Art Spotlight: Drone

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In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.

Hello my name is Brendon Isaiah Bengtson. I am a Character & Prop artist working in the video game industry. I originally started dabbling in 3D back in 2002 with a program called Lightwave. I was immediately sold. So, I went on and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Modeling and Texturing from Cogswell Polytech in Sunnyvale, CA back in 2007 and have been working in 3D ever since. It is such an amazing time to be in the video game industry, so many amazing artists, access to incredible education, and so many cool tools and software. This is a recent project I completed and have used it to do something else I love doing; teaching and sharing knowledge.

There are MANY different video game asset pipelines. I even have a few different ones. It all depends on the project you are working on at the time. In this particular project I was fortunate enough to be provided with the hi-res 3d concept model from Jerry Perkins. He’s an amazing concept artist and his work is top notch. So I was handed his final 3D model to turn into the in-game prop.

I broke down my pipeline to a few different stages.

Step 1: STUDY (probably the most important)

Akin to research and finding great reference, this step is probably the most crucial in a good flowing pipeline. It is super important to be versed in many different softwares and workflows so you can adapt to the project/model you are handed. The first thing I did when I got the model was to study it. Study every little detail, again, and again, then again. I paid close attention to what the first, second, and third reads were. What makes this model stand out? What are the defining details that makes this thing pop? Were there moving parts I would need to model to? Etc etc.

While studying it’s nooks and crannies I was considering a few important steps, how would I retopo this? How would I set up the UVs for baking? How and what software would I use to bake hi-res to low poly details? What material setup (spec/gloss or metal/rough) would I use? What software would I use in each step?

Step 2: Breakdown and Retopo 

I ended up using MODO Indie10.2, as it is my go to 3D core package at the moment. It has some really awesome modeling and retopo tools. I also chose MODO because I like the UV tools as well so if I could stay in the same software for those two steps that would be ideal. As I was rebuilding the low res version over the hi res I was considering many things but these were the most important; what details would I need to model vs bake into the material, and topology edge loops (making sure I had enough geometry in areas where there needed to be animation and to hold silhouette shapes).

Step 3: UVing

Another crucial step is determining how to setup the UVs for baking and texturing. I needed to make sure I had enough UV space for the small details but also to work within the limits of the final game engine. Also, the number of texture maps and how large they are (1k, 2k, or 4k) will determine what the draw calls of your model are in-game. So, things to consider here are; Is this a hero model? Usually with hero models you are allotted higher poly counts and texture resolutions but with background or secondary characters or props you need to be careful on how many polys or how high your texture resolutions are because it can easily de-stable the game and many other not-so-good things. So, I consulted with the team and was given some guidance on how/where/what it would be in-game. With this in mind I determined the Drone would have two texture sets at 2k (2048×2048 pixels) and as low as possible for poly count. Now, I was able to breakdown which pieces of the model would need more texture space (area within the 0-1 UV space). For instance, I wanted to make sure the logos and letters had enough texture space within the 2k map that you would be able to read them. It’s more important to have those details bigger than, say, pieces you wouldn’t see much or are hidden, etc. UVing is such an important step in determining how well your asset will work in-game. This can make or break it. So pay close attention and plan accordingly. Once the final UVs were laid out, it was time for the next step.

Step 4: Baking (…mmmm pastries)

At the time I was getting ready to bake, Marmoset Toolbag 3 had just been released with a whole new baking workflow. I was eager to try it out so I used that for my baking process. I was happy with the workflow results, to say the least. I was able to divvy my UV texture sets into different groups to bake without having to explode the meshes or stitch separate bakes back together in photoshop. So, I took the bake-ready hi-res mesh (with material IDs setup in ZBrush) and the retopo’d low res mesh from Modo and threw them into Toolbag 3, setup my bake groups and baked out my textures. This is a great opportunity to stop and fix any issues in the low res mesh or UVs in order to get good bakes. Once I was happy with the baked maps I was ready for the next step.

Step 5: Texturing

I usually do all my PBR (Physically Based Rendering) texturing in Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter. So, I took the low res model and the baked maps into Painter and got to work. As I didn’t bake down any of the actual textures from the original concept model I paid close attention the the materials in the original renders I was provided. I just worked to produce similar textures in Painter. I will usually start with the base textures i.e. is this metal or plastic? What color? Then once I have those set and looking right, then I will start adding wear/tear, and dust/dirt. Once I’m happy with the final look and feel of the textures it’s time for the final step.

Step 6: Rendering and Presentation

Now that I’m happy with the final textures, it’s time to export them out and start assembling the final model for presentation. It is important to know what the final engine the asset will be rendered in. Find out from the team. Sometimes it will be either Unreal Engine, or Unity, or other 3rd party render engine, or even the studio’s proprietary engine. If it is a 3rd party engine, in this case UE4, I will make sure to test it there too. But, first I will use both Marmoset Toolbag 3 and Sketchfab. Mainly because it’s super easy and gives great results quickly. It’s almost like testing a web page in different web browsers. It will help you determine errors or things that you may want to tweak for final output. Remember, that’s what all this work is about. It’s ALL ABOUT the final output. Take the time to test it in as many plausible platforms as you have time for. I wanted to pay close attention to my lighting because I wanted to use the lights to help explain what materials were on the Drone. If I have lights in the right places then it will help sell the materials and produce a nice presentation. Sketchfab is awesome for setting this stuff up very quickly and efficiently, and the results are outstanding.

All of your work always cumulates down to the final presentation. It is so important to have great final pieces, be it images, movies, or interactive viewers like Sketchfab. It will make or break your project if you don’t get it right. You can spend years on a project and if the final presentation isn’t nailed, then it can all be for naught. For a 3D artist it really helps to showcase when you can hand the 3D model to your viewer and they can turn it and look at it from all angles. That’s where Sketchfab comes in. It’s such a great tool for 3D artists. It gives the viewer an opportunity to see the work as the artist intended, and with the addition of PBR rendering it has become near essential to a 3D portfolio. I also really enjoy the quality of the renderer on mobile. It’s so cool to pull up a model on your phone and twirl it around. Great job Sketchfab! Thanks for making this awesome tool for us!

Check out more of my work here:

WebsiteArtstationEmailFacebook Art Page, and Twitter

Thanks, Brendon! Does Brendon’s process help? Post any favorite drone models or questions below! 

About the author

Seori Sachs

Community Person!

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