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Video Game 3D Hero Prop & Real-Time Environment Showcase

Video Game 3D Hero Prop & Real-Time Environment Showcase

Guillermo Rodríguez Benavides
by GuillermoRB on 1 Jun 2022 for Rookie Awards 2022

Hello there! My name is Guillermo, I'm a 3D Environment & Prop Artist from Spain, and I would like to show you the two art projects I made as part of my Advanced Master's degree in Modeling and Texturing of Environments & Props for AAA Video Games during my stay in Voxel School!

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Canon A1: Game Ready Hero Prop

The first project I would like to talk about would be my game ready Canon A1 35 mm film camera!

Canon A1: Final Artwork Renders

This has been a really challenging but also very rewarding project. I was eager to work on a hard-surface modeling project, and the single-lens reflex beauty that is the Canon A1 offered me a very teasing opportunity!

Canon A1 Process: Understanding the mechanisms

The first step and my main concern during the early stages of this project was making sure I got a solid understanding of the inner mechanisms and parts of the Canon A1. To ensure this, I conducted a thorough investigation of this Canon model, consulting the original product manual, studying video showcases of the device and, of course, recompiling as many pictures as possible of the camera.

Canon A1: Moodboard

Canon A1 Process: Blocking & Base Modeling

After compiling all my references, I proceeded to block out the model. My concern in this stage was not only to get the proportions and the feel of the camera right, but to ensure that every single piece, big or small, worked and fit with each other precisely and with mechanical logic.
Canon A1: Model Block Out

From here, it was a matter of fine-tuning and adjusting the model in its rough block-out stage to get a base model more akin to the final asset. Since the camera has some intricate curves and surface transitions, I decided to work with splines and an uncollapsed modifier stack to get smooth curves and be able to adjust them at will.

Canon A1: Early Base Model

Canon A1 Process: High Poly modeling

After getting my base model up and running, I proceeded to work upon it to get the high poly model. To achieve this, I recurred to two techniques: subdivision modeling and edge smoothing via ZBrush workflow.

I utilized the first technique for the majority of the pieces, making sure I had only the essential geometry to ensure smooth curves and avoid mistakes like pinching.

The second technique was especially useful for small gear-like pieces; since using subdivision modeling on them was proving to be mostly ineffective, I ended up making these high poly pieces in ZBrush by creasing the hard edges of these models, preventing their loss when applying subdivision levels, then converting the parts to dynamesh models and finally polishing the crisp edges.

Canon A1: High Poly Model

In the topic of the making of this high poly model, I believe it is noteworthy to mention the importance of working smarter rather than harder. Almost every ring in the camera lens is essentially one sample of its pattern, instantiated in an array fashion and then bent 360 degrees to achieve de cylindrical piece.

Canon A1 Process: Mid Poly modeling

After finishing the high poly model, I begin working on the mid poly. My intention was to make the most out of the least possible geometry without going too low and risking losing detail, especially in places like edges and curves, where baking might be an issue without enough geometry.

Canon A1: Mid Poly Model (41.664 Tris)

Canon A1 Process: Unwrapping and UVs

Once the mid poly model was done, I then proceeded to assign smoothing groups based on where I intended to make a seam cut, assuring that both the UV island and the smoothing groups matched each other.

As a general rule, I assigned a new smoothing group once a 45-degree turn occurred, but I also referred to other factors and conditions, like making sure that UV islands weren't too large or too tense, as well as splitting chamfered edges down the middle.

After making all the seam cuts, I straightened every possible UV island edge, as long as it didn't result in texture deformation, for a more efficient texture packing.

I then packed all UVs in three different texture sets, one for the large parts of the camera, another one for the small parts and a final one for the lenses.

Canon A1: UV Sets (From left to right: large pieces, small parts and lense rings)

Canon A1 Process: Bake

With my models finished and my UVs ready, I made sure everything was named correctly and set up a baking project in Marmoset Toolbag. Fortunately, the baking process went smooth since geometry translated well from high to mid poly, and both UVs and smoothing groups were made and assigned efficiently.

Canon A1: Default Mid Poly vs Baked Mid Poly comparison

Canon A1 Process: Texturing

Canon A1: Diffuse Textures (From left to right: large pieces, small parts and lense rings)

With the final mid poly model ready and the bake setted in, I went and started texturing. My philosophy approaching this near ending stage of the process was to get across the feeling of an old and dusty but almost pristine looking device, time has taken its toll on the camera, but it's have been handled carefully for almost over 50 years. To achieve this look, I first textured the model as it was factory new, then I started adding layers upon layers of small imperfections and wear. I added details like small surface and edge scratches, dust prints, light inflicted decoloration or yellowing and many other, anything that could enrich the texturing and give it a more realistic look.

Canon A1: Clean vs Final texture comparison

Canon A1 Process: Rendering

The model is finished, and the only thing left to do is rendering! I began the process by using a mostly flat and natural HDRI as my bases for lighting up the scene; then, it was a matter of adding additional lights to soften down the shadows or highlight silhouettes and surfaces. Each camera shot has its own custom-made lighting scheme, making it a total of 13 unique setups with an average of 16 lights per set.

Canon A1: Flat Lighting vs Final Lighting

Canon A1: Final Showcase

Canon A1: Showcase comparison (From left to right: high poly model, baked mid poly model and final textured model)

Spakenburg Shipyard

The second and last project I would like to talk to you about is my Unreal Engine 4 real-time 3D environment, Spakenburg Shipyard!

Spakenburg Shipyard: Final Scene Renders

This has been an extremely challenging and demanding but super fun project to work with! Up until this point, my work was pretty much focused on night scenes and/or very colorful neon-like environments, generally mixing mild stylization with realism. This time, I wanted to challenge myself and make a purely realistic daytime exterior scene based on a real-life location with some touches and interpretations of my own.

I was certain I wanted to make a maritime-themed scene, so I searched for harbors, fishing villages and anything related, but nothing really caught my attention until I found the Botterwerf graving dock, an old but sturdy and still very active shipyard located in the Dutch village of Spakenburg with a long history which dates as far back as 1750.

I’ve taken the creative liberty of furthering the already massive location by adding a local food market and a small park with its very own commemorative fisherman statue.

Botterwerf graving dock: Picture taken by photographer Luc de Schepper.

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: Documentation, the first step of the journey

As I always do when taking on a new project, I started by studying the history of the location, learning any and all detail that might come in handy later down the line, recompiling as many pictures as possible and maybe the most important and yet simple action imaginable, looking, observing, been able to truly know the location, even if you have all the reference in the world, you need to familiarize yourself with the subject you want to portray.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Moodboard

The way I went about compiling images was by dividing the location into zones, taking each building as a landmark and including its surrounded area. In layman's terms, I started big, searching for the location as a whole, then I went smaller and smaller little by little, first smaller areas, then architectonical features and finally fine details like textures or objects.

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: Gray Boxing, getting things looking right

Once I felt I was knowledgeable enough of the location and backed by enough reference, I started blocking out the scene with very basic geometry and the help of both public and self-made placeholder models.

Looking back at it now, this might have very well been the phase with the most back and forth and fine-tuning of the whole project. I was engrossed in getting the perfect proportions and the most compelling composition possible, something I didn't really pay much attention to in previous environment projects, where my focus was on making all the assets and then putting together a scene with them. This time, things were different; my main concern and compromise were with the shots, everything needed to work by, and for the camera, they couldn't be separate entities.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Gray Boxing

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: The Asset List, racing against the clock

Once my gray boxing was set and done, I was exhilarated and eager to begin modeling and texturing to truly bring the scene to life, there was only one more thing left to do before getting to work, making an asset list, and since I had over 70 models to make (62 after some deliberation), time wasn't on my side, so if I wanted to finish the project, I needed to track down what exactly need to be done each week, without delays or mistakes.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Asset List

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: The Architecture

Once the list was finished, I started by modeling and texturing all the major architectural elements of the scene, those being mainly buildings, floors, ramps and the like.

Due to their scale, this first model was tiled on its own UVs, rather than during the texturing process to guarantee the highest fidelity texture quality possible. In other words, each of these assets' textures expands across multiple texture sets, which meant that I couldn't possibly texture them in a traditional fashion, but more about this later.

The textures used in these architectural assets are modified versions of Quixel Megascans materials since I was very particular about my color palette, not only tone-wise but regarding values as well. I tweaked every possible aspect of these materials until I was satisfied with them, both on their own and as a whole.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Early architecture

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: Vertex Painting and Decals, adding detail then and there

As I mentioned before, the architectural models UVs expanded across various texture sets, which would prevent me from recurring to traditional texturing workflows in software tools like Substance Painter. This was, of course, intentional, as my plan was to set up a vertex painting system within Unreal Engine 4 to texture these massive models. Not only would this technique offer me a higher resolution on my models, but it would also mean that I wouldn't need to switch back and forth between the game engine and the texturing software whenever I needed to make some changes; instead, I could simply tweak and look and the result right then and there.

Spakenburg Shipyard: UE4 Vertex Painting System as imparted by Senior Environment & Lighting Artist Gonzalo De Francisco (From left to right: vertex painting master material, base material function and layer blend function)

In order for the vertex painting system to work properly, I needed to have enough geometry in my models, so I tesselated all large assets in my preferred modeling software, with the added option of multiplying said tessellation inside the game engine if needed. Making use of tessellation not only helped me texture in more detail but also allowed me to make use of height maps, giving an additional volume to floors, roof tiles and many other surfaces.

Another thing I did to further enrich the texture work and break repetition was using decals, also originated from Quixel Megascans and modified by hand to better suit the color palette and blend more harmonically in the scene.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Concrete wall before and after adding vertex painting and decals

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: Props and smaller assets, modeling and texturing

Once the vast majority of the larger assets were textured, it was time to start working on the rest of the models, mainly props, making use of the good old-fashioned regular pipeline, with the only other exception being the palm trees, which I made in SpeedTree.

As I had previously divided my models into batches with established deadlines, it was a matter of working as fast and efficiently as possible. I had to face some challenges along the way, like making an enormous fishing boat, one of the only large assets I took on using the traditional pipeline.

It's also noteworthy to mention that I made a minimum of 3 and an average of 5 texture variations for every model, not color swaps but distinctive and unique textures.

Spakenburg Shipyard: A small selection of props (From left to right: Dumpster, Meat Steak and Wooden Crate)

Spakenburg Shipyard Process: The Joyful Fisherman

One of the things I had the most fun with during the making of the environment was creating The Fisherman statue. I wanted to make someone who you could look and feel the soul of the Spakenburg shipyard, an embodiment of an old place with a large history and many stories to tell, someone who's proud and happy of their roots and what they have achieved.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Final Fisherman statue renders

My initial idea for the statue was to sculpt everything but the clothing, which I was planning on making in Marvelous Designer, but I ended up sculpting everything since I felt that the clothing made in Marvelous lacked strength and dramatism.

Spakenburg Shipyard: Fisherman Statue digital sculpture

Spakenburg Shipyard: Final Showcase

Spakenburg Shipyard: The Graving Dock area, process showcase

Spakenburg Shipyard: The Shed Dock area, process showcase

Spakenburg Shipyard: The Local Food Market, process showcase

Spakenburg Shipyard: The Worker's Meeting Place, process showcase

That's All Folks!

I have learned a lot during the last past months, and I have had a lot of fun (admittedly, a healthy amount of stress too, but it greatly pales in comparison to everything else). I'm deeply thankful to all my teachers and classmates for making this amazing experience possible, I can't wait to see what the future has in store, and I hope to meet again all the amazing people I have come across in my journey to become a 3D artist.

And to you, thank you for reading! I hope you have found it interesting, I know it was a long read, but I'm glad you stuck to the end; it means the world to me.

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