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Getting Started as a Prop Artist

Noor Vullinghs, a 3D Modeling and Texturing Artist, shared some tips and tricks about modeling and texturing props, plus discussed presentation.


My name is Noor Vullinghs and I’m a 3D Modeling and Texturing Artist. I graduated last month and I am currently working on freelance projects as a prop artist. I’m continuously updating my portfolio and am doing some fun competitions like weekly drills at The Rookies. 

Right now I’m working on some art tests for job interviews and a realistic insect, which is really exciting!

Getting in the World of 3D Art

The first time I opened Maya was March 2020. While this pandemic has been extremely crazy, it has also allowed me to free up some time to focus on my passion. I decided to join an online program at CG Spectrum College of Digital Art & Animation next to my job at that time. Besides my job and the assignments for school, I would spend hours on the weekends learning new software and creating cool assets.


I think right now I’m still in that honeymoon phase when everything seems fun to model and texture. I will see something on the street, or read about a challenge online and immediately go hunting for references. These scissors, for instance, I found on amazon, and they seemed really intriguing to model.

Most of my props don’t require a storyline, except for the work that I make for Beyond Skyrim: Elsweyr project. Those assets are based on the lore of The Elder Scrolls of course.


My workflow varies from project to project. It depends on the complexity, the number of details, and whether it’s organic or hard-surface modeling. I tend to go low to high poly for hard surfaces and the other way around for organic shapes. 

I always start in Maya to block out the basic shapes and then keep it in Maya if it needs to stay low poly or take it into ZBrush if I need a detailed high poly version. This high poly version you can later decimate in ZBrush and project on the low poly version if needed, so your computer won’t crash due to the huge files.

I predominantly use Maya, Zbrush, Substance Painter, and Substance Designer and usually render it in Marmoset Toolbag or Unreal Engine.


For texturing, I use Substance Painter and Substance Designer. I use Photoshop for creating alpha’s and edit bake maps if needed. I only recently started doing my bakes in Marmoset, and I have to say, I really like it.

When I start texturing, I make sure to use color ID maps so I can easily identify which parts need to be wood, metal, glass, etc. If I don’t feel like using an ID map, I just mask the area and polygon fill it to start.

I apply some smart materials first, to check the color scheme and then work on individual sections from start to finish before moving on to the next area. I don’t like working on one piece as a whole, I prefer zooming in on individual parts, complete them, and then move on. 

After a base color, I start with color variations, often adding an HSL Perceptive filter to create some different undertones. I add work on details with height maps and then look at the overall roughness. I will literally rotate my object, trying different lights, for 20 min to see if the light reflects the way I want it to in certain areas. 

I add stains and dirt, using dirt, splatter, and moisture brushes, and some metal edge wear on the edges. Do be careful with the standard generators from Substance Painter, as the wear and tear can look repetitive. When I use them, I always use them in combination with a painted mask to break up some areas. 

When I’m happy with the individual parts, I’ll add ambient occlusion and Linear Gradient to tie the whole piece together. Instead of Linear Gradient, you can also use Light Generator.

"Wearing Off" Wooden Textures: Tips and Tricks

This piece needed to have a cherry oak base and some damage. Nothing too crazy, as it’s an indoor item. I applied three color variations of standard wood material with an HSL perceptive filter, and then sharpened the grain of the wood with a sharpen filter. I added roughness and moisture spots on the top with a cloud mask and manual painting. I then doubled up on the curvature map to really show the height details as this was a high poly to low poly projection.

I added the purple details on the bottom by projecting them and erasing parts of it with a mask, giving this peeled-off look. I then applied a grunge leak to the whole asset, and manually painted the mask to give it some inconsistency. I painted some deep scratches on a fill layer. Always make sure It’s a fill layer, so you can always adjust the height later. 

For damaged areas, I often paint them manually with the original base color or even lighter, as those are exposed areas. Those areas also tend to be rougher.


For lighting, Grazing light is your best friend. Place this light, in a neutral color, very close to your object to really highlight your textures. I remember this from my drawing lessons in high school, and it really helps when applying moisture or stains to your project. 

In general, I use a 2 or 3 point Lighting Setup together with an HDRI. One in the upper left corner, one from the lower right, and one from the back in a warm color to emphasize the silhouette or enhance any subsurface scattering from your project.

Since I work on props, the lighting setup is very straightforward; my goal is to show off the best parts of the prop. Lighting an environment is more challenging in my opinion, as you work with a lot of different lights, a bigger space, and the overall mood of the concept art.

I’ve been doing my rendering in Marmoset a lot lately, just because it’s quick and easy for props. If I go for realism and have a lot of time, I sometimes switch to Arnold. For environments, I go to Unreal.

Past Challenges and Future Plans

I experience some horrific flashbacks about my third-semester project. I spend weeks building an apartment complex in Unreal Engine. The modeling was done, texturing  75% done, and then my laptop crashed. Until this day, I have not been able to retrieve it, and I would be lying if I say I didn’t cry over this project.

But on the other hand, this was also one of the projects that have given me the most practice; just modeling so many different objects. After that, I felt a lot more secure about my modeling abilities and the pipeline that I work with.

Right now I want to hand in some great art tests and update my portfolio with some more realistic movie props. I am currently experimenting with cloth and pattern design in Substance Designer and Alchemist and doing some skin texturing in Mari, which is great fun!

Noor Vullinghs, 3D Modeling and Texturing Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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Comments 1

  • Vullinghs Noor

    Thank you for having me :)


    Vullinghs Noor

    ·3 years ago·

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