements of the meshes and put them on different layers to have them as reference.

I rigged and created control curves for the separate parts that were going to be animated: the gun/internal parts and the outside plates.

I then started making keyframes and placing the different parts in what they were supposed to transform into, matching the duplicated designs.

Then, I fitted all the outside parts inside the drone, placed the plates in a closed state, and keyframed that, after which I animated all the in-between frames.

The import into UE4 was pretty straightforward, the animations were carried over perfectly from the FBX exported from Maya. I made the transform-in animations in Unreal with the Record function while playing the animation in reverse in the editor.


For the sounds, I downloaded different samples of clicks and clanks from some free sound sample websites, then just added and layered them in a program called Mixpad and exported them as .wav.


If anyone's interested in learning the pipeline for a full game character from the concept to UE4 import, I have a course Game Character Creation at XMD Academy.

You can also check out my Unreal Marketplace page if you're looking for fully-working Biotech characters and spaceships.

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Other social media links:


Adrian Martuneac, Freelance Concept Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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