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Massimo Caggese did a breakdown of his recent project – Gold Egyptian Bracelet – created with ZBrush, Blender, Substance Painter, and Marmoset Toolbag.
Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last interview here on 80.lv… and it’s nice to be back! During the last year, I kept on working for a local Italian company doing props/environment for VR. Last October I joined the ‘Feudal Japan’ Artstation contest, from which I got an honorable mention (you can see my entries here, here and here). After this, in March I moved to Valencia to work at elite3d as a Prop Artist. Now it’s 3 months that I work here and I can only say that it’s AMAZING!
The choice of creating a 3d model of this Egyptian Bracelet, which was found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, was driven by multiple instances: first of all I needed to improve little by little my sculpting skills and consequently strengthen my Blender–ZBrush–Painter workflow to become more efficient and faster at work, understanding what to do in the base mesh and in the sculpting step. Then, looking at the references, I was very curious about recreating all that variety of surfaces, each one with his own characteristics, reaction to light, type of weathering over time: I love studying materials and trying to put all their details in my textures.
The shape of this object was also very interesting: the pseudo-circular shape of the bracelet itself is segmented by all the stones along it and at last, is broken by the big beetle on it. The first thing I did was creating this shape on a flat plane making it faster thanks to the Mirror modifier. To achieve the circular shape I made the mesh follow a bezier circle through a Curve modifier: this is a nice non-destructive way to work that allows easy and quick tweaks in the last steps before sending everything to ZBrush. I then used this first bezier circle to drive the curvature of all the other elements, i.e. the stones array. The scarab was the thing I wanted to work the most in ZBrush, so in Blender, I created just the basic subdivided meshes to check proportions and silhouette. For each leg, I used a simple vertex extruded several times and a Skin modifier to give them thickness.
Blender to ZBrush Workflow
I’m very far from saying that I know how to use ZBrush properly, but every time I try to learn something new and improving what I already know. In this case, almost the whole scarab needed to be tweaked through sculpting: the legs that in Blender had a soft rounded shape were sculpted to get a more angular shape with sharp edges; the carvings on the wings and on the body; the whole head was almost re-done, merged with the eyes that I kept separated in Blender and finally decorated with the straight lines at both sides. The gems – simple half-cylinders in Blender – were sculpted to give them a look based on the material: the gold ones were just dented due to the ductility of the metal, while the stony ones were chipped along the edges. The process of import-export between Blender and Zbrush was made very very very easy thanks to the Blender GoB add-on.
Texturing was for sure the funniest and most important step for this piece since I decided to leave to this phase all the small surface details like scratches/cracks/microdetails I did not sculpt. Textures were done in Substance Painter, but I could use Substance Designer as well ’cause I did almost nothing in hand-painting to be the more non-destructive as possible in case of last-minute geo/UV tweaks. I first put my attention on the lapis lazuli material to achieve its complex mixture made by different minerals (blue from lazurite/sodalite; white from calcite; metallic yellow from pyrite). For the polishing, I decided to keep a slightly rough surface, as you can see in the close-up, accordingly with the reference and to create a contrast with the other more polished other gems. For the semi-transparent gems – carnelian and quartz – I tried as much as possible to fake the internal inclusions this kind of gems has through slight color variations that would match the same variations in the translucency map.
Working on the gold material was really interesting and quite different from how I normally approach to metal texturing. Gold – as platinum and silver – is known in chemistry as a “noble metal” which means it doesn’t react almost with anything so it does not create by-products like rust for iron or the green patina for the copper. So the only way to work on a worn gold artifact is working on slight roughness variations together with micro-normal details that witness all that happened to that artifact over time. Gold is a ductile metal so it’s supposed to record everything (dents, scratches, pressures, etc.) on its surface.
Rendering in Toolbag
All the textures created in Substance Painter were fed into Marmoset Toolbag 3. I really love that software and I use it almost every day. For this project, the tricky part was to achieve a nice result for the semi-transparent gems and the Refraction option in the Transparency settings worked great! I created a BW texture in Painter, driven by the slight color variations of the gems, and used it as a mask to give different translucency values so getting the feeling of a non-homogeneous volume density. Then the Toolbag’s internal refraction option and its insane Global Illumination settings did the rest of the job.