Art Spotlight: Insectoid-like Ship

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My name is Jeff Arthur. I worked in the video game industry from 2000-2010. I left to try to find similar work in other fields that used real-time artwork and in 2015 I started getting involved in the VR/AR community. I was the lead artist at a VR/AR company until that folded in 2018, and I am now looking to get back into the video game industry.

A criticism that I’ve received from some of the companies I’ve applied for is that I need to show more sci-fi/fantasy artwork, since the majority of my recent professional work is real-world based valves, medical equipment, etc. I needed to show that I can do stylistic work, and that I can interpret concept art into 3D. So I decided to spend some time creating new artwork for my portfolio.


I picked a concept that I really liked, and one that isn’t biting off more than I can chew for the time frame I set for myself. I chose one from an artist I like named Alejandro Burdisio. I really liked this ship because it’s both hard surface and organic looking, while being colorful and playful. It was fun to figure out how to make in 3d.


I start by building a quick rough ‘sketch’ of the whole model. Silo is my modeling tool of choice. I use Maya to pull everything together and export it into Unity/Sketchfab, but for modeling and UVs I really enjoy Silo. I love it because it is a bare bones program that is strictly made for modeling and UV creation and everything is hotkeyable. It runs well on my laptop and works great with my workflow.

As I build, I find it important to pull the model into a real-time engine to see what the final product would look like in a proper lighting and ambient occlusion set up. In this case, I used Unity since it’s quick and easy to set up a scene with post processing and lighting. This tells me what details I need to focus on and what wouldn’t be as noticeable, so I can properly divide my time up wisely and so I am not wasting time detailing details that no one will ever notice or see.

I continue fleshing out the model until I reach a point where I decide it’s at a good point to focus in greater detail on individual areas. It is also the same point where I feel the model is in a good enough state to start reducing and UVing for the low poly version.

Low Poly

I split the model into sections of relative detail. For example, I divided the ship up into 9 areas where I wanted enough room on the UV layouts to roughly spread the detail out evenly across the model. If I tried to cram everything into one map, the end result would look muddied and less detailed. If I tried to model, ZBrush, and map every individual piece into its own shader it would end up taking much longer and the end result would be too unwieldy and not worth the time spent. My goal was to get this done quickly.

At this point I continue to detail out the high poly and reduce polys and start the UVs for the final low poly model. Having a good silhouette was very important to this piece. I wanted to make sure I kept as much of the detail in as possible to keep the silhouette interesting at any angle, so I didn’t go as low poly as I could have. The entire model is ~87k tris.


From there, I take the low and high poly models into Substance Painter to do the rest of the material work. Once I get to this point in Substance Painter, if I feel like a part is lacking detail, I go back to the high poly model in Silo and add more detail, and rebake in Substance. For example in the ‘calf’ area of the front leg I went back and added some more bevels and cuts to give it more interesting detail for the substance materials to grasp on to.

And that’s basically the process. I repeat until each section is at a place where I am happy with it, then spend a day or so making sure everything is sealed, all the loose ends are tied up, and all the materials look cohesive.


Sketchfab has very similar PBR/lighting/post processing effects to Unity, so getting the Unity and Sketchfab output to look similar was easy. I opted to go with screen space reflections, instead of SSAO, because I felt it had more impact on the overall look and feel of the model. I also used the baked AO ground shadow this time round and love how it helps ground the ship. Other than that and some simple tone mapping to up the contrast, that’s about all the post processing I used. For the materials, there is an albedo, metallic, specular, normal, and occlusion texture for each shader. I did reduce some of the sizes of the textures so that friends who don’t have huge bandwidth can download it quicker, but that was reserved for maps that had little detail or for places you wouldn’t need to see 2048x maps worth of detail.

The positive response I’ve received from other people on Sketchfab has been very encouraging to me, especially as I attempt to make the difficult leap back into the video game industry. Thank you.




About the author

Jeff Arthur

Jeff Arthur is an environment/prop artist who lives in Austin, TX and is looking for work.

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