The incredible 3d artist Mark Van Haitsma talked about the way he works on weapons and incredible monsters for video games.
My name is Mark Van Haitsma
, I’m a senior artist over here at Epic Games
Seattle. My journey in 3d started back in Michigan, where I grew up. In high school, I took a mechanical drafting class, and I believe that is what got me introduced into thinking within the 3d realm. Those classes really hit a chord with me and I loved trying to figure out how to draw all the machine parts from different angles, etc.
Right around the same time, Resident Evil 2 was released, and that….. well, that game was huge for me. I’m a big fan of the series in general, but that one sparked the idea that I should pursue working in the industry.
After high school, my brother and I went out to Arizona to go to UAT(called UACT then). There I was given the time to develop my initial skill sets. Afterward, my main focus was to get into Cinematic type work, but landed a job in games at Rainbow Studios, and haven’t looked back since.
Working with hard surfaces
For some reason, I’m really drawn to clean shapes mixed with intricate detail. I believe I just think more structurally/mechanically. I kind of brute forced my way into becoming an artist, as opposed to let’s say, having the traditional “natural” ability. On top of that, I’m a huge Sci-Fi fan. So all those years of ingesting cool ship and weapon designs started to sink in, I suppose.
As for how it relates to the actual job itself, it’s very rewarding. Working on ships/weapons/props, you are able to quantify a task very easily and get that constant feeling of satisfaction with the completion of every model. It’s extremely addicting to finish something, get that pat on the back, and then do it all over again, over and over. That also has added to my addiction to hard surface, simply being pushed in the workplace to make model after model after model.
My workflow for weapons is mainly through Max
. But yes, it starts off super simple. Getting the shapes down, the silhouette reading well, and all the moving parts/hand placements are where they need to be for animation.
Depending on what type of game, I would spend more time in certain areas. On games like Doom and Destiny I focused 90 percent of my time getting the shapes to read well from that one specific view in the first person camera. The rest of the gun just kinda falls into place after that, since you don’t have to be so critical.
With a game like Fortnite, where you have an over the shoulder 3rd person camera, you don’t have to be as hyper critical with that close up view of the gun, so you can just focus on the overall feel instead.
And Robo Recall guns were somewhere in between. On one hand, you can see the gun from every angle imaginable, since it’s in VR, but you also get away with a bit since the headsets currently are not super high resolution. There is also the fact that everything just feels cool in VR.
I think a good model in general will have a good breakup of materials and shapes. That should always be the goal of good design, having contrast in your assets. I focus on getting the larger shapes to read well in any design, so any details I throw in will help frame those main shapes.
Overall in my career though, I have mainly worked off concepts in some form. So it’s up to me to make those concepts function in game and still retain the overall feel.
It’s important also that every artist adds their own flare even if they are given a concept to work from, otherwise what’s the point of being an artist. I pride myself in being able to take a concept further than the original idea. There are always happy accidents that happen along the way and I do my best to integrate them into the models.
Kitbashing is pretty essential in my workflow. Having a library of parts to work from can greatly reduce the stress that comes with deadlines in the production art world. It also allows me to get more content in the game, and to pump quality work out much faster.
You have to be careful that everything doesn’t start looking the same, so I usually only use kitbash pieces to accent the larger shapes. More filler detail than main detail.
I have always been fascinated by heavy metal album cover art, and I wanted do something for myself in that same vein as a part of a series. Something that is just fun to look at without having to make much sense.
For the skull series, it’s just back and forth between Max and Zbrush. They were also heavily kitbashed from the libraries that I have up on Gumroad.
I was able to pump the out pretty fast, which also allows for more random ideas to happen. Each piece starts off with a general idea, but as I noodle around with shapes, it ends up to be something completely different altogether… which is ok by me. My personal art projects don’t have to make sense, or follow any guidelines. I just want to have fun with them.