Phillip Stoltz shared his workflow and showed how he builds and paints his beautiful stylized gun, based on the concept by Sergey Tsimmer.
Hello everyone! Before I begin I just wanted to thank 80.lv for reaching out to me to do this interview, Sergey Tsimmer for the awesome concept, and to the ArtStation community for all your support and feedback; you guys rock! My name is Phillip Stoltz and I am from a smallish town called Redmond, located in central Oregon. I’ve always had an interest in art when I was growing up. My oldest brother is to thank for those interests because he to was into art, and I wanted to be just like him. A few of the games that inspired me growing up were 007 Goldeneye, Mario Kart, Zelda, and Pokemon. It wasn’t until countless hours of playing Halo 1 and 2 that I made the realization that people actually created video games for a living. Mind-blown! It wasn’t until I was 15 that I decided I would pursue a career in the gaming industry.
After high school I attended the Art Institute of Portland, OR. I initially went there to study concept design but then realized 2 years in, I couldn’t draw. So I quickly jumped into the 3D program there and the rest is history. When I wasn’t in class I was at home modeling or watching tutorials; I discovered that the more time you spent out of class and on your own work that you learn so much more and develop yourself better as an artist. I am currently working full-time as a 3D Environment Artist at Amazon Game Studios, which also happens to be my first ever game studio to work at!
Right now my professional projects are under NDA but the projects I have worked on up to this point have all been personal projects. Something I’ve discovered about doing 3D art is that it’s not just something you can stop doing, it becomes a part of you!
Sergey Tsimmer’s Concept
Typically when I do personal work, I always have a goal in mind that I want to achieve. Or work on something that I feel I’m not as strong at. This time around my goals were to: heavily focus on wood/metal materials and make them read very clearly, use a mixture of both Substance Painter and photo textures for wood, and have a very strong light setup for the final renders. I ended up discovering Sergey’s work on Pinterest and thought that the shotguns he designed would be the perfect asset to work on to achieve my goals. The thing that made his work stand out from other concepts was the nice shape language and functionality of the weapon he created. I also liked that the materials on the concept were just vague enough for me to take artistic liberties and try to really define those materials in my own way while still keeping the overall look and feel of the original concept.
It always depends on what I am going to be making, if the object is organic I’ll normally start in ZBrush and if it is hard surface, I’ll use Maya. It always comes down to which software will get the job done the fastest and most effective way. For this particular asset, I started out in Maya since most pieces were hard surface and blocked out all the main shapes first like the stock, barrel, scope, and main center piece etc. There’s really nothing special I do during this process, it’s all basic polygon modeling. As I’m modeling the block out I am constantly thinking 2-3 steps ahead; and asking questions like: Could I sculpt this part faster in ZBrush, then retopologize it? Do I model this or use floating geometry and bake it in the normal map? Is this going to deform or can I have Ngons here?
Once the blockout is in a good place and the shapes are reading well and matching the concept, I’ll start working on the high poly. The piece that was a fun challenge to make was the central metal body (a). As you can see, when I was blocking it out I made 2 separate pieces (b). I could have modeled it all as one piece in Maya but I knew it was probably going to be more efficient and save me more time to just dynamesh a the two parts together in ZBrush to create that smooth transition (c). At that point as long as those two separate pieces smooth correctly in Maya then you won’t have much trouble merging them in ZBrush and dynameshing them. You can also see that I’ve sculpted in a few elements like the ejection port and the decal that the large screw goes in. At this stage I’m not that concerned about making slight changes in the forms because in the end I know I am going to retopologize several parts in Topogun.
The UV’s were all unwrapped and packed in Maya. Something I like doing is stacking all similar parts; like bolts, screws, etc. That way you save more texture space and you don’t have to texture the same object over again. I typically like to do all my baking inside xNormal, it’s a really easy to use piece of software and gives great results. Since I used Maya for the unwrap I like to do an exploded bake which is just separating all the different objects apart that way you don’t run into any light bleeding or baking errors. The maps I get out of xNormal are my Normal/AO map, I then like to convert my normal map into my curvature map using Photoshop.
Before I begin the actual texturing process I find it really important to find several examples of reference of whatever you’re trying to texture. That way you’re not making things up as you go. For texturing I spend around 80% of my time in Painter because it is just so intuitive and being able to work on multiple channels at once is a giant time saver! Though I enjoy having Smart Materials to use as an option, I generally like to build up all my materials from scratch. That way I am always controlling every aspect of that texture and don’t have to worry about dealing with presets that already in the Smart Materials. However, there is always a time a place that I use those preset materials!
I really love the extremely fast results that Substance Painter gives you when you are dealing with metal. I ended up building this material from scratch for this project since I knew I was going to add elements like the pores that I wanted to customize myself. I started with the initial color of the metal and spent a lot of time creating a nice balance of color between the metal and wood to make sure just the colors complimented each other first. After I liked the colors going on, I started with breaking up the metal shine by adding a fill layer with a grunge procedural texture on it so in some areas the metal would be less shiny to help the light bounce.
Then I start adding in the pores into the metal. To do that I created a new fill layer with the color/height/roughness values enabled. That way I could make the pores darker with not much reflectively so they would pop out a lot when light was shining on them. Lastly I like to add some edgewear; I’ll start by creating another fill layer and making the the metal color brighter and more reflective. Then I use an edgewear generator to get me 70% of the way there, then add a paint layer to go back and make adjustments to the edges. I have found that you get really good results with metal when you just keep adding layer after layer of grunge, edge wear, dirt, and noise.
The wood was a really fun challenge to tackle. Initially I did not want to sculpt as much as I did, I wanted to let the textures do most of the work. But after experimenting in ZBrush I found that it looked nice to show some wear and damage at the ended where the wood connects to the metal pieces. It really helps to think of a backstory while you’re sculpting wear and damage and think of the areas that would be affected the most by damage. Some of the brushes I used to achieve the wear on the wood were the TrimSmoothBorder, Orbs Cracks, Flatten, and TrimDynamic.
I also used some masking and raised some of the splintered wood up to give it some depth. I didn’t want to go into the micro detail of sculpting wood grain in ZBrush or use alphas because I wanted to have more control of that kind of detail in Painter. In Substance Painter I started with a material, Weapon Wood. That gave me a really nice base layer to play with and get started. Once I’m happy with the basic wood, I like to add an edgewear generator to pop out the edges on the splintered bits of the wood. After that, I wanted to start overlaying some wood photo textures to give it a little bit more grain variation and color variety.
The Final Render
I really enjoy using Marmoset Toolbag 3 for many of my final renders. There are so many different options and settings to mess around with to give you high end results. Some of the standard functions I always like to turn on are: High DPI/Resolution 2:1/High-Res Shadows/Ambient Occlusion/Front-Face Shadows. I like to spend just as much time in the rendering phase as I do texturing. Usually I’ll try several different lighting set ups and try to capture a certain mood. I ended up using the HDRI called, Grace Cathedral because it had a nice low light feel to it. As far as the specific lights I used a standard 3-point light setup. I had 1 warm primary light used as the focal light, then used another warm light as the fill light to brighten up some of the darker areas. Finally I had a cooler blue light as my back light to really highlight all the edges. For the shaders, I just plugged in all my maps straight out of Substance Painter into a basic shader. I ended up duplicating the lense geometry and placed a simple glass shader that comes with Marmoset just to add an extra level of depth and reflection to the lenses to make them pop more. I don’t really like using the post processing within Marmoset as much, I like to save that for Photoshop.