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Senior 3D Artist at Wargaming St. Petersburg Anatoliy Nepochatov showed how he approaches the creation of complex 3d models of warships.
Left: me aboard the British cruiser HMS Belfast. Right: the in-game model of the ship made by me
I got into Wargaming as an intern artist three years ago. Back then, World of Warships was in its alpha stage, and the beta was in the works. I found myself at the epicenter of a real gaming project. It was a blast!
For 4 months me and the other 12 interns in the program were being taught the numerous peculiarities and nuances of building 3D models of warships. My graduation assignment was to model a small tugboat. It was nothing compared to immense floating fortresses we worked on later, but at the time making that small vessel seemed a hell of a job.
My graduation project in the intern program
Currently, having a portfolio of about a dozen warship models, I share my experience with a new generation of interns working at our ‘drydock’.
We start by examining the source material. The artist is given 3–4 months to study the blueprints, schematics and photos of the ship they will work.
Then we start on the blueprint stage proper. First the artist checks the alignment of the ship’s principal structural features from the blueprint scan—these and schematics are never perfect. A significant amount of time is spent adjusting these features—usually in Maya of Photoshop.
A blueprint scan with distortions
The lines the scan should be adjusted along
The next step is loading the blueprints into Maya and matching them. There may be up to 20 or 30 blueprints in the scene.
A set of blueprints, prepared for 3D modeling
Then, based on all the photos and blueprints at hand, the artist starts to craft a 3D model of the ship in Maya. The model is a compound object; the artist can insert elements used on ships from other classes and tech trees, e.g., main, secondary and AA guns, torpedo launchers, fire-control systems, anchoring equipment, etc. We created a library of these elements and load elements from it into the ship scene as reference objects, which significantly shortens production time.
Gradual enhancement of a ship model’s detalization
Object manager—a tool for working with the elements library
The next stage of modeling is the creation of a UV map of the ship for subsequent texturing. One should be wary of texel density, i.e., the relation of texture size (in pixels) to the scale of the 3D model in the scene. We have limitations on texture resolution so this issue is very important. The artists do their best to ‘pack’ the texture as densely as possible and fill all the texture space of the UV map.
The densely packed texture of the French Algérie-class cruiser
We do UV mapping in UV Layout. Although its interface is somewhat obsolete, it’s still a highly functional and reliable piece of software.
UV Layout interface
After that, texturing begins. We have high texture quality standards, so it is one of the most time-consuming stages in production pipeline. Texturing consists of two parts: technical and artistic. The technical part is adding all the elements that were not implemented in Maya due to polygon limitations, e.g., the rivets. If a ship is riveted, there are thousands of them—and every single one should be put in its place. Other elements like this include welds, flanges, air grates, assorted fittings and small openings, etc. The artistic phase is making the warship realistic—a bit battered and time-worn. We add rust, various scratches, chippings and leak stains using Quixel Suite.
The texture pipeline
In our game, the ships usually break into pieces when destroyed, and we have to make so-called ship faults. Checking against the blueprints, we recreate the insides of a ship in these places—with decks, bulkheads, and other construction elements. Every ship model has three faults.
Ship faults on a model
A ship fault: close-up
Just like any 3D model in games, our ships have the so-called LODs—simplified models with lesser levels of detail, shown when the ship is at a long distance from the game camera. In addition to the main model, every ship in World of Warships has four LODs. The creation of those is the final stage of 3D modeling.
The four LODs: an example
Our full production pipeline is shown in a timelapse video of modeling the British battleship Hood.
3D ship models should always be authentic, closely resembling their real-life counterparts. To be able, Every artist in my department take a special course, where they learn to reproduce the hull and equipment of a real ship in a 3D model. They study nautical terms, shipbuilding and naval history of World War II and pass an exam at the end of the course.
At one point, we used special software to build high-poly models from photos of museum warships. Photogrammetry works when we can shoot the ships—and their equipment—at different angles with good lighting. In this case, we can produce quality 3D models. However, this method has its limitations that prevent us from using it all the time:
Warships are too large for a photograph—or even a series of photographs—to successfully transmit every little detail.
The number of warships that have survived to the present day and can be ‘scanned’ by us, is extremely low. And the archive photos of those that haven’t just won’t do: the quality is too low.
To be honest, you don’t always clearly perceive the scale of a ship while working on its model. That’s why we often have to add the sailor model to the scene—to check the sizes of objects like doors and portholes, and to place spotting scopes and binoculars, which should always be set at the height of a human head. Our sailor model is an indispensable working tool. That’s why we’d created it before we did ships.
The sailor model, used to verify the sizes of different objects
The question of scale is also important when defining the object’s polygon count. Elements that are small (relative to the size of the ship) can be given a simplified shape, larger ones get more detail.
Models are checked and verified by the Art QA Department. These are nautical engineers and naval veterans who double-check that models are historically accurate, geometry and textures are correct, and their overall quality meets the set standards. You will never spot guns floating in the air, or stretched textures, on our warships. Declaring that you make the most accurate 3D models in the world obliges you to impose strict quality control.
Procedural and Modular Building of Assets
Here’s an example. When our artist looks for information on a certain ship’s part or system, they follow a particular process. First they check whether there’s anything relevant in archive photos. If there’s nothing, they turn to blueprints. If they draw a blank there, they look for scale replicas. And so forth; the artist will check every tiny drawing or sketch of the ship for information they need. This sequence (archive photos—blueprints and schematics—scale replicas—drawings and sketches) is what ensures the authenticity of our models.
My example is but one of the many nuances of our working process. Still, it shows the degree to which the artist is involved in the production of the 3D model of the ship they recreate.
I doubt it could be done without artists. To retain the high quality of our models, we have to keep them “handmade”.
First of all, you should really like the setting you want to work in. I have been a ship aficionado since I was a little kid. It all began when I first saw the “Titanic” movie. I was completely enthralled—not by Rose and Jack’s story (I was seven)—but by the ship itself. It was so colossal and magnificent that, almost 20 years later, I am still very much into Titanic—alongside other 20th century transatlantic liners. That is why I love my job. And I am sure that almost every artist at Wargaming would tell you a similar ‘love story’. So—if you like Wargaming’s settings and you are fit for hard (but captivatingly interesting) work—then go for it!