Modeling 3D Guns with 3ds Max & ZBrush

Modeling 3D Guns with 3ds Max & ZBrush

Dallan Pickard who is part of Dekogon team talked about the production of 3D weapons: modeling, high poly workflow, UV, texturing, and presentation.


My name is Dallan Pickard, and I am a full-time environment artist. I graduated from the University of Idaho where I studied Virtual Technology and Design. Currently, I’m working at a company doing serious gaming full-time. At night and weekends, I spend my time working for Dekogon. I first got into making video game art by creating map mods for Garry’s Mod and Team Fortress 2, working in the Hammer editor. I was doing this when I was 13, and it never even crossed my mind I could do this as a career. In fact, when I was going off to college I was really close to just going into some form of an agriculture-related degree since I never took any art classes in high school and had no idea what the video game industry was.

I’ve always been more interested in environmental storytelling and not so much in guns. However, after seeing a few of Dekogon artists pump out some amazing weapons it really started to catch my eye. When this Kollab project popped up I thought it would be a great experience to jump into and learn something new.

*Kollab is a collaboration project between top tier talented artists to work together on a set of common-themed assets. Dekogon Studios then sells the assets to online marketplaces such as Unreal Engine. You can find out more info on Dekogon’s website.

Modern Shotgun – Dekogon


For reference, I start off with collecting as many photos as I can. Then I watch YouTube videos of people disassembling the gun and take a few screenshots of parts that I find interesting. After that, I start to branch off of my main reference subject and find other guns with interesting elements. I create my artboard using PureRef which has become a staple in my workflow now.

Building a 3D Gun

During the blockout phase, I work with big shapes, focusing on the silhouette and proportions. After that, I work my way down in size and bring in some design principles to make sure the gun feels good. When I am working in VR, I make sure to test it out and hold it in my virtual hands. Proportions always look different in Virtual Reality. As far as the animated parts, I make sure I have a neatly organized scene with everything parented so I can grab and test parts easily.

There’s a lot to consider when building a gun. As far as polycount goes I make sure that every polygon is warranted, and contributes to the overall silhouette of the gun. I place a lot of cameras in my scene that I can flip quickly to get an idea of how close the camera will be. For readability of the gun, having the camera placements are a tremendous help. There are a lot of really good resources for building 3D guns online. The one that I kept referring back to over and over is one created by Michał Kubas.

High Poly Workflow

My high poly workflow consists of mainly 3ds Max and ZBrush. I make 60% of the parts in 3ds Max using normal sub-d workflow. I then send it to ZBrush where I combine it with boolean operations. Generally speaking, if the part has compound curves or something I know would be a pain in ZBrush, I make it in 3ds Max before. After the boolean pass is done, I dynamesh it all and smooth out the hard edges. To smooth it I mainly use the relax slider in the deformation tab or a large smooth brush. I then decimate the mesh and send it back to 3ds Max where I can re-organize everything and assign vertex colors. I assign unique vertex colors to small things like screws and different material types. That way it becomes a breeze when the time to start masking things in Substance Painter comes.


UV packing is done by hand. For these pieces, I really wanted full control and maximum texel density. I make sure to overlap UV islands since you won’t be seeing both sides of the gun at the same time, and a large amount of the gun is symmetrical. Then for parts like the scope, I scale up the UV islands to give them more texel density since the player will be looking closely at them.


I use Substance Painter to texture. For the softer materials like the gun plastic, I start with the basic grainy plastic material, then slowly add in the dirt/damage on top of it. Paying lots of attention to the roughness channel, I project the damage I want in the right areas from alpha masks. Rarely do I generate a mask from the curvature or AO anymore. It allows me to place dirt and wear where they would be in real life and break up the uniformness of those generators. Any patterns on my weapons are usually made in Photoshop first so I have more control, then I project them onto my workpiece as a mask.


Marmoset Toolbag 3 has been a godsend for us, 3D artists. Being able to quickly throw the project into it and arrange lights is incredible. For me, it’s always been about using simple 3 point lighting systems and an appropriate HDRI. After that, I add in some grunge or noise in the background just to give the render some more atmosphere. To make sure the asset is looking the way I intended, I usually have Marmoset, Unreal or Unity open depending on which program I am targeting. When I export textures from Substance Painter it goes directly to the game directory so it is updated in real-time. That way I can make sure it is looking like I want it too.

Dallan Pickard, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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