Gloria Stamova shared the workflow behind the Revendreth-inspired Diorama project, talked about its challenges, and explained why Marmoset Toolbag 3 was used for lighting.
Hello everyone! My name is Gloria Stamova and I’m a Stylized Environment/Prop Artist. I first started doing 3D when I was 15 and was absolutely fascinated by all the possibilities it gave me! Initially, I was dabbling into some interior design and created my dream house in Maya. But one day, I was introduced to World of Warcraft, and the art of the game completely blew my mind. I knew I had to find a way to be one of the people behind all these beautiful props and environments.
I graduated University of South Wales (Cardiff, UK) in 2018 and got a diploma in Game Art. I was specializing in realistic character art at the time, but it never felt right. It wasn’t allowing me to express myself the way I wanted to and I was absolutely dreading the anatomy studies. So I decided to give environment art a try and never looked back.
As a die-hard Blizzard fan, it was only natural that I started tailoring my art and portfolio towards the World of Warcraft style. There are many artists on the team that inspire me, and one of them is Ashleigh Warner. I quickly signed up for her CGMA Stylized Assets for Games class, which helped me improve tremendously.
In this article, I’m going to present some of the things I learned and applied to my personal projects afterward as well as talk about some frequently made mistakes when it comes to hand-painted textures.
Inspiration and Mood Boards
My main inspiration behind this project was the atmosphere and shape language of Revendreth in World of Warcraft. At first, it’s quite monotonous, but when you look closer, you can see the richness of the textures and interesting shapes everywhere.
For my scene, I wanted to create a small interior diorama with the emblematic red stained glass of Revendreth and really give it that pop of color. But I also wanted something that doesn’t exist in the game yet. After some research and endless walks in the zone, I decided to give the vampires something they are not supposed to have – a baby vampire. Or at least its crib and teddy.
I collected some references in-game and from ArtStation and started modeling!
I used Maya to model everything except for the candles. I sculpted them in ZBrush and baked them as this allowed for better control over the wax drips and shape.
The diorama went through a lot of changes since the initial concept and blockout. I started with creating the base, columns, windows, and walls based on my concept. I added 2 lanterns often seen all around Revendreth on each of the side columns. I then realized that the windows and walls needed to be way taller in order to convey that majestic feeling.
Once I had fixed that, I started adding smaller details like the candles and began modeling the hero prop which was going to be a baby crib.
I already had quite a strong idea for the crib in my head. It was going to have the distinctive Revendreth/Gothic pointy shape with a red mattress and a banner hanging on one side. I wanted to add as many different props as I could without overdoing it. It’s important to display the ability to texture various materials like cloth, metal, stone, etc., in one scene.
For the texturing, I was mainly sticking to Photoshop. I still used 3DCoat to bake the AO, create the Top/Down Gradient, and erase some seams, but that’s about it. This diorama went through a couple of texture iterations. I was done with the first one relatively quickly as I was impatient to finish the project. However, thanks to some feedback from friends and looking at more and more references, I started to realize that my texturing was not at the level it needed to be for Blizzard. It needed more flavor and color variation and less contrast.
I started gathering some extra references from Blizzard artists on ArtStation and tried analyzing them more in-depth. I wanted to figure out what gave them that rich feel and how the artist painted every stroke of the texture, how they made the cracks, and how they gave the metal that nice hammered look. It was a much slower process than the first one but was definitely worth it.
Next in line for retexturing were the windows. It was my first time trying to paint stained glass, and it’s safe to say it wasn’t a very successful attempt. I made some new concepts and I’m happy to say they turned out much better in the end!
It was much faster and easier to remake the windows from scratch than to try and fix what I already had. For the metal on the windows, I followed the exact same process as explained earlier. Make sure there is consistency in your scene and everything looks like it belongs together.
The next thing I had to fix was the stone. If I have to be honest, that was the hardest and most tedious material to paint. It looks easy, but it’s actually way harder.
I textured the metal parts the same way I did the metal in the rest of the diorama. I made sure there’s enough color variation in the form of material reflections, rust, and corrosiveness.
It was quite hard to find many references for plush toys in WoW, but the ones that existed had some stitches and buttons for eyes which I thought would be fitting for my teddy as well.
The lighting was possibly the hardest part of the process. I used Marmoset Toolbag 3 to set up the scene because in my opinion the interface is very user-friendly and it allows you to create high-quality renders and videos of your projects. I changed the lighting set up quite a lot. I wanted to mimic that dark, cold and grim feeling of Revendreth without washing out my texture work. In the beginning, it was looking way too dark and the glass was contrasting too much.
I scrapped that setup and started again. Don’t be afraid to start again as many times as you need to because most of the time you do a lot better in the second or even third attempt.
I decided to stick to three lights as a start. I added a directional warm light, a cool Omni one for the shadows, and a slight rim light on the stairs. I then added some extra lights to enhance the candle glow and make some red light bouncing from the window on the crib. I also added the window light on the floor using the Gel function with a spotlight in Marmoset. I just imported the glass texture from the windows and played with the light position and the tiling. Last but not least, I added a blue-ish fog in Marmoset to blend everything together and give that Revendreth feel.
This was the final result!
This scene was the biggest learning experience for me as a 3D artist. It took some extra time to get to the end result, but I’m extremely happy I persevered and had the patience to see it through because the difference in quality is huge. It was really important for me to understand what makes the WoW textures what they are and how exactly these artists paint various materials.
The biggest challenge was probably the desire to finally be done with this project and settle for less when it came to quality, but it helped me get used to the fact that when working in a studio, you are often going to be asked to change parts of your textures and there’s always going to be feedback. So it’s important you learn how to take constructive criticism because, at the end of the day, that’s what helps us grow as artists.
Hope this gave you some useful tips and helps you with your future hand-painted projects.
Gloria Stamova, 3D Environment/Prop Artist
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