Tomek Cygan talked about his approach to the Wolfenstein fan art project made in 3ds Max and Substance Painter.
Hi, my name is Tomek Cygan, I'm a Senior 3D Generalist with 7 years of experience, living in Warsaw, Poland. I graduated from the Warsaw School of Computer Science where I specialized in 3D graphics. It was love at first sight.
I did my first personal project to learn 3ds Max and that's how I got my first job in post-production at Chimney, Warsaw. I worked there on the commercials for companies such as Nescafe, Samsung, Hyundai, and many others. Then I had the opportunity to learn a lot about human anatomy while working for the Irish company 3D4Medical, helping create medical animation for their app – Complete Anatomy. Next, I had a chance to experience how it’s like to work on game cinematic for Ubisoft while working for Platige Image studio. Currently, I'm working on AR/VR games at Immersion where among the other things I had the pleasure to create a project for NASA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. On that project, I was responsible for the models that were a part of this amazing expedition.
What Inspires You?
I'm not going to be very original saying that weapons are a cool subject and so are vehicles, ships, and ... rockets. I would have a hard time picking out my favorite type. But that's what is great in 3D: the freedom of creation. I often have the opportunity to create weapons at work. As for the inspiration part, every time I see a great work on Artstation I’m thinking “wow, I wish I could do that too” and that motivates me to create something as well.
Wolfenstein Fanart Project: How It Started
The answer is simple: I haven't done a gun for myself for a long time plus I needed some project to de-stress. I have my favorite gun concept artists and I decided to choose a rare reference from his portfolio. In fact, I had one concept and screenshots of that model someone made in Autocad. As in all of my personal projects, I took it as a great opportunity to improve my skills.
My main modeling software is 3ds Max. I do not use any extra external plugins. When it comes to individual parts, I always try to plan a step ahead so later in the process I don't have to waste my time on so many corrections. To speed up the work I often use various modifiers such as Quad Chamfer, Turn to Poly, Symmetry, or ProBoolean to name a few. At the beginning, I also check where I can use a normal map or where something has to be modeled as a geometry. I also check for parts that can be copied so I do not waste space on UVs. When modeling a hard surface it’s important to handle smooth groups properly. I'm making sure those are always spot on therefore I'm not having issues with unwrapping UVs or baking maps in Painter later on.
For the UVs I'm also using 3ds Max only. Previously, I used external tools, but now I do everything inside Max to keep it simple. The weapon has about 15-20k of tris, not really a low poly, but that wasn't my goal either as the project was just for fun. If I made a weapon for a VR game, I would probably pay more attention to polycount. That being said, today's hardware is more forgiving in that aspect anyway.
As for the technical part of UV unwrapping, as I mentioned before, smooth groups are very important. The first unwrap is based on them and later I do manual corrections where needed. With the shotgun, to improve quality I used UDIMs since Painter finally supports painting across multiple tiles (at last!).
Texturing and rendering are my two favorite parts of the whole process. At first, I was looking for a gun metal reference. Then I looked through materials that I had already made and checked what I could use as a base. The rest of the process is just adding more layers, generators, and filters until the first version of the material is finally created. At this point, I stop working and get back to it with a fresh eye/mind, it's easier to notice any errors that way. The biggest problem I had was with the green metal. Because there is a lot of it, it had to look attractive, and not boring. When building the material, I often change channels, checking what is happening in Base Color, for example, – it helps create better maps in the end.
I really like Marmoset Toolbag because I can see the end result quickly. For the shotgun, I didn't use any special lighting tricks. First, I tried to find the right look by setting the first light. Then, I added other lights to bring out details on the edges if those were needed. I like to have all renders done with a similar lighting rig so that everything stays consistent. A common problem I sometimes struggle with is the desire to show all the details that I worked on so hard. This can result in flat renders, of course. For me, light is equally important in the entire process.
In this project, the biggest challenge for me came when looking for the references and creating textures. References were just hard to find. As for the textures, I needed a lot of willpower not to say stop too fast and make interesting materials. For me, each new weapon is an opportunity to raise the bar. The most important thing is not to give up too soon!