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3d artist Renato Scicchitano did a beautiful breakdown of his amazing 3d asset, created with the help of Maya and Mari.
Hi, my name is Renato and I was born and raised in Italy. After I got my bachelor in Industrial and Product Design, I decided to move to Vancouver where I just finished my studies at Think Tank Training Centre.
It is hard to change path after you dedicated so many hours, energy and passion for three years of your life, but I really felt that no matter how much I liked designing products, there was something I liked more. I felt that CG was one of the only ways to create and bring to life new worlds, objects and creatures to create magic on screen.
At Think Tank the first important project I had the chance to work on was “The Bounty Hunter”, this project made me realize how much I loved textures. It’s a work that requires a lot of attention and a synthesis, it’s impossible to have the same amount of detail that real life has, the key is to understand the main features of the object, to understand the essence of it and to mimic it with a 3D model.
Having this concept clear in my mind helped me improve my textures drastically.
This project started 5 months ago when I was looking for ideas for my demo reel. There are so many texturing reels that look really good so I asked myself “how can I stand out?” For this reason I decided to go for a small scene so that I could showcase my artistic sense and some other important skills such as lighting and composition.
One of my main goals was to tell a story and create a cinematic shot. For these reasons, I focused a lot on the overall mood of the scene. In my mind I pictured a writer’s desk in the early ‘20s that is struggling to find the right inspiration for the next project. Having a story in the demo reel is not mandatory
(look at a different references, and see how the background influences your final result).
Once I find an interesting concept, instead of jumping right into it and starting to work on it, I like to take a step back and plan it properly. I think that my background as industrial designer influenced my approach to CG, I try to break down all the aspects of a project so that I can have a better understanding of it, so planning played a key role in my workflow. For example, take a close look at the typewriter – understanding how all the pieces were related made my life easier once I actually started to model, because I already knew how all the parts where working together. Modeling the typewriter was the biggest challenge I had to face, but it was a great learning experience. When I saw it for the first time I was conscious of the amount of work it would have required of me and I saw it as a great way to improve myself.
I was lucky enough to have the object with me for a while, so my first step was to take as much reference photos as possible and, since I had the chance, I also decided to use photogrammetry. This technique consists of taking 360 pictures of your object so that a software can recreate a 3D version of it. However, I should note that using photogrammetry won’t produce perfect results (see photo below) Also, the software will try to project the pictures on top of the mesh so you will also have a nice reference for the textures! this will be really helpful to double-check the position and size of the landmark that your object has, like, for example, the Remington logo.
As you can see the mesh that comes from the scan is really rough, but it is still a great reference for the volume of such complex object! The next step was to block out all the pieces, there were a lot of them, 978 to be accurate. So before I took care of topology I made sure that I had a rough mesh in place for each piece, it was quite a long and sometimes tedious process , especially for small pieces that were instanced all over the object, like the bolts.
Once all the pieces were roughly modeled I started making proper topology for each one of them, some of the pieces were fairly complex, but the good thing is that the more you do it, the more you get good at it!
The modeling of the other props was way easier, for the briefcase, the pipe and the book I had a sculpting pass in Zbrush. Since these objects are quite simple, make sure to have a nice sculpting pass that will make them more believable (maybe natural would be a better word than believable) and less CG.
Once I was done with the model I started doing 2 things: the first one was UVing and I will talk about it in a bit, the second one was to gather my references and start picking tileable textures that I would have used later on. I am trying to build a texture library to have a pool of good tileable textures for a future project. From the pictures I also pulled out some black and white mask to use as stencil while I was painting in Mari.
For the logos and graphics I just vectorized them in Adobe illustrator, nice thing of vectors is that they are not Pixel based and this means that whatever vector you have, you can save it at the resolution you prefer. For the Remington logo I created a 5k stencil, it’s more than I needed but this made landmarks look really nice, clean and sharp.
Texturing was my main focus, I really wanted to capture what made those objects alive, their essence, and transferred it into my renders. One step that played a huge role in achieving accurate textures is UVing. It’s a bit of a tedious process, but spend some time on it and it will save you tons of time once you actually start to texture. In my case I kept all the material separate in different UV tile. The big advantage of doing such thing is that later on in your painting software it will be much more easy to select each material individually and work on it. Having different material on different tiles will also help you a lot when you start to build your shader.
Once the UVs were ready I finally jumped into Mari and I started to paint. Here I tried to keep everything as clean and organized as possible.
Another important aspect that I kept in mind while I was painting was how the material was working in real life. The black metal for example is a material composed of different layers. The first layer is a bare metal, next comes the primer, on top there is the black paint and at last there are the smudges.
This kind of organization will be super helpful when you have to set up complex blend material.
Being organized though didn’t help when it came down to texturing all the different pieces. What was really helpful for achieving a good looking result in a decent amount of time was the use of tileable and procedural textures. Both of these are really powerful and they allowed me to have a lot of details without painting anything. However, it was pretty important to make sure that the tileable and the procedural textures would look organic and natural to be believable. There are some tricks here. The first one is to layer tileable textures one on top of the other and masking them out where I wanted/didn’t want to see them. Also, layering different tileable textures on top of each other was pretty helpful because it allowed me to keep a non-destructive workflow which is one of the most important rules I tried to keep in mind. A non-destructive workflow saved me a lot of time because when I wasn’t happy with the look of a detail, all I needed to do was to simply change the tileable texture that was driving that detail instead of repainting everything manually that would have take an extreme long time.
Regarding the lighting of the scene the first step was, again, gathering some references. Since I wanted to have a strong mood and I wanted to tell a story through it, I looked for a lot of traditional paintings. Traditional art can be extremely helpful when creating renders. Painters know a lot about composition, color theory and visual contrast. Same goes for photographers.
Once I figured the lighting I wanted to have, I started recreating it in Maya. The first thing I should have done was a simple three point lighting. This lighting setup is the ABC for photographers and for a good reason, with just 3 lights it is possible to achieve so many different atmospheres and good looking results. But instead what I did in the beginning was that I kept adding more and more lights to get a very specific look and then after an hour I realised that I was making my life way harder than it needed to be So I created a new and simple setup with a key light, a back light and 2 fill lights and the lighting of the scene became way more interesting in very few clicks. In this case “less is good” was really effective.
The scene was rendered in Vray 3.4 for Maya.The shading in Vray brought the textures to life, textures are just one part of the puzzle and the same thing is true for shading, they go hand by hand. Having good textures and a poor shaders will make the final render not as good as it could have been. For this reason the key for me was to do a lot of back and forth between Mari and Vray, and slowly tweak the texture and the shader together until I got the look I wanted. As I said previously, the more you do it the better you get at it.