Art Spotlight: Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship

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About Me

Hi, my name is Gareth West (se7en23) and I’m a self-taught artist, designer and 3D generalist. My background is primarily in the games industry, but I’m currently freelancing as a web developer, graphic designer, and 3D modeller.

Inspiration & Modelling the Cannon

This piece started out as a fun personal project. I had no master plan other than a vague idea that I wanted to create an unusual weapon of some sort. So using reference images from some of my favourite games (specifically Metal Slug), I decided to start building an over-the-top, stylised, low poly cannon that wouldn’t look out of place in the Metal Slug universe.

For the most part throughout this project, I used box modelling, deriving every piece from basic geometry. Working in Blender, I started by blocking in the key features.

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship cannon

I then started adding additional parts, including a hatch, as I thought it might end up being a tank or a cannon that you had to climb into to operate.

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship hatch

At this stage, I was more or less kitbashing (albeit using my own hastily modelled meshes). As I added more pieces I would refine the geometry and add detail only once I was completely satisfied with how the overall shape and silhouette were looking.

I emphasised the dieselpunk theme by adding some exhaust pipes with machine-gun style gas venting holes.

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship vents

I then finished things off by creating some legs and a circular track to make it look like the cannon could rotate on multiple axes. I always try to make my mechanical designs seem as plausible as possible, even though they’d often never work in the real world. In this case, for instance, I doubt those puny legs would support such a hefty looking object!

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship gun

Developing the Concept

I then had to decide what to mount the cannon onto and it was at this stage that I had a couple of false starts. At first, I added some caterpillar tracks with the intention of turning it into a tank, but that felt too obvious. I then toyed with the idea of setting it on the back of a WW2 era train carriage, but again abandoned that idea.

Eventually, I settled on mounting it to the deck of a boat, so I took a step back and started researching cargo ships and military gunboats. The extra research proved invaluable as it left me with a much clearer idea of the direction I wanted to go. I started by adding the deck, some raised platforms, railings, a basic cabin, and some perimeter walls that would help inform the shape of the hull.

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship deck

It was then just a case of repeating that same process for the remaining parts, blocking in the basic shapes, then refining and adding details, constantly referring back to the reference images I’d collected to ensure that it remained convincing as a boat.

Once the entire boat had taken shape, I wasn’t entirely happy with the uniformity of the hull, so I decided to cut a large section out of the rear to expose an engine bay. After blocking in some rough placeholder geometry for the engine, I ended up adding some propellers and almost by accident turned the boat into some kind of gunboat/airship hybrid. To complete the effect, I added flaps to either side of the hull.

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship propellers

During a final pass, I populated the boat with various objects; like barrels for ballast, lifebuoy rings, ropes, gas canisters, ladders, a flag pole, and so on.


Before I started UV unwrapping and texturing, I added a simple two-light setup to the scene because my intention was to texture with a very specific light direction in mind, and it helped to have a visual reference to work from.

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship mesh

From the outset I decided to atlas everything, and to use as few texture atlases as possible, to keep things as organised as I could. I created all of the textures by hand entirely in Photoshop using a combination of hand-painting, vector shapes, and layer styles. I wasn’t going for photo realism but more of a cartoony art style, with simple bold shapes and colours.

I slowly worked through each section, UV unwrapping and texturing to the relevant atlas one item at a time. To ensure that the PSD remained manageable (or in other words, to stop Photoshop from grinding to a halt!), I had to nest every part into separate smart layers (highlighted in red).

Low Poly Dieselpunk Airboat/Gunship texture

Sketchfab Settings

Before setting up the materials, the first thing I did was go to the Lighting tab to add some lights to use as a starting point.

sketchfab 3d editor settings

Setting up the materials was straightforward because the non-realistic art style meant I had just a single diffuse texture for each mesh group. The only exception was the hull, to which, at the last minute, I decided to add a basic normal map (again created by hand in Photoshop) to help make the rivets and layers of sheet metal stand out.

I then returned to the Lighting tab to finalise the lighting set up. For this scene, I used one of the default HDR images (Kirby Cove) which I rotated to match my test lighting set up.

I then added some final polish by switching to the Post Processing Filters tab to enable Tone Mapping (where I adjusted the contrast ever so slightly) and Colour Balance (to make the shadows cooler and the highlights warmer). I also added some subtle Bloom to enhance the rather satisfying dazzle effect where the light from the HDRI hits the rear-facing cabin window.

I love how the Sketchfab editor provides real-time feedback of any changes you make, regardless of what tab you’re in. I also like being able to save changes without having to publish so you can come back to it later on, with fresh eyes, to give the settings one final pass before making your model live.

The Final Piece

Contacting Me

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Sketchfab for giving me this opportunity to contribute to their Art Spotlight! If you have any questions or would like to hire me for a project, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can find me on my website, or send me a message via my Sketchfab profile or on the Sketchfab Discord (se7en23).

About the author

Gareth West (se7en23)

Freelance 3D artist

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