Making Atlantis-Insired Escape Pod in Maya, ZBrush & Substance 3D Painter

Robert Navarrete has shared his workflow behind the Atlantis Escape Pod project, explained how modeling in Maya was done, and discussed difficulties of rendering the project.


Hello, my name is Robert Navarrete. I’ve been in love with hard surface modeling since the first day that I started learning 3D. I love creating sci-fi armor, or vehicles like spaceships. I studied 3D at CEV Barcelona, a school specializing in video games. I finished my studies there in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in 3D modeling.

I love creating stuff in 3D. I can make my dreams and my ideas come true into an actual image. That’s why I am so passionate about 3D modeling. Since I did my first 3D summer class in 2012, I knew that 3D modeling was my passion. 

The Atlantis Project

This project was inspired by the Disney film: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, one of my favorite films from my childhood. Plus, I love the design of the vehicles in it. While watching the film I saw the little escape pod, and then I decided to make it in 3D. 


I used Maya as the 3D software to model the escape pod. In the first place, I searched for various references on Google including different points of view and examples from some other artists that had modeled it. However, the difficult part was searching for the interior parts, because I didn’t find anything and I had to use my imagination to create it. 

After doing comprehensive research, I started modeling the escape pod. I did the blocking from the outside to the inside of the ship. It’s a little bit tricky because assembling the exterior parts with the interior ones may seem easy at first, but I actually had to do it several times to puzzle it all together. 

After blocking everything, I decided to start modeling the interior in a more detailed way and with more advanced props, because I had to make sure that the engine could work properly if anyone wanted to animate it. I also improved the main chair with a more steampunk style. 

Below you can see some final models from the inside of the escape pod:

After connecting the engine parts, I started modeling the tubes and hydraulic parts from under the life pod. 

UV Mapping

I made the UVs with Maya since, in my opinion, it's the best program to make UVs. I decided to work with materials ID and not with UDIMS, but both of them can be used for making good UV shells.  


For the detailing of the model, I used Substance 3D Painter instead of using ZBrush. For the high poly model, I just subdivided the mesh twice and exported the model into Substance 3D Painter.  


For the texturing, I used Substance 3D Painter. Since the project consisted of a very large number of parts, I decided to work with multiple files rather than one single file with all the pieces to speed up the process of opening and saving the files. However, with this methodology, I couldn’t see the progress of the final result of the project in real-time. Therefore, I used Marmoset Toolbag 4 to visualize all the textured pieces. 

It was challenging to find a good color for all the chassis because I was looking for an old and rusty look. To achieve a higher level of detail, I used anchor points to create scratches, bolts, vents, etc. All the textures were exported in 4096x4096. 

After all the textures were done, it was time to make the glasses. This was the most demanding part for me because it took me more time than I expected. I wanted an old dirty glass look with a few drops of water, but at the same time, the glass had to be transparent enough for the interior to be seen. To achieve this, I also had to brighten the interior lights.  


Initially, I wanted to render with Arnold, but I ended up using Marmoset Toolbag 4 to save time.

First, I gathered all the different pieces and created the materials for each part. Then, I started preparing the glass shader. 

As you can see, the glass at this point was correct, but the interior was too dark despite having very bright lights. For this reason, I increased the values of the interior light for the exterior render of the escape pod. 

After making the glass and correcting the interior lighting, I started the external lighting with just 5 lights and one HDRI environment light.  

After making the renders of the exterior of the escape pod, I started with the interior. Since I modified the interior lighting to do the previous renders, I had to correct the interior lighting for these renders. As you can see, I worked from the interior to the external chassis.

Once the lighting was corrected and all the materials reflected the light and painted well, I added all the chassis parts to the glasses. Then, I added some fog to make the environment more dramatic. 

It was very difficult to make the renders from inside the escape pod because the space was limited. Therefore, I decided to widen the field of view of the camera in order to achieve the shot that I wanted. 

Here you can see some final renders and videos from the escape pod:


After several months of working on this escape pod, I’ve learned that patience and perseverance are the keys when it comes to big projects. Another important thing is doing exhaustive research of references, especially when the inspiration for a project comes from a film like in this case.

Additionally, the blocking of every single part of the vehicles (the interior and the exterior parts) is the key to starting the project. It’s essential to invest time in every piece carefully, so the metrics are proportional to each piece. When doing this, I recommend starting from the interior. When all the pieces and texturing are done, it is also necessary to spend time on the illumination and the renders. Remember that having good illumination can make your project better.

One last piece of advice I would like to give to you is to show the progress of the project to other people, so they can give you feedback. This will allow you to learn and improve.

I hope you can learn something from this project! Thank you for your time!

If you have any questions you can contact me on LinkedIn.

Robert Navarrete, 3D Artist

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