In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
Hello there! My name is Lucas Sabatka (Discopears), I’m a recent high school graduate and self-taught artist from California with an interest in digital art and game development. My greatest passion is creating convincing and immersive environments, exploring what brings an area to life. I’m currently working with a close friend to launch a small studio where we’ll be working to develop games and explore the new frontier of virtual reality. Additionally, I’m looking to expand myself professionally as an artist.
The following video was a collaboration between myself and my friend Nate Borman (Nutrafin), an awesomely talented animator. I was responsible for all of the environment models and props seen throughout the video as well as a few simple vertex animations. Nate did all of the animation, rendering, and postproduction.
See the Animation
“A True, True Friend” is a fan-made 3D re-creation of a musical segment from the cartoon series My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. Taken from the season 3 finale, main character Twilight Sparkle saves her friends who have had their ‘cutie marks’ swapped; finding themselves fulfilling roles that are not of their own.
The idea was to translate the entire segment from its 2D flash animated style to 3D without losing the original identifiable form.
The character models are based on widely used and modified models within the community, released from user Poninnahka.
Let’s explore the environments!
The small and cozy home of Fluttershy and her critter friends. This interior was my absolute favorite to make because there are so many little details. I had a lot of fun trying to interpret and create all of the small critter passageways that network through the cottage.
The business and home of Rarity, the boutique is a one-stop shop for everything fashion related in Ponyville.
Sweet Apple Acres
The countryside apple farm that is home to Applejack and the rest of the Apple Family.
The small village and centrepiece of the cartoon series. This is where main character Twilight Sparkle met all of her friends that gets the show in motion.
Behind the Scenes
When I first started work on this I didn’t have much an idea of what I was doing. I was unsure of just how many models I would create or how difficult some of them would be. All I had made prior were small sets of models and the occasional rendered scene in Blender. The most important part was the practice and experience of working on a longterm project as well as finishing it.
Before sharing some of what I have learned, I’d first like to talk about the hardest challenge I faced.
Staying Motivated while Homeless
The majority of work was done while homeless with my parents and older brother. Since starting, I’ve become homeless twice and lived in three different cramped motels, all places that offered ‘extended stays’. We became homeless right as I started high school with my computer being the sole belonging I held onto for dear life.
First hotel I stayed at and where I would later start the project, you can see my computer in the far back.
Right before the unfortunate chain of events that lead to this happening I had discovered the joy of modding and creating my own 3D models. Having that hobby from the start helped me escape from the stress and develop my greatest passion.
Like anything though, this always had its low and sometimes really low points. Working in this situation while suffering from depression and juggling school work was very difficult. When dealing with that, the hardest thing to grasp and maintain is motivation. Discovering this passion as well as the rapidly growing fan base for My Little Pony helped motivate me to start work on something new that would interact with and help a community of people. Below are a few generic tips I have for helping push yourself along.
- Purpose. Take a good look at your current project, figure out what you want to do. Develop an idea of what it is you want from the work you’re doing.
- Remind yourself of the purpose, remember what it is you want to achieve from what you’re doing.
- Be strong, but don’t beat yourself up. If something doesn’t go as planned and you catch yourself feeling worthless, take a brief moment to remind yourself of the accomplishments you’ve already made, big or small. Just because one thing sucked, doesn’t discredit what you’ve already done!
- Divide your work into smaller chunks, seriously. Trying to do too much can easily lead to things not going your way and hurting motivation
- If you can, share your work with people! If you make something cool, let others see it! There are a lot of awesome people out there who can appreciate and support the art you make.
- If you’re having trouble getting started, tell yourself you’re going to simply spend 5 or so minutes to get things started. Often you may find yourself going over the five minutes and getting your motivation back.
From 2D to 3D
Above is a quick example of a render in comparison to one of my references. With every model I wanted to accurately capture the 2D style. This meant having an extensive reference archive and studying the animation frame-by-frame. In any project it’s important and helpful to have lots of references handy.
Achieving accuracy by inspecting background elements from the cartoon was quite difficult at times as there are certain things the artists can get away with in 2D. When it comes to depth and spatial area, I would argue very few of the exteriors are large enough to support the very dense interiors shown. Continuity mistakes or lack thereof between shots are another issue; a 2D backdrop makes this less apparent but in 3D it becomes a lot more glaring. This was a challenge while building the models as much as it was for Nate when animating the camera and trying to match the angle and perspective for every scene..
Built as Game Assets
All of the models and textures are built to work in Blender as well as Source Filmmaker, an animation tool created by Valve that uses the Source Engine. This meant that everything needed to be treated as game models being compiled for Source, the same workflow of getting something into Half-life 2 and Team Fortress 2. This added a lot of tedious and repetitive tasks, getting everything compiled correctly before being worked into the animation.
Creating a Process – Modeling
Going in, I didn’t have much of a workflow, I had no idea where to start. Through working and experimenting, I did create a sort of process for making the interiors, buildings, and props.
For the interiors I generally spent some time at the start just getting the basic shapes and layout down for the rooms. Once I had a simple floor and walls laid down I could then go in and further tweak the proportions and add more and more details as I went on. With being as accurate as possible to the show there was a ton of going back and forth between references, trial and error, and interpretations made.
A simple time-lapse of renders as Carousel Boutique, became more complex.
Fluttershy’s Cottage – Kitchen.
The exteriors were a similar process when it came to major structures and buildings. I started by playing around with the basic shape of the walls and roof and then did lots of tweaking. Following that I added the wooden frames on the Ponyville houses and the additional details such as balconies, supports, archways, etc.
The exterior environments were all built in pieces as individual objects. Then they were all brought in and arranged into a scene. An example of this is my Sweet Apple Acres scene below. Since everything was a separate object, once compiled to work in Source Filmmaker, Nate Boreman could arrange the models to his liking that best worked with the animations in place.
Texturing the Models
After having made 353 textures (counting color variants), I can safely say I learned a lot about texture painting and UV unwrapping. I used to go into every project and just create the models with texturing being afterthought, the step afterwards. However, I’ve learned that it’s best to keep that in mind as you create your models so the UV unwrapping doesn’t feel like a brand new challenge every single time. Some of the models became very confusing to unwrap very quickly because of this.
For complicated models, such as the two interiors, I divided the model into logical and proportional sections. This allowed me to give each area my attention without being overwhelmed while unwrapping and painting.
Once unwrapped, I figured out the resolution for each section by estimating how much surface area is shown in the map in comparison to the others to ensure no part was significantly higher res than the other.
With the resolution locked in, I proceeded to bake ambient occlusion and export the UV maps. Having those, I created a simple color pass, did another for fine details, and used the AO to help with shading.
For the Community – All Models Free
All of the models seen in the animation were released for free to the public alongside the video, enabling anyone in the community to build off of my work or use them in their own creations. I kept this in mind while designing everything so that other artists could find them just as useful within other projects.
Below is some the awesome work I’ve seen pop-up so far!
Thanks Sketchfab – You’re Amazing! 🙂
A huge thanks to Sketchfab and its hard working staff for providing such an awesome service and allowing me to share this story.
Being able to expand beyond traditional renders and provide explorable versions has been invaluable in presenting my work. Each of my download pages on DeviantArt have a button that links back here to a corresponding folder. This lets people inspect and preview everything before downloading; also allowing others who simply want to view the art to do so in a creative and more interactive way.
Thanks for your time, I hope you found something here educational or inspirational!
You can reach Lucas at email@example.com.