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Here's How You Create a WW2 Japanese Camera Rifle in 3D

Geremia Merzari has shared with us a breakdown of the Konishoruko Rokuoh-Sha Type 89 project, focusing on how a realistic peeling paint effect was set up and hand-painted techniques were implemented to texture the model's surfaces.


Hi! My name is Geremia Merzari. I’m from Italy and I’m currently looking for a job in Environment/Prop Art. Since my last 80 Level article about my first environment “Lost in Nature,” I practiced my core skills extensively to bring them up to AAA level, preparing myself to join the industry.

Before getting into the 3D talk, however, let me quickly share a bit about myself. I grew up, loving both stories, ancient literature, and computer-related things, such as video games and visual effects. I’ve always been fascinated by the creative possibilities that computers offer. I still remember the first time I read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,” which immediately ignited my interest in literature. After having read all of his bibliographies, I decided, at the end of my high school studies, to embark on a literature-focused degree in England.

It wasn’t until I was writing my Master’s dissertation that I rediscovered my passion for that incredible world. I started first with some random tutorials on YouTube until making something new became a daily habit. From there, I started looking for a course that could fulfill my curiosity. After some research, I found a game art course at Howest — Digital Arts and Entertainment in Belgium.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with this world, started joining 3D-related discord servers, met so many amazing new people, and forged incredible friendships. I’ve started spending my free time focusing on improving my skills, and craft, and I’ve never gotten tired of it. So, if you’re just starting out and you’re reading this, I hope you can find something useful for your own journey!

The Goal and Inspiration

The goal of this project was to demonstrate complex modeling and texturing skills on my portfolio, enhance the quality of my work, and make it suitable for AAA roles. While browsing Pinterest, I stumbled upon this old Japanese camera rifle from the Second World War and I was immediately in love. I liked all the material breakup and the details of the rifle, but most importantly, I liked how unique and interesting the prop was in its entirety.  So, I started gathering enough reference pictures to start with the blockout. 


I started learning 3D modeling with Maya, but I use Blender for all my modeling now. I start off by placing a reference image plane, then, create the big shapes and match the proportions — after that, I start adding the details. Once that is done, I am left with a mid-poly version of the prop, which I will use to create both the high and the low poly. It is important at this stage not to rush and keep very close attention to the reference.

I also spend time deciding which parts will be reused. In this case, the bolts. For the high poly process, I used Houdini. I made a simple HDA (Houdini Digital Asset), where I just need to import the .fbx and with one click, I obtain the decimated high poly. I switched to Houdini because it speeds up my workflow compared to ZBrush, where I have to click multiple times for the same result.

For the most complex parts like the handle, I always follow the same workflow — I start with a very basic blockout, and then, I refine the shapes to get a mid poly. After that, I either start polishing in Houdini, or, if I need to add details, I use Booleans and then, I send the mesh in Houdini to get the high poly.

Once the high poly is done, I start creating the low from the mid poly version of the rifle. In this case, it’s important to give enough edges to curved areas and avoid them, especially considering that this is a portfolio piece. 

After that, I moved on to making the UVs. When it comes to that, I tend to follow this general rule: Considering the bolts on the rifle are all the same style, I’ve decided to keep three variations and duplicate the rest along the rifle. By doing that, I kept some subtle variation and perpetrated the idea that they are different while saving up TD for the rest of the UV Islands.


My texturing program of choice is Substance 3D Painter. My texturing workflow is very organized and planned out. I start with the base material, which starts off with a base layer. On top of that, I start adding procedural color and roughness variations. For each variation layer, although being mostly procedural, I always add a paint layer to customize it and add a hand-painted touch to each variation, to avoid that very procedural look. I also keep all the hue shifts very subtle. I don’t want to overwhelm the prop with too many bright colors, but as I observe in real life, the albedo of things is always full of subtle variations.

Once that is done, I start tackling the Height Map, and I add a basic buildup of very subtle surface noise and variation — that is usually when my base layer starts to shape up. Once the base is solid, the best part is about to start — the detailing and the localization stage. 

I first start by creating all the stencils I need, based on my references. There’s a great tutorial on ArtStation, made by Rick Greeve, about different techniques for making stencils out of pictures. Once all my stencils are made, I start painting in and out details in each of my variation layers. I work a lot using anchor points. They can be tricky to fully understand at first, but I can recommend these two tutorials, which helped me a lot when starting out. The first one is made by Andrii ‘Zelfit’ Mykhailov, where he explains how to create multilayered materials using anchor points, which I took a lot of inspiration from when making the rust for my rifle. The second one is made by Zbmand, where he explains how to use anchor points and reference normal information as well. Both are very useful and beginner-friendly.

Peeling Paint Effect

The final part of the texturing process was adding a peeling effect on the rifle, to both enhance the realism and add storytelling elements to it, which I strongly believe are what sell your work. To achieve the effect, I had to set up a few anchor points to save the peeling mask. Then, I used a histogram shift and a few levels to control the effect. The effect is very procedural, so I can control the effect to my liking, and to match the reference, on top of that. I’ve constructed another system control, by another anchor point, to reveal the material below, mostly rust on the barrel, and a lot of corroded metal on the other extreme of the prop.  

I was inspired by these two tutorials, which helped me build a basic peeling system, which I had to tweak to match the style and reference I was going for. The first one is from Wes McDermott, who is Head of Substance 3D Evangelism at Adobe, where he builds a solid system explaining the process step by step, ideal for beginners:

The second one is from Thomas ButtersYouTube channel. Thomas is a Lead Weapon & Prop Artist at Facepunch Studios and his channel is full of great resources and time-lapses, where he shows the whole asset creation pipeline. His peeling paint effect tutorial is also great for beginners, as he spends time explaining how to set up the needed anchor points perfectly:

Lighting & Rendering

The final presentation was done in the Marmoset Toolbag. I set up a basic 3-point light system, with a key fill and backlight, and used it with a very low intensity of the skylight. I usually start with the skylight off, and I only turn it on when all the other lights look perfect, and I just need an extra subtle kick to the render.

Additionally, once the render is done, I start post-processing them inside Marmoset. I tweak the settings and create a custom post-process profile that I will use later as a solid starting point for all the other renders as well. From there, 95% of the work is done and I only need to bring everything into Photoshop, adjust the resolution, and export everything.


To summarize, I think an abundant use of reference is what helped me achieve a realistic and optimal result — from making stencils from references to understanding how the material is built and how it decays in real life. The texturing stage was where I spent most of my time, and I think that’s where you can make your art shine. Additionally, surround yourself with talented people. I joined 3D servers at the very beginning of my journey in game art, and I’ve made fast improvements thanks to that. Never be ashamed to ask questions, to ask for feedback or advice, to ask for help — that’s how you grow the most. I would like to take this space to thank my brothers from #art-and-chill!

This is where my article ends, and I would like to thank 80 Level for giving me the opportunity to write this breakdown. Hope you find it useful and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to send me a message on ArtStation or Discord!

I am always open to questions, suggestions, or if you just want to talk about games! Check out more renders and the rest of my work here.

Geremia Merzari, Environment/Prop Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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