Creating a Stylized Fishing Boat in Blender, ZBrush & Substance 3D

3D Game Artist Yusuf Algoz has shared the workflow behind the Fishing Sales Boat project, explained the trim sheet-based pipeline that was used, and talked about creating stylized textures.


I started my artistic journey with flash animations and since seeing the movie Toy Story, have been inspired to work with 3D modeling. I had lost interest after college as 3D art schools were not an available option. Instead, I studied IT App Development. After graduation, jobs were hard to find. So, I started investing time in my old hobby, drawing, and 3D design for about a year before I found programs at Saudi Digital Academy and then, later, the Game Arts Program at MISK.  Both programs are run by Vertex School and really started getting me into video game art.

The MISK/Vertex School program taught me why I struggled to get a job in the industry. I understood what is important and what is not in game design. What makes your art admired and sold. Such secrets separate hobbyists from professionals.

When someone asks me if I am a Game Designer, I answer that I am a 3D Game Artist studying environment art. My job is to create real-time 3D visuals of an imaginary world to tell a story that leaves an emotional impact on people. My strongest point has always been learning new workflows and tools.

What inspires me to create 3D art is the passion of the art community in collaborating to help each other. I am also a gamer, who connects with people through video games. Since I was a kid, I have been interested in video games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon and I used to play the Zelda series, Minecraft, and Splunkey at my friend's house during my last year of college.

My fanart of Anna from Spelunky 2

Gamers and Artists focus on feeling good and supporting one another, not through materialism but through connection with people and nature. With real-time 3D art, we are able to create a place people can visit from anywhere in the world and share stories about their cultures. Today, I feel like the sky's the limit. I don't even know what I am going to make next.

I worked on multiple team-based projects and led some. Last year, I was contacted by the Squad Vietnam community who developed assets for a new Squad mode. This is the project that got me involved with the Squad modding community.

The Binoculars were the capstone project for my first class at Vertex School

Once I started developing props for the Squad mode, the developers were very helpful in giving expert feedback. We even had history advisors to make sure our representation of the world was accurate.

The SS50 motorcycle was one of the models I did for the Squad Mode. I had to ask myself whether it would look good from the player's perspective

The Fishing Sales Boat Project

When my mentor Ryan Kingslien told me to make a prop, I proposed to make a fishing boat because it is huge and rarely seen in 3D art galleries. A design by the Concept Artist Joshua Jay Christie caught my interest, so I asked him for permission to make it in 3D.

The references I collected mainly pointed to the concept art. I also studied some other art props he drew, to make sure I understand the style. I then collected random ship images and close-ups of some of the props that I did not fully understand. Other references were used to understand texturing. My references also included images from other video games that made ships, like Sea of Thieves, for my benchmark. Benchmark references are used to compare it to other models of the same style.


Originally, I set a schedule to make the model in five weeks, which became six. The plan was to start with blocking the model, make a low poly, a high poly, then bake and texture it. But after the first phase, I realized that I could try using the trim sheet method I learned during my course with Paul Layton at Vertex School. Trim sheets are texture atlas, where one sheet of multiple texture maps is used to texture multiple assets. The method is used by Environment Artists to reuse textures and save memory. So, my tools were decided. I was going to use Blender for the model, Zbrush for the high poly trim sheet, Substance 3D Painter for texturing, and Substance Designer for making tileable materials.

The modeling stage started with the blockout. With that, I decided on the measurements and shapes of the props in general. After that, I added details to the models to make the low poly asset. I also had to smooth the Normal Maps and sharpen others to make the mid poly.

UV Unwrapping

I know a lot of artists struggle with UV unwrapping, so I want to point out that I used some shortcuts. I was lucky to find the add-on UVPackmaster which rearranges UVs using all the space it can. The issue is that you want to make sure the UV scale is right for each chunk of UV. Some UVs can also be mirrored to save texture space, but UVPackmaster helps you with all of that.

As for the trim sheet. The unwrapping process was entirely different. Each UV is cut and laid out on the proper trim. UV overlapping was not an issue, in this case, it was rather encouraged. The trim is then combined with other materials inside the Unreal Engine to create certain effects, like gradients.

So I started planning my trim sheet. From looking at the reference, there were a lot of repeated patterns of wood and metal parts. Therefore, I chose to make six variations of each. Three wood categories, two metallic categories, and four woodcuts. As for some of the unique assets, I decided they should have a separate sheet to add unique details.

To give an overview of why I was doing this, with trims created, many assets can be textured like shown in the image. If you look closely, these wood trims are the same used on the ship:

The trim sheets were sculpted in ZBrush. After exporting the trim sheet block out from Blender, I SubDivided it evenly. Then I started adding layers with the Clay Brush for the wood fibers. I used the Trim Dynamic and Trim Smooth Border brushes to guide these fibers then flatten them out.

I wanted each wooden pattern to be similar but also distinct from one another. As for the woodcuts, I used an Alpha Map to print them on the top left part of the trim sheet.

The Texturing Process

I aimed for a stylized look that relied on baked lights. Something along the lines of World of Warcraft. Therefore, after Sculpting the trim sheet in ZBrush, I baked them on a square sheet in Substance 3D Painter. The textures were separated using groups with ID masks. The textures were added to each group, layer by layer, in the following manner: Base Color, AO, Curvature, and Paint Layer respectively. I did not use any gradient colors so they work wherever I place them. Finally, a color variation Vertex Paint was added in Unreal Engine.

To fill the rest of the squares, I added a fill layer with a Texture Map. I set it to not repeat and scaled it down to fit the space I wanted. The rope was made from a striped material and was reduced to a thin line.

The upper right square was made in Substance 3D Designer, with few directional wrapping maps by using stripes, deformed by a Noise Map. I repeated the process again to make smaller details. Then I exported the maps into Substance 3D Painter and readjusted their sizes to fit in the corner of the trim sheet.

Adding the Story Elements

Having finished the boat design. I wanted to give it an extra story element. Since it is a fishing boat, I realized it would be cool to have a fish on it. So I looked up some interesting images of fish until I found the swordfish. I made a model, exactly the shape of the fish, and then took it to Substance 3DPainter for texturing. I used the same reference of the image and printed it on the fish using the Stencil tool. Then I proceeded to paint it and add the lines.

I also added wood planks to cover up the tiling and to make the shape look more interesting

Lighting and Rendering

When it came to light the model, it was through experimentation. I believe that lights and materials are two sides of the same coin. Meaning that they affect and depend on each other.

For instance, in order to fake material translucency, I add a bit of emissivity to my material, as you can see on the pink cloth. When I shine lights on the material, it has to look right. Otherwise, either the light or the material has to change.

Image showing how to add emission to your materials to fake translucency in UE4:

For the lighting setup, I used three-point lighting, with the Main Light, a Fill light, and a Rim light. The Spotlight was added to give purpose to the lamp. After that, I added the post-processing effect in Photoshop.

Here is the lighting setup in Blender Eevee which ended up being the final render:


The biggest issue with my projects is knowing if the desired look is going to work or not. The way I deal with this is to push my model to production ASAP. I usually like to do very sloppy work to make a first draft of the model in the shortest time possible. This allows me to see how it may end up, and plan ahead for the final piece. I follow the agile workflow, which allows me to go through cycles of iterations until the model is good enough.

I would like to give a lot of credit to Blender for giving me a new purpose and to thank SDA and the MISK program for supporting my journey as an artist, and of course, my friends and family. And special thanks to Vertex School and 80 Level for giving me a chance to share my knowledge.

If you are interested in seeing some of my other projects, please check out my ArtStation.

Yusuf Algoz, 3D Game Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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