Making of the Ball Dress: Modeling Tips for Blender & Maya

Robert Roeder shared his modeling and texturing workflows used in the project Making of the Ball Dress and gave some advice for novice 3D artists.


Hi everyone, I’m Robert (Rob) Roeder, a former Environment Artist at Ninja Theory with 2 years of experience in development. I worked on the recently released Bleeding Edge primarily focusing on the creation of foliage and materials for the game as well as modeling and set dressing; the project had less defined roles and everyone could work on multiple things in the general role of an Environment Artist. Initially, I got my Internship via The Rookies and after finishing my studies at the Salzburg University of Applied Science in Austria I had the chance to join back and work with my old team. 

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Advice for Beginners 

A piece of advice I can give is to use all resources possible in any sense of the word, from using reference for the things you want to create to learning the skills necessary to land a job in the industry. One thing that really helped me to accelerate my learning curve was to watch and learn from all the tutorials out there on youtube as well as a lot of paid tutorials and mentorships to learn the process of the modern game and asset development. By watching other people solving problems in different ways you can use their methods to your advantage, make them your own, and learn how to use these workflows and tools in new and creative ways that you didn’t think of before.

Another huge thing is to put up a reference board in advance and add more images to it if needed. Think of it as a mind map or a mood board but more specific, containing what you’re trying to make. Having this on a second screen (preferable) will also make it less likely to just copy one idea rather than combining many different things in a new design depending on whether you want to recreate something specific or entirely new. 

In the case of Making of the Ball Dress project, I was looking for a specific machine to get as many angles as possible which has proven very difficult so I had to use details from other machines and make things up along the way. Using as much reference as possible also helps to improve your skills as you find details you wouldn’t have thought of. Most importantly, your perception of what things look like is usually way off from what it actually looks like. Realizing this is vital to improve your art. 

You can use multiple ways to create reference boards: just a folder, Photoshop, Pinterest, or dedicated reference software. I’ve been using Pureref for a long time now and it is totally worth the price as it has a wide variety of tools to create and customize your reference board in any imaginable way.

Yet, the biggest improvement I could make after I learned all the basic skills is how to really use the power of trim sheets. They are still a huge help in creating rich and detailed environments without needing to use a ton of textures. Unfortunately, it still is very hard to come by any in-depth tutorials on how to layout a sheet and make it reusable as well as laying out UVs to properly use them.

Another thing I used a lot more at work than university was to work on a grid by setting up some ground rules on how tall, wide, and deep objects can be. This way it is much easier to layout objects seamlessly and it gives you the opportunity to make variations of your meshes to break up the tiling nature of the modules. This topic goes hand in hand with the use of trim sheets by setting up a grid for your UV layout. For example, you can create texture strips for a certain amount of pixels like 512px or 128px, and so on. This way you can snap your UV strip to these points on the grid and have them perfectly aligned without fudging things. Here're two courses that cover these topics: a 2-part tutorial from Polygon Academy (see the first part below) on how to create and layout trim sheets, and a paid 10-week course at CGMA which really helped me to get more information about some things I didn’t learn at university and is a great roundup that broke my skill ceiling.

Making of the Ball Dress: Modeling with Blender 

I had this piece in my head for a long time and finally thought it is time to go ahead and make it, but not without learning something entirely new. With the release of Blender 2.8, I wanted to see what the whole fuss is about and so I watched a long set of tutorials to get the ball rolling. Instantly, it felt a lot less daunting to use Blender as it used to be very alien for a 3ds Max/Maya user; I fell in love with the modifiers that work similarly to 3dsMax, some of them are more advanced in a way and allow to create difficult surfaces. Things like Boolean, Bevel, Shrink Wrap, and Data Transfer made the process very iterative without the need to commit to any geometry for most of the time. Using modifiers is a no brainer if you can adjust the placement of otherwise destructive and often very laborious changes in geometry. This works really well if you want to concept a new idea without the need to make a copy of your object and model in these details. For the low poly I still needed to apply the modifiers and clean up the geometry but there is no way around it if you want a clean topology. 

Below, you can find the tutorials I used to learn Blender:


I used a fairly straightforward way to texture this object. I knew I wanted some very close up shots of the sewing machine and gave it a fair amount of polygons so that the shape would hold up under close inspection without any visible faceting, especially around the dials and holes. At first, I had to create some generic UVs. I created a standard 0 to 1 layout and did a test bake in Substance Painter to see how many texture sets I will need to get the desired sharpness. I started with a 4K texture which worked really well but I wanted to see if I can get away with less. So I broke it up into 2x2k sets at firs and then 3x2k which worked totally fine in the end and I averaged around 20.48px/cm2. For some very small parts, I increased the size slightly for a crisper look. Every time I changed UVs around I did a test bake and threw a smart material on it just to see how it held up. Once I was finally happy with the amount of detail I could cram into it, I started the texturing process. 

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I find it easier to work in a logical order such as working from bottom to top in terms of the surface. For example, when I textured the body of the machine I started with the base paint layer followed by the painted ornaments. 

A lot of the machines I found had elaborate designs painted on them which really made these machines stand out. I was trying to find high-resolution photos that I could clean up and project on the mesh but it didn't work out in the end and just looked muddy and unclean due to the lack of good quality resources. So I had to trace these shapes in Photoshop with the Pen tool and recreate the shapes I wanted on my machine; it didn’t take too long and was quite a fun task. After recreating the individual components I projected them onto the machine, and they gave it a lot more character instantly. 

Next, I chipped off some of the paint to reveal a few spots of bare metal underneath and added a layer of dust, rust, and dirt on top to give it a used and aged look. I repeated this process for all the surfaces on the machine and used the Instance tool to instance materials across to other texture sets. This way all the materials stay consistent even if they’re not on the same texture sheet. 

Creating Smaller Details 

For the rest of the scene, I went back to Maya just because I know some workflows there that help get the rest of the scene done much quicker, and I was already a bit late for the Artstation Jam. Most of these objects were pretty straight forward modeling tasks. 

For the threads, I used a simple curve and shaped it to fit the scene roughly. After that was done, I needed to rebuild the curve to get a better spacing between each point and to smooth out the curve. Then, I offset the curve to create a certain thickness and created a Loft between the 2 curves; I adjusted the settings in the “nurbs Tessellation” Tab to output Polygon Quads in the General format and “Per Span # of Isoparm” for U and V set to 1. These settings will not create any excess geometry and will leave you with vertices where you placed your curve points or where it placed them after rebuilding the curve. As long as you don’t delete the History you can still grab the original curve and move it around as well as change the thickness of your strip by going into each setting in the Channel Box or Attribute Editor. On top of a clean geometry, you get a straight UV strip for free. This is probably not the only way to create this kind of geometry and it’s not exclusive to Maya but I knew about this trick and wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. With that done, I just needed to create a tiling strip of thread and move the UVs where I placed it on my texture sheet. 

Robert Roeder, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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