Art Spotlight: The Book

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My name is Phung Vu Lam. I’m living/working in Vietnam.

At this moment, I’m a 3D artist at an outsourcing game company in Ho Chi Minh City. It brings me great opportunities to join AAA games/projects from all around the world.

I often visit Sketchfab, ArtStation, and other sites to enjoy awesome artworks and take some time to post my personal projects. I love all kinds of art, but especially anything related to hard surface or sci-fi, especially cyberpunk and steampunk. When I saw “Hat, Door and Lantern” of Anastasia Ovchinnikova, I fell in love with it and decided to make something based on it.

Process of The Book

For a time I studied mechatronics, then I joined the 3D game industry because I love it more, but my respect for traditional mechanical structures is still here. Anastasia’s sketch inspired me a lot, and the thing that stuck in my mind was the mechanical cover of a special book. Inside it there would have to be awesome mechanical documents (maybe secret Leonardo Da Vinci engine designs or something like that). And the book would only open for the one who can solve the puzzle of the cover.

Before modeling, I add some more requests for myself:

  • This is an “alive” steampunk book: like mechanical watches, I think that the soul and also the greatest beauty of a traditional engine is the gears. Steampunk is sci-fi based on the tech of the 19th century, when machines had few engines, but transmission mechanisms were complex—so must be the book. Therefore, the gears’ teeth must be thick and strong enough that kinetic energy can be transmitted from the only engine at the center of the book to all other positions. So I need to modify the original sketch a bit, to make everything look like it can connect/match everything else, and to make it believable that something like it could exist.
  • I only have a few hours a day, a week or sometimes a month to make personal projects. So the workflow must be optimized a bit: I’ll model only one level of detail, no blockout, no highpoly, no baking normal, and no other LODs. The texturing phase must be simplified as well; Substance Painter is powerful, so I think I can finish the textures with very little time spent for hand painting.

Tools and Softwares

I used Maya and Substance Painter. Photoshop is only for adding text and minor effect, so maybe no need to count it.

And here is my process…

Modeling/Rough animation

The sketch is awesome, I should stick with it. I used the “Image Plane” of Maya (from the top view, of course) when modeling. Nothing special in this step, just some minor details:

  • I must decide which gear is match to the other; the gears’ dimensions and animations depend on it.
  • I paid some attention to the realism of the mechanism, no need to be 100% like the real one, but at least define some types of details: transmission gears, flywheel, motor and wheel shaft, counter and the frame.
  • When I model gears from a cylinder, the subdivision axis must correspond to the number of teeth. For example, a gear with 15 teeth needs 30 or 60 subdivisions. The polycount may need to be optimized later.
  • Use instance as much as possible so I can go back any time to modify something, and no need to re-setup the scene.

Because I don’t use a normal map, some vertex normals need to be locked to keep the surface “hard”.

For example: for this gear, option 1 (both hard and soft edge): the bevel is clear, the large surface is “hard” but the hard edge is too obvious; option 2 (all smooth): hards edges are gone but the surfaces are broken; option 3 (lock normal) everything is solved.

To keep everything matched to each other, I need to do rough animation when modeling instead of animating after I have finished the model. I use the Expression editor to control the transmission ratio between the gears. After everything is set up, I can change the speed of all gears of a group by modifying the key of only one gear.

For example, gear 1 “g0” is the “mother” gear (3 teeth), the rotation of gear 2 “g1” (10 teeth) is defined by this simple rule: g1.rotateY=g0.rotateY*-3/10;

For the UVs phase, nothing special. I decided to use 9 textures sets for this project: 3 for the gears, 1 for the paper parts. You can inspect my UVs on Sketchfab.


I use no normal map, but AO maps are necessary to texturing in Substance Painter. Of course I need to move out the gears (and any animation parts) from the others when baking AO.

From left to right: Normal (nothing), AO, curvature (baking from mesh itself), position.

I want to make 2 versions of textures: the first one is 2D drawing style similar to the original sketch, the second is PBR steampunk style.

Texturing 2D Drawing Style

I used only diffuse channel and some simple layers in the layer’s mask to “simulate” the pencil drawing effect. Most of the texturing process is composing fill layers (fur procedure/fill of Substance Painter standard shelf) and filters (Histogram scan, sharpen, blur).

For example: This is how I make the mask for the overall hard dirt layer.

Step 1: I use the basic dirt generator.

Step 2: I use a fur fill with multiplier blending mode.

Step 3: I use Histogram or Level to modify the strength of the mask.

Step 4: A bit of sharpening.

And here is the result of this layer:

I reuse this same technique for other layers, with some modifications, for example hard dirt layers will have more contrast but less balance mask. And again, all resources are from Substance Painter standard shelf.

I only make all the details layers for one texture set, then I use instance group for the other ones. Some standard pattern layers combine with a little paint are enough to break up some details to the other ones.

And that’s everything for texturing my 2D drawing material. You can take a look at my high resolution here.

And 3D Sketchfab view, of course:

Texturing PBR version

I keep the same rule: almost all layers’s masks are composed from fill layers, generator and filter.

I make all necessary details for one texture set, then paste instance to other ones.

Some parts need a few unique details, for example the compass at the top right of the book’s corner.

And here is the final result:

You can take a look at the high resolution renders here.

And 3D Sketchfab view:


And last but not least, I upload my model to Sketchfab so everyone can take a deeper look at the asset, including the animation of the gears, which I enjoyed doing.
Each person has a different workflow. For me, the first thing I do is set up the light: both the 3 Lights sources and the environment.

Because the PBR shaders are the same (or at least similar) between software/engine, all I need to do is drag each texture map to the corresponding slot. Thanks Sketchfab 😀
For the Specular F0 maps, the fast (but not exact) way is to use metal maps. For more precise results, you can make a F0 maps from Metal maps by changing the black area into the 59sRGB grey.

The next step is adding some annotations where I want to show some good views of the artwork. I like this function of Sketchfab, because the annotations help me roll back any old camera positions.

The final step is the one I like most: Post processing filters. In this step I can add some color filters to make the scene closer to my imagination, and fix some issues. The sharpness feature “recovers” a bit of the texture quality (I cannot upload the lossless format because of their big sizes), the SSAO brings back AO to all “missing AO areas” (where the AO maps are white because of the animation). There’s no rule for this step. Sketchfab give me a good tool, I can do whatever I want.

That’s everything I want to share about this personal artwork.

Thanks a lot for your attention, hope this spotlight can help you something in your works!

And thanks Anastasia Ovchinnikova for the awesome sketch.


About the author

Phung Vu Lam

A simple guy who loves anything related to 3D :)

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