Art Spotlight: Firewatch Fan Art

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

Hi, my name is Tim Vizesi and I am from Newcastle in Australia. I am currently a student at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE). I also work as a graphic designer for a small company close to my home.

Having a lot of graphic design history, I am appreciative of Flat Colour schemes and I have a strong passion for simple and minimalistic art styles. I love that so much can be said with colour and strong design, and you dont have to go overboard to create something that can totally capture the mood or emotion you are trying to achieve. It is for this reason I have a strong passion for indie game development.

With those things in mind, it was no suprise that when I heard that Olly Moss (one of my all time favourite designers) was doing concept art for the upcoming game Firewatch (currently in development by a studio based in San-Fransisco called Campo Santo), that I immediately jumped onto the web to find images.

The first image I stumbled across, totally blew my mind from the second I saw it.


It was simple, absolutely stunning and gave instantly brought me into that world. I was sold! I wanted to make this in 3D.

Luckily for me, I was able to obtain the separate layers of this image and then with a few changes, fill out the colours to suit my needs.

Now that I had those, I first started by modeling the Tower which is obviously the main focal point of the piece.

I started this project with the intent to create a Fan Art Trailer (see below), so at first I wanted the mountain ranges to be just long enough to cover the panning and zooming of the camera. When I decided to upload a version for Sketchfab, of course things changed. I will show you my process for both, since they tie into each other in the end.

I started by creating some flat planes and used the Extrude edge tool in 3ds Max to drag out the mountains to match the alpha images I had amended in Photoshop. I then coloured them and removed the image plane. I coloured the mountain ranges is by using a diffuse colour (picked from the original image with the eyedropper tool), then I have set the self illumination value to 100. This removes the ability for the material to display shading as it is completely lit by its own colour. This is what people use to create Glow effects and the such, but in my case it would allow that flat colour style I was hoping for (later I will explain how to achieve this with maps once imported into Sketchfab). I knew I was going to model the first five layers of the foreground – then leave the final mountain range and clouds as an image plane.

mountain ranges


showing alphas

It was then time to create the trees that would help pull off the entire feel of the scene.I started with 2 base trees drawn from splines with a lathe modifier applied to make them 3 dimensional. I then cloned and applied a noise modifier to individual trees to get them looking slightly different.

I then produced from the high(ish) poly output of this, some lower poly versions to reduce poly count when used at a distance.

Low / Mid / High Poly Trees, coloured in respect to their associated distances

These tree meshes were then scattered over their associated landscape meshes using a Scatter modifier, with some random rotation (up to 360°) and 20-50% Transform values on the Z Axis of the Mid and High poly meshes only. This allowed for a more unique looking environment, remembering that the silhouettes are all that would matter in this piece.

It was then time for some birds to be placed into the scene (IMO second most important foreground element).

This was achieved very easily using Debris Maker 2 which is a fantastic plug-in for 3ds Max, created by Aaron Dabelow. I use this plug-in all the time for creation of rocks, grass, bricks and twigs. It is a very handy tool. Best of all, it is totally free for use!

I then created a quick character model for the foreground also, very simple using a capsule, some polygon extrusion and some soft selection tweaking to get limbs and features.

At this stage everything that needed to be in the scene was in there. So I began the process of UV Unwrap. This was quite easy as I didnt need to worry too much about overlapping UV sets – since I wasnt sure if
I was going to incorporate some AO into the diffuse or not, I did a semi decent job and I used one single 2048×2048 texture for the entire scene. This was so I could maintain decent Alpha values for the images and keep the background image plane at a reasonable quality.

UV Unwrap Final Diffuse/Emission Map

Modeling and texturing was now completed! So I set up cameras and since everything was self illuminated – there was no real need for a light source. I rendered out some stills and some videos and cut it all together in Adobe Premiere. This was the intended end of this project.


I was browsing through Sketchfab, as I usually do on slow days at work, and I came across a few pieces that inspired me so much. They were by Sketchfab user trzykropek. As soon as I saw how gorgeous these pieces were to view online, I knew I had to get mine up on Sketchfab too. So begins round two of this project.

At this stage, my scene was all set up to be viewed from front on only. As we know the beauty of Sketchfab
is that we can view in 3D, so this would be a problem. I needed to make the scene into more of a diorama form. I knew that the mountains would need to surround the Firewatch Tower, so I simply deleted the trees that had been scattered, duplicated the mountain ranges side by side, stitched them together and used a Bend modifier to bend the landscapes around to form a ring.

I then deleted the faces that would not be seen, and once again scattered the trees onto those meshes.
I duplicated the 2 alpha images I was using in the far background and wrapped them cylindrically around those meshes to form the outer mountain range limits, effectively containing the scene.

The diorama was complete, and ready for export to Sketchfab.

I used the old fashioned method of exporting as OBJ from 3ds Max, as I didn’t need lights to be baked and all of the fancy things that the wonderful exporter does for you. It was to be as simple as possible.

Three Simple Steps!

  1. Export from 3ds Max to OBJ.
  2. Import to Sketchfab.
  3. Load my single 2K texture map.

Sketchfab Settings

Since my scene is self-illuminated, I needed to cancel out the Sketchfab lighting (remember I used self-illumination in 3ds Max). In Sketchfab you can achieve the same result, by using the Shadeless Render option, though I chose to use the Emission Map slot for the ability to “fine tune” a little further. All you need to do is load the same texture map into the slot, set it to 100 and “Viola!” You have a self lit scene. But you need to adjust a few things to get it to look just right.

  • Diffuse – Import Diffuse Texture
  • Specular – Turn Specular off
  • Normal/Bump Map – Turn off Normal/Bump Map since I have no lights in the scene, so normal and bump maps wouldnt work anyway.
  • Light Map – Use a middle grey colour as a lightmap. This is important, as a middle grey colour strips away MOST OF the ability for Sketchfab to light your self illuminated meshes, thus giving it less power to shade the faces.
  • Transparency – uses my single texture as it was exported with transparency using PNG format.
  • Alpha Masking – PNG format has included Alpha channel
  • Emission – Import Diffuse Texture using a 100 value.

With all of that in mind, you get the final output viewable on Sketchfab. As you can see, not too much involved on Sketchfab and really that is a testament to just how user friendly it is. You can achieve a variety of different feels and moods, different styles and looks – just by adjusting a few things.

I really hope that you learnt a little bit from my process. It was not over the top, it was not excessive or overly time consuming – but I think you will agree it turned out quite effective. Just goes to show that with the right tools and a little bit of enthusiasm, you can achieve any look you desire.

Even making a 2D image into a 3D scene that looks just like the 2D image that inspired it. And I think that is kinda cool! Now imagine you could manipulate all of your favourite 2D images in 3D! That would be rad.

Thanks for reading this guys, and happy modeling to you all!


Thanks Tim!

To learn more about Firewatch, please visit See more of Tim’s work on his ArtStation and his Sketchfab portfolio.

About the author


Bart Veldhuizen

Head of Community at Sketchfab. 3D Scanning enthusiast and Blenderhead. Running BlenderNation in my spare time.

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