Sophie Williams shared her workflow for the 3D prop Antique Phone: modeling, adding wear and tear, and presentation in Marmoset Toolbag.
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Hello! My name is Sophie, and I am currently a Junior 3D artist at Coatsink. I have been pursuing 3D more seriously for just over two years, prior to this being more of a hobbyist.
After working on environment art primarily made of tileable materials, dirt masks, grime masks, etc. I decided I wanted to pick an asset from one of the projects I was working on and put a bit more time into it and texturing in Substance Painter. Making unique props like this is something I enjoy, and I think it is incredibly important to sometimes take the time to create something that will bring you joy during the process.
I also feel it is important for people like myself at a junior level within games to take a step back and spend an extended amount of time on just one prop or asset when time allows it. This can help with improving your ability to work from reference as well as implementing your own storytelling on a much smaller scale.
Antique Phone: Reference
I spent a bit of time collecting references for a variety of different phones, working out what silhouette I wanted, materials, etc. The scene I was planning on putting it into had a scheme of dark Mahogany wood and painted gold leaf so this saved a bit of time that would normally be spent exploring colour schemes.
For all modeling, I have always used 3ds Max, it is the modeling software I prefer to use due to having a lot of control over what I am creating in the modifier stack. I have not felt the need to use anything else yet. I chose to follow the high to low process for this model, since as previously mentioned I wanted to get to work on improving my individual asset texturing.
I chose a couple of reference pictures to focus on closer and used these as the basis for the asset. In this case, I decided to eyeball the references as opposed to placing any on a plane in the software to box model, since I was working from a couple of different references. I also imported the UE4 mannequin into the scene to double-check that the scale was correct.
I try to model objects as they would be put together in real life, working on different wooden sections, separate metal pieces, etc. before attaching everything at the end. This helps to prevent me from overcomplicating the process which I have definitely done in the past!
Other assets in the scene I am working on have a theme of sculpted nature and botany in the architecture, so I chose to grab some elements of a previously made trim sheet that were being used on other assets for consistency. I really liked the details on the phone’s “legs” in a few of the references, so I decided to make the most of it (being a unique asset) and include these more detailed areas with leaves (from the trim sheet) and an acorn in ZBrush.
The retopology was a pretty simple process, as I already had a high poly within 3ds Max. It was simply a case of deleting the subdivision modifiers (in this case “Turbosmooth” – I used the double smooth effect on most things which quickly creates curves and helps the high poly take shape quickly). Once subdivision modifiers were gone, it was just a case of using retopology tools within 3ds Max (as it was a simple asset). And for the sculpted details I ZRemeshed and manipulated the low poly in 3ds Max to better fit the shape of the high poly.
On to texturing – the main reason I created this asset. I chose to work in Substance Painter (as this is easily one of the best texture authoring tools out there). I decided to stick with what was provided in the software on this occasion to save some time.
At first, I like to get base textures on the entire asset before refining and beginning to add grunge, wear, and tear, roughness details, etc.
I began with the Walnut Wood material changing the base colour and ring steps so that it fit the wood patterns I found in the references. Then I added the Damaged Gold Smart Material where I toned down the degree of wear and dust so I could build that up myself through further generators and hand painting.
For me, the most important aspect of texturing is being able to tell a story and show how the item would be used through simple things like smudges, scratches, etc. I wanted this phone to look used and slightly grimy implying its owner probably did not spend a huge deal of time cleaning their possessions.
I tend to slowly build these up layer by layer, normally starting with a layer solely for roughness. Then, I’ll use a mixture of grunge masks, levels, and hand painting to create a base roughness taking into account where the item would be regularly interacted with such as handles, buttons, etc.
From here I work on general wear and tear like slight edge damages, making sure to subtly include into the height for slight surface variation. I tend to switch through different generators each time, playing with the settings as I go until I find something that works. Then more often than not, I’ll add a paint layer to work back into the mask to help prevent the look of the wear being too procedural.
Up until this point, the wear and grime build-up is normally separate within the folder for each material. Once I’m happy with what I have I’ll add a layer above everything else with some general dust/grime that covers the entire asset for consistency.
At the very top within the base colour, I have AO set to Overlay and Curvature set to Multiply. Whilst this isn’t physically accurate, I find that this really makes the base colour pop and gives a nice touch to polish off an asset – it’s a great method for making the edges stand out and darkening the cavities when ambient occlusion just isn’t cutting it.
For the rendering of the asset, I went ahead and used Marmoset Toolbag as it’s an excellent tool for presenting game assets.
I started with just an HDRI and skylight making sure all my textures were displaying correctly and I did not have any issues with normal maps, etc.
As soon as I felt things were looking good, I turned off the directional light to start with a clean lighting slate. Due to this being a single asset, a 3 point lighting setup was all that was needed. This is the same setup used in photography and the principles still apply to asset renders. A key, fill, and backlight were placed to create the shadows, highlights, and silhouettes that I wanted. There was obviously tweaking of values and colours here and there in order to create the look I wanted but I was happy with the result (yet I’ve still got a lot to learn!).
I like to take my asset renders with a 35mm camera lens as I believe it gives a cinematic feel to them. The post-process was straightforward as well, I am still not entirely sure about the more technical side of tone mapping but I’ve always thought if it looks cool use it! I used the ACES tone mapping as I feel it makes things look more cinematic and “film-like” and creates quite a dramatic tone in the shot. Applying a vignette helps in a lot of circumstances with the composition of the shot. It also constantly guides the viewer’s eye back to the centre of the frame.
You can see my settings below, however, they are very much dependent on the image you’re trying to take and the feeling you’re trying to create within the render.