Łukasz Piowczyk shared his process of creating stunning Winchester 1866 gun with Blender, Substance Painter and Toolbag.
Hi, my name is Łukasz Piowczyk and I’m a 20 years old self-taught 3D Artist from Chorzów, Poland. I’m currently taking a Game Artist 360 course at GAI. I haven’t got any opportunity to work on professional projects so far, but I’m open for a full-time job.
I don’t have any art background and my 3D art journey started just 1 year ago, a while after I finished my final exams. I was messing around and cleaning my computer with non-used programs when I discovered the program called Blender. I had no idea why it was there and what it was. Then I heard from my brother, that he needed it for something. I didn’t delete it and started playing around instead. I was like a kid with a new toy. The process of creating something out of nothing totally absorbed me. I’ve spent whole my life with games and I haven’t realized that creating art for them is so fun. I’m really glad I can talk a little bit about myself and my work on 80.lv!
Winchester 1866 Project
Everything starts with an idea. My goal was to model animation and game ready gun with an unusual shape. First, I rejected the most popular weapons – AK-47, M4A4, Glock etc. – there are dozens of them on ArtStation. I also wanted it to be made not only of steel but other material as well, and have some engraving, so I could go deeper into Substance Painter and alpha maps. I did a research and found Winchester 1866 special edition to celebrate its 150th Anniversary. I fell in love with its shape and engraving. Although similar guns became more popular thanks to Wild West challenge and Hunt: Showdown game, I decided to model it, just in different style. It was a bull’s eye hit. I had a lot of fun creating it and my work was met with a warm reception.
Then it was a standard job – looking for references, how the material is aging, videos to understand animation. Some basic analysis to recognize potential problems. I’m doing deeper analysis while modeling specific areas – this way I don’t waste any time and work more efficiently. I also read about the model itself. Who created it? Why? When? How? What’s the story behind it? After learning about history, you become the part of it. You can feel and imagine the whole story. Then, you just need to apply this everything to 3D model!
My workflow for modeling is not much different from the others. I use both, boolean and subdiv methods in my works. This time I decided to go with subdiv and use some floaters. I started by establishing the scene. It’s very useful to add an FPS camera, so you can see how it would look like in a game from the far beginning. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to get you an idea. I learned it from Michał Kubas, you can check his pro tips here.
Then I start with very simple blockout of the model to check the proportions and understand what parts need more work than the others. At this point, I want it to be recognizable, but without unnecessary details. It is also really low poly. This way, the model doesn’t look like a mess and is more pleasant to work with.
When it comes to high-poly, I usually start to work with some colors. It is really great to visualize, feel and separate materials. But the magic of high-poly comes from Blender’s modifiers. 2 modifiers are enough to make 90% of model looks like it should. Except the most obvious (subdivision), for the most part, I also use bevel modifier – this way I have a very clean model and the edge loops are stored in the modifier. I can turn it off and on when I want and change how wide bevels are at any time, completely non-destructively! The great tip for bevels is that you should exaggerate it a bit, it helps with anti-aliasing and helps low-poly version to handle this “cheated” reflections on edges from the far distance.
When I have a problem with some curvatures when creating holes, I help myself with shrinkwrap modifier. I basically have a “base mesh” with perfect curves and so my “work mesh” shrink into the perfect curve. But it’s important to ad vertex group, so the holes won’t shrink as well.
You can also see that the loading gate is on the left side of my model, where it is on the right side of the real model. That’s not a mistake. Side with loading gate is on the side that is not really visible most of the time in FPS. I flipped it to make the model more pleasant to look at for gamers.
Low poly is quite easy and fast. I used my HP model (without modifiers) as a starting point. I’m just adding more polys where needed (especially curvatures, silhouette) and deleting unnecessary ones. Also, the bolts on the receiver have currently a geometry, because this way I could have mirrored UVs for the whole side. (You probably don’t see that there are bolt ends in the normal map on both sides because one is covered with geo, right?) But not every bolt has a geo, the ones that are not really visible with close camera distance, are in the normal map.
The main challenge of the creation of these types of assets is probably to understand and give it an illusion that the gun has a built-in mechanism inside and you can really shoot with this, as probably you don’t want to model the whole mechanism due to the time and polycount.
Hard surface models are also known from some unusual and tricky to do, shapes. For example on this Winchester, on the part of the receiver, where barrel and forend starts, we can see that many things happen there. There’s a soft transition from flat to curve with a hard edge between and on the bottom we have a change in shape. When you look at someone’s work, it always seems to be easy and obvious, but in reality, you will meet with a little bit of struggling.
In this project, I decided to go with 3x different UVs, so I could test a magic of reprojection to 1x UV later. As I’m limited to 2k project resolution due to computer specs, higher resolution allowed me also to better visualize how it is going to look like in 1x4k map. The process of texturing is nearly the same for every material. I stack layers (a ton of them) with an order, just like in the real world. Metal/Non-metal –> colors and surface treatment–> aging, dirtiness and similar things.
Understanding what kind of material you deal with is very important. When you understand the science behind the material, you can apply it to textures. Just look at these materials in real life. You can see a lot of variations. Small scratches, big scratches, very visible dirt, rarely visible dirt. They have different colors, different reflections. Why is this scratch here? Why is this specific area more worn? Everything leads to a better understanding of the material and ability to add more story.
In this particular project, I had also to exaggerate some values. As you can see on the attached images, without engraves, deep scratches have too much height value. But with engraving, everything is correct. Also, I use a lot of masks, so the procedural grunge is not everywhere. I could say that around 50% is fully procedural, the rest are masked ones or fully hand painted. By this, I’ve more control over the story.
I’m really glad that engraving came out nice. Although, it wasn’t a hard job. I took my hi-res main references to Photoshop, created a 1024×1024 project and scaled down/up engrave that I wanted. Then I just played with adjustments: Black&White, Levels, Invert, and Brightness. Then I cut out the unnecessary pieces, so I had my white engrave on a black background. I blurred out the layer to avoid jagged lines in SP. For some parts, I had to use a deformation to make it more flat and straight. And that’s all! I used these alphas as a stencil on the fill layer in Substance Painter and so I could adjust height or colors anytime. The one thing that didn’t work out well is dirt on the engraving. I couldn’t really capture this very subtle dirt between gaps. Anyway, I’m pretty satisfied with the results.
For the wood texture, I started with playing around TL 3D Wood to get the main wood look. The next stage is just stacking the layers in the order I said before – color variation, black fibers, dirt, damages and finger marks. To get a varnished look, I used 2 fill layers with a base color and roughness variation – Multiply and Saturation blending mode for base color and both have Multiply blending mode for roughness. I also always work a lot with single channel map, especially base color and roughness. It helps me to visualize how textures could look like in different lighting.
It’s all about analyzing references. High-quality images are really helpful for understanding how scratches or bumps work here. Again, my workflow was exactly the same as for wood and brass, so let’s talk some more about colors. Look closer, what can you see? It’s not only gray and blue values. There’s a lot of brownish and some of the low value of purple or green. Color variation can really help it come out to life. Steel is not really monochromatic (or not every steel), just take some photos to Photoshop and check with the eyedropper tool. But there was a little problem with the barrel. It’s very long and procedural grunge looks too repetitive. So this being said, 90% of it is hand-painting and masking. Another challenge for me was to find a balance between steel (the one on hammer and finger lever) with the rest materials. I still think that it lacks something that I can’t name. Steel material always feels easy at the first glance, but in reality, it’s not really that easy to find a great balance.
Working in Toolbag
To be honest, lighting is my weakest point and I spend a lot of time on it. I know that light can really make a model or destroy it, so I did my best to make it look cool.
I have my Toolbag scene well organized in folders. I always use a different set of lights for different cameras. They all are unique and need a unique approach. First of all, I’m looking for a nice HDRI map that could support the lights (no, HDRI is not 100% of lighting). HDRI map gives a life and variation to reflections, making them look more realistic. Then I experiment with different angles to find a nice composition to “force” people to look at what I want to show them. It’s very important to show the most interesting details you have done in textures.
When it comes to lighting, I turn off HDRI map and slowly add necessary lights. I split it into passes: 1st pass – rim light, 2nd pass – secondary lights for showing up some reflections, 3rd pass – some additional lights when needed to show up the thing that I want. Very similar to the three-point lighting. In the end, I’m slowly cranking up the brightness of HDRI to the level I want.
For the post process, my starting point is “BW High Contrast” preset. I used neither a bloom nor chromatic aberration here, I rarely use them. DOF is really handy to focus on a particular place. I also keep the grain option low, so the renders are not that noisy. It was hard to keep all those details in 1x4k map, so I helped myself with 3x2k maps for some renders (for a game it would probably be overkill). Anyway, I’m pretty satisfied with the results and ready to improve more.
I hope it was helpful. Thanks to 80.lv for the interview and all of you for reading it! If you have any question, you can contact me via ArtStation or by e-mail (find it on the ArtStation page).
Łukasz Piowczyk, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev