Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Hard surface 3D artist and gun-lover Darko Miladinovikj gave some exclusive advice on creating outstanding 3D guns for video games. He talks about his production process and the important of references for hard surface painting.
I’m from Skopje, Macedonia (Southeast Europe; it’s ok, nobody has heard of it). I’m currently living there, but I’m planning to move to the States sometime next year.
I started doing modwork for Counter Strike 1.6 at what I think was the age of 13. At the time I obviously had no clue what I was doing nor that there was an entire industry behind my newfound hobby. I moved from one crappy software to another until I eventually got to what I’m currently using. Over the course of around 3 years I managed to learn quite a lot and meet a ton of awesome people online. One day, a friend who was working in-house for some mobile games company asked me if I could do a whole bunch of low-resolution weapon models for their next game, paid. I was 16 years old at the time and it was surreal. Getting paid?.. To do what I like?.. Yeah right. Anyways, I agreed to it. Didn’t have high hopes that my stuff would be used in the game or that I would be paid but both things happened. That was my first professional gig.
After that it was random small projects over the course of a year or so until I pulled together a portfolio at around the end of 2013. I’ve been working professionally on a regular basis ever since. Over the past 2 years I’ve worked on several mobile titles and over a dozen AAA titles. Unfortunately, most of the biggest projects I’ve contributed to are still under NDA so I can’t disclose anything related to them at this time. I’m just going to say that I have worked on some pretty big ones so I leave that to your imagination.
Hard Surface Design
I like to keep things flexible. I’ve coached a lot of artists in 3d over the years and the one thing I always say is that there is no ultimately “correct” way to do anything (aside from some technical things). There are infinite ways in which you can go about modeling say.. a bolt.
The difference between those ways is efficiency. You can spend countless hours perfecting something or you can spend just the right amount of time to get the job done. The best advice I can give is to keep things simple; make sure whatever you’re doing makes sense.
Don’t overcomplicate things because you have some imaginary standard of how things are supposed to be. There is no such thing. If it looks good, chances are it is good. Obviously there are going to be some exceptions to this, but for the most part, it’s the absolute best advice I can give.
Always “Get the job done”! Anything beyond that would be project-specific. I don’t like to have any super strict mindset when working on anything. Keep it loose, try to adapt to any situation that’s thrown at you and improvise if need be.
Building Weapons in 3D
My pipeline is pretty straightforward. It’s the one that’s considered to be more or less the industry standard. I start off with a blockout mesh which is exactly what it sounds like, a blockout model of all the major parts of the asset I’m creating so I can get an idea of what the final proportions will look like.
I then create a high polygonal mesh which contains all of the details that the final asset will have. After that it’s onto the low poly mesh which is an optimized game-ready mesh. I make sure to reuse as much of the blockout as possible to conserve time there.
Next, I unwrap said low poly model. It’s on to bakes after that. That’s the part where all the details from the high poly model are transferred onto the low via a baked normals map. Finally, I do the textures. I start off with a material blockout where I add basic color values for all my materials in all of the maps I’m working with. After they look good and I have an idea of what my final materials will look like and how they will react to light, I proceed with adding details.
For the most part, I photo source them from my giant collection of photos gathered from sites like cgtextures.com. I try to keep manual work to a minimum to save time. That’s about it, there’s nothing too special about it.
While making weapons for game you would want to take everything into consideration for an optimal result. It might not always be that simple since some of these things like can be project-specific. Different games have different styles so it’s impossible to have one golden standard for everything. Plus, that would kind of take the fun out of it.
It’s also important to make these weapons really feel alive, feel rugged and real. And for that you really want good reference pictures. I have a huge, ever-growing library of random weapon pics (coincidentally named “random weapon pics”) which contains a ton of warn, beaten, scratched up and even burned weapons. It has a lot of great references of everything you’d need to make an asset look interesting, from general wear to a clear-cut example of material definition. You can often find a cool picture of the exact gun you’re working on so it really comes in handy.