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Making a Pistol Prop in ZBrush & Substance

Johan Lind shared a breakdown of the Short Power project, discussed working on details, and talked about setting up the light.


Hi, my name is Johan Lind and this is how I made the Short Power.

The Short Power was made from a concept 2D side view picture By Ben Bolton of a shortened Browing High power with at that moment an unknown sight.


So, step 1 for every 3D project is to gather References. From the get-go, I knew about the pistol, so I started by gathering good pictures to see the gun from all sides, close-ups, and dismantling videos/pictures. During this process, I was able to find out what particular red dot sight was attached to the pistol. The sight was made by a company called C-More Systems, but the sight was bigger than the reference image version.

When all the images are gathered up it was time to break them down into parts and set up the scene with the correct scale of the pistol in the image made by Ben. This can be done by using the scale of the original High Power's height and scale the image plane x and y together till it fits. Now it's time to block out a very rough general shape of the outline of the pistol. When I start with the block out I always start from any place on the reference image where it has the largest cylinder or sphere shape if I am unsure of the width.


Before I start with the modeling part, I work from a medium poly where I later turn it into the low and the high poly.

Now it was time to Boolean the blocks, everything that will be the base for the low poly from the insides, trigger guards hole, screw holes, and magazine release hole. I used mainly plans to cut out larger shapes, outer parts, and more solid shapes to cut out the inner part.

It was at this moment I realized that the gun doesn't really work. It had to do with two things. The first thing, and it might be obvious, it is too short. And the other problem is with the bullet size. In short, the slide doesn't have the room needed to slide back to pull a new bullet in the chamber from the magazine. I can count more problems, but these were the two main ones. If I wanted to fix these issues, I had to change the layout and profile but that would destroy the look and feel of the original.

With that in mind, my goal was not to make it work but to make it look like it works. So, you might think what does an animator needs to make it feel real. We normally see an empty case leaving the chamber, so the importance now was to make sure that an empty case can exit the pistol. One pistol that comes to mind that has a similar thing is Team Fortress 2's Scout pistol “Pretty Boy’s Pocket Pistol”.

When all had been done, it was time to create the high poly, starting with making a copy of the medium and start Boolean out the groves on the pistol slider and the pistol grip. When it came to the hard surface parts, I have my way to quickly make it rounded without losing the capability to make changes if need be. All it needs is some support edges here and there, so no artifacts form.

It is not the nicest looking high poly, but it does its job good and fast as long as you have good smoothing groups. But is not recommended to use in a game dev environment because if the model needs to be shared around it's not the easiest to understand the high poly. So, the method I have just shown is good for hobby usage.

But when it came to the wooden parts I went another direction instead of doing the smoothing in 3ds Max I exported it to ZBrush. Using the Deformation and its Polish and Polish Crisp Edges to bevel it all and work on the damaged parts of the wood with basic Clay Build Up and Dam Standard Brush.

And like that, the modeling is done!


I started with the coated metal. Whenever I start with generally any material I start with a base, Noise that breaks up the planes, and lastly, an Edge Highlight.

The second step is adding BreakUps and Detail. Working with slight color changes will break up the planeness of the surface and the up and down will give a faint hint on what is the top or bottom. These are very small changes with wide strokes over all of the creation will make sure it is not the same color on every part of the surface. Here comes the fun part, the details. This is where the material gets the feeling and flair that you want, by giving it, for example, smudges, fingerprints, oil effects, and edge damages.

When working with the detail make sure not to overdo it, so you can make out the creation in channels all and look at where you would touch it.

The wood is similar to the coated metal but varies in a few ways. The first would be to add a base texture and then add fiber Pattern. On that 3 Color Saturation Layers, one with larger wide strokes, then one with a bit more detail, and one with more spots or stains. This will works as the materials break up

The last part of all materials is to add some height and cavities to them. This can come in form of a height difference in the coat from the base metal and cavities in the wood. One thing that will enhance the added height is to add AO. To do this, the Project needs to have added an AO map that can be found under texture settings. When that's done under layers a filter called MatFx HBAO has to be added on the top of the stack. If it is under the layers it won't do anything, similarly to have an anchor point.

One good tip, when adding things such as metal damage is to break it up. This can be done by using a fill layer on the top of the stack putting in Clouds 2 and setting the Layers Blending Mode to Multiply.

Texturing is done!

Rendering and Lighting

When you begin rendering a scene it is important to pick a good HDRI. If we use my scene as an example, I used a studio HDRI witch can be found at HDRI Haven. I don't like the HDRI that comes with Marmoset Toolbag. At HDRI haven I can find several variants of Studio HDRI.

Then I went into the Render tab and activated almost everything!

For the camera settings, I used Base Camera Settings from Marmoset Toolbag's website and made changes to it to fit the camera to my needs. This can come in form of more contrast, less saturation, and so on.

Setting up the light is tricky but working with a dark background, in the beginning, is something I found to be helpful. I begin by adding Rim Light along three edges of the gun to highlight the shape/outline of the Pistol.

This can highlight the roughness details if the light is positioned and angled correctly with the camera, best shown in the picture below. This can vary greatly due to the camera so starting with by placing a camera and work the light around its angle is a good way to start

The next step is to change the shape of the light so it is more like the Rim Light shown in the picture above and add a soft light behind the camera to light up the darker places. Other smaller lights were needed to highlight other parts, like for example a red dot sight.

And like that, it is done!

Johan Lind, 3D Prop Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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