3D Hard-Surface Artist Miguel Sanchez Woodvine shared the approach to modeling and texturing props and told us about the perks of creating props for games.
My name is Miguel Sanchez Woodvine. I am from Spain, and I currently work as a freelance 3D Vehicle/Prop Artist with studios all over the world. It all started as a hobby, I have always liked video games and art, so I decided to study the Video Games Creation Masters Degree at the UPF University at Barcelona 10 years ago. There I realized that I had a great desire to focus on hard surface assets. From there it has all been self-learning and developing skills with each project.
Most projects I have worked on are still under NDA but the latest released video game I have contributed to was “Back 4 Blood”. I also work on projects out of the video games industry such as creating vehicles for mining and construction companies.
General Workflow for Props
Every modeling process I start with a clear idea of the final goal and tons of reference images: of the main prop and each detail I need to focus on.
Once I have all the references, I create a blockout in 3ds Max. At this stage, I don’t worry about polycount or topology, the main goal is to get the final shape and proportions. I don’t add any small details that will be in texture, but I create all the parts that will appear in the final model. For vehicles, I normally use blueprints of the same or similar model to have a good reference.
With the blockout finished I make sure all the smoothing groups are right, the Autosmooth with 45-degrees normally does most of the work and then I just need to adjust some parts. This is done taking into consideration where I want the hard edges to be in the high poly.
From there I create a high poly version that will generally be used for baking textures. Using a blockout as a base I duplicate it in another layer and go slowly, part by part, creating a fully detailed model. For this, my usual workflow is pretty straightforward: Editable Poly/Symmetry/Chamfer/Turbosmooth.
Starting from an Editable Poly, with as many Symmetry modifiers as possible to reduce work, I add a Chamfer modifier. Here, I make sure to tick the “Unsmoothed Edges” so it applies between different smoothing groups. Then I just play with Amount Type and Amount to achieve the tightness needed. After that, I add Support Loops where required and add a Turbosmooth modifier.
Tip: On high poly models used to bake textures I normally make the edges a bit smoother than they would be in real life, this way they will bake better later on.
For small details, I have a large number of floaters, nuts, bolts, and panels from previous models that I import into my current project. The last step in the modeling process is to create the final low poly asset. I either take it from the original blockout or the high poly, delete modifiers from the stack, and adjust the topology.
Unwrapping and Packing
For me, and many others, this part isn’t so fun, but it needs to be done and it is also important to do it well in order not to have problems later on. Here, I use the TexTools plugin that comes in handy to apply quick Checker Maps, align shells and keep an eye on Texel Density.
The process is simple: first I flatten out all the UVs by smoothing the group to separate the shells on the hard edges where needed and straighten out the UV islands.
Tip: I try to keep all the UV islands' external edges straight to avoid artifacts on the textures.
For the packing part, I apply the standard packing and then I like to spend some time fitting them in manually to gain more space.
Before I start texturing, I like to “explode” my model, this means if there are any intersecting parts, I duplicate and separate them to make these parts more accessible. If there are any panels that have much detail in the texture, I also duplicate and isolate them orientated on one of the axis.
The texturing part is done in Substance 3D Painter, and it is as straightforward as the modeling part. I use many materials previously created for assets and tweak them to adapt to the current one.
This process is similar for all materials:
- I create a base fill layer with color, roughness, and metal.
- Then I stack layers over it with masks to add subtle roughness, color and height variation, subtle scratches, and imperfections (like edge wearing, etc.).
After that, I add details like stickers, decals, or light textures. This is normally done with fill layers and masking or with the Projection tool.
With the basic materials created, it is time for the fun part – adding grunge, dirt, and rust. I never like to leave the material completely clean but the level of wear depends on the environment and conditions it is situated in. I start with basic AO dirt, top dust, or ground dirt. Then, if required, I add a larger level of dirt and rust with masks and manual painting. It is very important to use many references to get a realistic look.
Tip: I add a layer at the top of the stack with a Sharpen filter to tweak up the details.
I started working as a 3D artist because it was my hobby, I really enjoy all the steps of the creation of props, from the initial investigation and gathering references to adding the small details at the end of the texturing part. What makes me proud of what I do and makes me want to continue is when I see the models in-game, where they finally come to life and the players enjoy them.
The final and the most important tip I could give would be to enjoy every part of the process and take the opportunity to learn something from every asset to apply to the next.
Miguel Sánchez Woodvine, 3D Hard Surface Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin
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