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My name is Paxton Klotz, I’m currently a grad student studying game art at FIEA in Orlando, Florida. My background is in traditional art, with my undergrad degree being in Drawing. My primary interest in modeling is in hard-surface props and weapons, although I sometimes venture away from those to learn new tricks and workflow tips. I’m currently working on a game named Wick (@WickVideoGame on twitter for some cool dev stuff) with a small team. Aside from this, my priority is in building a strong portfolio for applying to jobs in fall and beyond.
Barrett Military Radio: Start of the Project
I knew that I wanted to build something as realistic as possible for my portfolio, and I had had a military radio tutorial (by Simon Fuchs) suggested to me many times, so I decided to watch the tutorial to supplement my workflow. However, the mechanical items that I like aesthetically are generally a little bit chunkier, so I was considering two other objects along with the military radio: A Nippon Radio (reference board 1) and an Oscilloscope (reference board 2). And the first thing I did was to make a Pureref Board.
When looking for real-life reference I tend to look at eBay, because when people sell on there they take pictures from all angles. The military radio that I ended up going with is the only one I couldn’t actually find references from all angles for. But because of catalogs, I still ended up finding some good images.
I like making things with a lot of buttons and visual interest, Cassette Futurism is a strong influencer in my aesthetic choices.
Modeling in Maya
My program of choice is Maya in everything except for surface detail. The first thing I do is create a simple lighting setup and make sure I have Blinn or another reflective material on my blockout.
When I model, I tend to try to completely finish the low poly before working on the high poly, rather than blocking it out, working on the high poly, and then retopping. I feel like geometry is cleaner (at least with hard surfaces) when retop is minimal, although I realize that retopping is necessary sometimes. I always leave some time after the high poly in case it calls for some retop.
I also do Booleans in Maya for the same reason, although I use a plugin called DC Bool Manager, which allows me to use live Booleans in a way similar to how ZBrush does. It also helps me judge if everything is scaled properly. Sometimes, I have difficulty telling whether everything is scaled correctly or not before large shapes are boolean-ed out, and doing this step in Maya helps me to make sure that everything is accurate. Of course, it means a little extra work with cleaning up to make sure there’s no funky topology.
Another plug-in that I used a lot was Smartmesh Tools, mainly their smart duplicate face tool which allows you to create a new piece of geometry from selected faces, - it saved me a lot of time.
Simple Pipe for Maya plugin allowed me to do the wires.
For detailing, I pull parts one at a time into ZBrush and assemble the whole thing piece by piece. This was the first model I worked this way on, and I really like how it lets me completely focus on all the details of a single piece at a time. Previously, I would get distracted by various areas of the mesh with different levels of detail and I would move from piece to piece too fast. With this workflow, I can focus on one piece at a time, then add in overall noise and wear once it’s all put together. I only really use ZBrush in the hard-surface workflow for smoothing, small surface details, and patterning.
I started in ZBrush with matcap grey, but as I was adding the final details, I switched to silver with a strong metallic to check where specularity was more accurate.
As stated before, I generally work to avoid retop as much as possible with hard-surface props. In the case of this radio, I only needed to retop the top box, where I had details that could be baked in geometry and I was trying to cut down on polycount. For unwrapping, I think Maya’s built-in tools are really useful and I’ve only ever had to make very small adjustments to how it auto unfolds. I create planar UVs and use auto-layout before going in and editing it. I wanted this to all be on one 4k texture pattern, so I had to be as efficient as possible in terms of layout. I went and changed the scale of back facing polys and shells that weren’t seen except from extreme angles. These faces didn’t have any detail to bake so scaling down didn’t hurt, the faces only really needed to be there for AO purposes as well as making sure there were no angles that a viewer could see through.
Texturing in Substance Painter
I baked in Substance using the bake by mesh name feature to avoid artifacts where meshes overlap. For texturing, I started with a GunPolymer smart material from Substance Share. I took off all dirt/dust and lowered the intensity of wear and tear. I also changed the base color to match the reference that I had, from green to beige. For the metal, I created a metallic layer with a metal edge generator, where I turned the grunge all the way down. I always end up having a lot of layers so I color code to keep track a little better because after getting a base on the majority of the model I start working on small parts. Some of the smaller parts that were more involved were the lights, the buttons, and the tape.
For the lights, I started with a basic shiny fill to get the reflections, then I used the glowing edges mask that you can find in the glass visor smart material. I duplicated it and darkened a little to create a vignette to further make it seem like there was glass in front of it. I also used the glowing edge masking to make the glass on the displays glow. The buttons were started with a matte rubber that I put an emissive on, with a layer of black rubber over it. The tape itself was easy but I’m really proud of the pen writing, which I created a separate layer for with a much more specular color on it, and lowered the height so that it actually looked like someone wrote on it.
For the text, I created alphas in Photoshop so that all the fonts were the same, and applied them through masks. It made it very easy to apply a smaller level of detail which is the kind that really helps to drive home a realistic style.
I take off the grunge/dirt/dust layers from smart materials and masks as I use them and put them on manually at the end. This minimizes the ‘Substance look’ that is unfortunately really easy to get when texturing realistically. If you add those wear and tear generators and mass afterward you can have more control over where the grunge is happening and get more aesthetically pleasing results. In addition to the grunge, I create some overlays and darkening layers. The most important one is a saturation layer, which I use to differentiate different pieces of the radio. This adds a bit of visual interest and helps keep everything from blending together which happens pretty easily when it's largely the same color. I also use a smart material called AO Stylized from Substance Share, which strengthens shadows, and even though it is theoretically for stylized pieces the strong shadows helped to ground the radio.
I’m a firm believer in using the best tools available to you. I’m not a lighter, and I wanted to display this piece in the best light possible. As a result, I used this lighting scene by Musaab Shukri available on ArtStation with a few edits, mostly editing the angle of lights, to catch the light on the boxier form of the Barrett radio. For render captures, I created a reflective floor with a fadeout to reflect light up and to mimic something along the lines of a showroom floor.