Dmitry Doryn talked about the workflow behind the project for the Dragon's Rise: The Forgotten Realms competition and shared some tips that helped him save time.
My name is Dmitry, I'm a 3D artist in the game industry and at the moment art director and co-founder of the Loona company.
Maybe you've already read my articles at 80 Level. It's been a few years since my last interview, although not much has really changed: I'm still working on the Loona app. One of the major accomplishments during this time was Apple's design award in the Visual and Graphics category in 2021. I'm really proud of it!
The Dragon's Rise: The Forgotten Realms Project
A full-time job does not always allow you to add something new to your portfolio, so participating in the contest seemed like a good motivation to make a project for my portfolio. In addition, I have always liked concepts from Jenny Brozek, and in this contest, she also participated in the pre-production stage in my category. In general, everything matched perfectly for me to take a part in this competition. Getting ahead of myself, it all seemed easier than it actually was. The chosen concept turned out to be quite complicated for this deadline.
Preparing to start working usually begins with gathering references on forms, materials, and atmospheres that you would like to repeat. This is a PureRef file with a couple of dozen pictures, many of which you may have seen on ArtStation or Pinterest.
The next and one of the most important steps for me is the blockout. I create blockouts in Maya because it is easier for me to control the proportions, shapes, and ratios of elements in it. I always spend a lot of time on this step planning recurring elements that can be reused (in the case of this competition, I even split some elements between models) and analyzing which places require less detail and which parts are almost hidden from view. For the contest, I worked on 4 models at the same time, which took about half of the total time allotted. This is what my blockouts looked like in the final stage:
I also use a lot of elements from the blockout for future low poly models, so spending time on the blockout later makes my job a lot easier. Here's a little trick that helps me in creating different roots and low poly models for them. The Sweep Mesh tool in Maya is very handy for creating all kinds of roots and lianas.
To create the main building, I decided to use a combined technique. I divided the scene into 6 different texture sets with similar materials on it (e.g., a set for the wood elements only and a set for the roots and flowers).
For the geometry of the walls and the roof, I used the approach to create modular buildings. I made 3 material tiles in one atlas and placed overlapped UVs of walls and roof tiles on it.
I highly recommend the tutorial from Aaron Villarreal, he talks about this approach in great detail.
I made repeating elements once and later duplicated them throughout the scene (windows, doors, and flowers).
Here is a tip on how to create bent wooden planks:
I duplicated the head of the dragon, which is located above the door, from the staff that was also made for this contest.
Since Jenny's concept was very detailed, I didn't have to spend a lot of thought on matching stylized forms, the main task was to repeat them well.
My pipeline hasn't changed much since my last article. Here is an example of my basic setup for stylized materials: it contains 4 layers of color variations for the base. They differ in color and roughness and use different masks. Then there are a few differently-colored AO layers with different AO intensities and highlighted edges made with light colors and a curvature mask on top. The gradient is spread on a model with the World Space generator. And the finishing touch is the Baked Light Stylized generator.
A lot of time was taken up by handpainting in 3DCoat since I'm just starting to learn it in this project. The most time-consuming part was the leaves on the dragon's head.
I am not very happy with the results on the textures because when I started working on this stage, the deadline was very close. The last asset (the gnome-made goods shop) was made only from my base material preset.
On the one hand, I really like the ability to render in Marmoset Toolbag 4 because of the RTX support. There had to be a lot of plants, thick vines, and petals in this work, which is pure fun to render with RTX, and the new camera with physically correct DOF helps to make the picture deeper. On the other hand, compared to Marmoset Toolbag 3, there is now no support for additive or other blending mode shaders, which also affected the final result. I had to drop all sorts of magic additive effects.
As for post-processing, the rules of the contest did not allow it, so I used only the functionality built into Toolbag: the simplest and most basic method of S-curves and the default Bloom effect.
It was quite a time-consuming project. I participated from the first day of the contest and spent about 2 hours a day so I can say that all 4 assets took about 80-100 hours (which is certainly a lot for a competition, next time I will choose smaller size assets). I spent most of the time on blockout because it was very detailed and in the end, it greatly simplified the remaining steps for me. I had to add only factures and detail in ZBrush. I didn't have to sculpt anything from scratch. I also reused almost the whole blockout later on as a low poly. So even if it was time-consuming, it saved me time on everything else.
Regarding the magical mood, it's mostly all thanks to the lighting in Jenny's concept, which I tried to replicate. And of course, emission maps, how can there be magic without emission? Emission is a very strong tool in creating different effects, I often use it to create fake subsurface scattering or for plants' internal glow. I sometimes spend twice as much time creating emission maps than albedo.
That's all! I hope this article was helpful!
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