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Rockley Bonner has come a long way since he first started doing 3D art. He has been hard at work on his Darksiders inspired project for a while now and we were able to catch up with him and discuss his work. In this post he talks about his work on the project, the choice of composition, lighting and tools.
About Rockley Bonner
I currently work for the United States Air Force as a computer network and electronic security systems technician for nuclear assets and aircraft. Even before I joined the Air Force in 2011, I have always had an interest in the creative industry’s ever sense the age of 15 but was conflicted with what I wanted to do with my life. I then decided to take my destiny in my own hands and pursue a life in the high tech and creative video games industry. However, I soon found out that the environment I was in would not allow me to accomplish these goals. So in essence, the next step was to change my environment with the goal of free time and monetary assets and to acquire the hardware and software to accomplish my long term goals. So I joined the USAF and 4 years later I have accomplished most of what I set out to do by learning on my own and building a body of work for a portfolio.
I purchased my first console system in 2013 and took an immediate interest in the Darksiders game. I was inspired by the stylized comic book artwork of the lead concept artist Joe Madureira, of whom I was a long time fan. I did not have a console system when I was an growing up so when I was on my own, the first game I bought was Darksiders, which was probably what sparked the inspiration of the scene.
Tools Used to Create Assets
The programs I used where 3ds Max, Zbrush, Photoshop, xNormal, Knald, Unreal 4 and Quixel Suite. As far as rendering, I would use Marmoset 2 for rendering specific meshes for presentation purpose. As far as middleware I would use Quixel suite and would manipulate the outputs until I was satisfied with how it looked in unreal. The real magic in texturing, in my opinion, comes from manipulating the channels of bent, cavity, convexity, concavity, prtNP (All of these can be baked from Knald or xNormal), creating masks from cavity convexity and ambient occlusion, and on top of that, you can go further by using Level clamps, and controlling color composition with Photoshop’s color balance. I composited and organized all meshes used for texturing in a 3ds max file so that way I could export everything I needed from that file for consistency. Sculpting as well as some rough compositing was done in Zbrush. All of the objects were sculpted in Zbrush. For the sword or more precise pieces I started with basic meshes that I built in 3ds max that i exported into Zbrush to sculpt.
When it comes to the skybox, I used an already made stock in UE4. I just adjusted the colors and parameters to fit the triadic color scheme and composition.
Composition and Positioning
This was my first scene that had a large number of objects to where composition would be a vital part of the scene itself. I composited and organized all meshes used for texturing in a 3ds max file so that way I could export everything I needed from that file and maintain consistency. Sculpting as well as some rough compositing for composition was done in Zbrush.
This scene was made to be screen shot from a main point sense It was built for a portfolio but as for the position, the physical layout of the meshes, I used the rule of thirds, a photography method to figure the best screen shot. I also used the flow of angles of the spiked rocks and the circular rocks to control the eye of the viewer to the background armor and emerald crystals. So no I didn’t start with the position of the camera, rather it evolved on its own as everything was composited.
Color composition wise, the scene is a triadic color scheme. The main two colors being blue and orange and the third being green which is the least used but is the most saturated and brightest of the colors, which is what the emeralds in the middle of the scene are, drawing in the eyes of the viewer.
Value wise, there are three points in the scene that are darker than any of the rocks surrounding them, these are the armor in the background and the two guards which should be the three main focus points shaped in a triangle if lines are drawn between them. I believe ideally there should be an odd number of focal points in a composition that creates imbalance so that the eyes keep bouncing back and forth. If there are an even amount it conveys balance and rest.
All of the latter combined, at least to my effort, should draw the eyes in a pleasing spiral pattern to the center of the scene.
Lighting, Dynamics, and Textures
I’ve tried experimenting by putting in animated flames in the guards eyes or floating rocks following the flow of the circular rocks, and in my opinion, it doesn’t help the overall scene other than making it seem more busy. I’ve even tried filling in the negative space in the background with other objects and couldn’t find the right shapes to compliment the scene.
For lighting Nothing too fancy was done. I have one strong directional light a weak one coming from the bottom and a sky light. All lights are complimenting the color theory of the scene as a whole any other shadows I either adjusted in the Ambient occlusion or straight up added them to the albeto sense there was going to be no changes in lighting anyways. Color adjustment was achieved by using layers in Photoshop on the albeto to achieve the desired result.
Some of it is post process but most of it is in the textures. All materials are custom made, baked from a sculpt or from Quixel suite. The details are kept in a PSD in layers for a non destructive work flow. If I need separation of different materials on a mesh, I would have that material on a layer and use a mask rendered out in 3ds max to isolate where it shows up.
What I would start doing would be to look at concepts from the Darksiders series and look for common motifs, skulls, dark themes, angular shapes and style. Then I would try and concept out key points of the Scene, in this case, the Guard and sword and the dismembered petrified armor in the background. Afterwords, I would move to the secondary parts like the rocks bridge and spikes. The final models where then sculpted and composited in Zbrush.
My work flow, as far as portfolio work was concerned, was that I worked on at least 4 projects at the same time sense I learned 3D on my own I would be able to split what I was learning across multiple projects so that I would minimize the gradient of technical skill as finished projects would build up on themselves. So this project took close to a year to complete. All in all I believe the time investment was worth the quality though.