Sady Fofana shared the production details of his latest Softsurface Crate model and the rest of the sci-fi CRT prop series created with Blender, Substance Suite, and Marvelous Designer.
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Hello! My name is Sady Fofana and I'm a 3D artist who loves making science fiction imagery.
I've been in the industry for 4 ½ months now, and I study a mix of prop modeling and environment building in my free time. I'm always looking for new ways to speed up my workflow and most of the time binging youtube videos/studying Gumroad courses. I work as a contract artist at Valkyrie Entertainment and I got into 3D modeling during high school animation where I was first introduced to the tools and features of Blender that sparked my interest to learn more about modeling and the production of games. Later on, during and after high school, I moved to SF with my best friend and spent a few years building up my portfolio while maintaining a few jobs (to support my at the time hobby) until I finally moved from the bay area to Washington state to find work opportunities. Fast forward a year, I applied for Valkyrie Entertainment and got into my first industry gig!
CRT Props: Idea
This series of CRT props started as a result of me being stir crazy at home (yes, the USA is still in quarantine sadly enough) and the fact that I've always loved the way CRTs were rendered in 3D and games in general (Outer Worlds/Fallout NV), so I roughly brainstormed a few more models. The thing I wanted to do in the brainstorming process was to see what's the most useless way a CRT could be used as a sci-fi prop and at the same time make sure it's integrated in a believable way to sell the look of the tech. I found most of the CRT images on Pinterest and used them with a mix of pictures from the book “The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist”. I enjoyed the way they integrated small details and tech stuff with much larger machines, it never felt too overwhelming and always reminded me to manage detail while guiding the viewer's eye in some way.
The modeling process for consoles 1 and 2 consisted of low poly blockouts around the screens until I felt comfortable with the general silhouettes. From there, it was a lot of trial and error in getting the details and shapes in! The great thing about some of the stuff that didn't work out was that I was able to reuse a lot of those ideas in different or new ways. I tried to manage the forms with a large/medium/small approach and use that as a guide for the necessary cuts and booleans. Some of the larger parts would get integrated with the mid detail, mid with small, and in rare moments, if I wanted to attract the viewer's eye I’d use small details in contrast with some of the larger elements of the model.
The way I tackled the CRT crate was a little different in some ways. I wanted the padded cloth to be an overall focal element of the model so I made a rough box frame, took it into Marvelous Designer, and played with a few simulations until there were some results that worked. Afterward, I started to build the model around the cloth, and luckily, since this was a visually mid to large detail type, I was able to integrate the smaller bits and pieces without any hassle.
Simulation in Marvelous Designer
The way I got the puffed-up look in Marvelous Designer was to pin the top and bottom parts of each piece of fabric and then stitched them together. Afterward, I selected the top and bottom edges and enabled elastic in the property editor. Finally, I selected all the cloth pieces and set the pressure to +5 to get that final puffy look.
There were some issues with the cloth sim that required a bit of tweaking in some parts. The reason why I decided to go with simulating half of the panel is that my pc isn't the strongest when it comes to cloth sims, and also I was pretty eager to see how it looked in render!
My process for texturing the crate was to bake the normals and later import them to Substance Painter. From there, I started adding base metals and paint materials, some of the metal mats were a mix of the default Substance Painter and some custom SD materials. For the coloring process, I wanted to follow a tetradic color scheme which consisted of the colors red, green, blue, orange; from there, I used that as guidance on how to approach colors/value within the model.
I later jumped into Substance Designer and made a canvas-type fabric material, then imported it back into Painter with some parameters exposed to control the color and roughness. The node tree doesn't look like much but getting the canvas fabric look was a small process of trial and error. Eventually, I got the result I was looking for which was a semi worn green canvas look.
The way I went about setting up the final renders was to first plug in and tweak the materials/textures in Blender’s material editor until I got the result that looked best, then move onto the lighting stage where I used the current color scheme as a lighting reference. I enjoyed the contrasty light magic that movies like Blade Runner/Ghost in the Shell) got right, so I decided to take that route when it came to the console models in general.
For some of the other lighting parts, I went through and assigned some emissive elements to some parts of the model and then added area lights to highlight some of the cloth wrinkles. I tried to work on fill light first before I moved onto some of the mid to small detail lighting to keep things balanced. The CRT screen itself is also an emissive element with a loop video as a texture. I made sure not to tone up the emissive to max because it kind of tends to make things a little blown out, especially during some of the animation clips.
I like that sci-fi type of tone/mood fits in well with the dystopian look I'm trying to achieve with the CRTs. I wanted it to feel repurposed in some way while making it seem high-tech. Everything was set up in Eevee and some of the post effects included small amounts of bloom, some screen space reflections, etc. I also tried giving compositing a try for both the final renders and animation where I added a noisy film grain look by mixing the overlay with the noise image and setting the fac to 0.125.
Overall this was pretty fun to do and I hope to make more cyberpunk CRT styled screens in the future!