Taufeeq Ali talked about the working process behind the Antique Brass Blowlamp project, explained how the brass material was made, and shared some resources for beginner artists.
Hello, my name is Taufeeq Ali, I’m a 3D Environment Artist from Lucknow, India. Since my childhood days, I have been into creative activities, which started with drawing and coloring. Currently, I’m working as a Senior Environment Artist at 13Particles Studio.
When I was in seventh grade, I got my first computer and my older brother used to play games like GTA: Vice City, Midtown Madness, and Project I.G.I. on it and I liked to see all the action happening while he was playing.
A year later in eighth grade, I met a friend who used to play games and he told me about an awesome title, Tomb Raider: Anniversary. After playing it, my love sparked for video games.
From then onwards, I started reading about games and how they are made, and eventually, I decided to try and make my passion a profession. I went on to pursue my bachelor’s degree in the field of Gaming and Animation at Chandigarh University.
I started my career as a texturing and lighting artist and worked on shaders, materials, and how light reacts with them. I gradually moved on to environment art as I developed a specialty in the same.
The Antique Brass Blowlamp Project
I’m excited and geared up to walk you and the readers of this article through the creation of my Antique Brass Blowlamp prop. It’ll be intriguing to know how it all started, what the inspiration was, the goal, and other things that went into the making of this Antique Brass Blowlamp. Hope that the readers would also get to know a thing or two, which would certainly add to their knowledge base.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
While working on my last project Antique Monkey Wrench, I came across an old Brass Blowlamp image. This was the very first thing in the entire process. I researched more about it, gathered multiple references, and finally settled on kick-starting things with the second.
I love the research part. And I gather as many reference images and information as possible and arrange them accordingly by categorizing them. Going through images gives a better understanding of shapes, sizes, proportions, what kind of material has been used in making them, which type of environment they are placed in, and how they are used. For example, if someone was using a prop and by mistake, they lose the grip and it fell on the ground; if the metal is not too thick, it will get some dent where it first makes contact with the ground. Or if it’s not used regularly, where the dust will accumulate. Reference images are very important, for having a reference can help you to achieve more realistic and accurate-looking props and everything else.
For this project, my primary goal was to make a "realistic prop" with proper optimization. I also wanted to polish my modeling, sculpting, texturing, and lighting skills as I went further into its making.
At first, I gathered information about the proportions of the prop and then started blocking out in 3ds Max, also placing a mannequin to get a better understanding of proportions and a reference plane with an image of the model.
I tried to make the model according to its real-life counterpart, and it helped me understand the prop better. I started with basic shapes, tried to follow them closely and I used some Boolean operations in certain parts to get a proper shape. Here is my final basic mesh for ZBrush.
I didn't focus too much on polycount and edge flow, but I tried to keep the mesh simple and reusable in the final low-poly mesh. After that, it was time to work on the model in ZBrush.
I imported the mesh into it, auto-grouped it, and split it. I follow the same process for almost every subtool. First, I add a crease or an edge loop with ZModeler (if needed) to add a supporting edge and after that, I subdivide it multiple times, delete the low subdivisions, and then use DynaMesh on it according to the model with zero blur amount.
I get the mesh that I wanted to join together by keeping it in the same subtool before DynaMeshing it again. I also used live Boolean in certain places and polished crisp edges to get bevels on hard edges.
My friend told me how to use a layer in ZBrush, it is indeed very useful. Layers give us great control over our sculpt as we can increase or decrease the intensity of details. So before using the layer, it’s best to divide the mesh as per one’s needs. You can see in the video below that I’ve used multiple layers to store the details such as surface noise, edge damage, different dents, weld, damages, scratches, and some mesh fixes.
To give some surface details, I used noise in the surface tab; to create dents, damage and scratch, I used the Clay Buildup, Trim Dynamic, HPolish, Orb_Slash_Curve_2, and OrbFlatten_Edge brushes. To create quick and cheap welds, I used Clay Buildup and changed the alpha to hard circular alpha, then created some overlapping dots and gave some details by using TrimDynamic, HPolish, and smooth brushes.
Large weld area at the base and where the handle joins with the body of the lamp are created by adding a mask and extracting the mesh, then adding some thickness and sculpting multilayer weld by using clay buildup in conjunction with TrimDynamic and HPolish brushes.
To make the paracord rope wrapped around the handle, I first created a helix with edges properly flowing around the pipe which I extracted out with the ZModeler brush, used an XMD brush to get the paracord rope, and then added some details on top of it. Here is a demonstration of how I created it:
After that, I baked all the layers and decimated the mesh to reduce the polycount, and exported it so that it is easy to handle in 3ds Max.
The next step was that I used 3ds Max to create a low poly mesh that will be used for texturing. Creating the mesh was fairly easy as I used the same base mesh which I used in ZBrush for sculpting. I removed and collapsed all the edges that were not contributing to the shape of the high poly version and added some edges to match the shape properly. Then I welded several meshes together as they are in real life.
After that, I did a quick unwrap and baked it in a Marmoset Toolbag to find any issues. I didn't like the weld area at the base and handle.
And to fix that, I used a highly decimated mesh and applied a pro-optimizer to it to get the desired mesh. For weld mesh at the handle and base, I welded together the canister and base mesh which helped me reduce some polycount.
Also, I used 3ds Max to unwrap the model. It was easy because a large portion of the shape was made up of simple structures.
While unwrapping, I always keep in mind several points like trying to put seams at a place where they will not be seen, avoiding too many UV islands if possible, putting seams at sharp bends and hard edges (for every hard edge we have to put seam, but every seam does not need to have a hard edge), and making UVs as relaxed and straight as possible to avoid bake artifacts.
I like UV packing because it’s like solving a puzzle with many pieces. Many automatic UVs packing plugins in the market give good results quickly. I used TexTools, it is a great script and fairly easy to use. On top of it, it is freely available on the web.
While you're unwrapping and packing UVs, it helps to avoid starching and maintains even texel density.
ChamferZone’s YouTube channel has very good tutorials on unwrapping and UV packing. I used Marmoset Toolbag for baking because it gives great control over your cage. I changed the cage size and painted the cage mask for different parts of the mesh and corrected some skewed areas.
Here is the scene I set up for baking the blowlamp:
Marmoset Toolbag has a great and well-documented tutorial.
Before starting in Substance 3D Painter, I prepared two things. First, I made two different files for texturing – one in which all the meshes are combined as a reference and the other one in which multiple copies of the mesh have been combined, separated, and rotated at different angles to get a better view while texturing. Secondly, I created an image that contained text and markings that I used later as a stencil.
Before moving on to texturing, I would like to share my thoughts on Substance’s 3D Painter.
I first used Substance 3D Painter in 2018 for texturing multiple props for a college project, which helped me clear my basics/fundamentals of the software. It is very easy to use and you can set up a project very quickly.
It has smart materials and masks that adjust to any prop to show realistic surface details or wear and tear. The viewport in Substance 3D Painter shows all your decisions in real time, iterating on complex materials with advanced lighting and shadows, it has a powerful real-time paint engine and many more features that make it an awesome tool to use.
Substance 3D Painter has many resources where we can learn about new features and tools. Its developers are adding new features and improving old tools regularly, making it robust software.
Substance 3D has removed all the complex aspects of 3D painting software in general and has provided a great platform to artists that enable them to go beyond leaps and bounds with their creativity.
The Brass Material
Before starting with texturing, I like to set my viewport. Here is a link to a good tutorial by William Faucher on how to set your viewport in Substance 3D Painter.
I usually use Studio Tomoco HDRI, but for this prop, Studio 03 HDRI gave me a better result compared to Studio Tomoco HDRI. Now as I was almost finished with the entire setup, I began to add some height details that can also be added in ZBrush, but I like to do it in Substance 3D Painter because it gives more flexibility as I can change, add, remove or use some grunge map to increase breakups or increase or decrease height intensity at any time. This is what I love the most about Substance 3D Painter.
After adding details, I added a fill layer, turned off all the channels, and changed its height blending mode to “pass-through” so that I can use it with an anchor point to add an accurate edge ware and some dirt. Anchor points are super handy as they can be used in multiple ways. I also added some more anchors in other layers below the pass-through layer to use them in certain layers later.
The main process of creating any artwork is to start from primary, then go to secondary, and finally conclude with tertiary details. The same thing is followed in texturing also. I first started with the brass metal canister because it is the largest part of the prop.
I initiated it by adding some surface height and normal information. Then added some base color and roughness and blended it with some tillable texture to get interesting and good-looking base details.
Then, I progressively added layers of color variation, roughness, etc. Base color and roughness were quite tricky to achieve because I had to add multiple colors as brass has many different colors and hues of same the shade and it’s also the case with roughness.
I went ahead with different grunge maps and added a gradient so that the top of the brass is shinier than its base. After that, I illuminated it with some light and dark areas to get some contrast in the base color. Doing a lot of research earlier gave me a better understanding of brass and other material. For the burner effect, I used several layers, blended them, and used noise and grunge textures on top of each other and different roughness values to get good looking variation and followed the reference image closely.
Moving on further, I added some leak drops closer and near the mouth fuel and added green oxidation in certain areas. I reduced the brightness and shininess of the text by using dark color and high roughness value to give the look I wanted for the text and it appeared more realistic. Then, I began working on the dirt, white paint drips and patches, dust particles, and the grunge again using the same workflow to add a bit more eye-candy look to the surface.
I followed the same workflow for iron, weld, and paracord and reused some layers from the brass material.
For texturing, I used a tillable wood texture as a base color variation by using some directional grunge maps and adding some wooden fiber details like damage, scratch, and wooding. I also hand-painted some colorations and discoloration in the wood and added a few layers to give the effect that the wood has been used/touched, and damaged in certain areas. After that, I added some dirt and dust particles in the cavity, surface and, grunge to give some roughness variations.
I used Unreal Engine 4.27 to present this Antique Brass Blowlamp prop. While researching, I came across an image of which I liked the look and tried to set up the scene in the same way. And after getting some feedback, I tweaked it to look more interesting.
I wanted to make the scene belong to a workshop, and for this, the Antique Monkey Wrench prop from my last project was used along with Megascans' props, materials, and decals to set up the final piece. I quickly created a master material for the prop to tweak it according to my need.
It was challenging to get the right prop to complement each other and support the main item of the showcase and look as good and realistic as the photogrammetry object placed next to the prop I created. Multiple lighting setups were tried to get the desired look.
Lighting this scene was quite fun. I used full-baked lighting, wherein I only used a sky light and spot lights to light the scene. I started with three-point lighting set up having ‘key’, ‘fill’, and ‘back’ lights and moved them around according to the scene, adding a sky light to fill the scene with some indirect lighting.
I used some workshop HDRIs that I downloaded from HDRI Haven.
Then I added some more fill lights to highlight the scene to make it appear more natural. I also added some warm-fill light from the right to give it a feel of a lightbulb.
After I was satisfied with my lighting setup, I added fog and dust particles which can be found in the Starter content in UE4, changed it according to my needs, and changed some Post Process Volume setting to make the scene look good. Here is the setting I used for this scene:
I used the movie render queue to render this scene because it gives way better results than the legacy renderer. Here are the settings I used in the movie render queue:
I just tweaked a little bit of black-white contrasts and after that added a little noise, vignette, and color correction to give a more cinematic feel in Premiere Pro and Photoshop.
Here are the final renders of the Antique Brass Blowlamp project:
Advice for Beginner Artists
I was doing this project whenever I got free time. It was an enlightening project that helped me to polish my skills more and seemed like a challenge indeed to achieve a good-looking prop that will be placed next to a scanned prop and create a scene that tells a story.
My advice for beginners who are willing to create similar props is to read the many good articles and tutorials available online on websites such as 80 Level, where you can find awesome articles related to creating similar or completely different-looking props. Here, they feature artists and industry experts who share the complete process of how they created their props and give many useful tips and tricks.
ArtStation Learning is also a good platform where you can find nice tutorials and articles.
Do as much research as possible that will help you a lot and get feedback from friends, family, or people that are good at creating such things. Don't hesitate to reach out to people. Don't just think, create what you wish to make, do your best, and keep practicing!
This project undoubtedly allowed me to hone my craft in different aspects of creating a prop and presenting it. After working on my previous project, I was very motivated and inspired to work on the next one as I got the chance to get back on my artwork after a long time. This was special for me, and I want to take my upcoming projects to the next level.
I am glad that it turned out well and I got an opportunity to interact with 80 Level, sharing almost everything about it over here.
I thank 80 Level’s entire team for giving me this opportunity and I’d also like to express gratitude to my friends for giving me their valuable feedback and always keeping me motivated and supporting me.
I hope you find this article helpful and learn some useful tips and tricks. Thank you for your valuable time!