3d artist Grigory Dolzhenko gave a detailed breakdown of his M4A1 rifle model. This project had a lot of detailed materials, incredible details and nice post-production touches. The whole thing was painted in Quixel SUITE & modeled in 3ds Max.
My name is Grigory Dolzhenko. I love videogames and like many of you thanks to this obsession I got into 3d modeling. I’ve spent some time working on a super secret unannounced project as a 3d artist and then as a lead 3d artist. However, I also had to graduate from the university, so I decided to quit the job and continue my studies. That actually was a wise thing to do, since the project was closed. I was lucky to have all that experience! I continued to develop my artistic skills and for now I mostly do freelance.
I’ve actually been one of the first early adopters of Quixel. From the very start NDO & DDO had a wide spectrum of features. However, there were a lot of bugs and crashes, which really made the whole work quite infuriating. Thank god, we got Quixel SUITE 2 now.
The developers really moved mountains with this release. They have successfully fixed most of the mistakes, added quite a lot of various new features Object-Space Normal baking, Curvature (Cavity) & Position Gradient. I really liked the updated DynaMask editor: it now lets you paint directly on the model. All the materials and objects are correctly depicted in the editor. There’s also a way to choose the desired post-production filter. You can also set it up yourself. Most of these features are part of the 3DO Baker tool. NDO & DDO also had a bunch of other updates. We’ve got an awesome new interface, the whole middleware is faster and more stable.
I also enjoyed playing with smart-materials. They are very flexible and look real. Quixel SUITE is a great addition to Photoshop and together this duo has virtually limitless possibilities.
M4A1 Model Production Breakdown
I kind of like weapons, so the choice of subject was pretty obvious to me. There was a whole bunch of information about this piece, so I had plenty of references.
The first step is modeling. Before you start, it’s necessary to figure out, how are you going to use this model. This was a personal project for my portfolio, so I didn’t have much boundaries to restrain my creative freedom. I guess you can tell from the way it looks now. Be careful though. For every particular project there’s a particular model, which should fit into a certain number of requirement. Keep that in mind when you’re creating your content.
Carefully study the structure of the object, you are going to model. Pay attention to details, small things and try not to miss anything. Here are some of the references I’ve studied, while preparing the project.
To make things a bit easier, I tried to apply modular approach, taking my rifle to pieces. All in all there were 11 objects, which really helped during the production.
I used 3Ds Max for modeling. I won’t go into much detail in the modeling process. There’s plenty of information about it online. The whole process was pretty straightforward. There were a couple of main stages: mid-poly, hi-poly, low-poly modeling, unwrapping & texture baking.
I do mid-poly modeling at first, because it serves as the basis for my hi-poly & low-poly models.
Hi-poly is used for normal maps & ambient occlusion map. In hi-poly object I suggest using soft edges.
The examples clearly show, that a smoother object has less jaggies. It’s very important for video games. Also the texture resolution doesn’t always allow showing smooth edges correctly. I actually used the version with less smoothing, cause of high-resolution textures (2048×2048), which allowed me to have smooth edges. However, if you’re using 1024×1024 textures, you won’t be able to do this.
When you are building a low-poly model, try to have more elements and not just roll them all together into one. I recommend uniting them only when it’s really necessary. It’s usable, when you are trying to create a welding junction. In this case all the polygons in the connection point should have common group for smoothing, otherwise you’ll see the disconnection.
When you are working with curves, which usually take a lot of space, I suggest the following workaround.
Of course you can do this, if you know that the junction won’t be really seen. This will help you to save some space and have nice linear pixels.
For my smoothing groups I’ve used TexTools script. It has a couple of nice features.
Using this tool, actually helped me to avoid bumping into some artifacts, but as all good things, this one is not perfect. The same welding junction will go through a manual setup to get the smoothing groups in such places.
For baking normal maps and ambient occlusion I used xNormal. This screenshot shows how normal map reacts to smoothing and baking. Maya is also works great here.
Of course, it’s impossible to avoid all the bugs or artifacts using just one way of rendering.
Better to disconnect the model into a couple of elements, so that the elements of one part did not intersect with each other and were positioned at a certain distance.
With ambient occlusion we have a little different situation, so you want to keep all the parts together, apart from those which are going to be moving.
As I previously mentioned, the gun was designed for a portfolio, so I could use any textures I wanted. The texture resolution for the rifle and the rifle-attached grenade launcher is 4096 x 4096. The sight, the magazine, the grenade itself have 2048×2048 texture. The foregrip is 1024×1024 and the bullet is 512×256.
If you’ve decided not to create some of the details or skip the text on the weapon (during the modeling of the weapon) you can easily use NDO. It’s important to do this before you start doing the project in DDO. Also NDO is great for converting normal map in other maps. You can convert new details into ambient occlusion and add them to the main map. You might also need cavity map.
To start the project in DDO you’ll need color ID map (this is applicable only when you have more than one material on the model). You can easily do this with the help of the 3DS Max. Just add the material to the necessary element. Each material should have a unique color. Don’t forget to add some edge padding during the rendering.
In Photoshop add the base layer, by picking up one of the already used colors. Add some details: you can add them yourself by painting over the outlines of normal map. You can follow the same process to apply the materials for the hi-poly model and using the projection to bake color ID with all the details.
To create the project I used Specular PBR (Default) 16bit profile. If there are some transparent elements add Opacity map.
Working with smart-materials is pretty easy. It’s important to understand the basic principles of PBR. There are very good lessons on the official website and there’s also a full wiki with all the hints. To achieve the necessary effect figure out the color of the surface and its reflection level. Try to combine different smart-materials, don’t link to the same photo, cause you may have some trouble with lighting. Try to get as much information as possible, to get the a better understanding of the object’s surface. While working on the material it’s important to check the results in different rendering engines to see how the model is going to work.
To create a believable object you need to make sure that the materials have some signs of wear. You need to show that the object was actually used. With the production of the smart material all the scratches are evenly positioned all around the object: this makes them appear in some places, where they shouldn’t really be noticable. To solve this problem you can use DynaMask editor.
The editor also allows you to change the mask textures, their size, contrast and various other parameters. Using the brushes you can just draw the scratches and signs of wear yourself. There’s a feature that lets you erase all the unnecessary changes, even after the mask application. Don’t be afraid to paint! Plus it’s super fun.
To achieve a better effect I also added some dust and oil stains with additional layer.
You can also apply some AO & Cavity. AO could be applied only to Albedo & Specular in Multiply mode. Сavity could be applied to Gloss & Specular with Overlap mode. This will make the object more expressive
Anyway, Quixel Suite definitely makes the artist’s job easier and frees him from the unnecessary dull and routine work. You’re just left with moving the sliders around and get the results you want. Smart materials are a joy to play with as well. It’s great to have such tools at your disposal.