Creating Cute Box-Bots in Blender

Creating Cute Box-Bots in Blender

Rachel Frick created a series of cute box-bots and described the way she worked on them in Blender using various helpful addons. Make sure to check out her recent tutorial Making a Box-Bot In Blender 2.8 that demonstrates the full workflow.

Introduction

Hi, I’m Rachel Frick and I am a Blender user who loves modeling robots and designing interesting environments.

I got into 3D art about six years ago when one of my friends needed someone to create 3D product renders for the company he worked for. I started off using Blender and learning the program's basics to make 3D models of desks and shelves. Later that year, I became interested in using Blender to make art and began using the skills I had developed through my job to create renders in my free time. Since I was a kid I have always loved the idea of being an artist and I was always sketching in notebooks making pixel art. After Blender had introduced me to the world of 3D art, I was excited about the potential of the medium and transfixed by all of the amazing artworks in the community. That's when I decided that 3D art was for me.

Why Blender?

I started learning Blender because I didn’t have the money to buy industry-standard modeling software. Blender was a perfect choice for me as it has a modeling kit, animation tools, a rendering engine and basically everything else I needed for my job and later for creating personal art. As my skills grew, I learned the Blender’s kit further and took advantage of its active community. This has given me access to amazing addons and a huge amount of tutorials to learn from. Honestly, if Blender wasn’t free I probably wouldn’t have gotten my first job and as a result, never gotten into CG.

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Working on Box-Bots

I’ve been making a series of box-bots for a while now, starting with the first one back in 2016. I started making them as quick hard-surface characters that I could try new modeling techniques on. As I made more, I began taking them more seriously and giving them more personality with unique faces and small details. When modeling my first box-bot, I used the addon HardOps and kicked off my growing interest in hard-surface modeling.  These box-bots have improved over time as I have practiced concept design and honed my hard-surface modeling techniques.

I relied heavily on the addon Boxcutter throughout the process of the latest bot, using it to speed up my workflow significantly. Boxcutter is a hard-surface addon that is used for drawing booleans on the surface of an object allowing you to work more efficiently and intuitively. The booleans also have a lot of different types and functions that allow me to fine-tune each cut.  The default booleans are Union and Difference but there are also operations to give the cutter thickness, bevels, arrays, and insets.

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I also use Boxcutter in tandem with HardOps to aid my workflow by easily adding modifiers through the HardOps menu. I really like the Mirror modifier in HardOps because of its helpful indicator for what direction a given modifier will be applied to. Lastly, another great hard-surface addon I use is Decal Machine for adding custom decals to objects. I use it especially for placing small details like screws and to add text or graphics to my models.

My general workflow for making a bot starts with adding a default cube and then using Boxcutter to cut out the main shape for the screen. The screen is the most important part of the bot because it carries the bot's facial expressions which is the first thing a viewer's eye is drawn to. Once I am happy with the face, I move on to making medium cuts. These cuts are used to block out the feet, top paneling, and sides. Lastly, I make a detail pass for all the small cuts and screw details. Ultimately, creating a box-bot such as this one takes about two or three hours, from start to finish.

Texturing

I usually keep the texturing for these bots very basic. First, I’ll start with a few different colored principle shaders, and then I’ll select and assign different parts of the bots to different colors. The text and decals are added here using Decal Machine. Next, I will work on the screens that carry the bot’s face and are always really fun to create. I’ll start by painting a face in Photoshop and then importing it into Blender to project onto the screen.  The screen shading is then done with procedural nodes. The base of the node tree is a wave texture which adds lines that I then break up using noise. 

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Next, I add a gradient around the screen using a linear gradient texture, duplicate the node and invert and rotate it until I have four gradient nodes around each horizontal and vertical axis of the screen. Lastly, I Multiply them together for a nice dark shadow around the edges of the screen to make them look burned and direct the viewer's eyes to the face in the center.

Preparing the Final Render

My favorite step of the process is the lighting and background. For the background, I use a plane and then extrude the edges up, adding a Subdivision Surface modifier to make it look like an infinity wall. For lighting, I’ll set up an HDRI for some interesting reflections but I keep the strength of it very low. Then, I’ll add the main lighting sources in the form of just two area lights. This is because I really love the way area lights look in Eevee and the reflections they make.

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A big tip for working with lights in Eevee is to go into the light properties and scroll down to shadow preferences. There, I activate the setting for contact shadows, which gives shadows a more realistic quality if one object is casting a shadow onto another object. The other setting I’ll use is screen space reflections with a little bit of bloom. Overall, for most box-bots, I settle on this simple setup of two main lights and some tweaks in Eevee.

Lastly, I finish the project with compositing. Here, I use Ambient Occlusion to add another level of detail and more realistic shadows to the real-time scene. To enable it, I go into the render properties panel and check it off, then I go down into the View Layer Properties and check Ambient Occlusion again. This will enable AO for compositing after the image is rendered. After a basic composition node setup, I’ll connect the AO node. Next, I’ll color the AO shadows for a more stylized look. Finally, I adjust the overall image’s colors and contrast.

If You Want to Study Blender

If you are a beginner interested in learning Blender, I would recommend checking out CGCookie which offers great courses for all levels from beginner to advanced. They helped me learn a lot when I was a novice by providing concise and professionally-made tutorials. Another great resource is FlippedNormals' Youtube video “Switching to Blender 2.8 for Advanced 3D Artists.” This video is a crash course for learning Blender if you are an experienced 3D artist coming from programs like Maya or 3ds Max. The creators are industry artists who use a wide variety of industry software packages so they have an excellent understanding of how to bridge the gaps between them. They also have an online store where you can buy more advanced courses than provided on their Youtube channel.

Lastly, if you are interested in a course covering the workflow and techniques for hard0surface modeling in Blender, I would highly suggest Aidy Burrows and Gleb Alexandrov’s course “Hard-Surface Modeling in Blender”.

Rachel Frick, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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    Creating Cute Box-Bots in Blender