Art Spotlight: HoloTech Bench

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Hello, my name is Allen Grippin. I’m an old comic book artist who grew up reading X-Men and Spider-Man. I became very adept with a pencil and moved into tattoo art. I have always been attracted to art that is dynamic and in motion, and with my first Wacom and I became addicted to Manga Studio 5.

Several years ago my younger sister pirated Mudbox and left it open on my computer. I woke up and there it was, open on my laptop with the default head in the middle of the grid. I had no idea what it was and formerly had no experience with 3D software at all. I sat down and started playing with it and couldn’t stop. I became obsessed with 3D art in all its forms from that day forward, and haven’t picked up a pencil in quite awhile. I’ve poured a lot of money into my hobby and delved into Maya for several years. From there I explored just about everything. I watched countless tutorials by Digital Tutors, Gnomon Workshop and Lynda, among others.

I love all 3D software and am not biased, though Blender and ZBrush are my tools of choice at this time.

My first steps into PBR texturing were with the Quixel Suite. From there I experimented with Allegorithmic’s node-based system and then Substance Painter. These tools are now essential to my workflow and make the process so much more enjoyable. I love Allegorithmic for making 3D art even more recreational.

With most of my personal art pieces like this, I have no idea what I’m making until halfway through. I just push and pull vertices around until I have the thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if… ?” and go in that direction. This is where really fast tools like Blender and ZBrush shine. An artist can iterate at the speed of thought and backtrack without losing too much time if he doesn’t like where something is going.

In some cases for hard surface stuff, I sculpt a rough idea of what I want right inside Blender using Dyntopo. After concepting, I start with the low-poly model first.

Precise curves for piping and wires are easy to make in Blender by extruding a vertex and making a basic line 2 or 3 points long to the destination. Then I bevel the vertices along the edge into a smooth transition, turn it into a curve, and use Hard Ops to make it into a pipe. The Add Tubing addon is also great when I don’t need so much precision and my main concern is detail.

Once the low-poly is complete, it’s time to UV unwrap the model. Rather than endlessly marking seams, you can grab whole sections of faces and unwrap the model in pieces; then hide the faces and keep going. At the end, unhide everything and pack the islands. In this way, UV unwrapping in Blender usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes.

Rather than spend countless hours pushing around islands to optimize space, I once again rely on Blender’s wonderful arsenal of add-ons; In this case I use ShotPacker:

Admittedly, I could have gone a step further here and hit it with UV Squares.

Once the low-poly is complete, I split it into pieces and batch-name everything with _low (for baking in Substance). Then I duplicate everything and move it to a new layer. I’ve made my own little addon here which automatically looks for _low in a duplicated piece and changes it to _high. I have a ready-made high poly model to work with by grabbing everything and duplicating it.

I use Hard Ops a lot with the high poly version. It auto-captures hard edges before I add a subsurf modifier (a quick-tap with ctrl+2). Usually I don’t need to mess with edge loops or creasing. I try to keep topology in mind for subdivision, and if that doesn’t work well for certain shapes, I split up the problem area into workable pieces in the high poly, and make detail out of it for the bake. For inset regions such as inwardly extruded box areas (stuff that’s really hard to subdivide on a curved surface), I cut out the area and bake it as a separate piece.

Overall the high poly usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes to complete thanks to HOps.

Once complete, I triangulate the low-poly model, duplicate it and create a cage using the displacement modifier.

Once in Substance Painter, I begin stamping alphas and decorating the model. From that I export the maps and run it through Substance Designer to regenerate AO and curvature. I have a custom SD project setup to generate these maps just how I like them.

Then the painting begins! Painter is easy and enjoyable, and the new anchor points system is really useful to give layered materials more interaction with each other. You can do this by adding an anchor to a passthrough layer above each smart material, and take advantage of the anchor with each subsequent smart material.

Also noteworthy, try adding a passthrough layer with a sharpness filter to the top of your layer stack. Target your roughness channel. This can help make your textures pop.

Give your roughness map extra love and attention. Even the minute subtleties of this channel can make all the difference.

This is my hard surface workflow in most cases for stuff like this, though for more far-future/curvy stuff ZBrush is my favorite tool. I hope this is helpful to newer Blender users. For you serious pros, there may be some ways to improve (please let us know!)

This particular model started out as a sort of pillar I was going to put in a scifi environment. Then it became a table, and from that point it built itself. It took a few days to complete (approx. 8-10 hours or so), not including animation, which I tend to fiddle with endlessly. The holograms were added afterward when I realized the table needed something else. Overall a good chunk of this time was spent wondering what I was making…

I absolutely love sketchfab and it is my art showcase of choice. As technology advances, full 3D art like this may become more popular (I hope I live long enough to see my first VR movie!). I don’t enjoy rendering too much, though I’ve seen some beautiful work there too. But my thought is, why work in 3D if the result isn’t?

Sketchfab will continue to become more powerful with more options (One I would love to see is editable particle effects 😉  It is already my canvas of choice for showcasing all of my artwork, and is more satisfying to me than a still render.

I’m not fond of social media. I love 3D art for its own sake and would probably still do it if I were alone on the Earth. Still, if you’d like to reach me or have a special request, you can email me. I also have a few tutorials on YouTube as well, for artists who want to become more familiar with hard surface work in Substance Designer.

About the author

Allen Grippin

I am in love with 3D art and it's all I want to do.

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