Cohen Brawley who has recently completed a couple of CGMA’s courses talked about modular environments and setting up weapons and props for games.
Hello, my name is Cohen Brawley and I’m a Junior in High School. I recently completed CGMA’s “Weapons and Props for Games” course taught by Ethan Hiley and “UE4 Modular Environments” course taught by Clinton Crumpler. I will be sharing the projects I completed during both CGMA courses.
My dream career is to be a Weapon Artist. I modeled my first weapon a year ago by watching a popular AKM tutorial. I have been hooked on 3D Modeling Weapons ever since. Growing up in Oklahoma in a ranching environment, as well as participating in shooting sports, has given me firsthand experience with firearms and how they operate. I feel this real-world experience and my interest in firearms assists me with 3D modeling weapons. When I first learned of CGMA’s “Weapons and Props for Games” course taught by Ethan Hiley, I knew it was the course I needed. Weapon 3D modeling is very specialized. To learn from the artist that models weapons in my favorite shooter games, is not something I ever thought possible. I ended up enrolling twice in Ethan’s Class because I wanted to perfect my skills. For the first class, I chose to model a Springfield XDM and the second class I chose to model a SCAR-H. Each Weapon provided its own unique challenges and learning opportunities.
I also enrolled in CGMA’s “UE4 Modular Environments” course taught by Clinton Crumpler, to learn the skills needed for creating Environments. I took this course at the same time as the “Weapons and Props for Games”. I’m a big fan of Military games, so I went for that type of theme. I wanted the scene to be centered around a crashed helicopter, with the feeling of uncertainty and Impending doom. Because the environment was so much fun to work on, the scene ended up growing into a much larger scale.
Weapons and Props for Games
CGMA’s “Weapons and Props for Games” course taught by Ethan Hiley is a six-week course. During the first week, we are given a list of weapons to choose from. After selecting the weapon to model, I began gathering reference images. Gathering reference images is a very important step before modeling a weapon. When gathering reference images of a weapon, I look for various side angles as well as a few diagrams of the disassembly. I also gather images of the weapon in natural lighting for referencing during the texturing stage later on in the course.
Springfield XDM Reference Board:
FN SCAR-H Reference Board:
Once I finish gathering all of the reference images I need, I begin creating a blueprint of the weapon in Photoshop.
I get measurements of the Weapon from multiple sites to make sure they are accurate. I’m careful not to use skewed images for my blueprint, as they could cause the weapon model to become skewed as well.
When working on the block out of the weapon, I use simple shapes to help get a good feeling of the proportion of the weapon. It allows for quick and easy changes if some proportions don’t feel right. The block out is a very important stage. It is as important as the foundation of a house. The block out model is somewhat like a sketch. You start a sketch with little details and simple shapes before you start to add a lot of details. Sketching with simple shapes allows you to make quick changes if something doesn’t look right. In comparison to a sketch, the block out wireframe isn’t optimized and can have quite a few edge loops. Just as a sketch may have unerased guidelines and marks. When modeling a weapon for an FPS, only modeling the parts that would be seen by the player are needed. There is no need to model the internals of the weapon unless they are going to be seen from an animation. Parts that would be animated to move on the weapon must always be separate from parts of the mesh.
After I have all of the proportions feeling right, I will then start adding the details that would be accounted for on the low-poly. Once I have all of those details finished, I duplicate the model and add it to a new layer group that I then call Highpoly. I then begin adding the support edges and elements to the model that will be needed when I Subdivide the mesh in ZBrush. Balancing 3ds Max and ZBrush is a pretty smooth workflow. Selecting the mesh and exporting it from 3ds Max into ZBrush to perform the tasks required and exporting it back into 3ds Max, is all that’s needed.
Before I start to UV Unwrap I always apply a UV Grid. The UV grid helps a lot when unwrapping because if something wasn’t unwrapped correctly the squares will look skewed. The numbers and letters also help show if the UV is flipped.
When it’s time to start unwrapping the UVs, I check around my model and look for areas that can share UVs. When I find a good candidate for sharing UVs I apply a Green Material to it and detach it from the mesh to save it for later mirroring. Don’t share UVs when text will be applied to the UV, or the text will be flipped. Be cautious of sharing too much because if there is one large unique scratch on one side of the weapon it will appear on the other side too since the UVs are sharing. I then start UV Unwrapping parts and pieces one by one. As I’m using 3ds Max I use a script called TexTools. TexTools is a very helpful script for 3ds Max users. When UV packing it’s always better to manually pack them by hand then to rely on a software to pack it. When I UV pack the UVs I always try to pack the UVs as tight as I can. I make sure I don’t pack them too tight, because when the weapon is in engine mipmapping will scale the textures down. If the UVs are too close, the Mipmapping can cause the UVs to bleed onto one another.
We used Substance Painter to texture our weapon and honestly, Substance Painter is probably one of my most favorite software out there. Simply because no other texturing software out there can compete with it! Naming the folders in Substance Painter and keeping them organized is very important. When texturing my weapons I always create properly named folders and organize them with the materials they will contain. Metals – Contain metal materials, Plastics – Contain plastic Materials and so on. Once I start texturing my weapon in Substance Painter I will create a folder called metal and I then will add a mask to the folder and select everything on the weapon that is metal. I then start adding different types of metal materials to help give it nice material breakups.
I do the same process for plastics and start applying materials until all of the elements on the weapon have a proper material type on it. When finished it will give the weapon the appearance as if it was in mint condition. I then start gathering reference images of the weapon in very poor condition and start adding the grime and wear while keeping a balance between too new or too worn. I then start adding other details like edgewear and dirt. I try not to rely on generators too much and if I ever do it’s for subtle details like light edgewear/dust. I use a lot of stencils to add paint chips, scuffs, and scratches. For areas that will have lots of harsh edgewear, I take the time to hand paint it rather using an edgewear generator.
Once I finish the main details I then add text and patterns onto the weapon using an alpha map I create in Photoshop. It’s always better to apply text and patterns in Substance Painter, and have the ability to tweak them, versus having text baked straight onto the weapon. Substance Painter and Marmoset render quite differently so it can make it a bit difficult to match exactly what I’m seeing in Painter to Marmoset. At the end of texturing I will import the model and textures into marmoset and update the textures. Then I will tweak them in painter to yield to Marmosets Render.
I always consider the animation when I am modeling, baking and even texturing. I am always aware of the parts’ functionality and what will be exposed when that part moves from its current location to another.
Trying to get the right angle on the weapon can be very difficult. Not only are you wearing the boots of a 3D Artist, but also a photographer. What I do is look up photos of weapons being showcased, it helps me get good ideas of angles to take. When I take a screenshot, I save the Marmoset scene as SpringfieldXDM_Screenshot01, for example. That way if I need to retake the photo, the lighting and position are in the same location as when the screenshot was first taken. Ethan taught us a lot of these very helpful techniques throughout the course.
Here are my weapon projects on Artstation:
Ethan Hiley’s “Weapons and Props for Games” course really helped refine my skills in weapon modeling. Ethan is equally talented as an instructor, as he is a Weapon Artist. He has an unbelievable eye for detail, as well as the passion and knowledge to help you level up!
UE4 Modular Environments, Urban Warfare
CGMA’s “UE4 Modular Environments” taught by Clinton Crumpler is a 10-week course. In the planning phase of my “Urban Warfare” Environment, I wanted to create a scene that would draw the viewer in and give a feeling of being there. The setting would be an unknown city in Iraq. I really wanted to work a lot with modularity and vertex painting, as I did not have much experience with either one. I felt it was important to make sure the helicopter and vehicles were accounted for in the environment, so the scene wouldn’t feel empty and making sure the crash site would feel plausible and practical.
I used the Landscape Spline to create the path of the sidewalk, but I wasn’t able to vertex paint on the sidewalk as it was a Landscape Spline. To solve the problem, I created a blueprint spline that allowed me to vertex paint onto it.
One thing I learned during Clinton’s course, is the importance of having a set Time, Place and Story to the environment. To plan the environment and answer questions like: Why did this happen? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Is it sad or happy? This really helped me set the foundation for the overall scene. I made a Trello board to plan what type of props, decals, and textures I would need for the environment. I also made a Pinterest board to gather reference images. After planning and gathering everything I needed, I began to block out of the buildings and environment.
Thinking of a Story
Before I put a lot of thought concerning the layout of the city, I began concentrating on the type of helicopter I would use for the crash. First thought was maybe a Black Hawk, but I really wanted a very large helicopter that would be more thought provoking, as to how something so massive could have come down. I came across the CH-47 Chinook on the web and knew that was the one.
Next, I began thinking about how the helicopter crashed. A helicopter this size can’t just come down with a shot from a rifle. So I knew it needed to be a missile or rocket of some sort. I was considering an RPG – (Rocket Propelled Grenade), but a helicopter this size would not cruise at an altitude that an RPG could reach. So I went with the idea that the back right engine was struck by a heat guided missile. The reason for thinking out such details, is so I would account for the damage needed while modeling and texturing the helicopter. The story also assists with planning the crash landing portion of the scene.
I then consider as to what condition it would be in? I didn’t want the helicopter to be completely disintegrated but yet I didn’t want it to look like it had an easy landing. If the helicopter skid a great distance when it crashed, it would allow me to play a lot more with how it affected the whole street and scene. So that is what I went with.
After considering the details of the helicopter, I began planning the layout of the city as to where the helicopter crash would be resting. I decided I wanted the helicopter crash to be resting at an intersection, to give more of a focal point for the environment.
After figuring out the information about the helicopter and city layout, I started creating the block out of the buildings in Maya. I knew I didn’t have enough time to make every individual building separate modular sets. So I made sure they would be able to share the same walls, doors, and windows. I also made several window and balcony variations to help hide the modularity feel.
With how large I saw this environment was evolving, I became a bit concerned with the timeframe of 10 weeks. So my focus was to model the helicopter as fast as I could, without affecting the quality of the helicopter. As I worked on the helicopter, I also worked on the buildings in the scene. I wanted to make sure that if I was not able to complete the helicopter in time, at least I would have the urban city finished.
Using a lot of textures from Textures.com really helped with the tight time frame I had. I also made sure I was taking advantage of Substance Designer as well. When creating the asphalt road debris I used 3ds Max but wasn’t happy with the results I was getting. I knew it would need to be sculpted to get the look I wanted. So I found some basic videos of ZBrush on the web and learned a little bit of ZBrush. I then created the asphalt high poly in ZBrush and decimated it to make the low poly. Then I textured the asphalt pieces in Substance Painter and was much more satisfied with the results.
Clinton Crumplers “UE4 Modular Environments” course was such an awesome experience. I began his course with very little knowledge of environment building. Clinton was very patient and helpful with my large scale environment. The weekly feedback from Clinton helped me to learn and enhance skills. It took around 300 hours to complete the environment for the course. Scale and time frame is probably one of the biggest lessons I have learned here. With Clinton’s feedback, lots of work and little sleep. I was able to successfully complete my “Urban Warfare” Environment with the results I hoped for. I had so much fun working on every individual Model, Texture, and Material. An environment this size probably shouldn’t have been attempted in 10 weeks by one individual, but as they say “Go Big or Go Home”!
I have become a big fan of CGMA and the classes offered. It’s such an awesome opportunity to be taught by industry professionals who know their stuff. The confidence of knowing that the information and skills I am taught are of AAA standards is flat-out priceless.
For more information on CG Master Academy and the Weapons & Props for Games course and UE4 Modular Environments course, please visit the course page on the CGMA website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.