Hard Surface Study of The Tank

Hard Surface Study of The Tank

3d artist Chico Spans showed how he modeled and textured the interior of the fierce battle machine Abbot FV433. 

3d artist Chico Spans showed how he modeled and textured the interior of the fierce battle machine Abbot FV433. 

My name is Chico Spans I was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, but I currently live in Breda to study at the NHTV.

Hard Surface Modeling

The reason why I wanted to do a hard surface project was because after the Domus Romana project I wanted to spend my personal studies on something less organic, and in the process create a portfolio piece that showed I am capable of doing hard surface work as well, I also wanted to dig deeper into Substance Painter and felt like a hard surface project with so many texturing work would help a lot with that goal.

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In the early stages I was exploring the idea of doing a submarine interior, but I felt the scope of a submarine interior was a bit too much to pick up next to my study, the reason I went for the Abbot FV433 was because I found some good reference online and they were appealing to look at.

I wanted to have a lot of objects to get a little bit of a “Wow, that’s a lot of objects” feel so I hope that worked out.


For the project I used this image as my main reference image, I have collected some references from different angles, and I used some references from the Chieftain tank for the missing angles, as these looked extremely similar.

For most of the buttons etc, I used military radios as a reference because the detail is hard to see from the overview reference

I started this project with making a blockout describing every shape I wanted to get, I deliberately left out the cables because I knew these had to be very organic and I would add these after I had every asset on their final location

I tried to maintain the clutter by using contrast to my advantage, I made sure that for every high density area I had a lower density area right next to it, and where possible combine this with shadows and a color change, this made it easier to read the image and filter away the clutter in between objects, highlighting certain parts also helped a lot with readability, sometimes I forced these highlights by adding a point light with a low density/radius to the areas that needed more attention

Scale and Conceivability

For the scale and conceivability initially the blockout played an important role, I had set up a camera closely representing the reference shot, and used cubes/basic shapes to get the scaling down to it’s final position, I would then replace all these with more defined shapes to start doing some very basic lighting and getting a better idea about the volumes I am using.

In the end I think the cables in between the objects did the heavy lifting with bringing everything together into a believable whole, and the textures gave it the feeling of authenticity.

Cables, Wires and Valves

My workflow consisted of making a low poly version of the asset I was modeling, I then used smoothing groups and support edges to create my high poly, Simon Fuchs, has excellent and very detailed tutorials on this method, and I based my workflow largely on his videos, during the process of the interior I re-shaped it to my personal preferences, but it’s definitely a must watch for any hard surface modelers out there.

Some of the assets were modeled in different parts and then I used Zbrush to Dynamesh those together.

All the cables and valves are build using splines in 3Ds Max, for multiple splines I grouped them up and converted them to Editable Splines to allow for group editing, the Star shapes spline in Max works miracles on circular shaped buttons/patterns


For all the materials I used Substance, for all the unique pieces I have been using Painter, and for the tiling materials and decals ( Dirt Decals,Seat Belt, Cable, and armored cloth ) I used Designer.

What I think is most essential for hard surface materials is that the dirt and damage is placed on logical locations, edges are a little scratched, dirt gets stuck in the indents, what have people touched?, is the dust “intact” or did someone wipe over it with their boots/hand and if so how did this affect the bump and the color? In the end that is what makes a material look believable, inside Painter combining the procedural tools with hand painting is key for me to to achieve this look.

Recently I also picked up Photogrammetry in my workflow, I previously used it mostly for organic assets but I started using it more and more in my everyday workflow, for the tank I used photogrammetry to capture the tape around the can, I eventually ended up remodelling the can to get a cleaner result.


The materials are based on PBR values, so they should work under almost every lighting condition, I combined metal parts with non metal parts to create interesting variety within the way an object behaves to light, and the edge damage where the paint is gone and the metal is coming trough is taking care of most of the highlights in the scene, this made the object look a lot more readable, and feel a lot more authentic

My light setup is fairly straight forward, most of the bounce lighting comes from the skylight , I loaded up the skylight with an HDR image and used the same HDR image for the skybox, the warmer sunlight comes from a dynamic directional.

I have placed some points lights around the scene to serve as fill lights for the darker areas where I wanted more readability

In this image you can see something I have been experimenting with, using the artifical lights to light the scene, as you can see the materials still respond in a proper fashion.

For the commander chair I picked up Marvelous Designer, I think it’s a great program for anything cloth related and find it an important part of my toolset, I found picking it up very intuitive and it is a fun program to toy around with, I made the base for the chair in Marvelous and then used soft select to fine tune the shape inside 3Ds Max

The black handle was an important part of the interior, in the reference I noticed it was about the only thing that “shined” I imagined this was because it was used a lot ,and wanted to capture that same shine.


For the rendering of the materials it came down to a lot of trial and error, I have been looking into some archviz lighting set ups and learned from those, at some point I had different light setups of which I liked certain aspect, and then took these into photoshop to compare them with each iteration, this way I could steer it into the direction I was going for.

A lot of the shading also comes from the material, luckily substance painter has a really easy way to iterate, over the project I have been doing passes over every asset every now and then making sure they are up the standard of the newest assets, as long as you make sure you have the entire pipeline set up it all comes down to a press of a button inside Painter to re-import everything into Unreal , this allowed for a lot of experimentation

Lessons Learned

Overall I learned a lot from this project, it allowed me to repeat certain steps over and over again to really master certain techniques and made me a more diverse artist.

The takeaway from this article should be, in order to get your materials to look better don’t be afraid to redo something or reiterate in later stages, set it up as flexible as possible and keep hammering until it looks right, as a rule of thumb I always break up my materials up in at least 3 layers, primary, secondary and tertiary detail, this helps me understand the material better, also try to get as much tiny details in there as possible, you might not always directly see them, but you can definitely “feel” them.

Thanks for reading and if you want to check out more of my work, feel free to visit my Artstation

Chico Spans, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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