Hi, my name is Guillaume Bolis, I’m a 2nd-year student of games art at “Objectif 3d” in Montferrier, France.
Before Objectif 3D I used to make 3D projects like this as a hobby for over 5 years, I studied in an engineering school in Paris for 2 years before deciding to leave and study 3D art. So far I have been really happy about this decision and only wish I would’ve done it sooner.
In school, we mainly use 3ds Max, ZBrush, Substance Painter, and Photoshop but for these projects, my workflow mainly includes Blender, Substance Painter, and Photoshop.
I’ve been using Blender for a much longer time via self-learning so I still prefer using it over 3ds even though I enjoy using both softwares a lot.
Origins of the project
I’m a huge fan of the Warhammer 40k Universe so I decided to try and recreate one of the units from it.
Dreadnoughts are some really iconic mechs from the Imperium and after a few searches I found out about the other really cool variants they made like the Contemptor, Leviathan, and then the one I went with, the Redemptor.
Story-wise this machine is a walking weaponized sarcophagus piloted by a mortally wounded soldier that is still willing to fight. That is well represented in the design by the number of ornaments that describe the soldier’s past life and the shape of the pilot’s compartment.
As for the exact faction, I decided to make it part of the Iron wolves, mainly for aesthetics since I really like the space wolves grey/red paint style variant, but this company is also known for using a lot of vehicles and mechanized units so I thought it would make a great fit.
The modeling and UVs were both made with Blender. Most of the process went as planned. I started by following as many references as possible. Since the model is based on an actual figurine, there were a ton of useful references online. Even shops selling individual pieces of the mech would post really detailed images of key parts.
For the main body, I decided to experiment a bit with hardened/weighted normals. It’s a technique that helps create a chamfer effect on the model’s edges by editing the normals of a bevel without the help of textures.
In Blender, you can activate it with the “harden normal” option when using a bevel modifier (it can only work if auto smooth was previously activated on the mesh).
As you can see the result is very similar to the high poly chamfers, usually in those cases we could simply bake the high poly version onto the default beveled cube in Substance Painter but here I was able to avoid it and save some time.
Just like in most of my recent work I started by making a blockout to make sure the proportions were right and started adding more and more details as I went. Most logos and small props like the seals and teeth ornaments on the chest were modeled separately and added later on.
Blender’s toolkit helped me a lot to use a non-destructive workflow on this project. The modifier system helped to visualize symmetry, bevels, and other effects without ruining the topology of my base model for future changes (that also helped a ton with hardened normals).
A great example of this is when I made the barrels of the guns by using array modifiers. As you can see in the following image, I only had to model a single barrel of the weapon and, using this tool, I could get the results I wanted by making an array of those shapes with a set rotation. The tool is also dynamic, so if I edited the simplified mesh to the right, that change would affect all 6 parts of the gun at the same time.
The same went for the rocket launcher on top of the mech and other parts.
The mech ended up being pretty high poly with over 100k triangles but I had wanted to keep the level of details as high as possible so I was expecting something heavy like this. It could still run in a game engine but some optimization wouldn’t hurt—removing the rivets and a few subdivisions to the skulls would already remove a lot of vertices but wouldn’t look as great in closeups.
For the platform under the mech, I decided to do a bit of baking since hardened normals would be awkward to use for rocks and dirt. I started importing some high poly rocks and combining them to a plane with a high definition displacement texture, then retopologized them both on a low poly merged version and baked the high poly version’s details onto it.
Once the modeling was done, I did some rigging in order to give the model a few poses for rendering. Since the mech is mainly composed of solid parts, skinning/weight painting was pretty straightforward because most of the values used were either 1 or 0.
Most of the texturing was done with Substance Painter. This time I tried to practice working with detailed hand-painted masks instead of going for tons of layers of procedural materials.
The goal was to get a good mix of realistic materials while keeping the hand-painted feeling of a figurine.
By the end of the project, the file got quite heavy with over 100 layers; sorting them in folders right from the start helped me to easily visualize which part I was working on.
Here’s one of the main references I used for texturing:
Here’s an overview of the texturing process I used in Substance Painter.
Most of this is very simplified so that it’s easier to explain, I’ll get into the details later on.
First, I always bake the maps of the mesh and add a light dirt generator mask on a black fill layer to reinforce shadows and make the main shapes pop out.
Next, I make a blockout of the mech’s main colors, adjusting the roughness and using the curvature map to make the edges brighter.
Then I add some details like the runes, the golden parts, and the seals. I then add more detail to these materials with some grunge maps to adjust the roughness and some surface imperfections.
Once the base materials of the mech were completed, it was time to add some dirt, snow, and edge wear effects. After that, all that was left to do was polishing these grunge effects and adding more damage to the mech.
In a few cases, for logos, decals, etc., I would use Photoshop to create custom alphas and place them with a brush on the model.
The dirt and snow effects were pretty interesting to do, too. In a way, I ended up making them in reverse:
I added a very strong snow/dirt texture that covered almost the entire mech, then I started removing it slowly by hand using one of the default dirt brushes of Substance Painter.
This method was pretty time-consuming but gave amazing results and was pretty fun to do. It literally felt like I was the guy cleaning up the mech after a tough (and very muddy) battle.
I tried making the process of adding scratches and bullet holes as easy as I could; they were all made from a single anchored mask used over a bunch of fill layers.
Once this process was set up, I could easily add details to the model by editing a single black and white mask and adjusting the parameters by hand if needed since I only used fill layers and no premade textures. Here is a visual representation of how this process was made:
Once the hard part was done, it was time to upload the model to Sketchfab.
For the lights, I started by choosing one of the default HDRIs that Skecthfab offers. I tried to get one that would give a very smooth ambient light with no sharp shadows, then I added a few point lights and directional lights to add details where I wanted and to highlight specific spots. This is why the back of the mech has a soft orange light hitting it—otherwise, it would just fade to black.
I also played a lot with post-processing to make parts of the model stand out. Here’s a before and after look at the post-processing effects I used. You can see on the left the settings I used (I didn’t change the default values of the effects with closed tabs).
Once the project was over, I tried to go ahead and 3D print this model to see if it would hold up next to some of my other w40k figurines.
I tried looking up online stores like Sculpteo to print it for me but it ended up being way too expensive. If I wanted to print it to the scale of the original figurine (the base of the model having a diameter of 8cm) I would have to pay over 100€. That’s almost double the price of the actual figurine from the tabletop game.
Luckily, we just got a new 3D printer to use at school so I contacted the teachers and we tried to get it 3D printed from here, but first we needed to do a lot of work on the model.
The topology and the way the mesh was built made it almost impossible to print as it was. The hardened normals and smoothing groups used in my workflow also made it harder since this kind of smoothing isn’t supported by 3D printers.
What I ended up doing was to retopologize the entire mesh using Blender’s voxel remesh tool and then used sculpting tools to smooth out the parts that got too sharp with the remesh.
We managed to print it overnight and it ended up only costing around 3€ worth of resin! Here are a few pictures of the model next to some of my other W40k figurines. On the right is a Skitarii Ranger and on the left is a space marine Chaplain in terminator armor:
In the end, we had a few issues when printing so a few parts (like the right shoulder pad) look a bit damaged and the scale is also a bit smaller than the actual figurine, but overall I think the result looks awesome. I’m looking forward to painting it soon!
On a different note, it looks like my cat found a new toy to break.