Hi everyone, my name is Nelson da Cruz and I’m a Portuguese 3D artist living in London, UK. My background is in industrial design and I worked in architectural visualisation until recently when I decided to do a career shift into game art / 3D modelling and environment design. While doing personal projects, I like to experiment and try out new techniques and softwares that push me out of my comfort zone and allow me to grow and improve my skills.
Where the Idea Came From
My inspiration tends to turn into obsession when I see artworks that haunt my dreams until I do something about it. That was the case with Fernando Correia’s “From the slums of 2043”; as soon as I saw it I recognized the influences and loved his style of linework with textured solid colours. I knew this would be a good challenge for me as I tend to paint things with soft brushes and spend some time rendering textures. This project called for none of that. Solid colours and linework is a good change of pace for me.
Turn this concept to 3D, while retaining its mood and style, make it look as 2D as possible, which includes the black outline without a toon shader.
Finding the Right Workflow
I started out in Maya, blocking things out to determine proportions. Since this is a personal project I wasn’t paying attention to poly counts, although I intended to keep a Low Poly look that I feel really matches the concept. To save space in the UV’s I split the model in half and used symmetry to make it whole again. This limited my options when it came to baking lights and shadows, but made the workflow faster and optimal in terms of UV space since I was only using 1 UDIM.
At this point, after looking at other projects online I realised the best way to achieve the black outline was to physically model it (Sketchfab blog has an amazing tutorial by Justin T Philips on this).
In short, I extruded the entire model, separated the new faces, reversed the normals and placed the UV’s on a small area of the map; since they were going to be all black, scale wouldn’t matter. This would work since Sketchfab allows you to pick whether you want to render each face Single or Double Sided, (single sided makes it possible for you to see through the outline model).
On to Painting. I always have a hard time picking 3D-Coat or Substance Painter for these types of projects, but ultimately I find 3D-Coat better to achieve a hand-painted look (personal preference).
The first thing I always do is bake Ambient Occlusion. I will not use this AO, but without it working in Unlit mode can be hard if you just use the wireframe to guide you.
The first real layer is the LineWork. Using a round brush with radius, depth and opacity set to pen pressure I try to follow the shape quickly and loosely, which will improve the hand painted look and make it close to a 2D sketch.
Next comes the Real AO (Hand-painted Ambient Occlusion HPAO for short) and for this I go crazy with a square flat brush erasing the edges where needed with a soft eraser. This layer will be on 50% Multiply.
Now the colours. Picking the pallette from the concept really makes the 3D come to life.
Detailing: this is all the colour details including damage, lights, the display, stickers and tags, and any secondary colour that might have been forgotten. Usually any objects with a gradient or more than one colour get filled in now.
Usually, for hand painted projects I do the highlights on an Overlay layer painted in white. But to keep with the bold look of the concept this needed something different, so square hard brush here we go. I pick the colours straight from the concept and it works really well. Same with the shadows – on a separate layer, I pick the reddish hues of the concept and paint straight on the model, changing the opacity when needed.
Painting is done. I tried not to deviate from concept too much and only changed things that I wanted to add my own touch to. The original concept has the character “young brother” on a yellow triangle; I decided to switch it to “righteousness, friendship” (meaning a relative who has no blood relation) which often appears in Asian gangster movies and I thought it was a cool touch.
The last step is to separate the lights into a black layer so that they can be used as Emissive material on Sketchfab (although I am going to use an Unlit Shader, this helps with the bloom effect). Doing this in Photoshop is the fastest way and 3D-Coat’s ‘sync layer with an external editor’ is perfect for this.
On to Sketchfab
After importing and applying the materials, the first thing I do is set the FoV in the camera, I want to set it really low so it looks as 2D as possible, but lower values were too orthogonal and just looked wrong. I ended up setting a value of 30 that I found optimal for this illusion, set a dark grey background and it is looking close to finished. This is my first time experimenting with Baked Ground shadows inside the Sketchfab editor and I’m in love with how much it makes the model “pop”. Now the only thing left to do is Post process filters: a little bit of grain and sharpness to balance out the bloom, and a very open and soft vignette.
How it Turned Out
I strongly recommend trying this model in AR with the Sketchfab app as it adds a special magic to it, giving the perception of how cool this bike would be on a 1:1 scale. Sketchfab fills up a void in my pipeline as I don’t feel the need to do production renders or spend the time setting lights inside a game engine. Instead, I either take a screenshot of the model editor or use the Sketchfab Lab Screenshot function to get a higher resolution one.
This was a personal project, a work of passion and motivated out of trying new things and exploring personal styles and different workflows. I will continue to move forward with what I learned and do more of projects like this that make me happy and are so simple to do.
Thank you all, especially to the Sketchfab team for providing me with the opportunity to write about this project.