Realistic Texturing & Showcase Rendering – Art Spotlight

Sep 30, 2019

PureRef scene

Gathering references

To start off with I knew that I wanted to create a piece of simple furniture that is usually overlooked, but would fit into an interesting environment for a game-ready portfolio project. With a general love for grunge and overgrown environments, I decided to pick out what would usually be quite a boring asset to begin with to try and bring life to the mundane. In which case I decided that the first asset that I would make for such an environment, would be the stove. I gathered a lot of reference to begin with on both existing artwork and real life photography and pooled together a large selection of images in PureRef.
To start off with I knew that I wanted to create a piece of simple furniture that is usually overlooked, but would fit into an interesting environment for a game-ready portfolio project. With a general love for grunge and overgrown environments, I decided to pick out what would usually be quite a boring asset to begin with to try and bring life to the mundane. In which case I decided that the first asset that I would make for such an environment, would be the stove. I gathered a lot of reference to begin with on both existing artwork and real life photography and pooled together a large selection of images in PureRef.

The First Steps

To begin with, I started to block out the asset in 3DS Max and the mesh for this asset is actually really simple. The highest priority for me at this stage with such simple geometry was establishing the scale correctly and making sure that it has that kind of ‘weight’ to the asset. I usually start with a un-optimized mesh which is used for the high poly model; I make sure that the edges are nice and loose in my high poly to allow for a smooth bake. Whilst a lot of people tend to make a new mesh for a low poly, I try to cut a few corners to make the process as fast as possible which is quite a high priority when working with large scaled environments. In which case I just add a turbosmooth modifier to my mesh without collapsing my stack before duplicating the entire mesh. This way I already have the mesh that I need and I can remove the turbosmooth modifiers on each element and just optimise the mesh as low as possible without losing the silhouette that I have already made. Once the low poly is finished, I again duplicate my previous mesh with the turbosmooth modifier on and collapse to solidify the high resolution mesh – no going back from there! Which is why I always keep a version handy just in case I change the mesh.
Grammi's Berry Juice
High vs low
There are a large amount of methods and approaches to creating a high poly model as a lot of extra details can also be added in ZBrush, and for some people this works great! Saying that I am a huge advocate of trying to achieve the same results but in the shortest amount of time, and so a lot of the details that I could otherwise get in ZBrush, I know that I can either use Substance Painter or Quixel to get the same result in a shorter amount of time. If the model is more complex and requires organic elements then I would take my mesh into ZBrush for that level of detailing in a high poly, but for the sake of this asset I can just get the same results in Painter.

Unwrapping

There are a large amount of methods and approaches to creating a high poly model as a lot of extra details can also be added in ZBrush, and for some people this works great! Saying that I am a huge advocate of trying to achieve the same results but in the shortest amount of time, and so a lot of the details that I could otherwise get in ZBrush, I know that I can either use Substance Painter or Quixel to get the same result in a shorter amount of time. If the model is more complex and requires organic elements then I would take my mesh into ZBrush for that level of detailing in a high poly, but for the sake of this asset I can just get the same results in Painter.
Unwrap
Rule to Remember:
Keep the texel density of the object as even as possible but increase when needed in regards to player view or interaction.
Grammi's Berry Juice Berries
Final material in the substance viewport with layer organisation

The Resolution

Now it is time to bake the oven – ironic. Before I begin texturing my asset, I like to find a lot of references for materials – even if it is from something completely different but has a similar material or roughness value. I shove all of these onto my PureRef document and then fire up Substance Painter. The best piece of advice that I have ever been given when working with textures is to always always use the highest resolution possible, as it is easier to downscale an image than it is to upscale – and you never know if your game will release a 4k texture pack! (thank you Greg Wisniewski – the coolest guy ever). Knowing this, I took out the big gun and baked 8k texture maps – which meant that when I eventually downscaled to either 1k or 2k, that detail is as crisp as a lasagne. If some cameras film in higher resolution and downscale, then shouldn’t we?

The Yummy Bit

After Substance has finished baking my asset, I then start to layer up my textures from the base creamy colour that my reference had, making sure that the roughness value is a good foundation to build upon. From here I start layering up with a range of colour filled layers that are fine tuned through the use of substance generators, filters and smart masks. It takes quite a while to do each element, when you think of how many layers of detail there are – especially for a dirty or rusty material. I also found that the Substance viewport isn’t that great at rendering my material and so I was constantly checking the the built-in Iray renderer that the software utilizes. This meant that I could put it into one of the default HDRI setups to see if it was believable in a certain space. I also make heavy use of masks so that I can work on certain elements at one given time – with there being multiple materials to the stove. In some cases I would also create a new Painter project and open up an example scene and start to create my own smart materials for the oven – this helped a lot with loading times in Substance as with many layers comes many lag.
I generally like to organise my layers well so that I can quickly refer back to them; as well as making heavy use of the colour coding feature, as there has been many times I was working with the wrong layer scratching my head as to why it just wasn’t working!

Important Things to Remember

1. Don’t be put off by the quality of your textures in Painter – do a quick Iray render to check quality
2. Colour masks can save a lot of time if you like to do them – I prefer to create a quick one by element in Painter
3. Sometimes creating a material in another scene can help you visualise how it might look in different settings – as well as running faster
4. Always texture in at least double the amount of final output resolution
Grammi's Berry Juice Berries
Height, albedo, normal, roughness

The Detailing

At this stage when I am happy with my materials with scratches, dirt and rust, I export all of my textures at 8k ready for a Photoshop and NDo pass. This is where I start to add in the details like stickers or text to bring the asset to life. I know you can achieve a great result in Painter but I like to be more hands-on and add in these details where I can have a high level of control. This is where I added the graphics around the dials, before fading them out in areas that were worn with a mask in Photoshop, as well as the sticker on the back of the oven in which a normal map was quickly generated in NDo and overlayed onto my baked map from Substance. After I have finished with my final touches I then export out my maps to a lower resolution (depending on the target platform) ready for my material in Toolbag.

The Most Important Part

A lot of people by this stage I have found tend to get a bit fed up with working on their asset for too long, but rendering your materials you have spent hours on is arguably the most vital part of the pipeline. As is the same for environments in video games, everything is just so much more realistic and beautiful when given a professional lighting pass. You can see just how different a decent lighting setup can change the quality of your asset by looking at the stage of texturing in Substance or in the screenshot below.
Grammi's Berry Juice Juice
The asset after just a couple of minutes work in Toolbag

In this stage I like to make use of the local reflections and global illumination feature in Marmoset Toolbag as it tends to give the asset that finished and realistic look. I also like to ground my assets with the shadow capture as it is just a personal preference that the asset looks more believable than if it was floating in the air. I tend not to fiddle around with my material as such, rather the camera and scene settings where I manually add lights similar to a 3-point lighting setup to show off the asset in all it’s glory. This usually consists of a warm slightly yellow light at the front, a colder blue light in the back and other lights to illuminate the scene as a whole. I generally write down the type of shots that I want to show in my portfolio and create a scene for each one of these so that I can easily retake if needed. The direction of the light is key to displaying your material definition and so I always make sure to direct a light that bounces off of a surface towards the camera that catches your eye. After that, these are then taken into Photoshop and masked onto a gradient background with an overlay particle effect.

Grammi's Berry Juice Sparkles
Marmoset lighting setup
And there we have the final screenshots ready for your portfolio!
Hopefully this will be useful to you and thank you for reading!

Mary-Sue Challinor - 3D Artist

A 3D artist from Sheffield working at Coatsink since April 2019 this year; previously at Sumo Digital in Sheffield on titles Hitman 2 and Crackdown 3.

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/v15o06

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