Mijaíl Záitsev shared the workflow behind the Takhion project, showed the detailed texturing process, and talked about creating realistic assets.
Hello everyone, my name is Mijaíl Záitsev. I got into 3D art through CAD programs. For more than 10 years, I had worked in the aerospace industry, developing aircraft parts and special equipment. In the summer of 2019, I watched the animated series "LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS" and decided to learn more about how such projects are made and delve into the creation of 3D objects.
I decided to start by buying a computer and studying the first software Blender. Creating models in a 3D editor like Blender is very different from how they are created in CAD programs, so I had to change my usual way of thinking completely. However, it has greatly expanded my consciousness and approach to creating objects in 3D. Each 3D editor demonstrates a certain logic and, in my opinion, the wider your thinking, the easier it makes for you to choose the tools you will use.
I started learning 3D art using tutorials on YouTube but I learned the main principles and tricks through passing test tasks in various outsource and game dev studios. Each time I received detailed feedback, I worked out my weaknesses and progressed thanks to this.
Before creating the Takhion project, I managed to work as a freelance artist on several small projects of games and cinematics, where I also improved my skills, but most importantly, managed to optimize the pipeline to speed up the work.
The Takhion Project
Takhion was inspired by my great passion for cycling, which I used to do. This bike has always attracted my attention with its unusual shape. For me, as a 3D artist, extraordinary and interesting forms are of great interest. Also, this bike has an interesting history of creation and has a cult status among bicycle collectors. I did a little research on several art sites and found out that no one had created this bike in 3D yet, which also kindled my enthusiasm.
Creating a unique project is very tempting! The first stage of making a project is the search for references. I used photos of the bicycle parts on collectors' forums, drawings, sketches, extracts from the diary of the bicycle developer Takhion, and many other sources. I created several groups of references: the first one consisted of references and drawings as basic concepts for creating a 3D model. From the images of this group, I could better understand the shape, size, way of connecting parts, and their interaction.
Other images I took as references for texturing can be used to see the texture of the surface, the location of coating defects, and damage. Also in this group, there are decals of stickers, emblems that are placed on the frame and its nodes.
As for the third group of references, I marked interesting photographs that I wanted to take as a basis for staging the light and arrangement of objects in the render scene. Initially, a huge number of references were collected, but this does not mean at all that there were enough of them, at each stage, it was necessary to look for new ones.
There are never enough references! With a high probability, they will not all be used, but by collecting references, observation increases and there is an orderliness of actions that can be taken as a plan in the future!
For the project, I followed this pipeline: high poly – low poly – UV mapping – baking – texturing – rendering.
I used Fusion 360 and Blender to create the model. Realism, the style in which I tried to create the bike, is not only about textures but also about methods of creating objects. It's important in my opinion to take into account how the object was designed in real life. For this, I started working with a sketch in Fusion 360. The sketch was a 2D drawing that I tried to create based on photographs of near-orthographic views, drawings of parts of bikes, and articles from the internet describing the geometric dimensions and angles of frames corresponding to sports bikes of that time. After that, I did some primitive blocking of the big shapes (fork, wheel, frames).
After making sure I liked the look of the big shapes, I moved on to the medium shapes (transmission parts, wheel hubs, seat tube).
I left the details like the saddle and handlebars for later as they will be easier to create in Blender. After creating the blocking of large and medium shapes, I started creating the lug details. These ones connect the pipes together hiding the joints.
These details form the overall retro bike style, as lugged steel frames are typical of the 70s-90s. After that, I began to refine the forms of the transmission, bicycle hubs, and other details. And in the final work in Fusion 360, I added bevels to the necessary edges and exported the model as a separate mesh to Blender.
In Blender, I modeled the bike saddle with subdivision to create a more ergonomic shape. I made the steering wheel, spokes, straps on the pedals, and the bar tape through curves, which greatly simplifies the creation of these details and adjustments if necessary.
During the creation of the high poly, I analyzed which elements I could combine in the low poly stage, which details can be baked in the Normal map, and which details would be better added in the texturing stage. At the end of the high poly stage, I created name groups for further baking in Marmoset and proceeded to the low poly stage.
The biggest difficulty in such models with moving elements is calculating the interconnection of the mating elements. In my project, it was a chain transmission of a bicycle. Creating such elements by eye is very difficult. Therefore, it was important to take into account the exact dimensions so that during the building of the final model, everything would fit together correctly.
This stage is always the most interesting for me, as well as very routine and tiring. Essentially, it's modeling anew but using a completely different approach and way of thinking. The bicycle frame, as well as most of the parts, are made of round tubes,
so the cylinder (the main shape), combined with the shrinkwrap modifier, made it easy to create the low poly. Going through this stage, I tried to keep the silhouette as accurate as possible. I wanted to work more on texturing, so I did not try to reduce the polycount of the model much.
With the low poly modeling done, I also created name groups and split everything into 3 texture sets. The first one is for the frame, the second one is for the wheels, and the third one is for the bike parts. Now we can move on to the UV mapping step, but we're not done with the low poly yet. After baking is complete, you will need to prepare the low poly for texturing and rendering, place symmetrical elements such as pedals, straps, etc., and duplicate repeating elements (chain links, bolts, screws) pose for render and place in the scene.
I created the UVs in the UVLayout program. In my opinion, this is the best program for creating UVs, there is nothing superfluous in it, the functions and hotkeys are very clear. I converted possible UV shells to a square shape, which saved space and increased texel density. As I said, the goal was to work on textures of good quality, so the texture resolution was 4096x4096px. The average texel density on the three UV sets is 52px/cm.
This is a very interesting stage that requires a lot of attention. I always check name groups and check face orientation before starting baking. In Marmoset, I export each UV set (frame, wheels, and parts) individually and proceed to adjust the cage offset. I try to adjust the minimum offset, covering the entire area of the high poly model. For the bolts on the plane, I used Paint Skew, which improves the result.
I baked the following maps: Normal, AO, AO (Ignore Groups), Curvature, ID, and Wireframe.
When I start working on textures, I always set up color correction and tone mapping and select the HDRI map color profile.
Texturing in the style of realism requires a large number of references and experience, as well as observation. You need to understand how the material is formed from a physical point of view and how to make it beautiful from an artistic perspective. In my free time, I studied references and tried to come up with new ways to create material texture elements. I want to talk about a few of these elements.
I started texturing with a base metallic paint material. For the first layer, I chose a suitable color and roughness and set the metallic value to 0.5, since this paint contains a pigment consisting of metal.
I don't use a Metallic map as a mask that has two 0 values is dielectric and with the value of 1 is metal. With the second layer, I made the color more heterogeneous. Through the gradients, I made the dimples and curvature of the shape with a darker and more saturated color.
In the third layer, on the contrary, I made the colors dimmer through the inverted AO map.
I wanted to create the effect of the presence of glitter in the paint, something similar to the pigmented metal shavings that are often used in car paint. To do this, I put the Roughness and Metallic Fractal Sum map into the channel and adjusted the scale.
In the next layer, using the gradient filter, I gave it different multi-colored shades.
This completed the base material. Later, I put on it various defects, damage, rust, dirt, and other traces of use, which created a narrative story of its presence in the real world.
The Tires Material
I would also like to talk a little about the process of creating the material for the bicycle wheels. In the first layer, I made the fabric base of the tire.
In order to emphasize that the basis of the material is the fabric, I created the texture of the weaving of the threads by raising the Height value a little.
The next layer I made was the rubber material of the tire, I applied it through a mask and made the edges of the mask a little uneven through the Warp filter.
In the next layer, I made the rubber texture look a bit worn.
Then I thickened the entire rubber layer.
Based on the references, I made decals of the marking elements.
In the last layer, I applied mud to the tire.
The Wheels Stickers Material
I’ll also tell you about how the material for marking stickers on the wheels was created. I studied a lot of wheel references from the 80s and 90s, I wanted to find something similar that could match my bike in terms of color. I couldn't find a suitable one, but thanks to my observation, I was able to determine the style that I would like to see in these elements.
I started by creating the base shape of the sticker and gave it a gold color and lifted it up a bit into the Height channel.
Then I added a more saturated and contrasting shade.
For the third layer, I added the “Campagnolo” logo from the 80s-90s time period.
In the next layer, I highlighted the middle of the inscription through a gradient mask.
In the subsequent layers, I added thick and thin line design elements, as well as the "Made in Italy" lettering. For these elements, I diluted the color through linear gradient masks.
In the next layer, I added some creases to the sticker to emphasize that the bike and its elements are already quite old.
And in the last layer, I added dirt to the sticker itself and along its outline.
The texturing step is very creative and always comes up with new ways to make the viewer believe the object is real. The realistic style, although it has strict rules, allows you to make certain tricks and assumptions, the main thing is to understand where they are appropriate and where they are not.
I rendered my asset in Marmoset Toolbag. I had several pre-prepared scene models with different arrangements of elements in them. For each scene, I set up the lighting separately. I used a large number of light elements of various types.
First of all, I tried to emphasize the silhouette and shape of the bike, and then by changing the combinations of light intensity, I focused on a certain area of the image.
This step is always done by searching for different HDRIs, light positions, intensity, and color. More important, in my opinion, is understanding what exactly you want to get from your render. The more accurately I can imagine what the result should be, the easier it is to reproduce it. A feature I used in post-production is to render the background and object separately so that Photoshop can fine-tune the effect settings and get a more three-dimensional image.
References are the main guarantee of creating realistic assets. Gathering, organizing, and looking at pictures of the object you want to create is very helpful. And also my advice to all beginners: experiment! Come up with new combinations and tricks, some of them will probably not work, but some will open up a new horizon of creative possibilities and form your own style!
Many thanks and peace to all!
Mijaíl Záitsev, Props Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie
You may find these articles interesting