Dmytro Mykhailyk talked about the workflow behind the DBAL-A2 Project, shared the narrative texturing process, and explained the rules of creating an object's story.
Hello everyone, my name is Dmytro Mykhailyk, I am a 3D Artist at Ubisoft working mostly with hard surfaces.
Today, I want to share with you how, with what software, and using what chips I did my work DBAL-A2.
When I decided to author an article, I thought for a long time about what to say about it. I wanted my text to be different from the other articles on the 80 Level website and decided that the main topic of this article will be narrative texturing. I will talk about geometry, UV, and baking only in passing.
The DBAL-A2 Project
I would like to start my story with the conditions in which I made this work or rather the circumstances I was forced into to save myself and my family from the war (if you're not interested in reading about the difficulties of an artist during the war, you can skip a few paragraphs).
I live in Kyiv with my wife and son. On February 24, I woke up not from an annoying alarm clock, although that would be great, but from explosions and sirens shouting outside the window. Opening the phone, I saw dozens of messages and news that the war had begun and my country had been attacked. Outside my window, at that time the sounds of explosions could be heard, and clouds of smoke could be seen in the distance. I have a small son and first I thought about how to save him and my wife. Fear, loss, uncertainty, horror, anger – these are the words that can describe my feelings at that moment. All that day and all that night we did not understand what to do next.
On the morning of February 25, my family and I together with my good friend who is also a wonderful 3D artist and no less a wonderful person Yaroslav Lohvinov decided to leave. How, where, for how long – we had no answers to these questions, we just took the most necessary things (what could fit in a backpack) and went to the railway station. The next day, we miraculously arrived in Lviv. After a week of searching for an apartment, we were in some kind of apartment, where there is all you need for life (the internet, toilet, and bed). We were not safe in Lviv, already there I saw tears and fear on my son's face from the explosions outside the window. Sirens sounded about 4-6 times a day. And in the middle of all this, I did what I do best (imagine how badly I do everything else) – I started to model something.
I did not approach the choice of what to do very carefully and accurately. Roughly speaking, I did the first thing that came to my mind. First, I collected references. Many 3D artists underestimate this stage and spend little time on it, but this is not correct. Searching for references is the first stage in the creation of any work. I divide references into geometry and texture references. Geometry references can be drawings, clear photos, and good angles from which all shapes and geometry can be read. Texture references are not necessarily pictures of your selected object, these can be materials worn out as you like, other objects similar to what you make, where the history of the object can be seen.
Creating Geometry, UV & Baking
After searching for references, I start working on geometry. I started this model in Fusion 360, after that, I finalized it in ZBrush. Nothing complicated or unusual. There are a lot of tutorials on this pipeline on the internet and on various trading platforms.
When I finished the basic forms of high poly, it seemed to me that the work looked boring, and thinking ahead, it had too few interesting materials. Therefore, I decided to add a broken wire and tape it to the case. I always make an insulating tape in Marvelous Designer, in my opinion, there is a lot of control and you can make an insulating tape of the quality I wanted.
I have one funny trick with insulating tape. I use the Pin function to attach the beginning of the tape to an object and then rotate the object. I do not know why but I like this method the most, you need to rotate slowly and carefully, it's a very meditative process. In the circumstances, meditative and calming processes were good for me.
After getting the desired result from Marvelous Designer, I finalized the insulating tape in ZBrush, adding jagged edges and smooth flowing detailing. I also had an idea to attach the hair to the sticky side of the insulating tape, so I folded the edge with the sticky side out. Yes, I understand that it is not even visible in the renders, but it is there, and I am a little happier because of it. Now you know about it too.
I often add a lot of small and not very noticeable details. Individually, they do not really affect the result, but all together they make the overall picture that I aspire to. It is like in the games from Rockstar, a lot of details are not noticeable to the average player, but when they see such small details, people admire and love these games even more. I think that the work of an artist is something that can give people not only aesthetic pleasure but also emotions, and if the artist succeeds, then they did well.
But enough philosophizing, let’s get on with the work. Low poly and UV are, for me, the most boring stages for any 3D artist. I will tell you about it as briefly as possible. I made low poly with Moi 3D from geometry made in Fusion 360. After that, I was correcting the result with my hands for a long time until I got a result that satisfied me. I did the work exclusively for ArtStation, so there are places that could be optimized, but this was not necessary, the main thing is that there are no shading bugs and the geometry does not look too low poly with obvious angularity problems.
Having finished the low poly, I deployed it and packed it with RizomUV; the software is not important at these stages, do it where it is more convenient for you, like all the stages above. It does not matter how you do your work – the main thing is the result. Specifically, with UV, it is only important to observe the desired texel, the fullness of the UV space, and it is necessary that it is flat.
The next stage is baking, I bake a normal map, two AO maps (one with objects and hard shadows, the second is smoother with ignoring objects, this is necessary for the correct use of generators and masks), and Curvature. If necessary, I also bake MatID, Concavity, and Convexity maps. I use MatID for masks, Concavity and Convexity for the need to highlight corners and recesses, and Curvature also for the generators to work correctly. I bake in Marmoset Toolbag, but just like with everything else, you can do it in any software, the main point is the result. In Marmoset, in my opinion, doing this is most convenient and as flexible as possible. And finally, we can move on to the most interesting and important stage of both creating the model and this article – we start texturing.
Why do I consider this stage the most important? If you open ArtStation and enter there, for example, AK-47, you will see hundreds of works, in 90% of cases, there will be almost identical geometry, sometimes a few more triangles, sometimes a little fewer. But you will like one job and not the other. The thing is the geometry of the AK-47 cannot be made different because it will turn out to be a completely different weapon, but the textures on each work will be unique. In some cases, the transfer of materials is better, in others – the transfer of wear is better, in another work, the 3D artist added a sticker, scratched something, etc. This is what distinguishes work "A" from work "B". Therefore, always save your strength and enthusiasm for the texturing stage. When you understand this simple truth, this stage immediately becomes the most interesting because the artist makes his work unique at this stage.
Texturing starts with a setup of geometry and baked maps, choosing a texturing method, PBR Metallic Roughness or PBR Specular Glossiness. It will not really affect the result; I am used to working with PBR Specular Glossiness. And the working methods will remain approximately the same, only the numbers in the material settings will change. After a full geometry setup and baked maps, I bake two more maps in Substance 3D Painter: World space normal and Position. World space normal for the correct operation of generators, and Position – for working with a gradient, I always bake in one axis. This is for future gradient work. The upper side of the object always has more wear (direct sunlight, rain, etc.) A Position map baked along one axis will help show us these effects.
Narrative Texturing of Materials
After the correct bake of all the cards I need, I start creating materials starting from the bottom to the top, guided by the history of the subject. This time, I start with metal. I try to make each material interesting, even though the metal in my case will be visible only in places of large damage and scratches. I still give it variation in Gloss.
The next material is the paint that covers the metal. I will not describe the creation of all materials, I will only show the most basic ones. The creation of other materials is not that different.
First, I make a base on Diffuse and Glossiness. I have two parts with the same material, but to make the result more interesting, I change the Diffuse and Glossiness values on these two parts. In the real world, this tonality, if it exists, is hard to notice, but we try to make it more beautiful and interesting, otherwise, we could just take a scan of this object and, instead of rendering, just take a photo.
After that, I apply the inscriptions with white paint as in the references, in addition to the color, I add a little height. Often, 3D artists apply inscriptions closer to the completion, but then one gets the impression that these inscriptions are separate from the rest of the work. Later, you will see why I do it this way. I do not use pure white, I always add a tint, this way, the color is slightly yellow. It is not enough to draw an even mask, it needs to be processed immediately. You need to add a warp, slightly correct through the Fill layers overlaid through Blending Mode – Multiply, and the same with the generator. Then the effect of wear and tear will appear, which will make our work more interesting and will already begin to tell the viewer a story.
We continue to work with the paint material, adding large and small textures. It is necessary to highlight them a little by Diffuse and Glossiness. The method of adding such details is simple: create a layer, apply a mask, add Fill, add the desired pattern, and process the mask. It is important to work with the mask; for example, in this case, you need to process the edges, small “pimples” clog on them over time and they are not as clearly visible as in other areas. And already now we can see that this layer is superimposed on top of the white inscriptions, and we get the effect as if the white paint has worn off much faster on the convex areas.
After that, I add another texture layer. In hard-to-reach places, the texture will differ in Diffuse, Glossiness, size, and height. I make this pattern larger and on the Fill layer with the texture pattern through Blending Mode – Multiply I impose the Dirt generator. I also brighten the corners with a lighter layer and the Metal Edge Wear generator. It is important to remember that when using generators, you need to diversify them with Grunge in the Fill layer. The Fill overlay should be Blending Mode – Multiply like in the image below.
Now we need to dilute the paint material with Diffuse and Glossiness to make it look much more interesting. We do all this according to the same principles as the layers before.
This way, absolutely any material can be made interesting. Next, we will work with the narrative, adding the history of this object. I do not like to do something new and clean, I prefer to give the viewer the maximum variety of materials and history. Now I want to add shallow scratches to the places that are easiest to scratch, I do it with Fill and Paint, but Paint I drop under Fill, and I put Blending Mode – Multiply on Fill. This way, on the Paint layer, I only paint where I want the Grunge to show up.
We continue to add detail. Now we can use our Position map and the generator to add tone playing with color from top to bottom. I do this with a normal layer, with a Diffuse overlay using Blending Mode – Passthrough and adding a Color Correct filter to increase the contrast. After that, I apply the Position generator through the mask and adjust it to the result I need. With this trick, you can do a lot of interesting things.
I like to show water streaks in the history of an object. They can be of several options, for example, a layer of dust treated with alpha water streaks on top as if the water washed off the dust or simply streaks played on Diffuse and Glossiness. By the same principle, you can add many details.
Next, I want to show one interesting effect that can be achieved by the same method as we did the contrast on the Position generator. Now we will add remarkably interesting edge wear in the same way and show it through different alphas and now with increasing Glossiness through the levels.
Do not forget to use alphas to paint the mask, doing it with a simple brush will not lead to the desired result.
You can add more variety in Diffuse and Glossiness, etc. After that, you will need to put a mask on the group in which the paint is located and work with it, adding scratches to the body to the layer of metal that is under the paint. In this layer, I usually add an Anchor to further add some Diffuse variation to the edges of the paint. Using alphas, you can wipe in places of interaction with the body. Scratches also should not be uniform over the entire surface, try to apply them unevenly and to places of increased interaction.
Further, through this Anchor, you can add highlighting along the edge, beating large damage and paint scratches. Add a lighter and more matte layer.
Using the methods presented above, you will be able to create a high-quality and beautiful material adapted to the part you are texturizing.
Drawing a Narrative
I often see other 3D artists' writing, scratching, and smearing that tells the story of the subject, but they make it too easy, and it does not look very pretty. I have a rule: for every layer I put on, I must produce something interesting and play with it in the textures. When applying something to textures, you must consider this:
- WHAT – material (paint, ink, etc.);
- HOW – the method of application (brush, spray, finger, etc.);
- WHERE – the interaction of this layer with the material on which you apply the story;
- AFTERMATH – the interaction of this material with the external environment.
I will try to show this in my other work, which will more clearly show all these rules.
In the example below, you can see the inscription with a marker:
- the inscription is written by hand with a marker, it is readable in form, from color and gloss it is clear that it is ink;
- you can also see that Kevlar absorbs ink from the marker in different ways;
- you can see how the paint has worn off faster on the convex parts (on the “pimples”);
- you can see a patch of paint rubbed with a finger.
To learn and understand better, we can consider another example from the same work.
Lettering with spray paint:
- you can understand that this is paint by diffusion and glossiness;
- you can understand that this is spray paint by the characteristic shape, material, and streaks;
- we see the interaction with Kevlar, namely, the layer of oils released from the paint is absorbed into the softer fibers, the color and gloss of the paint are different on different surfaces;
- a characteristic stain from the erased paint, interaction with physical damage to the object, gravity is visible on the paint streaks.
Whatever you apply to your work, remember the four rules described above (WHAT, HOW, WHERE, AFTERMATH), it will make your work more lively, vibrant, and unique.
There are still a lot of interesting technologies and small chips that I use for texturing. Perhaps, if readers like this article, then I will write another part or a new article with a different object and try to describe everything else.
This is where I end my article and story. I typed 50% of the article on my phone in a bomb shelter. I really hope that soon Ukraine wins and peace will come to my house. I hope no one else will ever find themselves in the same situation as me, my family, and my country. Peace and goodness to all!
I am always open to questions, suggestions, and just chatting. I will be glad to answer all your questions!
You may find these articles interesting