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3d artist Joe Maleski talked about some of the lessons he learned while deconstructing the way Blizzard crafts weapons for Overwatch.
I grew up in West Alexandria Ohio. I, like a lot of kids, was extremely interested in video games, but I didn’t have a clue how they were made. My curiosity eventually led me to Columbus to get a 3D animation degree from The Columbus College of Art & Design. Over the last few years, I have worked as a 3D artist on a couple games and quite a few VR projects. I am currently working as a UX designer and teaching 3D modeling & surfacing at CCAD.
This study of the Overwatch style was an effort on my part to show my students my process from high poly sculpt, to finished engine ready asset step by step. My students and I are big fans of the Overwatch art style, so it was a no brainer.
Mei’s Endothermic Blaster
Being a stylized game, Overwatch benefits from being able to really exaggerate form. Blizzard has done an awesome job making everything from the characters to the weapons recognizable by only their silhouette. They focus on large interesting shapes and really don’t get too hyper detailed with the meshes. If you look at any of their models, you don’t find a lot of tiny bumps or textile patterns.
On the texturing side of things, a little trick Blizzard’s artists do is lighten the base color along convex edges of shapes. It really makes the edges pop and it is a super appealing effect. Here’s a comparison of my model with and without it.
As you can see, it really adds a lot to the model. It’s pretty simple to set up this effect in Substance Painter 2. Take your Base material layer, duplicate it and make it a bit lighter, then add a Stain Scratches smart mask to the layer. Initially it will have a lot of texture in the mask, but you can dial that back by playing with the texture balance and contrast parameters.
The first thing it do is gather as much reference as I can. I gathered a bunch of images online and took a bunch of screenshots to ensure I had every conceivable angle of this weapon. This is really important if you’re modeling a real life object or from an asset that already exists like I was. If you’re working from a concept, you still want to gather reference from similar objects or just certain visual features or materials that you like.
I tell my students to work from general to specific. Create the large forms that establish the silhouette before going near the small details. Working literally from the largest detail to the smallest can help you stay focused too so you never feel like you don’t know what to work on next.
It can be extremely tempting to just focus on one bit of the model and sculpt and sculpt until it’s finished, but this can cause problems later if you realize your proportions are off. This happened to me as I was blocking out the gun, but luckily, I had only blocked out the basic shape so tweaking the proportions was easy. That sort of thing gets more and more complicated as the mesh does. Additionally, for my students this keeps them from turning in a model with one part vastly more rendered than the others if they’ve (inevitably) run out of time.
Working with metals is particularly interesting. Everyone loves shiny things. They’ve got a lot of appeal. The way I work with metals in Substance Painter is the same way I work with any material. I create a folder for each separate material. I then add a mask to the folder so the material is only affecting the part of the mesh that I want. Then I make a base material with the general properties of that material, color, roughness etc. for each one. Then I add any material specific effects on top of the base material with a fill layer and add a black mask. I then paint away the mask with a brush or a generator.
I think It’s important to use masked fill layers rather than just paint layers because you can go back and tweak the parameters, like color or emissive of the layer later in the process, which you can’t do with a paint layer. In fact, the only paint layer I used on the whole model was the label on the canister. Which I did because I created the label in photoshop and imported it into Substance.
I’m really only changing the color and the roughness value of metals. Any other effects like rust or a brushed effect are layered on top and masked off. Roughness is pretty important to get right. I often see first time 3D students going way too shiny on metals. It’s tempting because it looks cool, but it’s not realistic at all. Almost every metal is going to have at least a bit of imperfection in it keeping it from being perfectly shiny.
I rendered this project in Substance Painter. Although I would recommend Toolbag. It gives you more control over your scene’s setup and lighting. The online viewer is pretty awesome as well!