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Making a Post-Apocalyptic Knife in 3ds Max, ZBrush & Substance

Maxim Ilchenko explained the working process behind the Post-Apocalyptic Knife project, showed us where to find references for such a work, and explained how to set up various textures.


Hey there. My name is Maxim Ilchenko. I have been in the industry for 9 years, 6 of which I’ve been working at Sperasoft St. Petersburg as a Lead 3D Artist. In the studio, I'm involved exclusively in Environment production for a long time, so in order not to lose the skill, I devote part of my free time to modeling and texturing.

This project can rightly be called one of those that have been gathering dust on the shelf for years. A long time ago, I made this knife according to the concept of Anton Kazakov, baked maps, and forgot about it. After a few years, I was ready to find the time to finish what I started.

The Post-Apocalyptic Knife Project

The first thing I realized when I returned to the knife was that I had to add micro details on high poly, add dents and dirt, small noise, and beat off suede and creases on leather straps. I was applying light strokes in ZBrush to get all this detail on the Curvature and Normal Maps after the baking. My favorite brush was FR Metal Dots and a few more from Fredo Gutierrez.

Modeling of this asset didn't require anything specific, my task was to repeat the concept as closely as I could, from welds to twisted wire. I also had to tweak the old low poly model and re-unwrap UVs, I did all this in 3ds Max. I divided the model into two meshes (the handle and the blade with wire and clamp). Each texture is in 4K resolution.

The most interesting things start here. The 2D concept itself is quite interesting, we have an abundance of different materials – rust, aluminum wire, several types of old and pure metal, leather, and, as it seemed to me, a bandage on the handle, which I then replaced with another leather. I have collected references for each type of material, old knives, and works by artists mostly who were involved in the development of Metro Exodus.


I started texturing with basic clean materials. Some I did myself, some I took from Megascans. I made the base metal for the previous work, I used it here as a base. It consists of a set of fill layers that give the metal variety and liveliness with each iteration thanks to the Overlay and Multiply mixing mode on Albedo and Roughness Maps. Then I age this material, making it turbid and rougher, leaving the previous look to shine only in those places where the metal is physically exposed.

Next, I play with spots and colors by adding generators and paints to the masks. Most often I use Mask Builder, Mask Editor, and Dirt with different settings. When I draw using a mask with Add Paint, I try to use ready-made brushes from Substance Painter's library using only Flow pressure. I filled the blade with materials from Megascans, with the help of masks and brushes I left only the brightest and most interesting elements from the Albedo, everything else makes the shiny material, which contrasts well with the matte spots of corrosion and rust. The entire stack of corrosion and rust is one Megascans’ material divided into three Fill layers with different HUE settings and masks with grunge fills, which I was masking and supplementing with brushes. Next comes a bunch of layers of dirt, patina, and dust.

A couple of tricks that transform materials are a layer of Сurvature with light Overlay and Sharpen with Passthrough. Then I add fine detail, such as individual dust particles and paint spots, using imperfections masks from Megascans.

For leather straps, I used two Megascans materials. I change many scans beyond recognition, their main goal is to form a base. In places where the leather strap comes into contact with a palm, I darkened it and made it shinier, and reduced the influence of the Normal and the Height Maps in order to give a natural look. At the same time, at the edges, the leather becomes frayed, the dust gets clogged into the seams.


I do renders in Marmoset Toolbag 4. A really strong tool to get the best result in real-time. I usually create folders in the project where I store the entire set of light sources, HDRI Skies, meshes, and cameras for different shots. This helps you not to get confused in the tools and easily switch between virtual scenes in a single file.

It was a surprise when I realized that one light source and HDRI Sky was quite enough for this project. My favorite Sky is Tomaco Studio. Along with this, I used an improvised white studio background. I mainly use a long focus, this allows me to capture more of the subject and get a more interesting rim light. ACES Tone Mapping on the camera and a little chromatic aberration, often even without it and always a little Sharpen.


In my opinion, the key aspects for creating an attractive asset for a portfolio are a combination of interesting silhouettes and shapes in a compartment with well-developed textures and set up the light. Make a catchy Project Thumbnail image. Use a logo, a contrasting image, and interesting close-ups. Having visual experience allows you to achieve a more interesting and realistic result. Use an integrated approach at all stages of production. That's all Folks!

Maxim Ilchenko, Senior 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 2

  • Servera Juan

    This is incredibly detailed. Great job!


    Servera Juan

    ·2 years ago·




    ·2 years ago·

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