Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Gamedev veteran Christoph Krumnow talked a bit about his experiments with Substance Designer and Maya.
My Name is Christoph Krumnow. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany I am now living in London, UK. I am a professional games artist.
I have been working on various game projects on different platforms for Electronic Arts, Spielkind and Keen Games concepting, modeling, texturing, rigging and animating all kinds of game assets.
I also have been a university teacher for game art and animation at the most renowned German universities for games – Games Academy, SAE, Designschule, hfg Offenbach
My goal for this project was to create a small kit of game ready low poly hard surface assets. I have done a lot of Fantasy and Cartoon Stuff in my professional work and I love to do different things. So I went for a realistic Science Fiction / Cyber Space theme.
The look is inspired by Brutalist architecture. Structures look massive and fortress like. I was thinking of the movie Cube, especially the shots where they show the outside of the huge cube array. Another big inspiration is the Manga Blame where the hero travels through the so called “Megastructure”.
I also wanted to restrict my workflow to Maya and Substance without any use of ZBrush and Photoshop just to get out of my comfort zone. The Substance Suite is great for Hard Surface stuff without having to model and sculpt many details at all. A lot of it can be done in Designer and Painter.
All modeling work was done in Maya.
I started blocking out the main geometry and proportions. I then divided them into the main sections of the bridge: the upper part, the tech part with all the hoses, the lower part and the beam. To make all the parts link seamlessly I created some valve like geometry. This way they couldbe easily dupicated and all variations would snap together perfectly.
For the creation of the tubes I used a tool called Quick Pipe. It’s a nice little script made by Adnan Chaumette. You can search it up on gumroad.com.
I always work quad only until the very end of the production process. I also do UVs in between modeling steps before going into details. This way I can just can cut off parts and add them to new geometry without having to do Uvs from scratch again.
After the low poly assets were done, I did the high poly and the id versions of the meshes for normal baking and easy material assignment in Substance Painter. I recommend Wes McDermott’s fantastic tutorials on model preparation on the Allegorithmic website.
The first texture that I created was the rubber material for the tubes. I went into Substance Designer and made a simple black rubber material with an exposed parameter for the segmentation. Normally I would have gone to ZBRush to create a Hose Brush and some high res geometry, but the Substance was good enough to skip any sculpting.
I then used Substance Painter to create the look of the painted metal parts. I toyed around with parameters for edgewear and dust until I got a good result. I created two smart materials to be able to apply them to all further assets.
The small panel lines and details were directly painted in the height channel using simple brushes and alpha shapes. The only time Photoshop came into play was when I created some custom alphas for the Japanese letters which I blatantly ripped off the internet.
To further enhance the industrial look, I used the leakage particles brushes.
I did the smashed bridge segment and the antenna like geometry at the bottom of the bridge last. I like to work in iterations and after having completed most of the work I always go back and add some small elements like another dirt or leakage variation. I also tried different, more fancy shapes for the door and some colour variations but decided to settle with a more basic version.
Because I wanted to try how far you can get with low poly geometry I used Arnold which is now the out-of-the-box renderer for Maya. I exported maps for Normals, Fresnel, Roughness, Specular and Diffuse and plugged them into the Arnold standard shader. It took me a while to get the lighting right, although there are only four area lights and a SkyDome which I downloaded from Gumroad. I recommend the YouTube channel of Arvid Schneider for some fantastic Arnold tutorials on materials and lighting.
The final shot is low poly geometry only. The scene has a total of 30.000 vertices and the full kit consists of 14 elements that share 6 separate uv maps. I used Photoshop for colour correction and an iris blur.