First off, I would like the thank everyone at 80 Level for giving me this opportunity! My name is Gabe Cervantes and I am currently an Environment Artist at Raven Software working on the Call of Duty franchise. I went to the Art Institute of California in San Diego and studied Game Art and Design. Right after schooling, I worked on VFX for movies in San Diego and later in Los Angeles.
In VFX, I worked at Legend3D and StereoD, studios that focused on the 3D Stereo conversion of live action movies (all that 3D glasses stuff and things popping out in your face). The process of making 2D live action movies into 3D was extremely time-consuming. Scenes that are 30-50 frames long (about 2 seconds long) could take days to convert, depending on the complexity and movement of the scene. Some of the more memorable 3D conversions were Marvel’s Avengers in 3D, Jurassic Park 3D, and the 3D Shrek trilogy. If you would like to see what the process looked like, Movieclips features us after Jurassic Park – check out the video below. After 5 years of doing this, I knew I needed a change, and I really wanted to pursue what I had actually gone to school for – Games!
I had my portfolio from school, but as you know, a lot changes in 5 years, or even 1 year, in this industry. And if you don’t keep up to date on the ever-changing techniques and programs, you will get left behind. So with a fulltime job, I forced myself to participate in challenges, and start working on props and environments. Polycount forums were helpful in getting feedback and showcasing WIP shots. After getting a few new props and environments done, I had started applying, looking for Associate and Junior positions, and the rest of the pieces fell into place after that!
Tips I have for new artists looking to break into games:
- Keep learning, never get comfortable, especially in this industry!
- With Artstation, look at artists with entry-level jobs or the job that you want. You need to match or exceed that bar!
- Post to forums like Polycount, and participate in as many challenges as you can! Exposure to the community could lead to networking opportunities!
- And lastly, ALWAYS CHECK YOUR JUNK MAIL! My interview email from Raven Software sat in my Junk mail for almost 2 months!
About Game Weapons
As an environment artist at Raven Software, I don’t get to do much “hero prop” modeling. Which is why, when I plan out personal work for myself, I usually tend to lean towards doing weapons and bigger props. When working on weapons though, I very much treat them as a hero piece. In first-person shooters, the weapon is front and center and is seen by the player the entire time. Silhouette, material definition, model quality and density all play a huge role in making weapons.
Bolts and Screws that would usually be ok as normal maps, depending on visibility and the angle of the gun/weapon, could be actual geo to help with the silhouette of the gun. Small markings on the gun can be used to help tell a story, anything from serial numbers, to tally marks scratched into the gun. The textures need extra attention as well, the player will be running through a multitude of different environments, and you want to make sure that the materials read just as good in a sunny environment as in overcast situations. Guns and weapons are just as important as characters in shooter games, they need as much attention as the main character in the game.
HUM3D Guns Challenge Entry
Speaking of my Survive project, it was kind of a last minute decision on whether or not I was going to join the HUM3D Guns Challenge. There were only 9 days left of the competition, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put that kind of stress and timeframe on myself. I would like to thank my co-worker and friend Curt Smith for initially pushing me to do the challenge and for providing feedback/critiques throughout the project, especially on the late nights!
One of the rules for the competition was that you were not allowed to use other artist’s concepts if making a non-existent gun. On the first night, I told myself that if I could not come up with a design I liked, I wouldn’t join. But I ended up with a design I thought was do-able in the short amount of time.
With the construction of the gun, the most important aspects for me were a silhouette, storytelling, and just an overall “coolness” factor. Usability and practicality play a small role too, but I focused on what I thought looked cool first.
The gun was very much inspired by the post-apocalyptic works by Anton Kukhtytskyi. I had previously done one of his concepts before the gun, also post-apocalyptic (who would have thought?) The gun was also inspired by the gun customization and designs in Metro Exodus.
“Post Apocalyptic Axe – Gabe Cervantes” Concept by Anton Kukhtytskyi”
As for the environment, I had been playing a lot of Days Gone and Last of Us Remastered. The inspiration to put the gun in a room heavily inspired by these games was definitely there. I also wanted to pick a room/environment that would be do-able in the timeframe and also did not take away too much attention from the main attraction, the gun. I also knew that given the deadline, I would go lighter on the props, and was going to rely on the depth of field to help me not only showcase the gun more but to help save me time in the end.
Towards the end of the project, everything started to come together and the story of the scene started to fall into place. I started to build the scene to help tell a story about a man who had thought he had lost everything. But a glimmer of hope, which in this case was his wife, gave him the push and courage to build this gun to get her back.
My concept for Survive, a post-apocalyptic sawed-off shotgun
When working on this concept, I was very much inspired by Anton’s work, the guns from the Metro series, and Last of Us. When you think of the post-apocalyptic theme, the first things that come to mind are wrapped tubes and pipes, tanks, and sloppy welding.
I first picked the weapon that I wanted to do. I decided on the sawed-off double barrel shotgun. I then started photobashing and doing paintovers using images and in some cases, doing crude paintings of elements I knew I wanted. I do know that this weapon would probably be very uncomfortable to hold, but in the end, I wanted a super cool silhouette and was willing to sacrifice the practicality of the weapon.
In the end, I ended up with a concept that had a lot of the elements I wanted and would be a lot of fun making. Welds, tape, bolts, gauges, levers – what more could you ask for in a post-apocalyptic piece?
Photobash/paintover of the weapon concept.
Doing the welds has been really fun lately with all the post-apocalyptic content I have been doing. My process for doing the welds is fairly simple. The majority of it is done in ZBrush. I first prep the piece by creating all the blockout meshes in Maya and use the crease feature in ZBrush before subdividing the mesh to a couple of 100k polys. I then dynamesh the mesh and start to blockout the weld shapes with a combination of the clay tubes and clay build-up brushes.
Once I get the overall shapes and chunkiness to the welds, I will go over it all with the smooth brush. After it’s all smoothed, I will go in with the standard and dams standard brushes to start detailing the welds more and adding in the pattern. I tend to go a little heavy-handed with the weld sculpt so that it doesn’t lose a lot of detail after the bake. To get the low-poly, I usually use the Quad-Draw feature in Maya to adjust the low poly to the newly added welds.
As the last detail/polish in Substance Painter, I will sometimes add a height layer at the top of my metal stack with a very low opacity and paint over my welds with an existing weld alpha to give even more detail and character to them.
Quick Breakdown of my welding process in ZBrush
A look at how these pieces are used to help break up the straight lines and silhouette of the gun.
Small elements of the gun were simple pieces to make, but when used in conjunction with the gun, they add a level of complexity almost instantly.
The screws and tube fasteners were done in Maya. The star pattern on the top of the screws was done in ZBrush with an alpha. I only did one of each and reused the screws/bolts everywhere they were needed.
The pipe lever was done in Maya, the tape and the plastic cover were done using the tape/fabric method that I’ll go over a bit later.
The tube was done in Maya using the extrude along a curve, the folds were done in ZBrush, and the tape was added using a technique I’ll also speak of later.
The gauge was done in Maya: I started by doing each piece separately. then using ZBrush’s live boolean feature to attach everything. The bolts/screws were achieved with alphas, and the gauge and reader insets – by masking out the area, sharpening the mask, and using ZBrush’s inflate to inset the area down. I then retopologize the piece in Maya using the quad draw tool.
Having a good bake to start from, in my opinion, is key. You get a really good starting point when in Painter. Everything from chips, metal scuffing, weld marks, and small pock marks helps so much if it’s all sculpted in ZBrush and baked down.
When in Painter, I will do as much as I can with base materials, generators, and filters. How far can I take the material definition with just smart masks and generators? This gets me about 70 percent of the way done.
After that, I will start adding paint layers to each of the materials and their corresponding layers. I start to hand paint in custom rust, dirt, and grime. Here is where the artistic portion of texturing starts to come into play. I am now able to go in and start to tell a story with the material and add in dirt and rust into areas that help break up the procedural look of the model.
Tape & Fabric
The blue tape was done in ZBrush. The way I approached it was to first mask out the area on the mesh that’s going to have some tape. Invert the mask so that the section without the tape is not masked. Then go down to masking to sharpen the mask. Next, I go into the deformations menu and slightly inflate the unmasked area. After that, I will apply a very slight polish to help smooth the jagged edges if there are any. I will then go in with the standard brush to sculpt in the edges and folds.
Next, I will select the dams standard brush, go in and detail out the fold and overlapping edges even more. I will also sculpt in rips and tears at this stage. Materials for the blue tape are fairly simple and straightforward. Just an adjusted base material, usually starting off with the glossy plastic, standard procedural dirt and grime, and lastly, a custom paintbrush to paint in custom dirt and grime to help highlight the folds and edges more.
The fabric wraps are done fairly similar to the tape with the exception that they are actual geo instead of being derived from the mesh in ZBrush. I created the base wraps in Maya, extruded them inwards to give the wraps some depth and did all the detailing in ZBrush with the same brushes used for the blue tape detailing.
The lighting of a scene/prop is the best part of the entire process! This is where all your hard work starts to come to life!
When lighting individual props, I usually stick to a very simple setup. First I will start off with a skybox that fits the theme of the prop. Then I will bring in a main directional light which will be the main source of lighting and color.
As for the light color choices, I really like using colors that are complementary to each other. I usually pick either a warm or cool color for the main light and the opposite for the supporting rim lights. For example, if I choose a warm orange for the main directional light, I will usually go with a cool blue for the supporting Omni lights.
Then, depending on the prop, I will start adding in Omni lights behind the prop that will serve as Rim lights. These lights will help make the weapon pop and highlight the edges of the gun.
With the Omni lights, I usually like to turn on visible shapes in Marmoset to better understand where the light is emanating from. The visible shapes come in handy for guns, as you can stretch the shape to be the size of your barrel, grip, etc.
My usual lighting setup in Marmoset set for individual props:
Enabling visible shapes for lights in Marmoset
An example of how useful enabling visible shapes for the lights in Marmoset is. It is very convenient to be able to stretch out the light to encompass the length of the barrel of the gun.
Lighting a scene is pretty similar to lighting props. The main difference is that now you cannot just place rim lighting wherever you want, because it will affect the scene as a whole and might be not what you are looking to achieve. Rim lighting on the gun is now achieved with directional lights so that I can point them exactly where I need the lighting to be.
In lighting this scene, I also ended up using the Atmospheric fog that is built into Marmoset to help with the mood in the scene plus putting lights in areas behind the gun to help get shadows and highlights that I wanted. You can see that in the gif above. I went through a lot of iterations before settling on my final lighting. I wanted a lighting setup that would help to draw the eye to the gun, and in the end, I think I was able to achieve just that, while not completely ignoring the work that was put into the background.
In closing, I would like to thank 80 Level once again for giving me this interview opportunity and letting me share my work and process. I learned a lot from it, from concepting and photobashing, to extreme time management and working at a fast pace while staying efficient and keeping the quality I wanted. I was able to try my hand at lighting a small scene within Marmoset and experiment with many different lighting techniques.
If you would like to view more of my work, my portfolio can be found here.
Thank you so much for reading!