Oleksandra Sokol has shared the working process behind the props made for World War 2: Battle Combat and gave some tips for beginner artists.
Hello, 80 Level! My name is Oleksandra, I am a 3D Artist from Kharkiv, Ukraine, currently living in Sweden, Malmö. I have been working in the game industry for over 5 years now and I really like what I do. I studied Computer Software Engineering at the Kharkiv National University of Radioelectronics, and in the last years of education realized that I wanted to be a 3D Artist.
My path started sculpting with ZBrush and fell in love with this program. Then, I began to learn Maya at 3D Maya School in 2015. My first serious job was at Edkon Games, where I worked for nearly 4 years. That was where I grew up, found interesting people, and had a lot of exciting, challenging tasks and fun at work. I was working on projects like Modern Ops: Online Shooter FPS, Fire Strike Online, World War 2: Battle Combat, and one more that I can't talk about yet. Then, I worked as a 3D Environment and Props Artist at Ulysses Graphics and now I am a 3D Environment and Prop Artist at Sharkmob.
My favorite project at Edkon Games was World War 2: Battle Combat. This is a 3D mobile first-person shooter about World War II, where you have 2 fractions, different characters, a lot of weapons, and also cool props! As I was a 3D Artist, I was responsible for creating almost everything: props, weapons, characters, and even a German Shepherd. It was not a big team of developers and artists, but we really liked our project and everyone did their best to make it good, stable, and nice-looking.
One of my favorite tasks was creating weapons and props-killstreaks for this game – they are old, with interesting shapes. Also, I had an opportunity to show my best and put my love into them, not just create something mediocre and quickly put it into the game. Also, I had some art freedom that inspired me to be more thoughtful and hardworking.
World War 2: Battle Combat Props
So, once I got a task, I started to search for references. This is a very important part – don’t skip it, don’t try to find 3-4 pictures and stop on this. Take your time and search, you can find interesting and original details and cool pictures of realistic damage on these props. It’s okay to also search for other people's work to see how they created these things. All that can help you with modeling and texturing, and thanks to the references, your final model would look amazing!
For the reference board, I always use PureRef and for finding references – everything I can: Pinterest, Google, ArtStation, Tumblr, image stocks, antique internet shops, and some strange old sites. Here are some examples of my ref boards. It's cool if you try to organize your pictures, but if you don’t, it's not a big deal: “Order is for idiots, genius can handle chaos”.
When I feel that I found everything I could and couldn't, it’s time for modeling! For props and weapons, I use mostly the same pipeline: blocking, mid poly, high poly, low poly, UVs, texturing, and then creating LODs. For me, it’s more comfortable to create a low poly model for baking with more polys that I need for a game, and then, after baking, create LODs that will actually be in the game. The thing is that during baking, there could be bugs because of the model with a little number of triangles – so my pipeline is an attempt to avoid this.
At first, I check the axis and units, it's really important and makes your future work easier. Then, I put references and start creating the blockout and mid poly. I always use crisp edges at this stage. For me, it is better to see the smooth version of my model with ready hard edges. Also, I can make n-gons if they work. If it works for high poly and baking and your shading looks nice with them, it is okay to keep them on these iterations.
I had to keep in mind that I create not just a new piece of art but also a 3D model for a mobile game, so it should be optimized. If I see some repeated elements, I make only one of them and then just duplicate it on the low poly model. It saves me UVs space, so textures will be of better quality. For example, I created only one model of dynamite, I have on the final model only one original chain. Here you can see the red meshes that are repeatable, so you may not make all of them, just one, and that's enough.
The next step is high poly, it's one of my favorite steps. I use mostly ZBrush here for DynaMeshing, making Booleans, creating bevels, and decimating for baking. From time to time I have some interesting items to do, like the katana. The tricky part was with the handle. At first, I created a base mesh for the katana handle. Then, I made UVs, sent them to ZBrush, subdivided them a few times, and added the noise.
Make sure that your high poly model looks nice and has nice shading, you added all the details you could. Of course, some of them I add in Substance 3D Painter while I create textures, but not all of them you can add there. Also, working with a lot of Anchor Points in Substance 3D Painter can slow down the texturing process and even crash the PC.
Now it's time to create a low poly version. I always have at least half of the low poly – from the blocking and the mid poly stage. If I have some additional Booleans, I need to make retopo. I use Topogun for this because I didn't find any better software for the retopology process. Also, at this stage I start making only half of the parts that would be mirrored, it saves the UVs space for me too. I create UVs in RizomUV, it’s a nice and comfortable program with a lot of useful features. At first, I create UVs, then mirror the necessary parts and send their UVs to the next UVs space.
Preparing for the baking process, I just check my hard and soft edges, verify the high poly model and then send all that to Marmoset Toolbag. For baking, I use Marmoset Toolbag 3 because it gives me a chance to change the baking cage, paint offset and skew. It is very useful when you have a low poly model and bake some bolts on it for example. I bake Normal, Curvature, AO, position, thickness, and ID.
Texturing is one of the most artistic and interesting parts! I work with Substance 3D Painter where I send my model and add baked maps; this is where the fun starts. I usually create materials from scratch, starting with some basic layers, making color and rough variations, and adding scratches, dirt, dust, text details, etc.
After the texturing part is done, I create LODs. It's easier to just make the polycount normal for mobile games. Usually, they tell you how many triangles you need to make.
After that, I go again to Marmoset Toolbag for rendering. I have a simple scene to render all of my stuff: there are 3 lights and 1 backlight. I import the model, rotate it, find interesting and presentable angles, and press Render. I really recommend beginners create their own scenes for rendering in Marmoset or Unreal Engine and test their models there.
To create something good, you need to love it. I love all props, weapons, characters, and environments that I’ve created. It doesn't matter if it is small charms for guns or a big and complex environment. Put your love and time into it! Remember that the small details that you add will make the final result even better! Let other artists see your process and WIPs as they can give you useful feedback. Don't be afraid if somebody tells you that you are doing badly. Also, take a look at some cool artists' projects and find inspiration that works for you.
Don't rush, enjoy the process, and everything will be okay.