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3d artist Ian Sudol discussed the production of a little diorama, inspired by a popular anime.
Hello, my name is Ian Sudol! I am from Morrisville Vermont, a small town settled right between the ski mountains and nowhere in particular but surrounded by some great scenery on all sides. I graduated college almost a year ago from Champlain College in Burlington Vermont getting my bachelor’s in Game Art and Animation and currently I work as a Behavior Interventionist at Lamoille County Mental Health while I work on my art portfolio in my free time.
This project was my first real advance into working with Substance Painter and Designer. The car was made while I was still at Champlain during my senior year while I had my teacher Josh Buck to oversee my work. The environment itself I didn’t end up having time to get into while in school and I had been working on over a few months after I graduated.
My primary goals when moving into the scene were to get a comfortable understanding of how to work in and around the programs as they both have become widespread popular programs for good reason. I was drawn to this specific scene from the movie Tekonkinkreet not just because of the interesting backgrounds that fill the movie but because of how this specific scene had wide variety of assets which would let me to practice with repetition and work on building my work pipelines.
It was actually one of my teachers, Vincent Joyal, an amazing artist who has some great information pieces posted here on 80lvl, who introduced me to the movie. It’s a very cool movie, and one of the really big standouts elements in the movie are the backgrounds and these amazing ramshackle cityscapes that feel so abstract, yet very lived and visually interesting.
Other than having a wide variety of assets the scene also came with one great standout asset, the centerpiece of the scene, the Subaru 360. The car worked as a great stand out project in itself.
From a student’s point of view it was a great project as it wasn’t something I had seen done before when looking around at other portfolios which was a pretty nice bonus towards my portfolio. The project also gave me a chance to learn more about the build of cars which would make future vehicle builds easier. On top of being this interesting tiny little car the films Subaru specifically was covered in plenty of wear and weather, rust spots, decals, and spray paint from sitting under the bridge and acting as the home of two stray kids which would make working in Painter that much more fun.
The first big hurdle actually was finding reference images. I wasn’t sure what kind of car it was when starting out and “old Japanese cars” didn’t get me very far on Google. But eventually I was able to track it down when noticing a similarity between the hood ornament from the movie reference images looks similar to that of the stars of the Subaru logo.
With a folder full of reference images used front, side, and top-down shots to set up planes in max with the images attached for building up the initial silhouette. I made sure to also set the scale for the project here to match the scale I would be using in Unreal.
I started the car with a box, and cut it in half to work using mirror geometry to save time. Using my perspective image planes I built out the silhouette before splitting up sections of the car to start focusing on piece by piece. Hood, doors, trunk, windows, bits and pieces like items on the dashboard, mirrors and seats. I wasn’t overly worried about limiting my polycount and I was more focused on building a model that had correct likeness and clean edges to the original over being being game ready. Getting to the baking only to see I wasn’t high enough poly in some areas and having to go back and rework sections would have been a less than stellar way to lose time when I could aim for a higher poly and learn as I worked what would work better the next time.
When baking the car I avoided having to do an exploded piece by piece baking session with all the various car parts by splitting the car up in 3ds Max into two separate _high/_low groups I could export all at once and bake at the same time using Substance Painter’s baking tools.
In your painting workflow with this project you sort of combined Substance Painter and 3D-Coat achieving amazing result. I’m really interested in how you’ve branched out different tasks for different tools and how did you manage to achieve such an amazing look of the car.
3D-Coat has been an enormous time saver when it comes to uv mapping my assets. The process of building islands by selecting edge loops on your model and hitting a button to build clean unwraps feels great. Once exported back to Max I usually only occasionally need to fix a few overlapping edges before I resize/regroup the islands to squeeze every little bit of room out of the texture space.
It does have its limitations though. If you are mapping modular assets or building a border sheet where you need edges to perfectly match you won’t get as much use since the unwraps will smooth your uv islands which, while great for a group of smooth anthropomorphic statues, will curl the straight edges of the uvs you generally wanted to keep on modular or squared off assets.
I also have been using the 3D Coat retopology tools. A few assets like the rocks, bricks, and planks that I ran through ZBrush were retopoed here. If you have used retopo tools in Maya or Max they aren’t too different.
Building the Scene
I started the environment from the center around the car and moved outwards in multiple passes.I began by using the location reference images from the movie to make a list of assets to create and sorted they by groups I would build them in.
Immediate foreground assets like the lockers, tvs, statues and so on. The bulk of the individual assets that add the most to the scene.
Larger structural assets that made up the immediate area such as the the ground and waterway, the overpass, and the various metal bars and barriers attached to them.
Ground clutter and set-dressings like bricks, rocks, grass, broken concrete slabs, wires and decals.
And then everything outside the immediate area of the bridge. These were all very low poly modular sets of building, pipes, towers, and a roller coaster.
I built everything in 3ds Max with a little ZBrush on some assets. Using my Subaru for scale I started with a simple block-in scene in Max. I made sure to normalize all the assets uv scaling with a simple checker pattern to make sure everything was textured at the same resolution. Also took my first dive into substance designer and created a basic ground texture to further help set some.
When making the I wanted to simplify it as much as I could. To do this I built a few variants of clutter objects; bricks, planks, stones, sticks, concrete slabs and pipes. With these singles I could build larger group assets by duplicating and rotating into larger piles or building janky plank walls to add to the scene. This also benefited the texturing process as I could put most all of the textures for the clutter onto one texture sheet.
Lighting took a while to get right. I work off a laptop and it does not take long for a scene to get big enough to make a single light build test take a few hours, making a process about iterations a nightmare. But working with what I have, I’ve found it best to just start iterations early on. Even with all my assets looking pretty skeletal it’s easy enough to add a few spotlights and set up some mood lighting. As the scene progressed I added and remove lights, completely change the color of the scene and mess with post process and fog levels. By the time I got to the stage where I wanted to focus on the lighting elements I had a good understanding of the look I was going for and could focus on and didn’t have to spend as much time on test renders.
Most of the scene is under the shadow of the bridge and so leaning on the sun to do a lot of work couldn’t happen. I used the skylight to help lower the strength of the shadows and give them a slight cool blue tint to help push the warm rays I wanted to drop down the center on the Subaru. The skylight wasn’t able to fully able to deal with the heavy black pools of shadows I was getting with the bridge without leaving the scene feeling washed out so I left the shadows darker and used point lights on each side of the bridge to cast a blue light into the scene.
To get the light rays in the center gap on the Subaru I initially started with cards using an alpha to fake godrays, and built a simple dust particle asset in Unreal. But I wasn’t getting as much control as I wanted and it was slow going so I ended up scrapping the in-engine method. If I intended this to be a playable zone I would have continued but since this was to be a set of stills to display it was much faster to take my renders into Photoshop and paint in the light rays and particles of dust in the air.
I think Tekkonkinkreet makes a very nice transition into a realistic artstyle. As abstract as the city can look it’s still grounded in realism and very detailed which helps with the transition to a realistic look. That said I would still find the scene looking kinda flat through the project, and being up on a wall the more I zoomed out the cameras to get better angles the more background I would have to develop. I wasn’t totally sure how detailed I wanted to get with the background early on and I didn’t want to have to spend a ton of time on it so this lead me into making a bunch of low poly modular building assets I could set up and duplicate a bunch of times alongside a few splines for the roller coaster and many pipes.