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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!
My name is Thibault and I come from north of France. I spent the last ten years as an art director in a communication agency, where I started as a web designer, then slowly moved toward motion design and 3D. I now work for French companies that need to express their ideas with creative movies, using various medias for that.
Peculiarities of Voxels
As a long-time gamer, I’ve always liked those retro-looking graphic styles such as pixel art without ever be able to use it in my Professional work. The day I found out about MagicaVoxel (on Twitter, watching the works from great artists such as @Sir_carma, @zmei23 and many others) I immediately wanted to try it, and I keep on having fun every day with this great yet so simple tool.
I wanted to find something that could be like some kind of alternative creation tool for me: some 3D that could be both easy to make, fun to use, and wouldn’t remind me of my work session at the end of the day. Working with voxels is like being a kid again and using toys to shape your thoughts. But even if it’s easy to use, doesn’t mean it’s easy to master. Some subjects just don’t work in voxel, and everyone has to find his own style with it.
I worked with Ephtracy’s Magicavoxel on 100% of my scenes. It’s free and easy to use, and very professional too. Rendering time is really quick and supports many effects, and you can now add more scenes within a single file (very useful for game props). Plus, it works like a charm on many platforms.
The voxel community is growing every day and its members are creating awesome stuff that makes me want to hide in a cave. For my personal workflow, I always start with an idea and some free time (that’s the main components). I tried to make some raw sketches first but it never worked, I prefer to start straight ahead in Magicavoxel and put basic shapes, then refine them. Once the shapes are in place, I start painting them: the painting step should be the last one since I tend to paint lights onto my models, and moving things afterwards could lead to some mistakes.
Lighting the scenes within Magicavoxel is great, but I tend to export my models to Cinema4D, then use C4D lights to recreate what I saw in MV. This way, I have more control over the scene, and I can start animating it if needed.
Reflective and Transparent Surfaces
Reflections and transparent materials are quick to achieve in MV but since I’m exporting my scene to C4D, I tend to export each object separately. For example, on a waterfall scene, I’ll export the land and water in two separate objects, then assign transparent materials onto the water only.
I always separate my model into parts, whenever possible. That gives me more control over it in the compositing / animating phase. I also made assets that way, like various types of swords and helmets for characters, or dungeon props, usable with real time engines like Unity.
But an optimization and baking/retopology process is needed, because the amount of polygons generated by voxel engines is too high.
Presenting with Sketchfab
There are at least two different ways to present a project : you can produce clean and composited views of it, with a high level of parameters and control over what you let people see (quick GIFs or short movies) or you just decide to let people drive, and that’s where Sketchfab is a wonderful place to upload your models : people can rotate them, view them in VR (huge) and spend the time they want, looking at details and enjoying different points of view. Best way to make your scene shine in Sketchfab is tweak the presets a bit, arrange the lighting and maybe try to add some baked animation to it when possible. Always check their tutorials, precious things to learn there, not only sketchfab-related!