3D Artist Aurelia Maxima Häcker discussed the modeling and texturing processes behind the Kitchen Asset Pack project, shared the asset creation process, and explained how joining Vertex School helped in achieving the goal.
My artistic path probably started when I was a child. When I was small, talking 3 to 4 years old (I'm 25 now), my mum always played video games with me. We were incredibly close and played basically everything out there. Especially golden era SNES games, i.e. Super Metroid, Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and all that. That's when the seed for my passion for games was planted.
My family always had a strong focus on the arts, culture, entrepreneurialism, and self-expression, so my progression towards wanting to bring forth my own ideas for games came to me very early on. I also painted a lot as a child and always drew everything I saw in games, because I was just so in love with these worlds I got to immerse myself in.
I used to struggle a lot with my identity as well for most of my life because I am trans, so video games became a place to which I was able to escape and a refuge that welcomed me when I was struggling with the world around me and fitting in. I could be who I wanted to be and experience stories that I wanted to experience. I can gladly say that I'm doing great now, especially since I was able to successfully transition and am a very happy and fulfilled person at this point! But that passion stayed with me throughout life and is now bigger than ever.
Only that I am now on the creator side of things. I was definitely the kid in class that always drew and was in her world, never paying attention to the teacher. This led to me pursuing 2D art first! Five years ago, I started putting myself on that path and did a lot of freelance and commission work. That wasn't easy though and I didn't feel like I reached what I wanted yet.
Then came my ideas and dreams of building my own franchise and telling my own story one day. So I asked myself: What do I need to be able to do to make that vision I have into a reality? Being able to do 3D was one of the most important parts of that. I want to create something memorable, touching, and great. A game you remember. And I wanted to have the skills to actually build it. So I set out toward learning 3D. And I wanted to learn it the best way I could. With the highest standard for quality.
Joining Vertex School
I was actively looking for good places to expand my game development skill set and was on the lookout for who I could receive the best education from and especially where I would get the highest quality education in the smallest amount of time for the best value I could get. Vertex caught my attention after reading an ArtStation article about them and after some more research, they felt like the perfect fit!
I wanted to make sure I'd go to a place that would teach me the AAA quality standard, including teachers that were actively working in the industry, so I could really learn from the best of the best. In that regard, I can definitely vouch for the fact that you're getting exactly that with Vertex! I absolutely love the high-standard education we get.
Shoutout to my mentors Andrew Baker and Kem Yaralioglu, as well as Paul Layton, Salvador Sanchez, and Ben Merrick. They're fantastic people and treasure troves of knowledge. The same goes for the other students. Everybody is very committed and great to work with. You really fuel each other's creativity and ambition here.
Before Vertex I didn't have any prior 3D knowledge, to be honest. The Kitchen project was my first real 3D scene and I never touched 3D before. The closest I got to doing environments was playing a lot of Sims and Minecraft. So I was also looking for a place that could teach me the whole deal and would give me everything I needed!
Another important factor was also the connections I saw myself building here. To be in an environment and network of people working at the forefront of the entertainment industry seemed like the best entry ticket into the field that I could imagine. And I can only say that's true! The people are great and you keep hearing inspiring stories every day. It's great to be surrounded by so many people who really have that drive.
The Kitchen Asset Pack Project
The kitchen project was our capstone project for our first term at Vertex! It started 6 weeks into the first term and lasted for six weeks. My goal was to create a feeling of home and safety. It was also to capture a vision and feeling.
Last year, I regularly did these dinner nights with a person I love more than anything. Both of us have a great passion for the culinary arts and we bonded greatly over these evenings. She also helped me through some very rough moments in my life and was there for me during some very important moments. She really impacted me and my life greatly and I somehow wanted to capture that warm feeling in some way. The wine bottle, the copper pan, and the Italian stove are symbolisms in that sense. Especially the wine bottle. We definitely drank way too many of those.
Everything started out in Maya! I did a low to medium poly blockout of every asset I needed, then took those that needed sculpting, like the veggies, wooden board, pan, knife, etc. to ZBrush and sculpted them into the desired shapes.
I decimated these sculpted versions to create new low poly versions and then baked the high onto the low. The oven and the counters, as well as the bottle, were mostly untouched by ZBrush. I didn't really give them any high poly models and used more of a mid poly workflow on them.
Retopology and Unwrapping
I first auto-unwrapped everything in Maya and then cut and sewed the UV shells, so the texturing would align well and without any noticeable seams. I then rearranged everything to maximize the use of the UV space. Always gotta save as much texture space as possible.
The bigger objects like the oven and the counters got their own texture sets. The smaller objects I combined into a total of three kits. As you can see in the images I really tried to be as efficient as I could. Sometimes that doesn't always work perfectly though. The veggies are an example of that. But I tried to do as well as was possible, especially with the time constraint.
The Texturing Process
My assets were all textured within Substance 3D Painter! I hadn't touched Designer at this point and didn't want to overload myself with additional software to learn, as all of these were semi-new for me. At this point, I also use Substance 3D Designer in my current term project though.
At Vertex, we have a texturing technique called The Texture Machine which is a layering technique for textures, grunge maps, gradients, etc. which produces great results in my opinion. I used said technique on all assets. It very much streamlines the process and gives good, consistent results. The base textures came from all kinds of places. Some free resources, some from within SPs base textures.
Once I have a clear vision of where everything is supposed to be headed things usually start going quite smoothly and fast. But it's always a bit of a struggle to get there. I actually imagined the technicalities to be harder than they were. Especially the veggies. But that all went quite well, which was a pleasant surprise.
As I mentioned, I had no 3D knowledge before, so Vertex really taught me everything. I can fully, without a doubt recommend them. Absolutely love the program, the mentors, and the other students. The mentors provided all the education regarding best practices, gave tips on how to lay things out, what to prioritize, tips and tricks that they learned in their AAA experience, and provided us with great references and often times fresh new ideas that didn't come initially.
Aside from that they also helped with developing our sense of what works well and what doesn't and how to make something really come to life.
I am quite active in my city's art scene (Hamburg, Germany) and also do work for a gallery group! The current gallery manager mentioned working together with the studio 8KVision on a game project and let me know that they are still looking for 3D Artists. I showed her the work that I was currently doing at Vertex and what skills I had gained within my education so far, so she connected me with the head of the studio and we did an interview! My current work at Vertex already showed that I was able to do the foundational tasks necessary for building 3D assets for games and they saw the high standard of quality regarding the education I was receiving and the people I was learning from. Plus I got a good reference from my gallery manager since I do good work there as well. That certainly also helped a lot.
My main tip for aspiring artists would be: Get out there and actively build connections with people within all types of fields. Surround yourself with people that work where you want to work. Art, games, entertainment, fashion, and culture-related circles. The entertainment industry is the main provider of 3D jobs, but there are all types of people looking for the skill sets we can offer, that actually oftentimes don't even know where to find us. It's really about building connections and a strong network.
A great deal of all jobs is given out based on word of mouth. Being a good team worker and showing the necessary social skills to work at a company and within a group of people is really important in my opinion. And then you gotta back it up with great work and creativity. But I feel like many of us artists have that in us anyway. That drive to create something beautiful. That's very natural to many creatives, I feel. Social skills, networking, and learning how to present yourself however can be a bit tricky, but extremely important. Put yourself into an environment that will grow you and provides the right ground for you to develop yourself.
You can do it! Stay driven!