Learning Hardsurface Modeling and Rendering
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Simon Fuchs

Senior Artist II at Blizzard Entertainment

smn.fhs@gmail.com

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Software & Tools
Learning Hardsurface Modeling and Rendering
6 September, 2016
Interview

Simon Fuchs (Artstation) has recently published a great tutorial, which centers around hard-surface modeling with 3ds Max, MODO and Zbrush. It’s a great take on the production of very sleek and stylized 3d models with extremely powerful looks. The tutorial is incredibly long and goes into the tiniest details, including the rendering in Marmoset 2.0, texturing with Quixel SUITE, and optimization of the high-poly model for use in games. We’ve talked with Simon about this project and he shared some of his advice in this interview.

turretgun_render_03

turretgun_render_02

Introduction

Hey, I’m Simon Fuchs and I was born in Germany where I grew up and went to school. In terms of my career in video games I am self taught. I learned most of my skills through forums like polycount and by trial and error playing around with different software packages.

Before coming to to the US to work for Blizzard I’ve worked for a few different game companies in Germany, the biggest one being Crytek in Frankfurt. The biggest projects I’ve worked on so far were Crysis 2 and Crysis 3 at Crytek and Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void here at Blizzard, which I am super proud of.

 

Hard Surface Modeling

In general, hard surface modeling is a term used to describe the creation of non-organic shapes and surfaces. This can be any asset like a simple trashcan or something more complex like a gun or a car. The most challenging aspect of hard surface modeling is the creation of smooth, consistent surfaces that do not contain any artifacts. Using traditional modeling techniques like poly modeling or support loops it can get quite time-consuming to create decent looking hard surface assets. I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to be able to spend quite a bit of time to focus on hard surface modeling and was able to learn many different approaches and techniques that make this process faster and more efficient over the years.

turretgun_render_07

hp_turretgun_04

hp_turretgun_08

hp_turretgun_02

This is where my new tutorial comes in. I’m sharing all of my experience that I’ve picked up in my over 12 year long career in videogames and am explaining in detail how to create a complex asset – the turretgun. In addition to covering the basics of hard surface modeling I’m also going to explain the basics of all the software packages that I am using as well as many advanced scripts, plugins and techniques.

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating a hard surface asset is to not over complicate the construction of the asset. The highpoly object is going to be baked down to a lowpoly mesh so topology does not really matter as much since we are not going to use the high poly mesh for anything other then creating nice looking renders and baking. As a result, we do not need to worry about how the surface is constructed. The most important thing to focus on is that the highpoly asset looks good and bakes down well and this is exactly what I am focusing on in my tutorial.

topology

Decimated highpoly on the left, lowpoly on the right. Topology of the highpoly does not matter as long as it bakes and renders well

Production

On my projects, I usually start out by creating a mood board with various different images of designs that I like. I am collecting these in Photoshop and will combine them in one big image that I then save to reference in the creation of the asset. I then create a blockout design mesh of my objects focusing only on the big shapes as well as the silhouette. In this phase I am paying attention to how the shape reads in general and how the different parts of the asset work together. I’m also trying to design something that is functional and could work in real life. Once I have locked down the blockout mesh, I then refine each individual piece adding more and more detail everywhere until I end up with an asset that I like. The general approach is from big too small, focusing on the silhouette and big shapes first, then moving on the medium sized details on the asset and finally adding small details that convey a sense of scale.

For modeling the blockout mesh I’m mainly using 3ds Max. After that, I am using Max to create high poly versions of the blockout pieces. Once these are done I am using MODO’s meshfusion to merge, subtract or intersect the shapes together. Meshfusion is an amazing tool for that and allows you to use boolean operation on your meshes. The difference between meshfusions and 3d Studio Max’s approach to Boolean operations is that you can interactively change the size and look of the resulting bevels in Meshfusion. This is amazing and a huge time saver. This can also be done in Zbrush using Dynamesh (which I am covering in my tutorial as well) but Meshfusion gives you a lot more control of the resulting look. 

modo

The core of the turretgun with some of the edgeloops selected after the meshfusion operations

Using traditional modeling techniques this is the part where people usually spend the most amount of time when creating hard surface assets. By introducing Modo and Zbrush into my workflow I was able to save a lot of time and it allows me to focus on what matters most – designing the mesh instead of spending most of my time constructing the highpoly geometry using complicated and time consuming modeling techniques like support loops.

After the Boolean operations are all finished I bring my high poly mesh to Zbrush to add final details like panel lines and smaller details using alphas and various different brushes.

zbrush_details

Some more detail added to the core using brushes and alphas

Materials

I created all materials for the turretgun asset using Quixel Suite. When designing my asset I break it up into different objects to create a color ID map that I can bake and use in Quixel Suite. I try to stay away from making the asset look too busy by using too many different materials and colors.

material_breakup

The material assignment on the highpoly mesh to create a color id map for baking

I try to break it up in a meaningful, realistic way. Most of the red objects on the turret gun for example are located in smaller areas where pieces would move around when operating the gun. This was deliberately done to make you aware of that and prevent you from touching the object in those areas.

Each object specifies one different material. I try to use a ratio of 70-30 for materials, my main material being the blue metal material using around 70% of surface area on the asset and then the other materials covering around 30%. 

Quixel Suite is a great tool for texturing your asset and comes with many different materials out of the box. Using 3DO as a previewer, it is very easy to only work in Photoshop and Quixel for texturing, there is no need to switch between different tools in this phase any more. This is a really quick way to create awesome looking materials. Quixel Suite comes with everything that you need out of the box to texture pretty much any asset so once you understand all the basics of how to use it, which I am covering in my tutorial, you are good to go.

Complex objects obviously require the use of various complex materials together in one object. How do you combine them? How do you figure out how to use various materials together in one scene? How does it all work, cause your work looks amazing and for me it’s pretty much close to magic.

I usually start out by assigning some of the default materials that Quixel Suite comes with to my asset using the color id map that I have baked from the high poly mesh. 
After that i try to come up with a color scheme for my asset so that I know that the different colors that I want to use work well together. 

Quixel’s previewer, 3DO is a powerful renderer that will give you a high quality preview of your materials. Once I’ve added some of the default Quixel materials I usually go into each material and refine them some more. Most of the time I adjust the wear and tear, color and glossiness of the material and then I usually add additional layers of detail on top of the default material. Since everything is organized in folders it is super fast to work on your materials in Quixel and make changes to them as you go. This is a very organic process and there is a lot of back and forth involved, trying out different materials and getting a feel for how they work in combination with each other.

base_metal_material

A look at the different layers for the base blue metal material used on the gun in Quixel

As I’ve mentioned previously, I really like to base my objects in reality so when choosing materials I try to keep in mind how it would work on an object in real life. What materials would you use when creating this object? How is it being constructed? What areas of the object need to be able to withstand a lot of abuse and what material would you use in those areas. What parts can move and what materials would I use on those parts? These are all questions I am asking myself in the creative process and this is largely what I base my material choice on.

Lastly, I want to make sure that I have contrast in my materials. This can be achieved using different colors like the red accent parts I was talking about earlier or using different materials altogether. On the turretgun asset, I especially like how the chrome parts stand out when looking at the object in motion – it works really well on the asset in my opinion. In the tutorial, I go into detail how each of these materials is constructed from the ground up so you should definitely check out the Quixel and Marmoset part if you are interested in advanced material creation.

Time-saving Elements of Production Pipeline

As a mindset in general, stop worrying about the topology of your high poly asset, just make sure it looks good and bakes well. It`s really not important if your surface contains triangles or n-gons as long as it works for the bake. 

In addition, I am using a lot of scripts and plugins for 3d Studio Max. One of my favorite techniques is using a script called slide kitZ script that allows you to deform geometry using uv coordinates. This is a huge time-saver as it allows you to model most of your details on a flat surface and then simply morph them into the final shape by using this script. Essentially, you do not have to worry about topology much as the script will take care of this aspect for you. You can find a free tutorial of this approach on my Gumroad here and I am using this approach a couple of times in the turret gun tutorial as well.

I’m covering many more time savers in my full tutorial and you should definitely check out the introduction to Max, Modo and Zbrush chapters since I am covering my entire workflow there. I explain in detail all of the scripts and plugins that I am using as well as where to get them and how to install them. You can get the full tutorial here on Gumroad or on Cubebrush.

Make sure to send me any art that you create using my tutorial through my Facebook page and thank you so much for supporting my work!

Check out Simon’s work on Gumroad and Cubebrush. Please use ‘HS30OFF‘ discount code to get a 30% discount on his tutorials. Specially for 80.lv readers.

Simon Fuchs, 3d artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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