Working on a Small Animated Diorama in Blender

Working on a Small Animated Diorama in Blender

Matteo Maravalle talked about his little stylized scene TheBench made with Blender and Substance tools.

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Introduction

My name is Matteo Maravalle, I am a 3D artist specializing in game assets creation. I studied computer science at a technical school where I learned programming. Moreover, I self-studied 3D modeling: I watched videos, courses and I practiced a lot. After my studies, I worked as a CGI Specialist for a company that used to do AR/VR. Today, I am a part of a newborn team named VOXEL. We help many companies with graphics and development and we also take 3D commissions. In addition, we intend to publish our first non-commissioned game.

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TheBench: How the Scene Started

The scene was born after we took part in the Quarantine Jam where our team made a mini-game "theBench". Some days ago, I decided to improve the props I had made for the Jam. I aimed to make a mini-diorama for the now archived project.

Modeling and Texturing Workflows

To make this stylized scene, I let my personal style guide me. Everything was made relying on game-ready art techniques. Prop modeling was done in Blender (Low-Poly and High-Poly for the bake in Substance Painter). Leaves and grass are essentially planar models defined by an alpha texture. The electric cables were made with curve bezier; they were transformed into mesh and textured with a trim made in Substance.

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As regards texturing, I made stylized procedural materials (wood, iron, painted iron, grass, leaves...) in Substance Designer. Then I adapted them to single props in Substance Painter after the bake with the High-Poly. Some textures that needed a proper alpha channel, such as leaves, grass, feathers, and sparks, were fixed using Affinity Photo after they were made in Substance Designer.

I think that texturing is one of the most complex and important parts of a project. I saved some personal presets that I often re-use in my works in order to keep my style coherent. One example is the "ToonDirt", a Smart Material I made; some of its features are a general noise to give a consumption effect and reinforced Ambient Occlusion to give the props some depth. Another example is the "ToonDamageBrush", a procedural brush made with Substance Designer that allows me to randomly generate some stylized imperfections.

Animation

The pigeons were rigged and animated directly in Blender. The flags movement is made by texture simulation in Blender too. Leaves and grass got a wind effect with the help of the "Wave" modifier, by leaving a group of preselected corners fixed at the base. The swaying electric cables were made by two morph target animated by keyframes. The sparks on the electric cables are made by a lightly-curved plane with an alpha texture.

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Renders

I used EEVEE and node compositing in Blender. I positioned a few area lights in order to highlight some details. Animated foliage was placed out of the frame in order to project shadows onto the bench. As for GI, there is an environment that is a little blurry in order to avoid shiny reflections.

Afterword

The main challenge for me was to make animation loops not too sharp. I deeply love stylized art and this work helped me improve my style and define it.

As I mentioned in the introduction, our studio intends to create and publish an indie title (not connected with this scene). Nowadays, it is not easy to establish oneself as a video game developer. But we believe that a product can be successful if it has excellent gameplay, an original style, a thorough focus on details, and a good marketing campaign.

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Matteo Maravalle, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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