Max Marharit told us about designing various devices, talked about the importance of visualizing the project beforehand, and explained why Fusion 360 was chosen as the main tool.
Hi, my name is Max Marharit and I’m currently working as a freelancer making 3D concepts for the entertainment industry. My journey in the 3D world started approximately 9 years ago when I accidentally came across Blender and decided to give it a shot.
Previously, I had been very excited about doing some random pictures in Microsoft Paint and Photoshop, so my mind was completely blown when I saw a few tutorials in Blender and got some nice renders of a realistic-looking cup. After that, I started learning everything about 3D with an even more intense desire. All these years, I have been trying to create many things, such as architectural visualization, interior visualization, character sculpting, full-cycle low poly models for games. Moreover, I’ve changed a lot of software packages. I moved from Blender to 3ds Max very fast just because of the lack of Blender tutorials back then; then again from 3ds Max to Maya because I was getting deeper in the game industry.
All those changes and the need for adaptation have taught me how to deal with information and how to learn different stuff. Also, I’ve learned many things about the technical aspects of the game industry, how poly modeling works, why you need UVs, and how to create realistic textures and beautiful renders. And even though I don’t use most of those technical skills now, the fundamental knowledge is still helping me solve various problems.
I found myself in Concept Art only a few years ago when I got back to drawing and started building a new portfolio. I get really inspired by real products or engineering solutions from various fields which I can combine into something new. Every time I come up with a new interesting idea, I want to sketch it right away, and then, if I see this might be something really cool and I know I can implement it in 3D, I immediately start making it.
What I really like about Concept Art is that you don’t need to think much about technical stuff. You may definitely take into account some things depending on a project, but most of the tedious technical things aren’t that much involved in the process. And exactly for this reason, I’ve chosen Fusion 360 as my main 3D implementation tool. As an artist with tons of experience in poly modeling, I know how crazy things may turn out when you’re dealing with polygons, you become a slave of wireframe when it comes to tough decisions, especially creating Booleans.
Your mind will be automatically drawn towards easier implementable decisions just because this is how it works. You don’t want to spend (waste?) 5-10 minutes on welding vertices and adding support loops just to test what some shapes would look like after subdivision. And most of the time, you would create shapes that comfort your topology.
In CAD, you have the minimum of distracting topology information. Here, in a couple of minutes, you can do things you would do for hours in poly modeling software and make decisions creatively without any topology restrictions. Also, as everything is parametrical here, you can easily manipulate a lot of parameters, especially in the early stages.
Of course, there is no such thing as the absolutely perfect software for everything, and Fusion 360 has its own limitations. In some cases, you will find it hard to create some weird organic shapes with smooth and nice shading.
Before, I experimented with my two personal projects trying to find solutions for organic shapes in CAD. For the Helicopter concept, I decided to try smoothing everything out using big fillets all over the body. I think this method might work in some cases, but still, in some areas, I struggled to achieve satisfying results.
For the second Submersible project, I decided to create the main shape using Maya and then export it as an .obj. If the model is subdividable and does not contain tris, you can easily turn it into a CAD body using the convertion tool in Fusion 360.
I think in the future, it can be fixed by developing a sculpt mode that allows building topology using the subdivision surface method. But now, for me, it’s easier to use Maya to solve those problems. Certainly, it’s also related to my previous experience in traditional poly modeling. Also, I use Maya if I need some wires. There, you can work with spline thickness in real-time, which makes the whole process much faster. It would be nice to see some time-saving plug-ins for Fusion 360 for such specific things, but right now the best solution for me is to use those two programs combined.
I used the same combo technique in my last personal project, where I designed 4 random devices which were mainly inspired by the old electronic gadgets from my childhood. I created the whole base of the controller in Maya because I needed that organic feeling when you hold the device.
The main con of this method is that you can’t change this big main shape after you have turned it into CAD and started editing. So you need to be 100% sure of what you want to have as the final result. That’s why I usually draw a rough sketch during the research stage and then place it on my PureRef board along with the project references. I’m not really good at drawing, but even a very rough sketch can be helpful to see an approximate look of the design.
When I design something, I always try to imagine how it may be manufactured. No matter if it’s a device prop or a big-scale vehicle, I try to create the feeling that every one of those devices can be assembled in the factories. They consist of different parts connected with bolts, they look functional, every button is in a logical place, and you almost feel like you can hold these devices and use them in real life. The references to existing real products might be really helpful in achieving that.
That also concerns textures and materials. In the modeling stage, I try to predict what kind of materials I want to have as the final result. At this stage, I only separate meshes and distribute material IDs. Luckily, when you export from Fusion 360 as a step file, all material IDs are saved. Then, I import this step file in MoI 3D to convert CAD bodies to polygon meshes, MoI algorithms do their job great allowing you to adjust polygon density in real-time.
The final topology may be weird, but the shading looks nice and this concept might be even used as a high poly asset for movies or a bake mesh for game assets. After that step, I assemble everything in Maya. Here, I can create additional details, like wires or straps, and also check everything for artifacts.
The next step is KeyShot. I use standard procedural materials without doing any unwrapping work. The only thing I can adjust is adding custom Grunge maps to the Roughness slot. The idea is to create a slight effect of wear to add some realism and a more interesting surface. There are a lot of good Roughness map packs on Gumroad and ArtStation. Here is an example of some textures by Muhammad Sohail Anwar I used in this project. Also, if I want to add some labels or markings, I use the Label feature in KeyShot, which can snap textures to the surface without any UVs.
Standard materials in KeyShot look nice by default, you just need to find some suitable unsaturated HDRIs with good contrast and add some additional lights. Usually, I don’t overcomplicate things in terms of light setup, just keep rotating the HDRI and moving lights until I see satisfying results. All materials must be clearly seen and catch enough light to showcase the surface. That’s why I prefer to fillet almost every single edge in Fusion 360 to have this nice highlight on the corners. I use the KeyShot round edge shader only on tiny details.
KeyShot also has its own post-editing tools. I slightly change some of the parameters, but most of the final work will be done in Lightroom and Photoshop. The rough render from KeyShot has a lack of good contrast, that’s why I love the Texture and Clarity parameters in Lightroom so much, they can significantly boost the look of your renders. Most of the editing is happening there. In Photoshop, I only apply the AO pass, which I got from KeyShot, and the sharpen effect.
The best advice I can give to people who want to develop their skills in hard surface design is to literally think outside the box unless it’s your goal to design something boxy, as I did with the cassette player. Actually, it’s very easy to create boxy designs, mostly because of technical restrictions. That’s why I also advise beginners to sketch their designs before getting into 3D because you have much more freedom when you’re drawing on paper.
Also, during the design stage, pay attention to proportions. There are lots of helpful rules that can boost your designs, like having big, middle, and small shapes, the 70/30 rule. If you want to know more about that, I really recommend watching Visual Design Basics – Intro to Design by Alex Senechal.
And the last tip is about the functional aspect of your design. Before jumping into developing a new concept, try to imagine how it should work and serve its purpose. There are a lot of educational videos on YouTube explaining basic mechanisms. Applying this knowledge to your design will make it more believable. You can find a bunch of great tutorials to develop your design thinking in terms of detail balance and functionality on Edon Guraziu’s ArtStation and Gumroad pages.
I also have my own tutorials on the ArtStation marketplace. One is for absolute beginners who want to start learning Fusion 360 and another one is for more advanced users who already know the fundamentals of modeling but want to learn more about design thinking.