Creating a Pillar Drill – Modelling & Texturing – Robert Stephens
I’m Robert Stephens, Senior 3D artist at Playerunknown Productions, in Amsterdam. I have around 12 years industry experience working as a 3D Environment/Prop artist for a number of studios (big and small), most notably Crytek and Cloud Imperium.
Some of the titles I’ve had the opportunity to work on include:
Ryse: Son of Rome
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for me is choosing a subject to work on. In my case, it’s often not a matter of not having ideas but rather having too many and trying to distill them down into an interesting (and feasible) subject.
Defining what you want to get out of a project is a good way of narrowing down your choice of subject. Do I want to focus on making better tiling materials using Substance Designer? Or do I feel I could do with refining my high poly workflow.
By asking yourself first what you want to improve on you also ensure that you’re learning in a focused manner. I knew that I wanted to develop my texturing skills in Substance Painter and also continue to improve my hard surface modeling using Blender, so I decided on an older model of pillar drill which had a good mix of interesting shapes and different materials without being something that would take too long to finish.
I knew that for this piece my workflow would be fairly standard, with modeling and UV layout being done in Blender, while baking and texturing would be done using Substance Painter.
These are typically my go-to programs now for assets of this nature.
Blender offers some great time-saving tricks when it comes to modeling and I wanted to make sure I made full use of them. I mainly used the HardOps and Boxcutter addons by Masterxeon which really free you from having to worry too much about your geometry and allow you to focus more on the asset itself
Building a good reference sheet before starting a project is important to really understand exactly what it is your making. Understanding the materials and also looking for examples of the objects “story” (a splatter of paint where someone got careless, lots of wear around specific parts that get handled often) was key to achieving a realistic look here.
I managed to find an old pillar drill advertised for sale online that had a good selection of images from multiple angles including some close-ups!
I generally use Pureref for building ref sheets. I think it’s a solid tool for collecting and arranging reference images quickly while also offering other useful functions like adding comments etc.
Production 01 – Blockout
The blockout is one of the most important stages of production as any mistakes made here can echo right through to the final piece if not corrected. Ensuring that the scale and dimensions of the object look correct and nailing the silhouette is a must at this stage. Spending more time at this stage to ensure everything is represented will save time (and headaches) further down the road.
In this case I went into quite a bit of detail at this stage since this mesh would form the basis of my high poly mesh
Production 02 – Highpoly
Creating the highpoly was a relatively quick process when compared to cutting in edge loops manually to control a subdivision modifier. Blender allows you to add bevel weights to edges so that you can control how much each edge is affected when you apply a bevel modifier to the mesh.
This gives you a lot of control over the edge width, is non-destructive and (with enough segments) can produce pretty smooth results on its own.
Basemesh, bevel modifier added, subdivision modifier added.
On top of this modifier I applied a simple subdivision modifier to smooth out the shape more.
This meant that I had to add very few extra supporting edge loops in order to achieve a clean result. In many cases the HardOps addon for blender automated a lot of the process.
I decided to model the pipe sections straight for baking before mapping them onto the final pipe geo.
Production 03 – Lowpoly
The next stage was to build the low poly mesh. This is obviously a very important stage as this is the mesh that will actually be rendered in-game and so the geometry should be as clean as you can make it!
Mid-poly, lowpoly wires and lowpoly shaded.
In this case, I actually opted to bake using a mid-poly mesh in order to more accurately capture the highpoly and then optimize this into the final lowpoly mesh. I started out by taking my blockout/basemesh and removing some unnecessary edge loops.
Curved sections retained some loops, as did places where there were screws placed in order to ensure that I could capture those fine details correctly without any warping. After I was happy with the bakes it was a simple task to clean up this mesh, in order to create the final lowpoly.
Production 04 – UV Layout and Baking
Like it or loathe it, having an efficient UV layout is essential to the final asset. Blender allows you to mark edges as seams in addition to marking them as sharp i.e. a hard edge. I found it most efficient to set the whole mesh to smooth and then simply mark my hard edges and seams as necessary directly in Blenders viewport. From there, its simply a matter of hitting the unwrap button and packing the resulting UV islands. Using a checker texture, applied to the mesh can help to quickly spot any stretching.
Knowing your final texture resolution and where you can save on texture space is important, but since this was a personal project it wasn’t such a huge consideration. I knew I was going to render it out with 4K textures but still, I wanted my UV layout to be efficient so I could get the most out of my textures.
The baking was all handled within Substance Painter. The option to match highpoly and lowpoly meshes by their name is great and usually results in a very clean bake with no fuss. Frequent test bakes with lowered settings can help identify any problem areas that may require you to go back and fix before baking out the final maps.
My bake settings within Substance Painter.
Production 05 – Texturing
I generally approach texturing by building a material in layers, starting with base values and using combinations of masked layers to add wear, dirt and other surface details. Whether you opt for Substance or Quixel tools to do the job, the approach is the same.
I think it’s very important to see the material as a whole and understand how each component plays a part, it’s all about really looking at your reference and recognising the underlying layers that make it up and then translating that into your textures.
Another great thing about texturing is that it allows us to build a story around the things we make. These localised details if used appropriately can really help bring the model to life and make it more appealing to the viewer. One of the things I noticed from studying my reference images were the spots of paint on the base of the pillar drill where some had been spilled, also the remains of labels stuck to the sides. Including these details will really help your asset stand out.
Adding wear should be done in a logical manner, think about where the item is situated and how someone would interact with it.
Generally, for an asset of this nature, I like to use Marmoset Toolbag. It’s light, intuitive and generates some great results without having to fuss too much with settings, allowing me to
focus on the lighting itself.
The settings I used in Marmoset to render the drill. From Left to RIght: Render Settings, Camera Settings and finally the Material Settings.
I tend to start by playing around with some different HDR images until I find something I like, then I add point lights to achieve the final look. After that, I crank up the shadows and GI and play around with the camera settings and tone-mapping.
Hopefully, I’ve managed to give a clear outline of my processes here and how I went about creating this asset. Thanks for reading and I hope my work inspires other people to make
Feel free to message me with any questions via my Artstation page at: