Stylized Gun: Painting, Design, Rendering
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Stylized Gun: Painting, Design, Rendering
25 July, 2017
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Math Roodhuizen did a full breakdown of his stylized 3d gun. A quick overview of the Substance Painter workflow and overview of nice ways to present the object.

Hello! 

My name is Math Roodhuizen, I’m a game art student from the Netherlands currently studying at HKU university of the arts in Utrecht, where I just finished my 3rd year. I started out as a 2D artist, but in the past few years my love for 3D art has slowly been growing. One thing has always remained the same though – I love stylized art. Today I wanted to talk about a 3D stylized weapon I recently made, what tools I used to create it, but I will mostly go into the stylization of the asset and give you tips on how you can use stylization to strenghten your designs. I will also give you some tips and tricks on how you can give your design character, as this is something I often see go wrong. 

Down here you’ll find the asset I made. I often use Sketchfab to share my 3D models, it is a great (and free!) tool to showcase your 3D work, and can easily be embedded into websites (like this one!). 

WildFyre Blunderbuss by Math Roodhuizen on Sketchfab

PBR textures for stylized assets 

To create this asset I used Maya for the model, and Substance Painter for the textures. These are very common tools and are often used to create 3D game-assets. Substance is used a lot for realistic texturing as it allows you to add a lot of detail with relative ease. However, Substance is also a great tool to create stylized PBR textures meaning that even though it looks stylized, it will have realistic material definition. This is great, as metal, for example, will look like metal in different lighting conditions and will reflect light based on the environment, unlike hand-painted diffuse textures without PBR maps for roughness and metalness. Substance makes PBR very accessible and because you can hand-paint full PBR materials directly on the model it is a great tool to get the stylized look you are looking for!

However, people quickly found out that Substance is actually a great tool to create stylized textures and that it makes using PBR a lot more accessible. I used 4 main material types for this asset; it has some metal parts, copper parts, brass parts and some of the metal is coated in blue paint. I used the materials that come with substance as a base, as their roughness, metalness, and color values are already set to look like a certain material. Using masks in Substance combined with fill layers and these base materials will quickly allow you to play around with different colors and materials. Being able to quickly try different colors and move them around on the go is one of the many benefits of using Substance. You will immediately see the result presented visually on your screen, instead of having to create new layers and change colors in Photoshop, export it and import it into 3D software before you can see the result. This makes for a quicker and more pleasant workflow and will allow you to make quick iterations on your design. Below you’ll find a screen of one of those iterations. 

This was made really quickly by using masks, masking out different parts and placing base materials on them. On this version the grip of the weapon was made of wood – but I changed that later on because I found it added little to the design and didn’t really make sense as the rest of the weapon was made entirely out of metals. 

 
By applying masks to entire folders in your layer stack you can easily fiddle around with materials and change them around. 

When you are working in this phase, it is important to zoom out very regularly. This is important when working on any asset, but especially important for the style I went with. Seeing your object in ‘thumbnail’ size will quickly show you whether or not your design has a clear definition from a distance. The danger of using Substance is that it very easy to create huge amounts of detail. You’ll often see beginners do this. However, it is very important to not drown in the details and view your asset as a whole and think about the context it will be used it, even if the asset is a one-time portfolio piece you are working on. 

Think about the game it could be used in and about the function it has in there. Having lots of high contrast detail will draw a lot of attention to it. Take Overwatch for example, this game used stylization to strengthen the gameplay. The environment artists have limited the detail in the environment so it doesn’t distract too much from the gameplay. Overwatch is a very quick action packed game so they want the players to see what is going on at all times – the most detailed and contrasting elements are the characters. This makes the characters, the most important gameplay element, stand out from the environment. If the environment would be filled with noise and detail it would actually impact the gameplay as characters would be harder to see. Long story short – detail is good, but don’t over do it. Instead, use it thoughtfully. Ideally, you want the detail to make the asset look interesting from up close but not impact the general shapes and design from a distance. Zooming out will make sure you are not focussing on the details too much and will help you view the asset as a whole. 

Top: details keep it looking interesting from up close. Bottom: easily distinguishable shapes because the base colors still dominate the design and the contrast in the details is limited 

Never start with texturing by working on the details, leave all the fancy dirt generators to when you are almost done. Get all the base colors in first, then slowly start adding details being careful of not to overdo it! 

Suggesting function 

Even though it is a fantasy weapon design, that does not mean you shouldn’t think about how it works! On the other hand, you don’t want to completely limit yourself to reality either. To make it feel as if your design makes sense, you can suggest function. For the style I went with this is fine, but keep in mind that the amount of realism you have to use depends on the game-world it will be used in. The bottles on the side carry the fuel, a highly flammable liquid called ‘wildfyre’. The gas tank on the other side of the weapon is filled with pressurized oxygenated air, used to drive the wildfyre through the system and help it ignite with extra force. The shoulder rest sits on a piston and is padded with leather cushions to absorb part of the backfire the weapon has when fired. The trigger has a rope going into the gun suggesting it might open a valve or something like that inside to release the pressurized air. I didn’t bother making drawings of the inside, where the tubes exactly go or how the ignition system works. For this style, it doesn’t matter. The function has already been suggested and because it isn’t a realistic looking weapon people don’t expect it to have realistic properties. But by thinking about how it works and suggesting function, your design will feel like it makes a lot more sense. 

Suggesting function: the fuel is clearly visible and you can see tubes going into the gun. 

Giving your design character 

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen sci-fi gun designs that look like they just rolled off the production line 5 minutes ago. Depending on what the design is for, this could be okay, but in many cases adding some more character to your asset can aid the design quite a lot.

There are several things I did to try and add more character to my design. First of all, I made it look used. It has bumps and scratches on many places, the paint started peeling off and the front of the gun is blackened and deformed by the many times it has been fired. 

The muzzle is blackened and damaged by the many times the gun has been shot. 

Making something look as if it has been used will help to give it more character. This is exactly the reason why people buy vintage clothing for example! It is up to you to decide to how new or how used your asset should look, but make sure to think about it while you are designing your asset. 

Adding traces of usage will help to add character to your asset. 

Another way I added a character is by making this a ‘one of a kind’ weapon, instead of something that has been made in a factory. It is made by an individual that needed a shotgun and used the materials that were available to him. The hatch on the back of the weapon used to belong to a ship, for example. The leather belts strapped around it are there because the weapon had a lot more force then he expected so he added these, later on, to hold everything together. It’s not a pre-designed and tested design that rolled of a production line. Of course, not all weapons can have this but if you’re looking to add more character to your design think about who it belonged to and how it was made. Even if it is an item that has been pre-designed and was made in a factory, it could have been used by someone for several years which would have left its mark. Maybe the user engraved something on it or he had to repair it halfway through. It is things like this that add loads of character to your design. 

I also exaggerated some aspects of the design. The muzzle is very large and looks like it would not be accurate at all, and the ‘iron sight’ is enormous as well. If you were to aim down sights, most of your field of view would be in the target area. Depending on the style you are working in, it is exaggerations like this that might look a bit silly but can actually add to your design. It also fits with the entire unrealistic style and makes the entire thing feel more coherent. I also decided that the person who made it had given it a name, ‘WildFyre’, after the combustion liquid he used (in this ‘world’, wildfyre-liquid is usually not used for weapons because of its very dangerous and unreliable properties). The creator even decided to engrave the name on the back of the weapon, suggesting he was proud enough with his creation to give it a name. Naming things is an easy way to give your design some additional character, but wouldn’t work as well if your weapon is a mass-produced one unless the owner had it for quite some time and made it his/her own. 

Presentation

This part is often overlooked quite a bit. If you spent many hours working on your asset, it would be a shame to not present your work the best you can. Sketchfab is a good way to present your 3D model (it can also display wireframes, employees will likely know this), but often you’d want a nice image to go with it. Make sure the style of the presentation matches the style of your asset! Simply putting your model on a white background and be done with it is not enough. I made a basic image for now to give an example, but keep in mind that if you are applying for a job you also have to showcase critical information like your wireframes, polygon count and textures. Think about how to display this information clearly so the person that reviews your application doesn’t have to look for it himself as he probably has to go through an entire stack of portfolios. 

Make sure it looks professional and it looks like you put effort into it and employees will be more keen to take you seriously. 

I hope you guys learned something from this. Would love to know what you guys think of my asset, and feedback and critique is always welcome. I am, like everyone, still learning so feedback is very valuable to me! Thanks a lot for reading, now grab a pencil and start designing!

Math Roodhuizen, HKU University of the Arts Utrecht

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