Hello! My name is Marius Moolman aka Axeonalias. I am a 35 year old 3D Artist from Durban South Africa, who has been making models since Sketchup 6 was introduced to me in 2007. A Creditors Clerk at the time, I found that I had quite a bit of free time during working hours and afterhours.
I have been attracted to ships & boats for as long as I can remember, and at the time when I started 3D modeling, I had been enjoying virtual sailing on Virtual Sailor 7 (among many many other games). The lack of decent tall ship addons was frustrating, addons in Virtual sailor 7 are complete vessels or sceneries added to the game by the user, so off I went to learn how to make some of my own. Having done technical drawing in high school, I learnt how to draw models in Sketchup accurately, and to scale. I started releasing my addons to the public and people loved them, so naturally I was driven to keep improving my addons. Sketchup had no means of dealing with UV maps so I would export my addons for mapping and baking to 3Ds Max.
In 2009 I was employed at a startup company as a 3D Artist, and have been lucky enough to be working as a 3D artist ever since. My day-to-day consists of mostly creating marketing material in the form of high end Vray renders using Sketchup. I have the vast resources of the internet to thank, as I have not had any formal training in any aspects of 3D modeling or rendering.
Finding the next boat
In 2010 I was quite involved in our local RC boat model club and had built a few scratch build RC models. I was looking through a pile of plans at a friend’s place when I first set eyes on the Trawler “Sea Lady”. By this time I had already completed many addons, each taking around 50 – 100 leisure hours to complete, and spanning over a month each.
Collecting the info
The first step in ship modeling is collecting information…lots of it! The plans were taken to the nearest print shop for scanning. I was quite fortunate that the vessel is currently in use, and had appeared on a TV episode of “Trawler Wars”, which is probably how she became famous enough to have her plans featured in the first place. I contacted the skipper of the vessel requesting permission and images of the bridge since there was nothing online. The Skipper was kind enough to provide me with what I needed.
Creating the Mesh
This part is and has always been my favourite part of the process (hence why I have so many incomplete projects that never make it past this phase!). Lining up and scaling the drawings perfectly can be time consuming, but is crucial in getting an accurate model. In many cases the drawings do not align at all and you just have to make the best with what you have.
The hull is usually straightforward because the drawings have most of the ribs shown, which, when joined, will give you the general shape of the hull. All my projects have been completely hard surface modeling until quite recently, when I have started using subdivs accurately enough. Hull drawings are usually the most difficult to find; modern ship manufacturers keep these drawings a close secret from the competition as there are huge budgets for R&D in these companies, the slightest adjustment in a hull that reduces fuel cost would mean a reduction in the shipping rate, which would give that shipping company and edge over the rest.
Low poly is always kept in mind when creating a mesh, I usually aim for around 50k polys for the finished product.
My addons were created for Virtual Sailor 7 and later Vehicle Simulator, which both had similar implementation processes and limitations. All the moving parts ( helm, throttle, prop, rudder, sails and Radars ) were modeled together with the main body until it was time for exporting, and then they were placed on the origin as needed depending on the rotation direction.
Texturing & UV Mapping
This is probably my least favourite part of the process, the UV mapping! Most of the ship at this stage has already been textured with tileable seamless textures as the base colour and in some cases, the final texture. Usually UV mapping is done prior to texturing, but I found that my texturing method is much faster and I have much better control in Sketchup than in 3ds Max.
The above image shows the model as it leaves Sketchup (in seperate groups per estimated texture) to begin the UV mapping process.This is also where I decide how much mesh surface area is going to occupy a texture, which in VSF performs well with 2048 textures, in this case 9 of them. In early cases where I did not need to add any custom texturing I would be able to UV auto unwrap with a set angle and bake from there. In this case, however, I wanted to have the clean base colours as a separate layer from the worn weathered layer so that reskinning would be possible. This also meant that auto unwrapping (to a certain degree) was out of the question and the painful process of adding seams and lining up UVs began.
This would be followed by setting up lighting in 3ds Max for baking the lightmaps. The trawler does not have any interior apart from the bridge so this step was fairly simple, but very time consuming, on my single i3 PC that I had at the time (no CUDA).
A few days into the process it was possible to start exporting a basic mesh for game implementation and to start working on getting her to animate and behave correctly in the sim. Once the final model was complete these early meshes and textures were replaced with the final model.
Uploading to Sketchfab
After the model had been gathering dust on my HD for over 8 years, I discovered Sketchfab. She has no normal maps, separate AO maps, or anything other than the base map, so naturally I thought she would appear quite flat and dull compared to some of the models I have been producing recently for clients using Substance Painter and Blender. But to my surprise this was not the case!
I decided on a flat grey background colour with the vignetting effect to make sure the focus would not be taken away from the model. While it was tempting to add some water, birds, and props, I decided that it would not be fair to Sea Lady to share a scene with modern textured props.
Having modeled Sea Lady with only native Sketchup tools and techniques that I learnt years ago, I am excited to start the next project focusing on utilizing more of Sketchfab`s material layers to bring more life into the final model.
Thanks for spending the time reading this article, I hope you enjoyed it! If you have any questions feel free to contact me.