Angler’s Blessing

Prop Breakdown

Thomas Swijngedau

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Thomas Swijngedau

3D Artist

Introduction

Hello everyone! I’m Thomas, an aspiring Game Artist. I'm a final-year student at HEAJ in Belgium.

Currently, my studies center around Technical Arts, but I find much joy in exploring various aspects of game development as it provides me with a well-rounded understanding of production.

However, my primary focus lies in texture, surface, and material creation, and that is quite notable when exploring my portfolio.

Project

This project was truly a passion project for me, being a devoted fan of the Dishonored franchise since I was 13 years old.

Arkane Studios was actually the very first studio to ignite my interest in creating art for games, and naturally, they remain a significant source of inspiration for me. In homage to this influence, I aimed to create this piece to the best of my abilities with my current skill set.

I hope this breakdown will prove useful to you.

Goals & Initial ideas

The Outsider’s bone charms are a big part of the identity of the franchise, being themselves a source of power and a valuable asset to find in the games.

They also possess a unique visual identity based on the lore, being made from all types of bones, runes, and scrappy metals holding them together.

This “improvised” but functional look was my main goal to achieve, but I also wanted to add some extra theme to it, and after multiple iterations, I decided to go for a Fisherman charm look.

Inspiration & References

For inspiration, the official Dishonored art books served as my primary reference. However, certain images, sculpts, and renders that caught my eye during the process were also added to a PureRef file.

My approach to organizing references for this prop was quite eclectic, prioritizing inspiration while allowing for creative freedom. Typically, I work on some speed sculpts before conceptualizing, with most concepts being paintovers to map out my workflow.

I don’t strictly adhere to any single concept art or render; instead, they serve as guidelines and inspiration for specific aspects of the asset.

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Blockout & Modelling

It was pretty important for me to find a balanced but original shape for the charm from the very beginning. Working on something seemingly fragile and chaotic wouldn’t have worked when adding the amount of details I was planning to add.

For that, I used ZBrush mostly, and I explored some different shapes and silhouettes.

When creating organic designs, I always used ZBrush first and traditional modeling once the model feel is completely anchored. For this piece, as I knew it wouldn’t be animated, I decided to go for a decimated topology using ZBrush’s available tools, Decimation Master and ZRemesher.

This workflow allowed me to drop the polycount extensively while retaining most of the details. I then exported this draft OBJ into Blender to model the metal parts while following the shape accurately.

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I didn’t really care much about fine details and topology yet, as I knew most of the heavy lifting would be done in Zbrush for the polishing passes.

However, finding the right shapes and accomplishing a functional design was still primordial, and really, not a first try thing for me. I created some bad designs before finding something worthy of being exported for the next steps.

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From there, lots of back and forth was required between Blender and ZBrush, and after finalizing the main concept in its entirety, I could finally start working on my favorite part, the detailing.

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Medium-frequency Details

I’ve often made the mistake of being too heavy-handed on the surface sculpting, so that’s something I tried to control more on this project.

For the bones themselves, I relied a lot on different brushes, which were Clay Tubes (to create cracks and surface variations) and Trim Dynamic (using a square alpha) to smooth the results and flatten surfaces but also the Move brush, to create more variation in the shapes of the bones themselves.

For the hard surfaces, I first polished the imported set of metal parts using Polish by Features (in the Deformation tab) combined with masks to get a smooth result.

Then, I carefully used the Trim Smooth Border brush with a square alpha to simulate edge damages and flat areas (important for rendering later on).

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High-frequency Details

Once the main details for the bones and metals were sculpted, I started on the high-frequency ones, which is a bit of a different workflow for me.

As I very often use Substance 3D Designer, I utilized my knowledge to create multiple alphas that I then used in ZBrush as surface details, in combination with the morph brush to be able to control and mask those noises.

Most of this process could be of course done during the texturing pass, but I like to add details in ZBrush as well as it allows me to sculpt changes directly if needed.

I also utilized the surface noise tool directly in ZBrush (with the morph brush) to quickly add multiple surface variations until I felt that the surface was rough and natural enough.

As an extra tip, it’s important to carefully choose your material in ZBrush, as some will accentuate your details, while others will make them look smoother.

A simple mat cap grey would be my go-to in this case. Now that the high poly was sculpted, I worked on the low poly version.

Remeshing

For this piece, as I wanted to preserve details while drastically reducing the poly count, I decided to decimate it to a mid-poly density.

However, from experience, I know that decimating a high-poly model directly without preparation can, and often will, create floating geometry or holes.

The best way to avoid that for me is to first ZRemesh the model, then project the details onto this new clean version, carefully checking it for any holes or overlapping geometry (which are often fixable using the mesh integrity tool), and finally decimating it.

UV Unwrapping

For unwrapping, my process was pretty common. I imported the new low-poly model into Blender and carefully cut my UV islands, ensuring that seams were hidden in less visible areas.

I typically organize materials into different types of surfaces. For example, in this project, I separated it into two Material IDs: Metals and bones. The biggest challenge was unwrapping the cables, as they were long and thin objects.

To maintain good control in Substance Painter over my generators and masks, I decided to cut them multiple times to fit them all into the 0-1 UV space.

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As it’s a portfolio project, I didn’t follow any specific texel density but focused on normalizing the UV island sizes. I then organized those islands to fill my UV layout, while limiting empty spaces.

I then smoothed all the edges to prepare the model for baking using the ZBrush high poly.

For this project, I wanted to be more cautious about color management, so I decided to set up everything to use ACES, especially in Substance Painter.

I believe this choice allowed me to maintain good accuracy in the viewport between SP, Marmoset Toolbag, and Unreal Engine 5.

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Another important thing to set up is the specular quality. By default, this quality is set to a low setting, but setting it to a higher definition allows you to see more accurate reflections while texturing. My main workflow while texturing depends on the type of map created.

I tend to stay away from smart materials, as they are oftentimes not tailored enough for the specific textures I’m trying to create.

Each channel is different, with Roughness being just a black-and-white version of my colormap, for example. I create each layer while focusing on one aspect of the texturing and utilize masks and noises created in Substance Designer or directly in Substance Painter.

Apart from that, my process is a common one, with no particular filters but the SP generators masks and attention to detail.

Rendering

From the beginning of the project, I planned to render a real-time version of the bone charm and some traditional rendered images in Marmoset Toolbag.

To maintain consistency across Substance Painter, Marmoset, and Unreal Engine, I chose to use the same environment: Tomocco Studio (available in Substance Painter’s resources environments).

In Marmoset Toolbag, where I rendered the stills and the turntable, I tried to keep good visibility on the object while conveying a gloomy feel, by using desaturated lights and soft shadows. I also used a custom studio (bent plane) to get uniform lighting.

The Unreal Engine part is more substantial, as I had to create the full lighting setup, materials, and VFXs.

I don’t think I’ll go into detail on how the effect was created, as it’s almost another complete project, but broadly described, I used Embergen and Photoshop to paint the wispy trails and smoke.

These trails were then multiplied with panning noises in the material editor to achieve a natural feel. The rest of the effects are simply Niagara particles using flipbooks.

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To achieve the desired appearance for the HDRI, I utilized the HDRI backdrop plug-in in Unreal Engine and also specified it in the skylight to ensure accurate reflections. Additionally, I incorporated my studio plane.

From there, the process mainly involved creating sequences and experimenting with the lighting until I achieved the desired atmosphere.

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After exporting the sequence (using PNGs assembled in DaVinci Resolve) and making some adjustments to enhance the reflections, my project was completed and ready to be posted.

Final Recommendations

Here are some additional tips: to ensure good texturing, be ready to pause the projects for one or two days to avoid getting tunnel vision. We all experience this, and it’s important to be able to recognize it when it happens.

Also, working on a passion project will always be more enjoyable for you and therefore will look better in the end.

If you’re working on portfolio projects, try to find things that inspire you. Finding ways to receive good feedback is also crucial. This could be through a Discord server or by asking friends.

It’s difficult to expose unfinished work, but you will often not notice everything when working alone.

Conclusion

I hope this breakdown will be useful to you! I’m always available on ArtStation if you have any additional questions.

I’ll do my best to answer them. Big thanks to Nicolas Swijngedau and Bruno Lebrun for their invaluable feedback.

And of course, a big thank you to Arkane Studios for creating such an inspiring IP! Good luck and happy rendering!