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Evan McClure | Approaching School With Class

Evan McClure | Approaching School With Class

Evan McClure
by evanrmcclure on 23 May 2024 for Rookie Awards 2024

A recap of my favorite works from my first year at Gnomon and a reflection on my mindset as I find my identity as an artist.

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In May of 2023, my first term at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, I had just pulled an all nighter to finish my Intro to Maya midterm project. I sat in our Overview of VFX class the next day downright delirious, fighting to hold my eyelids open. Behind me some other students quietly discussed how they had used AI to write the short essay due for class that day. “No,” I commented to my friends next to me, “why go through all the effort to be here if you’re not going to do the work?” There was long pause as my brain struggled to load into RAM what I was going to say next, but what emerged through my delirium might be one of the most profound things I’ve ever said:

“You have to approach school with class.”

This unintentional pun has become my driving mantra for the past year. The central tenant— supported by the double meaning of ‘class’— is integrity. It’s showing up and putting your work up for review every class, even if you're behind and you’re not proud of it yet. It’s engaging and communicating with your teachers, both as mentors and as friends. It’s taking a break from your own work to support a peer on their project, and being part of the community. It's staying grounded and not letting failure rattle you. It’s sitting on the front lines of what you don’t know, exploring new frontiers for your knowledge, pushing yourself. And, most importantly, it’s putting in effort, no matter how small the task.

I’m excited to share with you some of the works I have made, fueled by the fire of this mindset in my first year at Gnomon:

Project 1: Mechanical Hand

My original plan for my Texturing and Shading 2 class project was an entire sci-fi garage with a workbench in the corner, on which sat an entire toolset and laser CNC, which would be actively fabricating a mechanical hand. I was both somewhat surprised and relieved when Tran Ma, the instructor of the course, suggested I scope way down and do... just the hand?

I wasn't certain at first that it would be enough of a project for an entire ten weeks, I thought at least a scene around it would be required to make it interesting, but was quickly humbled once I started on it. Narrowing all my focus on this single hand and forearm allowed me to see just how deep into detail I could get. 

Wireframe | Gray | Raw render | Composite
Concept by Shane Dering

From the first block out this project was designed with motion in mind. I knew it would be cool as a still image, but amazing if I could get it to move. I deeply considered each joint's axes of motion (and the forces needed to push and pull them along those axes) as I refined the model.

The modeling of this piece is exemplary of the smoke in mirrors of digital 3D. If you were to 3D print or manufacture it, it would immediately fall apart, as most of it is just geometry floating in space (some of which moves in neat ways, more on that below). Tran referred to this as 'the art of mechanical B-S.' I paid attention where it mattered— visible connection points, areas of complexity and areas of rest, avoided clipping, and prioritized what felt cool and satisfying.

I really enjoyed studying the anatomy of the hand and incorporating that into my design decisions. I love how the wires give it a vascular feel branching from the wrist. I also attached the plates of the pads of the palm to the mechanics after observing how they fold in when closing my own hand. The mechanics inside the palm are intended to mimic the expansion and contraction of interior hand muscles as the fingers pull in and out.

When I was working on compositing I was grateful to have a review meeting with Miguel Ortega, and he was quick to inform me that I was insane for rendering this piece at native 4K. It makes sense that no one will ever get that close to a screen to see that detail, which has been very useful wisdom in my subsequent work. However, I stuck to my guns in this case because the story of this piece is in those details: the mold lines from the casting of the plastic, the text on the wires, the microscratching, the subtle SSS of the plastic. Details that would get lost if rendering lower and upresing in comp.

As a quick-impression, 3D-on-a-screen piece, I think these details are more felt than they are seen, but I see it working well one day as a large print that people spend more time with and discover those details.

Figuring out how to pose a single hand to look aesthetically pleasing as the only subject of the piece was a daunting task at the beginning. It stayed more of a backburner item until close to the end of the project. I already had the goal of making it for animation, so I modeled it in a bind pose and rigged it, which allowed me to play with it like an action figure to find the final composition.

It's not rigged for production— it's mainly groups with the right pivots with geo directly parented inside, some a la carte joints in those groups that the wires are skinned to, and some blend shapes for the mechanics. To stay organized and animate efficiently, I set up the groups into a janky control picker in the node editor. This was enough for what I needed on this project, but sometime I would like to go back and re-rig it with controls and a proper joint setup.

Project 2: Hydroponics

My first time using Unreal Engine, I took Gnomon's Game Creation 1 course as an opportunity to get acquainted with the engine while exploring deeper into environment techniques for games.

Starting out I thought it was going to be one of those projects that lives under the surface, intended for learning and never seeing the light of day. In fact, up to the ninth week of the ten week term I was pretty certain it was turning out terrible, because I spent the majority of the time poking around in Maya trying to wrap my mind around kit workflow and trim sheets. But I stuck to my understanding of what needed to happen— got the assets made, unwrapped them to the trims, and when I finally got it set up in Unreal, I realized I was cooking with gas.

Grayscale | Detail lighting | Lighting | Unlit | Beauty

Concept by Eddie Mendoza

Final submission for class | Final, post-feedback iteration

Critical to the success of this project was the invaluable feedback I received from Gabe Cervantes and technical support from Anton Napierala. I went through a few iterations with Gabe, presenting the work and then applying his feedback. He pushed me to add more depth, material breakup and storytelling to the piece. One of my favorite additions is the footprints traveling across the floor and stopping at the plants that aren't looking as healthy as the others, with a few leaves on the floor. I liked getting into the mind of the person walking through the space and imagining how it happened as I set up what was left behind.

I'm very excited to push those ideas further— depth, material breakup and intentional storytelling— in my future work. I'm also excited to keep seeking out feedback to get those extra inches out of a project.

Huge thanks to Anton and Gabe!

Trims: Wall, Ceiling, Floor, Pipes, Plastics

This was my first time exploring trim workflow, which I ended up using to texture most of the assets.

My favorite kit elements for this environment: Walls, Props, and Floors.

Project 3: The Gunslinger's Gun

I have this pipe dream of a project I want to make in my demo reel at Gnomon next year that has been slow-cooking in my head for about three years now. I attempted to model the character for it, an android called 'The Gunslinger' and his gun at the end of 2022, but after getting professional feedback I knew I needed advance as an artist before being able to execute it at the level I want.

I envision The Gunslinger overlooking an Icelandic landscape, decimated by corporations mining for the tombs of long lost alien relics. He leans on his one-wheeled motorcycle, holding the gun of his namesake, before holstering it and riding headlong into danger.

There's a lot of complex modeling I want to do for this project, so I'm splitting components of it out into my projects for my courses at Gnomon wherever I can. I decided to take on his space-magic gun for my Props and Weapons for Games class taught by Gabe Cervantes.

It's actually three guns: a revolver, an assault rifle, and a sniper that modularly disassembles and reassembles powered by an alien relic. I started with a quest to Artstation to find a concept that I could modify to fit this idea and found this well-rendered piece by Kai Yuan Lou. The construction of the gun was clear, and the cylindrical element was something I could play with as the relic. I took it into Photoshop and manipulated it to concept out what the different forms would look like and started thinking through logistics of the transformation.

Using a similar process to my mechanical hand, I planned the motion as I modeled this piece by placing the geo in animated groups. This allowed me to model with the assembly in mind, making sure the parts fit together logically and that pieces wouldn't clip through each other as the gun shifts forms.

It was very important to me to maintain the essence of each unique form of the gun (i.e. the revolver feels like a revolver), so I paid close attention to the silhouette of each as I went. I was highly inspired by guns from Destiny, Halo and Titanfall, especially the Promethean weapons from Halo 4.

High Poly | Low Poly | Bake w/ texture sets

Being a game oriented class, I also enjoyed refining my understanding of which details need to be represented in the low poly versus which can be saved for the high.

As part of that bigger project, I still consider this a work in progress. I'm excited to take another pass at the texturing based on the feedback I received from Gabe after the class, aiming for better material reads and more details that tell the story of how this gun is used and wear unique to how it transforms. I want to model in more secondary latches and locks to give it a more snappy, transformer-like feel. I'm also excited to rig it for real, so that I have control of how the pieces float up from the character's belt before snapping together. For now, I'm proud of where it's at.

Project 4: Maquette of Cayde-6

This project is a love letter to Destiny, which has been my favorite game for nearly 10 years. When I got the game at launch in 2014, I was enamored by the style, the world, and its unique ability to bring people together. My dream of being a 3D artist started in part by wanting to make armor for the game. It has bridged friends from different eras of my life and raiding with them was one of the few things that remained constant through the turbulence of the pandemic. For Gnomon's Sculpture 1 course I knew I wanted to sculpt a character from Destiny, and there is no character more synonymous with Destiny than Cayde-6.

Sculpture 1 has quite the reputation. They make sure to let you know it has a higher time demand than most other courses in the school (20 hours a week minimum to do a good job, or as my friends and I noted, a whole part-time job), as you meticulously craft a 20-inch maquette devoid of any of the digital luxuries we've grown accustomed to. It was a formidable challenge, but fueled by approaching school with class along with a healthy dose of sheer hype, I took it head on.

Property of Marvel/Disney

The cornerstone of inspiration for this piece came as I sat in the TCL Chinese Theater, watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The Guardians fight their way down a hallway in one of the coolest sequences and most tasteful uses of slow-mo I have ever laid eyes on, soundtracked to 'No Sleep Till Brooklyn' by the Beastie Boys. About two-thirds of the way through Rocket Racoon hits THIS pose. It's the perfect mix of confidence, grim satisfaction, and effortless coolness shared in character by Cayde-6. I woke up the next day still thinking about the pose, and I knew I had to incorporate it into my sculpture.

Blockout | Complete figure | Complete pose | Armor and polish | Getting scanned in The Scan Truck

Shoutout to John Brown, the instructor of the course. He doesn't just teach you how to sculpt, he teaches you what is important to pay attention to as an artist.

Head interior | Eyes and mouth pistons | Plating represented | Plating polished

The head was one of the greatest challenges on the project. With how layered it is, I knew it would be pretty much impossible to touch interior details like the eyes and mouth pistons once I put on the plating. So I went through it from the inside out, starting by following John's human head method and then bushwhacking to make elements unique to Cayde's Exo face. I engineered the heck out of it— putting extra wire support inside the mouth pistons and running around the room like a mad scientist until I found the perfect sized round shape to punch in the shape of the eye indents (it was the side of the screw on a drawing compass).

The only thing not sculpted by hand is the Ace of Spades, Cayde's gun. John recommended 3D printing props as a quick means to getting a prop that is just as high quality as the time we were spending on the figure. I do not own a 3D printer, so huge thanks to Ian Robinson for helping me out.

One of the coolest elements of this project is that I was able to get a professional photogrammetry scan of it courtesy of The Scan Truck. The stars aligned for this opportunity— I volunteered at the ZBrush Summit, which took place at the Gnomon campus during one of the term breaks. They brought in The Scan Truck, inviting people to get photo scans of themselves. But, with my freshly minted sculpture right there, I asked if I could get it scanned too. 

When I received the data I learned how to process it using Substance Sampler and did a little texture clean up in Substance Painter. The gun didn't come in well with the scan, so I cleaned out the bad scan data and replaced it with the 3D model I originally printed the gun with. Sometime I want to go back and clean up the rest of the scan in ZBrush, but I am so excited to be able to show it like this because it allows you (my online viewer) to explore it from every angle.

Looking Forward

With a year left in my program at Gnomon, my identity as an artist is at the forefront of my mind. I know I want to work in games and I definitely see myself somewhere in modeling and texturing. Most of my work so far has been the sci-fi fantasy style from games that inspired me through my teens: Destiny, Halo and Titanfall. For the next year I want to continue to improve in that style, but also push myself outside of my comfort zone, making things inspired by other games I love like Uncharted, God of War and Sunset Overdrive. I'm also curious to find marriages between those styles.

The decision of where I'm targeting specifically within modeling and texturing, and if I want to pursue a consistent style within that, is going to come when I start my demo reel at the beginning of next year. I'm currently really excited about the creativity and resourcefulness required in environment workflow for games, but also have some characters I'd still love to make (like The Gunslinger). One thing I'm certain of is I love making things that move. Whether it's a character, prop or environment, the magic of 3D for me is when it comes alive.

For now, I'm focused on continuing to approach school with class.

Thanks so much for reading! I would love to connect:

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