Art Spotlight: Fancy Pancakes

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Hey guys, I’m Aender Lara, a 3D artist and indie game developer. Uruguay is my actual world position in this planet and there I work as a UX/UI designer for webs and apps at Codigo del Sur. Before that I traveled for two years with my human companion (and amazing pie maker) around Latin America as Digital Nomads and Freelance workers. Cool things happened during that travel but one of the more amazing ones is when I start learning how to use Unity in the middle of nowhere in a town of Peru. From that day I started working in video games on my own.

Creating video games is my actual life business, but creating low poly models is a passion. I think that my portfolio has a lot of inconsistencies when we talk about themes (Japanese Temple, Public Toilet, Robots and Pancakes) and also they are models that maybe nobody could use in video games. What I love about low poly is that you need to do more with less and that is a great challenge no matter your style. That is my real focus. My themes are usually things I just want to do impulsively, but for some weird reason those days I’m doing a lot of food.

The Recipe

That brings me here. This project started because I wanted to create a fluffy pancake, just… a… fluffy… pancakeeee… and I did this animation and gif, my real goal.

But then I started with the decoration of a pancake tower and I realised it needed a plate and I started working in some tableware for the fruit, too, and some honey. Why not?

Then the real general idea started coming together because I wanted more, I wanted to copy those fancy breakfast table pictures from Pinterest and started to really organize the project and create a list of objects that I would need to complete this project.


The actual process for every object started with a base mesh that actually works as a final low poly mesh. Then I created the high poly mesh based in the first one with Maya and then projected normals and AO maps with with xnormals and created albedo, gloss and metalness with Photoshop.

And I solved some details easily with ZBrush like wrinkles in the tablecloth using the slash3 brush.

Another good solution with ZBrush was the raspberry – this gave me a little headache. I have never made a raspberry before so it was a really little challenging. In the end I created a high poly raspberry with some spheres in Maya, imported it into ZBrush, used Dynamesh to melt everything and used decimation master. I got the perfect low poly mesh on which to project my previous high poly raspberry.


But the real core here was paying attention to the details. I checked a lot of pictures on Pinterest about big breakfast and others about pancakes for the tower decoration.

Also the colors played a very important role in the scene. Selecting the ideal color of the tablecloth to keep the harmony was quite hard. My main idea was to keep warm colors for the food, cold for the table and chair, and intermediate temperatures for the tableware.

All my objects go through xNormals; it is the starting point for my texturing process. I really love to work with 4K textures. My usual workflow includes just AO and normal maps, but sometimes I render height (Displace) to use it like a mask when I work some textures.

I’ll try to organize the objects in groups to use just one material for them.


And all my texture process ends with Photoshop. My usual process includes dividing the different colors into groups with masks and adding to each group a solid color layer with an AO map inverted as mask.


The animation process was never planned obviously, but during the project I did this little test to share the progress and I realized that I should in fact have an animation for the final version.

I do not consider myself an animator just for the actual fact I do not focus on this area very seriously yet. I focus on modeling and texture, but I have knowledge about how to animate in Maya and my animation principles come from the time I learned to work with motion graphics in After Effect. Extrapolating from that, I came up with this result:


For the general render I use Marmoset Toolbag for all my projects. One of the first things I recommend when you try to import scenes with a lot of animated objects is to use the .abc (Alembic) format to export those files. That file type is especially good if you have created a baking animation like snow or a lot of little balls using dynamics. Otherwise you might have a disaster of objects flying everywhere.

Illumination was a key part for the render quality. At this point in the story I started really working with light. Before this the light was just HDR and one directional, but here I used 3 lights to create different moods. Some colors I did not really want to add in textures, and that is why I consider 3 as the essential number to create a great and simple illumination for your projects.

To finish I checked out more pictures of food to study the way the photographer took them because at the end it is the expert doing food pictures. I also remembered a lot about the Netflix show Chef’s Table. At the end of every episode they show the restaurant menu. I really have a fetish to create great shots from my model, even if they are not super detailed and you can easily notice the low poly count over the objects.

One of the real challenges is always having the same experience in my renders in real time. With Sketchfab I’m still surprised by the power of the tool, especially because it’s web-based and I always see it like the final goal, to create a great experience in real time, with awesome performance, always thinking about everybody’s devices. I really love to check models out on my phone and I want to have a great experience there.

Also I want to invite you to my new Youtube Channel. It is still little but growing and getting better. I recently added a new reel of my work – don’t miss it! I’m even gaining confidence in myself to add some voice over. Don’t forget I am also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Artstation and there are some interesting treats on my Patreon too.

Thank you for reading, guys! You are awesome just for reading this line. Don’t stop asking me if you have any questions.

Best wishes.

About the author

Aender Lara

Solo Game Dev, pancake master, 30% beard and digital nomad

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