Art Spotlight: The Mandalorian

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Self Introduction

Hello! I am Magnum Chau a.k.a twitte_king on Sketchfab. I am very lucky to be writing my second Art Spotlight for Sketchfab! I would like to thank Sketchfab and you, the reader, for liking and supporting my 3D art! I currently reside in Hong Kong. My girlfriend and I are self-taught 3D artists since 2013, as part of our exploration of game development! Despite my science degree from University, my love for 3D modeling led me to pursue a career as a Game 3D Artist. I am working as a 3D artist in a VR media company in Hong Kong, but I am currently open to new opportunities! Ultimately, I am working my way up to a AAA Game dev studio like Ubisoft, Remedy, Bioware in Europe or Canada because I love playing third-person sandbox action games. This 3D model is a personal project intended to celebrate the Star Wars fandom, expand and experiment with my art skills, and level up my portfolio.

Inspiration

As the brilliant Disney+ TV series “The Mandalorian” took the world by storm in November 2019, me and my girlfriend were impatient to wait for the new episodes weekly. We began to make our fanart 3D models to kill time, me working on the badass bounty hunter, while she worked on the cute baby Yoda. I started by modeling the Amban fork-shaped rifle, then the character, followed by the pistol and the dagger to finish the whole set.

Reference

Reference material is crucial to my work style! Instead of relying only on episode screen-grabs, I found tons of high-res pictures of the actual costume displayed at the D23 exhibition on this forum. The Hottoy ⅙ scale figure is also quite helpful.

These references greatly increased my confidence to capture the character in high fidelity. I also scouted for some photos of the Bergmann pistol.

Tools

I believe tools are the bicycle for the mind! So I really pride myself on embracing new tools and software if they improve my workflows! What tools do you like? Feel free to share with me!

I like PureRef as a simplified mood board that holds all my reference images.

The hard surface modeling of the armor and the organic sculpting of the clothing were both done in my favorite software, Blender 2.8!! Texturing was done in Substance Painter.

With the revolutionary version 2.8, the new realtime viewport allows me to visualise my project in many ways, to get things right, and save time. I have listed them out quickly.

  1. Viewport Random color, for 3D models with many separate objects, you can easily keep track of which is which without manually assigning colors/materials
  2. LookDev shading, Realtime PBR shading preview at the modeling stage. During the modeling stage, I can check how the helmet reflects and how the cloth folds react to realtime light in the scene. Much better than realising it’s bad after texturing.
    blender pbr realtime shading
  3. Multi-res Modifier works just like subdivision in ZBrush. I could sculpt at any subdivision level I choose back in 2019. The new version of Blender freezes at the highest subdivision of the multi-res. I have asked about it in the Blender community and on Discord, but no reply yet. My workaround is to Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V the object to Blender 2.79 and paste it back to 2.8 when finished.
    multi-res modifier
  4. Shading/Normal, If you want to get deeper into hard surface, you must use the Weighted Normal Modifier. As you can see, the reflection only auto-smooth distorts the reflections. In solid view, they look very similar, but it makes a huge difference in render view.
  5. Material setup. Substance’s shader and viewport is very limited, so I export textures from Substance to Blender as soon and often as I can. I only rely on the Blender EEVEE viewport, but be sure you are plugging it right. Blender uses OpenGL not DirectX normal map, so you need to flip the Y- channel. I got tired of setting this node every time, so I made this custom node.
  6. Quick favorite, hit Q for your quick Favorite, great for repetitive tasks!
  7. Linked Duplicate, use alt+D for repeated objects. It can also give you a ghost copy, which you can reset its rotation/scale, and work faster in edit mode, you can even join new objects into the linked duplicate and teleport parts with the correct transform in a breeze. I do this all the time. You can also select multiple objects and relink them as an afterthought with ctrl-L.
    linked duplicate blender

Honorable mention: my Substance Painter viewport sucks sometimes, and I am using the 2018 indie version from Steam. I experience this on my back-up laptop GeForce 840m—never had this issue on GTX 1070 max-q, GTX 1080 (desktop), nor RTX 2080(desktop).

Process

My process is the prime example of divide and conquer. I first modeled the long rifle, helmets, and armor like any other hard surface model. Sculpting in Blender is really the new fun task. I sculpted within Blender instead of relying on ZBrush. I then textured the character. Finally, I modeled and textured the small pistol and the dagger.

Sculpting

I started the sculpting in different ways that mimic my existing ZBrush workflow:

  1. Voxel remesher mimicking the “dynamesh & remesh” workflow. Unlike in ZBrush, I can easily toggle the visibility of other subtools without having to export from Blender and import into ZBrush. I saved time not sculpting clothing covered by armor, also making sure they didn’t penetrate the armor. Even better, I could rotate and scale the armor pieces on the fly to cope with my artistic clothing choices. I did not need to update the armor when I re-imported my sculpture back into Blender as would have been required with the traditional Blender-ZBrush workflow.
    mandalorian sculpt zbrush
  2. Hand-modeled “basemesh & subdivide”. Unlike ZBrush’s subdividing of the imported mesh, I have full control of the polygonal modeling tools. I can also have infinite stored camera angles to align with the references. I can also have multiple viewports; as any seasoned ZBrush artist would know, certain brushes only work in specific viewport angles, like the grab brush or the clay tubes. As a result, the scene may look right in the working angle, but be completely off and break the silhouette. For example, in ZBrush, if you are editing the volume on the side of the arm, where the faces are not pointing out of the screen and are barely on screen in front view, you are required to pan your view to side view to add volume with clay tubes. But clay tubes is now adding volume off-screen, so your working view angle is a poor angle for gauging the amount of volume increased. With multiple viewing angles in Blender, you can have the best of both worlds.

    mandalorian optimised brush

    Multiple viewing angles, one view for perfect inspection, one view of optimised brush function.

Texturing

Before you can have fun painting and using a generator, spend the time to bake. Import the texture back to Blender as soon as you can to check if the bake is correct. The baked Normals may look good in Substance, but totally wrong in UE4 and Blender. Baking should not be rushed—I really recommend taking your time

My understanding is that sometimes Substance can’t read the face normal of the low-poly mesh you import, and you can easily miss this sneaky little warning message.

substance painter mesh normals are invalid

SP has re-calculated the normal, but SP export mesh options cannot export the recalculated normals properly (I have tried), so the only solution is to make sure your low poly is working from the beginning.
My tip, use obj, never use fbx because Autodesk is just silly.

The texturing on the Mando is the most detailed painting I have done. There are multiple physical materials: metal, fabric, leather and burnt armors. I did a lot of breakup in the Base Color channel and Roughness channel to mimic the physical process of how the costume would have aged over time if it were worn by a planet-hopping bounty hunter.

Rigging

Lucky for me, the armor pieces can be rigged to the bone with full weight, since they are supposed to be rigid. I am not an expert in rigging, but the cape, glove, shoes, jumper, and pants are the only things that would be deformed by the bones (fabric objects), and Blender’s “armature parenting with Automatic weight” worked great.

My only trick is to disable deform on the armor bones, before weighting the fabric objects, since we don’t want the armor bones to be affecting the clothing. This method is much faster than manually cleaning up bone weight.

Sketchfab

I uploaded the .blend file directly to Sketchfab. Some textures are missing, but Sketchfab does a surprising job keeping most textures linked correctly!

The next thing I focus on is the lighting. For realistic models, I almost always use HDRI environment maps and switch on shadows on all lights with a low bias. I also like the Baked AO more than shadow catcher, since it looks softer and nicer to me.

I like using most of the post-processing in subtle ways. My favorite post-processing is sharpness because the textures feel a bit blurrier than I intended without it. Tone mapping also helps increase realism, and sell the filmic look and feel, especially since most modern movies and TV are color-graded. For this project, the chrome dome is not complete without Screen Space Reflection.

Sketchfab is a fantastic platform to share my works since people can easily view my realtime PBR artwork in high fidelity everywhere with their laptops or mobile phones. I have used Sketchfab to showcase my work in job interviews, presenting my UV and topology skills with ease in a professional setting. And I am thankful the community finds my work interesting!! I would like to thank my awesome talented girlfriend who inspires me to make cool 3D art every day! Also big thanks to Abby from Sketchfab for inviting me to write this article!

Thank you for reading my processes on the Mandalorian Fanart 3D model! I hope you picked up a few tricks and are motivated to make something cool! If you have any questions or collaboration ideas, feel free to reach out to me on any of the following Social links:

Instagram / Twitter / LinkedIn / ArtStation / YouTube

 

About the author

Magnum Chau

3D modeling & Blender Nerd, love science, aspiring Game Artist



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