Art Spotlight: Mount Ruth Logging Company Locomotive

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About me!

Hello, all! My name is Nathaniel Onandia, and I’m a Vehicle Artist originally from Los Angeles and now living in Orlando. I’ve been pursuing 3D art for games educationally for about 4 years now, and recently graduated from Full Sail University in March of 2020. Throughout the two universities I attended (the first being Woodbury University in Burbank, CA), I found extreme passion and love for all things related to 3D art. Tied with my love for railroading and antique vehicles from the 19th/20th century, this flourished into a love for 3D vehicle art.

During my last courses at Full Sail University, it came time to choose my final portfolio piece. Up to this point, I had never modeled a locomotive for an assignment at Full Sail, and decided it would be my final hurrah! Having experience with a similar locomotive (also featured here on Sketchfab here), I felt equipped with enough kitbash parts as well as technical experience to tackle the project.

Original concept & reference

So, I was faced with finding a concept or blueprints for a 19th-century locomotive. I had many ideas, most of which were grounded in true, real locomotive plans from history—any of which would’ve been a joy to work on. However, while researching, a friend of mine posted a concept sketch for a fictional locomotive he had been working on, and I immediately became enthralled with the details and whimsical curves found in the design’s lines.

Drawing courtesy of illustrator & digital painter Tom Coletti.

Now that I had the original concept set, I had to go about finding some reference for how I wanted the locomotive to be lettered, painted, and all-around made my own. There was one reference, in particular, that served as a pivotal influence on the way the locomotive came to be painted.

This is the William Crooks. A locomotive from the 19th century now preserved in Minnesota, it was a keystone in deciding on the striking wine color.

Modeling the engine

Then, we get to the actual 3D modeling portion of the project! As you can see from the image below, I strayed away from the original sketch in a few regards, however, I feel like it still does the engine design justice.

mount ruth logging company locomotive mesh

The final mesh.

My process for modeling locomotives (and other vehicles, for that matter) mainly revolves around symmetry being utilized. I can better expedite my workflow if I only model one side, and then all I have to do is mirror everything and then make sure the wheels are properly quartered after the fact. Quartering is crucial in real life for steam engines- it places one side of the engine 25% forward in its stroke, which prevents either of the pistons from topping or bottoming out (essentially, it prevents a stall).

mount ruth locomotive mirroring

The locomotive during pre-mirroring stages.

I also had taken a lot of time (nearly an entire week, actually) collaborating with a peer of mine, Sasha Lee, attempting to get the valve gear animated. Unfortunately, we were never able to get the animation to properly export out of Maya due to complications with the bindings.

The intended use of this train was on a collaborative level environment project, called the Mount Ruth Logging Company Grunwaldt Lake Branch. Intended as a concept for a level design, we pushed to present it all in Unreal Engine 4, with this as the resulting product!

Rendering in the Sketchfab Viewer

So, the time came to set it up in the Sketchfab viewer! One difference I immediately had to tackle was the change in material handling—I couldn’t rely on Unreal’s material graphs to make it appear properly. So, I actually used a few different clear coat channels (along with the specularity) to tweak and finesse the final appearance into how it appears in the viewer!

Something I immediately noticed was that my roughness and normals seemed different than UE4 was handling them, which didn’t come as a surprise—UE4 tends to display my maps differently. That aside, I utilized the Clear Coat, Clear Coat Roughness, AND Clear Coat Normal to push all the details in various materials.

locomotive texturing

Finally, it came to post-processing. This is by far my favorite step of tweaking in the viewer—adjusting the SSAO, the grain & sharpness, bloom, etc. It all helps to better display the model to its full potential, all with just some quick slider adjustments. Here’s a before and after!

mount ruth locomotive post-processing

All in all, this proved to be one of my favorite things that I’ve posted to Sketchfab so far. The fact that it got Staff Picked and I have the opportunity to do this write-up is an honor, thank you to those of you who took the time to read all of this!

About the author

Nathaniel Onandia

Nathaniel is a 3D hard-surface artist, with a skillset oriented towards both the research & creation of vehicles for game, with roots in 19th century railroading research.

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