Creating Retro Scene with Blender, ZBrush & Substance 3D Painter

Maria Alekseeva showed the workflow behind the "Where does the childhood go?" project, explained how the TV and PlayStation were created, and shared the story behind the scene.

Introduction

Hello there! My name is Maria Alekseeva, I am a 3D Artist specializing in hard-surfaced objects such as props, vehicles, etc. Being a programmer, in my free time I was actively engaged in drawing. I started doing 3D accidentally. When a turning point came in my life, I wanted to try something new. I decided to try switching to 3D because, in my opinion, it is a great combination of creativity and mathematics. I studied a lot and currently, I work at the Render Dock studio as a Hard Surface 3D Artist. 

In the initial stages of my training, my mentor was Sergey Kuznetsov. I would like to express my gratitude to him for his personal care during all the stages of my training. Sergey has taught me useful methods and techniques, which simplified my studying and my growth as an artist. Special thanks for his additional lecture on low poly and for some helpful tips on Marmoset!

Then, I continued my personal studies of topics that were of interest to me. I have viewed several video courses and tutorials, trying to reproduce different texture tokens from photos and make my own smart materials, which I am actively using now. Props is not the only direction I study, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet. Sometimes, it was not easy to combine work and study, but I really like 3D and, in my free time, I try to improve my level and study matters that are interesting to me.

Where Does Childhood Go?

In the beginning, I wanted to make just a TV. Later, as soon as the TV was ready, I wanted to try to make not only one prop but a small scene. I reviewed a lot of photos and references of various scenes from the 2000s-2010s to better understand how the final picture should look and what would be interesting to do while creating art. My main objective was to make good-quality props to demonstrate my skills as well as to try to evoke emotional rapport with the audience and, perhaps, remind it of the happy years of childhood or school life.

Props

In the process of creating art, I made a lot of props, but my main focus was on the TV, PlayStation 1, gamepads, and disc boxes. I made them according to the full game-ready pipeline. I made the rest of the props only to fill the scene.

Sony Trinitron TV

I tried to find refs of the best possible quality – there were photos both from ordinary users and museum copies. I chose a fairly well-known model, so it was not difficult to find all the necessary angles and the exact dimensions to reproduce it. Below are some of my refs. 

Then I proceeded to blocking. This stage is one of the most important in creating a model. A well-prepared base will help in the future to avoid annoying edits and corrections. At this stage, the main thing is to satisfy large proportions and then, starting from large ones, finalize medium and small details.

I decided not to make a SubD-ready model. I’ve made a model for "creases" in the Blender in order to further refine it in ZBrush. At the blocking stage, I try to make the model using non-destructive methods (booleans, curves, etc.) in order to be able to easily correct the proportions and locations of model parts. Next, the model was loaded into ZBrush for refining and some sculpturing of minor damage on the back side of the TV.

After that, I proceeded to low poly and model optimization. I didn't have an objective to achieve a certain polycount, I just wanted to make the model moderately optimized. Perhaps, I added too few polygons on some curved parts, but I decided not to fix it anymore and leave it as is. While carrying out this stage, I left some hard edges on small details that I had not planned to show in a close-up. Most edges have bevels made with 2 segments and custom normals for better shading.

Already at this stage, I was thinking about unwrapping and did only those parts that I planned to bake next. I tried to make larger overlaps in order to save space on the UV in the future. Below are some examples of large overlaps and optimizations I made. At this stage, it’s better to pay attention to the mirrored parts of the model and to think about what kind of textures will be applied to it next.

Unwrapping

I do this step in RizomUV and sometimes in Blender. RizomUV contains really good tools for optimal island packing, edge alignment, and getting rid of stretching. All models of the scene have the same texel density, except for the internal parts of the TV, which are practically not visible. 

The next stage is baking. I used Marmoset with baking groups. The model was baked successfully and no additional edits were needed in Photoshop.

Texturing

Now, to one of the most time-consuming, in my opinion, but also the most interesting stages – texturing.

There are many ways to make realistic textures and many different approaches to achieve a good result. In my current practice, I use Substance 3D Painter and ZBrush to achieve the desired result, but in this artwork, sculpting was practically not needed, only for small dents on the back of the TV set. I would like to emphasize that in my work I try to avoid standard ready-made materials and smart materials. It is better to assemble the texture from scratch – this makes it more unique and interesting.

I start by setting up the light in the Substance 3D Painter. I use Tomoko Studio HDRI and ACES profile (standard or UE4, depending on the selected rendering engine). Sometimes, I change the HDRI to see how the textures will look with different light setups. 

Next, I make "basic materials". At this stage, I decide which materials (metal, wood, rubber, glass, plastic, etc.) should be on the model, what physical properties of PBR they should possess, and what their base color or color variation should be. Sometimes, I add a base surface behavior (some basic texture patterns).

At the same stage, I add decals – text, logos, etc., made in Photoshop.

Next, I form the "unique surface" of the object. Here, I include any distinctive properties of the object itself, such as large interesting spots, patterns, scuffs, and a general appearance of the surface. After that, I add some dirt in the cavities and various darkenings. At this stage, I can also add some color and roughness variations that are specific to this material. I try not to modify small details at this stage. It's worth mentioning that I wanted to make very old dusty props that had been gathering dust and dirt somewhere for many years and were taken out after decades. This explains a large amount of dust and dirtiness.

A small example of how that dirt was made.

Small Details

Each object has its own history, so at the stage of small details, it is worth showing or supplementing the history of the object. Especially, this is an important stage if the subject is shown in close-up during the rendering stages and it will be possible to see small scratches, traces of dirt, streaks, dust, and so on. Adding dust, scratches, scuffs, and other details, it is worth considering where the object was stored, how it was used, and whether such scratches could appear, given the purpose of the prop and the properties of the material. Of course, one should not overdo it with small details.

Below you can see which details have been added to the TV. It may seem that I added too many details. Still, here one should consider the chosen rendering engine and final light setup, since with certain lighting and viewing angle, some details could be barely noticeable. In contrast, some will not be visible at all.

That's how TV turned out in the end.

PlayStation & Gamepads

I made the PS1 and the gamepads in a similar way. Let's briefly go through each stage.

References:

High poly

I would like to add that I prefer to do the retopology of smooth shapes in Maya and check the final shading of the model in Maya or 3ds Max. Although Blender contains all the necessary tools for this end and it was possible not to change the main software, I decided to make and finish gamepads and those models in Maya.

Low poly

UVs

Texturing

For this asset, I used only standard Substance 3D Painter grunges and generators. Here, I wanted to make a very old dusty PlayStation and add some interesting patterns, spots, and dust. The process is the same as it was described earlier.

Below, you can get a better look at the textures and final details. 

And the final result:

I did the rest of the props mid-poly or Sub-D for demonstration in the scene. The boxes for disks and chairs are made game-ready – everything is the same as described earlier. Texturing is the same for every scene prop – PBR in Substance 3D Painter.

Rendering, Lighting & Scene Setup

The scene's initial idea was as shown below in the references: closer to the window, with a bedside table where the TV stands, the wardrobes, books, CDs, and other assets are nearby. As you can see, this has practically nothing to do with the final version. It so happened that I dropped the original idea of the scene in the process – it proved time-consuming for me, although I had already started making the scene.

I thought it would be easier to place key objects on the table – this makes it possible to view them from all sides. In addition, they should not be too far from the window to get interesting rays and silhouettes from the sunlight. During the assembly of the final scene, I did not use references: I already had a good idea of the final picture. I tried to get closer to the idea from my imagination.

Rendering

At this stage, I still didn't know which engine I would use for rendering. Initially, the scene was created in Blender, where the chips were simulated. The fabrics were made in Marvelous Designer. I exported the scene into Marmoset Toolbag but couldn't get the desired lighting. I also tried to render it with Blender's Cycles but still wanted to try something new. Then I went to YouTube and began to study what kinds of render engines are available there. In the process, I tried the following: V-Ray, Corona, Redshift, Cycles, and Marmoset.

In the end, I chose Corona, this engine seemed the most enjoyable to study. Besides, there were many available free tutorials on interior lighting, creating and rendering realistic materials. A separate nice bonus is LightMix – the ability to configure light sources during and after rendering and then apply the changes to the scene lighting sources. Now I can't imagine the rendering process without it.

Some lighting examples:

And when all the compositions, arrangements, and renderings of the scene were completed, it was high time to come up with a title for the work and a behind-the-scenes story.

Story

We all had a childhood.

Once returning to his old house, our hero takes out various items from the attic that he once considered an integral part of his life. For the new generation, this is just dusty junk, but we know that these things gave us the most unforgettable feelings and emotions.

We eagerly waited for the release of each of these games and rare cartoons on television. And in our memory, there will always be recollections of those happy times.

That’s all. Thanks for reading!

Maria Alekseeva, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 2

  • Anonymous user

    Insanely impressive workflow coming from a 3d environment design perspective. Making use of all the software available to create this stunning scene is truly amazing.

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·9 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Great!!!

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·9 months ago·

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