Jérôme Bussat shared a breakdown of the Luger P08 Artillerie Pistol project, showing the layers of the blued steel, and sharing the brushes he used for imperfections.
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Hey, I’m Jérôme Bussat, a 25-year-old hard surface artist by trade about to break into the game industry. Upon graduating, I focused on expanding my portfolio. Over the years, I have developed a passion for weathered surfaces and the challenges they can bring to texturing. Through them, I believe stories can be told, elevating even the most mundane props into something special. It’s with this passion that I look forward to my first steps in the industry this year.
Luger P08 Artillerie Pistol
While it's an icon in the realm of pistols, I was almost unaware of its existence or had paid little attention to it prior to this project. While I disapprove of the initial purpose and cult behind weapons like these, I cannot help but admire the design of these objects. What brought me to this particular model was the desire to texture a weapon that could justifiably feature a nice patina. Not only that, the Luger stands out from the rest with its unique reloading mechanism. Though I fell in love with it, I would not recommend beginners to necessarily model well-known props like this one to avoid being compared to countless others. With that said, its popularity made it a breeze to find references.
It was only after I was done with the blockout that I came across the Artillerie variant that features the extended barrel. The silhouette it creates is striking and gives it a flair that I could not find in many other pistols, leading me to adjust my model.
The software I used:
- Autodesk 3ds Max
- Adobe Substance 3D Painter
- Marmoset Toolbag
- Adobe Photoshop
Just like my previous project, a blockout was first made to establish the proportions of the pistol. I had plenty of references, meaning I was able to model using side views I imported in my viewport. At this stage, the geometry is simple and easy to work with.
Once satisfied, the model was refined through the use of the TurboSmooth modifier with the smoothing group option enabled. This tool makes it easy to smooth out shapes while keeping the desired corners sharp. I make sure to spend plenty of time in this phase because it saves me precious time later when it is time to work on the high poly.
The mid poly version of the pistol was then imported as a whole to ZBrush. There, I assigned unique groups to each subtool, making it possible to DynaMesh everything without melting everything together. Using the polish slider, the edges were beveled slightly more than the real pistol. This is commonly done in video games to make props more readable from a distance.
Now came the time to work on the wooden handle. Instead of creating the diamond pattern in 3ds Max, I created a mask in Photoshop to mask and extrude in ZBrush. This part of the pistol initially looked different, as I aimed to copy what most of my references featured. However, late in the texturing process, I realized the overall model was missing an extra surface finish. This is why I later added a rim around both sides of the handle.
If this project had been under a tight schedule, I would have called it done, but luckily I was free to further refine the high poly by adding the markings along with some dents and scratches to the surface. Back in the day, I believe the identification marks were either pressed or hammered into the steel, leading to raised edges and uneven depth. So once I had recreated the markings in Photoshop, I masked and extruded them before doing some touch-ups to simulate the aforementioned process. It’s a rewarding task, but you need plenty of texel density for this to show up.
For the imperfections, I relied on very basic brushes, such as the DamStandard, ClayBuildup, and Standard. You can also find metal dent alphas online and these always play very nicely with the light. Just like my approach to texturing, the nature of the prop defines where the damage will happen. Considering the handle is made out of wood, the weathering there was a little more significant.
Thanks to the TurboSmooth modifier I mentioned earlier when talking about the midpoly, I was able to get rid of the subdivisions and essentially get back to the blockout stage. From there, I made sure to remove any unessential geometry while preserving the silhouette. After cleaning, I ended up with a polycount of about 8,000 triangles.
Unwrapping the low poly was uneventful, but I made sure to split the pistol into two sets to maximize texel density. The UV islands were also arranged in a way to minimize aliasing artifacts and optimize packing through the use of UVPackmaster.
For baking, I did my usual double bake with and without the average normal option ticked on. This makes it so that I can manually paint the soft bevel and otherwise keep the hard normals to avoid deformation. Some areas at the bottom of the magazine required some manual fixes, but otherwise, this phase went well.
Blued Steel Texture
Before starting, I make sure to roughly understand the layering of the surfaces I am working with. With blued steel, I understand that it starts as bare steel before being brushed, stamped, coated, and oiled. While the process is arguably more complex, this is enough to guide me in the right direction. The first layer is uneventful but deserves a hint of grunge. The brushed effect, on the other hand, proves to be more difficult as it needs to accurately reflect the machining of each part. Triplanar mapping makes this process quick, with the exception of curved surfaces that may require some tweaking. I gave this surface detail a very subtle bump, roughness, and color to make it a little more visible. The blued coating itself was then layered on top. To give it some color variations, I used the default camo woodland texture set to triplanar projection and played around with shades of blue and brown before blurring it all.
Now, if I had been making a pistol in good condition, I would have added the oil layer right now. However, bearing in mind the age of my prop, most of it would be gone by now, so only traces of it were added later. Considering the nature of manufacturing, I thought it would be possible that the blued coating may not have been applied evenly to all parts, leading me to slightly darken the mask on certain parts to create some variations.
Some parts of the pistol did not feature the blued finish but relied on the same steel base. I simply gave them different roughness values to help them stand out from the rest.
With the base layers out of the way, I started the weathering process by introducing some pitting (small holes dotted across steel caused by corrosion). This is always a nice detail to add because it plays nicely with both the roughness and normal maps.
Patina is often praised for the vast array of colors it can produce and I wanted to reflect that in this Luger. One way I did this was by adding a red highlight to the edges of my blued coat mask. While subtle, I believe this made a world of difference
To bring some more variations, I created a layer near the bottom of the stack to add a golden hue to the underlying steel texture. With so many parameters tied to the blued coating mask, I made sure to spend a long time refining it, particularly through the use of stencils.
These are essentially masks extracted from images of real wear or gunk that can be used as alphas for your brushes. Directional stencils are extremely effective when it comes to grounding the weathering of a prop because they make it easier to understand how it manifested itself. A good example of that is the presence of worn corners at the top of the pistol. While the surface there is flush, the damage comes from the continuous reloading action.
Scratches play the same role by highlighting which areas of the prop are the most handled and/or exposed to the elements and accidental damage. It is also important to think about what part of the pistol interacts with the ground when laid down since it would likely sustain a disproportionate amount of wear. Near the top of the stack lie the traces of rough oil I added as a way to increase contrast and introduce interesting shapes. Finally, small strands of fiber were added in places hard to reach. It is also worth noting that I took the liberty of using gray tones in my metalness map, despite it technically defying the laws of PBR. I simply focused on getting the best visuals I could.
Wooden Handle Texture
I started working on the handle once the blued steel was mostly done to better assess how they would interact with one another. Considering the work I had put into the high poly, it was a lot easier to achieve a compelling result thanks to the curvature map. While I usually don’t use it, the diamond pattern forced me to, considering its intricacy.
The first layers consist of a saturated red base layer, lighter roughness variations, and some projected wood grain. A somewhat reflective layer of varnish was also added; however, most of it ended up fading away as the texturing went on. Contrast is then added by leveraging the curvature map and significantly darkening the grooves of the handle while lightening the most exposed areas. Using the same technique, I introduced some variations with masks since this kind of deterioration is an uneven process. The idea there is that gunk would gather in recesses while frequent handling would wear off the surface layer and reveal the untreated wood beneath.
As I previously mentioned, the handle went through two iterations: a borderless grip commonly featured in my references and the one I ended up going with. I realized it felt too uniform, despite being accurate. Considering how much the actual geometry of a prop can influence its textures, I do not regret having deviated from my references.
Now came the time to start painting in the imperfections, like scratches and gunk. To make these, I of course used my references but also tried to imagine how the fingers would wrap around the handle. This helped determine the areas most likely to sustain damage. At this stage, I had a convincing-looking texture but it lacked personality and looked like a solid blob of color when squinting my eyes. Thankfully, an idea sprung to mind: featuring a large water stain to introduce new roughness and color information. A first layer consisting of a light and desaturated overlay was projected onto the surface using a stencil. When doing so, I kept balance in mind. In general, ratios like 80%-20% or even 70%-30% are pleasing to the eyes, and it’s good to apply this notion to texturing as well. A dark contour was then added to the stain using an anchor and the highpass filter.
Most of my time is spent working on masks while texturing, meaning I make sure to use all of the features Substance Painter can offer. This ranges from blend modes, anchors, filters, opacity, paint, and ID masks. In terms of blending, I very often subtract grunges from my masks, preventing the tiling from ever being visible. Now, when it comes to anchors, I believe they are an essential feature that can save you a lot of high poly sculpting time. I particularly love to pair them with the highpass filter. By playing with the contrast, you can easily mask out the contour of specific patterns. This is really helpful for several kinds of weathering, such as paint peeling off, pitting corrosion, mold, and many more.
Over time, I have learned to rely less and less on the curvature and AO maps when texturing. I instead create my masks manually or heavily edit the built-in generators using stencils and brush strokes. The goal here is to distance yourself from procedurality as much as you can to better achieve realistic textures.
While the roughness is crucial to get right, I believe one should spend a significant amount of time working on the albedo/color map. I recommend studying the textures you may find on Megascans and noticing how busy and complex real-life surfaces can get. I would encourage checking out Malte Resenberger-Loosmann’s great article on the subject. When adding roughness variation layers, I always make sure to also give them color information. It does not need to contrast significantly with the rest, but over time, these will greatly contribute to the quality of the albedo map.
Throughout the entire process, I keep zooming in and out and squinting to make sure the prop remains interesting to look at even from a distance and that all the parts work well together. It is easy to get carried away with the small details, especially when working with high texel densities.
While texturing, I like to use the Tomoco Studio HDRI. It features neutral lighting that does not influence the colors of your model and creates shadows that are neither too sharp nor too soft.
With the model finished, I set off to create compelling scenes to accompany and elevate the pistol using Marmoset Toolbag. I kept the scope of this phase fairly low and relied on just a handful of scans. But before I started looking for scans, I tried to come up with a little story I wanted to tell. At first, I wanted to convey something thoughtful and emotional through environmental storytelling, but I quickly realized that a pistol was not really suited for that. Instead, the age and finish of my prop led me to believe that it would no longer function if it existed and that it would instead be treated as an antique. With this in mind, I put myself in the boots of a collector whose interest lies not in the function of his finds but in their appearance and stories. Pictures from eBay listings also influenced the composition of some shots.
For scans, I borrowed some and purchased others, with the exception of the tag. I extracted it from a picture online and used Photoshop to alter the text and create both roughness and normal maps.
I kept the lighting as simple as I could to maximize realism, often relying on a single HDRI and, at times, an extra directional light. To avoid any clipping, some renders were somewhat dim so I could safely raise the exposure later in post-processing.
Speaking of post-processing, all of my renders went through Photoshop’s Camera Raw Filter, where I mostly made use of the texture slider. The images were also slightly sharpened, saturated, and brightened. Some grain was also added to more closely resemble photographs.
With this project out of the way, I have had time to reflect on what I believe went right and what could have been done differently. In terms of topology, the polycount that was achieved is well optimized. It is, however, somewhat absurd that it is paired with such a high texel density. More generous curves and bevels would have better suited this prop.
When it comes to the texturing, I think I was able to make a compelling surface with plenty of roughness and height variations. Adding dents and scratches to the high poly also served this phase well. The color map in particular is, to me, the most successful aspect of this project. Despite all this, I regret not having gone the extra mile and given more custom finishes to individual parts, perhaps to hint at bits having been replaced through the life of the pistol. A good example of that can be seen all across the portfolio of the extremely talented Adrien Roose. Finally, I wish I could have found a way to feature some more thoughtful storytelling through set dressing but struggled considering the inherently violent nature of this prop. Doing so will not only elevate your work but it can also be seen as essential when making very popular props to stand out against the competition.
As challenging of a project as this was, I am proud of the result and humbled by its reception. To have been given a platform like 80 Level for this breakdown has me beyond thankful. Through it all, I hope this article was inspiring and that this insight into the way I work will help others.
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