Ohle Mathiebe shared a few tips for weapon and hard-surface artists and talked about such stages as pre-production, modeling, UVing, and texturing.
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Hi, I'm Ohle Mathiebe, a German hard-surface artist specializing in weapons. I have worked on a number of high profile titles including Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and a few other games I can't talk about at the moment.
I have always had a passion for hard-surface modeling and my first professional experience in it was for an indie game called Cold Comfort. During this project, I realized I wanted to specialize in weapons and invested as much of my personal time as possible to improve my skills. It was after that I was hired by elite3d, a world-class company that allowed me to work not only on great projects but also with great people. The opportunity they provided me with pushed my knowledge in developing AAA-quality assets for some of the most popular game franchises.
Art by Ohle Mathiebe
Hard-Surface Modeling: What's Important?
The first most important aspect of my work is strong modeling skills, including understanding how the simplest shapes such as proper bevel sizes can have a large impact on my materials. Many artists (myself included) while studying 3D early on make the common mistake of working with very rough bevels. This means that you end up with a non-uniform flow to your curve that looks very unnatural and can even affect your bake. Guns are manufactured and do not have these issues, every bevel and edge should be considered. Another issue I often see is not having enough support loops when working with subdivisions, this ends in long gradients when working with edges and curves.
The second most important thing is texturing because this is what breathes life into your model and allows it to tell a story. This is how you reflect how the gun was used and where, by adding small details such as fingerprints, oil smudges, and the wear which reflects how the gun was maintained.
Instead of the usual workflow, I chose to show you some tips and tricks.
Side Views & Blockout
Sometimes it is hard to find good side views of the asset you want to model (a problem I had when doing my Cyberpunk 2077 fanart). What you can do is getting images that have a perspective and bring them in a flat side view with Photoshop.
I like to create my blockouts more fleshed out to have a nicer overview of proportions and to see if I like the overall look of it.
The high poly stage is always one of the most enjoyable for me!
In the high poly stage, it's always good to keep in mind the low poly already (what surface details you will bake, etc.) If you bake an area with geometry like a hole or another surface detail on a flat area, this detail shouldn't be too deep so it still bakes nice. Also, angle the inside of the hole a little bit so it looks better the further you go away from the model because it catches more light (the same goes for bolts. You can give the edge a nice chamfer to catch more light).
Speaking of UVs and typical problems beginner do, I see that often people don't cut UVs at 90° angles. That results in bad baking.
On some occasions like in the following examples, I just angle the faces a little bit to have less than 90° so I don't need to cut UVs and have one big UV island. In general, I try to keep UV islands together and split only where I really need it. That's because some engines will double your vert. count along the UV seams, plus it helps when texturing UVs coherently instead of many small islands that face different directions.
When texturing, the most important part is to get the base material nailed before you continue with anything else.
Giving different parts with the same material different hue values can help a lot in breaking the monotony as you can see in the albedo of my H9. I went even further and made the back area where you would place your hand a lot darker. This can communicate the idea that the user of that gun most likely held the pistol with dirty hands. That way we have a way nicer color variation and a reason why the slider is slightly lighter in color.
A nice detail I probably love the most is adding lubricating oil in some areas as I did here:
Something I really like to do for the wear effect is using a weapon coat that has an undercoat so you can have those double-layered wearing effects.
I also like to add contrasting colors on small parts as I did on some of my guns.