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3d artist Katharina Eggert shared how she approaches her amazing 3d dioramas. Some neat workflow tips here. Katharina is actually looking for work, so she should
Hey, my name is Katharina Eggert and I’m from Frankfurt, Germany. I graduated from the Games Academy Frankfurt as a Game Artist in October 2016 after two years of study. I’ve been building up my portfolio since then. Currently I’m looking for junior position as a Prop/Environment Artist.
In these past two years at Games Academy, I took several courses from industry experienced teachers and worked with fellow students on four game projects. These projects gave me precious insight into the game development process and further cemented my preference for working on stylized 3D prop and environments.
Since I can remember, one of my favourite things to do was playing video games, preferably cartoonish looking ones. Playing Warcraft III and World of Warcraft in my early teens finally fascinated me to such a degree that I chose to become a game artist. Ever since then, the work of Blizzard has had a huge influence on me and my work.
Even today I can look at these games and say that they give me the same vibes they gave me back then. In general one could say that the more stylized a game is, the more likely it is to stand the test of time, at least in terms of visuals. A heavily stylized game (i.e. The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, Banjo Kazooie, Kingdom Hearts) will, if well done, keep its charm no matter what. With stylized art, you can achieve certain goals relatively easy and get a well-rounded look for your game, whether it is a perfect cartoon look or something else. What makes stylized so special to me is the use of over the top, bright colors, as well as the freedom of creation, since you’re not restrained by the boundaries of realism.
Sure, for ease of understanding, I’ll break down my usual PBR workflow into a few steps.
Before I start to model something, I search for a concept and try to analyse it by identifying the different materials that are being used. Then, I look up some real life pictures of the materials I identified. That way, I have actual references and won’t have to rely solely on the concept art.
Blockout, low poly creation
After going through research, I block out the prop or the scene in 3Ds Max. For this step, it is important to keep everything as low poly as possible. As soon as I’m content with the scale and the positioning, I start to add geometry and details, while still keeping the polycount in mind.
When I feel like there’s enough detail, I import the meshes into 3D-Coat and start doing the UV map there. After that I import the meshes back to 3Ds Max and fix any mistakes in the UV map. I save a copy of the assets with finished UVs and import them into Marmoset Toolbag.
Creating the high poly mesh
Since I made a backup file, I am now able to prepare the meshes within 3Ds Max for sculpting by adding supporting edges and the Turbosmooth Modifier. When this is done, I import the arranged meshes into ZBrush. As soon as I’m done with sculpting, I use Decimate Master to lower the polycount of the high poly meshes.
Baking maps like ambient occlusion, normal, world space normal, height & curvature
In this step, import my low poly and high poly into Substance Baker and do a quick test bake, to see if there are any problems that I have to fix and continue with texturing.
Touching up the textures and overpaint obvious seams
It’s always better to touch up textures created in SP. Usually, I try to add more detail and color variance to the textures. If there are any obvious seams, I try to cover them in 3D-Coat by painting over them until they are gone.
Positioning, lightning & rendering
Since the final meshes have already been imported into Marmoset, I start to assign the finished texture maps. After a little bit of repositioning of the assets, I usually begin to set the lights, try to find some nice angles and if I’m content with the whole piece I take some pictures.
To be honest, I never thought about the scaling of my dioramas. I mostly try to faithfully recreate other artist’s concept art, since I consider myself as still being at the beginning of my development as an artist. I would also recommend everybody with a similar skill level to work with a strong concept art as a reference. I created another diorama without any concept art, thinking it would be fine working with a few references and nothing more. It ended up being quite messy and I regretted working without a guiding piece of art for the process.
Low Poly Details
I feel like my low polys aren’t that detailed, but the textures are. That’s why I spend a lot of time sculpting and texturing. I also pay special attention to the silhouette of my meshes. Since I have a more stylized approach, I exaggerate the measurements of certain parts. It is a handy stylistic device and can give your assets a unique feeling as well as clearly communicate the element’s purpose in the overall asset. I also try to direct the viewer’s eye by working with lightning and depth of field within Marmoset. It helps to focus lightning and bright colors on key pieces.
Working with Textures in Substance Painter
While I was studying at Games Academy, I created hand painted textures exclusively in Photoshop and didn’t think much of using a workflow like PBR. A lot of people associate Substance Painter with realistic texturing, and I used to be one of them. Now, it is in fact the tool I rely on most for my stylized textures. The first time I experimented with PBR, I used Photoshop, which was more frustrating than helpful. I got quite confused with the countless layers and different maps, so I’ve decided to avoid this workflow and stick with the hand painted pipeline. I came to regret that later, since both workflows have their strengths and weaknesses.
Going through this development, I can confidently say that Substance Painter made PBR more accessible than it was ever before. It allows me to achieve satisfying results much quicker than when using Photoshop. Substance Painter speeds up the process by enabling the user to work on several maps at the same time and the ability to see the results immediately in the 3D viewer. In addition, it is possible to change roughness, metalness and others within seconds by simply using sliders or even painting into the normal map without having to sculpt it in ZBrush.
So yes, I think Substance Painter is a perfect fit for the production of stylized textures. It is a really powerful tool and I would strongly recommend to those interested in stylized 3D art to give it a shot.
In my opinion, creating a stylized environment doesn’t absolutely require a certain workflow. The PBR workflow gives stylized art a completely different touch, especially if you compare it to the traditional hand painted workflow. What makes the PBR shader so unique is the accurate representation of different materials and how they interact with light. It gives the artist additional possibilities to define the characteristics of their assets by adding details like dirt, scratches or rust. It has become the standard workflow for many companies, so I would recommend every artist that prefers the hand painted process and hasn’t tried out Substance Painter to do so. You’re still able to create anything you want without being forced to make your textures look realistic, it’s simply a different approach.
When it comes to lightning in Marmoset, I usually play around with warm and cool colored light. Let’s use my recent asset “Chainkill” (concept by Wojtek Michalak) as an example. In the beginning, I thought it would be nice to stick to the guns’ color palette, so I decided to use some blueish light. This gave the scene a washed out look and was not so pleasant to look at since it became one with the blue background, so I chose a more saturated and warm color palette. I ended up with pinkish lightning which created the desired comic look. It also gave the scene a nice splash of color and made it look less monochrome.
In the Tree House Diorama (concept by Yewon Lim), there’s a warm light shining out of the windows which gives the viewer a cozy and inviting feeling. In earlier iterations, I chose to play around with some green lightning to create a different focus point for the viewer and also to set the rest of my scene apart from the background. In addition to that, I’ve decided to mess around with bloom. It fills the scene with a gentle glow that underlines the magical, gloomy mood of the small tree house.
Use extra references even if you already have a concept. Put a lot of time into research, it’ll pay off. Try to figure out which materials are used and take not only real life photos, but also some hand painted textures as references. Thereby, you have something to look up when you’re working on your sculpt or textures. Creating a list of all the assets you’ll need might come in useful as well. Prioritize your list and think about what could be nice to add to round everything up. Apart from that, set a certain polycount-limit before you start modeling so you won’t get carried away when adding details.
Adding environmental storytelling can enhance your scene by giving the viewer something to connect to, but keep in mind not to overload it with information, especially with small scenes. Think about the key parts that you want to highlight, not by adding more assets, but maybe by experimenting with lightning.
Hopefully I was able to give some of you a good insight into my work and maybe you even found something to take away for your work. Should you be interested in further information, collaboration or just want to say hi, hit me up by visiting my website or checking out my ArtStation.
Thanks to 80 Level for giving me such a great opportunity and platform!