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Recreating a Gold-Inlaid Revolver in 3ds Max & Substance 3D Painter

Maria Savelyeva talks about the workflow behind the Gold-Inlaid Colt 1849 Pocket Revolver project, shares how the intricate engravings were made, and discusses the texturing process.


Hello! My name is Maria Savelyeva and I am a 3D Artist specializing in hard-surfaced objects such as props, weapons, vehicles, etc. Now I am getting a bachelor's degree in Architectural Design and intensively mastering 3D skills in my free time. I don't work in the game industry yet, but I'm sure I'll find my place soon and next time I'll be able to please you with interesting insights. This time, I am going to tell you a little about how I started and my latest work. Also, in the course of the article, there will be a lot of useful tips from my own experience. Have fun reading, dear friend!

Like many of us, since I was a kid, I have liked to play games and create art in any possible way. My journey in 3D started when I was a teenager: I made different mods for my favorite games. Most of them were just texture mods because, at that point, I didn't have any opportunity to learn 3D constantly and in a structured way. When I finished high school, I was given a great chance to finally get closer to my dreams with an online course presented to me by my parents. It wasn't easy to convince them and get their support, but it was worth it! So here I am, exploring this beautiful world of 3D… not without problems.

Tip number one for becoming a successful artist: if you have an opportunity to do something immediately, don't wait till later, do it now. You can do it! Then get some rest. You will thank yourself for this in the future, believe me. I'm afraid to imagine how much time I've lost and what heights I could have achieved now if I had strained a little in the past.

As a result, I studied and practiced hard after almost half of a year of having this course in my storage, rested, honed my skills again, assisted other artists in our lovely community, enjoyed my craft, and came to this work in the end – Gold-Inlaid Colt 1849 Pocket Revolver.

The Gold-Inlaid Colt 1849 Pocket Revolver Project

It was funny in the beginning. I wanted to make a katana based on an interesting concept by a popular artist. Collecting references of museum swords and iron, I saw this beautiful revolver on The Metropolitan Museum of Art's website. It was love at first sight. I was looking forward to all the difficulties I would face. I firmly grasped it and got to work. The main purpose was to test my texturing skills.

Be very careful when doing so. It's very good to choose tasks that will be a challenge for you but it is very important to assess your abilities sensibly in order to productively extract experience. Immediately analyze how you will do each pipeline stage. Ask yourself what the hitches might be. If you are ready to face them, proceed. Don't worry if you have to step back a little – very often it is much faster and more efficient to learn how to do something on small assets than on those that require a comprehensive elaboration. For example, before this model, I worked on simple objects, and it helped me to hone my speed in work avoiding mistakes. This happened because I didn't stop for long when making mistakes, I easily remembered the reasons for them and quickly found solutions to fix any. It helped to quickly memorize how to apply this knowledge to large objects.

Before we move on to the process of creating this work, I would like to say that I am lucky to know amazing experienced artists who sometimes helped me with feedback: Viktor Kotov and Nikita Osmanov. High-quality feedback that allows you to see your work from a different angle and find all the screw-ups is priceless.

Collecting References 

Main references are grabbed from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's website. For weapons, there are a lot of possibilities to find good references. The way I like it the most is to gather photos from auctions and museum websites. Usually, you will be able to find images of very good quality, made from different angles, and frequently photos of the damages. A good source may be the websites of shops selling spare parts for weapons.

Proportions turned out to be a separate problem. This model of the revolver is so old that it was impossible to find blueprints or patents. I had to study the drawings for the neighboring models as they were very similar. I also studied the drawings of this model, made in isometry by various companies producing replicas of vintage guns.

After collecting references, I identified specific problems. For example, some photos were inconvenient and unreliable due to the curvature of the camera lens and the focal length. Be very careful with this! Remember that good references are a solid basis for creating a high-quality model.

To be sure that the proportions are close to the original and that the functionality of all parts is preserved, I slightly corrected the photos of the revolver in Photoshop and created a more or less orthographic template.

Modeling: Blockout and Low Poly

I got used to the idea that an excellent specialist can work in completely different programs achieving the ultimate goal and is not tied to any software. The industry is constantly changing and being versatile is very convenient. You can still use your favorite 3D modeling package, but I would advise you to learn how to properly export and import your model into other programs. There are many artists who use several programs at once because certain functions are more accessible in one or the other.

But anyway, I'm using 3ds Max and so far I haven't experienced any problems with the unavailability of some functions for myself. It's convenient for me, no matter how funny and old this program may seem. Even so, I sometimes have to open files in Maya or Blender for the convenience of teamwork with other artists.

I would like to say that for me the blockout is one of the most important stages. A confident and stable base will be the key to success in the remaining technical stages. It's unpleasant to go back and redo something if I find a small discrepancy in later stages. So I check everything at once, double-check, and then continue to work while remaining calm. This in turn helps you work faster as you stay satisfied with your progress.

To speed up the work, I decided to make my blockout model very close to the final low poly and at the same time to use this blockout for subsequent export to ZBrush to create high poly. It was very important to use a non-destructive pipeline in order to be able to quickly make changes at any stage of work and not lose progress. If you can get used to the non-destructive pipeline as quickly as possible, then you will be surprised at how effective you will become.

For a non-destructive pipeline in this model, many parts remained primitive cylinders, spheres, and cubes. Many changes were made using modifiers on top of reference objects. This way, I could work on the model, see the real-time boolean result nearby, and immediately change, for example, the number of sections in some primitive, while not losing information about the bevel on the chamfer on this primitive. Very convenient, isn't it?

Since this work was done mostly for cool textures showcase in the portfolio, I was not burdened with thoughts about optimization, especially because I already have examples of optimized works. The basic rules remained followed, I took care of a good flow, the number of segments in cylinders, and the absence of unnecessary edges.

Modeling: High Poly

Before this work, I always used the subdivision method to create high poly. This skill is important for an artist in game development, but I've already got the hang of it and got used to it. It was time to try something new for me.

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly you can create high poly using ZBrush. I will not dwell on this in detail because the internet is full of good tutorials on this method of creating models. I picked up interesting and useful information from this article.


Let's skip the stages with UV and baking. Since optimization for this model was not a priority, I would like to advise you to read interesting articles from fellow artists who definitely have something useful to share. I am going only to mention that my personal favorites for these stages are RizomUV and Marmoset Toolbag.

Texturing was the most interesting part. First, I had to prepare the texture of the mask for the engraving. This was done by projecting reference photos onto the surface of the model using Substance 3D Painter. In order for all the engravings to be in their places, I had to create guide lines. There are gold frames on a real revolver. They were perfectly suited for this purpose as they are made with the same offset from the edges. To get the same on the model, a UV Border generator was used.

The next step was to draw all the patterns by hand. Perhaps if the original photos were of very good quality, I could try to get information about the contour of the patterns using various filters, but there was also interfering dirt and rust in the color information of the image. My hand was terribly tired of drawing all this, but it was worth it. The result perfectly conveys the feeling that the engraving is really made by hand.

The mask contained all the information about the height of the engraving, including some inscriptions. There was a separate mask for the space between the patterns as it is filled with a continuous rough pattern and was used for contamination. A separate mask has been made for serial numbers to make it easier to apply effects and manipulate.

The only thing that was not drawn by hand was the engraving on the cylinder. I managed to improve one poor-quality image using AI on the internet and then corrected the result with filters in Photoshop.

Remember the thought about the non-destructive pipeline? This also works with texturing. After applying the engravings, I reused the contours for the gold frames. In the gif below, you can see the frames that are completely created with the help of a fill projected onto the surface in tri-planar modes, the projections cropped to its shapes. This allowed me to place lines very quickly right in the viewport and easily manipulate their transformations.

Then I added a sandwich of UV Border generators with different overlay modes and achieved the final mask for all the golden frames. To give them the appearance of scuffing and manual application, a blur-slope filter was used on top.

In order for the textures to be delectable, it is important to have a value variation in different channels. These fluctuations must be enough for the surface to catch our eye.

Let's take a closer look at the metal material. In addition to color and roughness variation from brushing (uses anisotropic noise), there is another variation in base color that adds darker areas where there is more bluing left (uses AO map). To emphasize all of this, filters were added on top. They increased the contrast of colors and changed the subtones in lights, mediums, and darks. Edge wear always brings a massive amount of life into your object. All of this adds a feeling as if it was actually machined one day and then used for a period of time.

Another interesting feature of this work that helped textures to stand out was the large number of imperfections drawn or corrected manually. A lot of rust spots turned out well with a mix of various grunge textures. Anyway, most of the spots were hand-drawn. Never underestimate the time you will spend on manual elaboration. If you strive, the result will be better than the simple calculation of generators and stacked maps in your mask.


Well, that's all I'd like to share. There is a lot more to advise in general, but my conclusions coincide with the opinions of other fellow artists, whose amazing articles you can read here, on 80 Level. This article turned out a bit much, but I hope it was useful and you liked it. Thank you for reading to the end, dear reader! I wish you to improve through interesting tasks with pleasure!

Maria Savelyeva, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Kupka Justin

    You should check out the substance filter on artstation called Easy Edge in order to save you some time with future projects for the gold line masking steps.


    Kupka Justin

    ·a year ago·

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