Japanese Camera Rifle

Prop Breakdown

Geremia Merzari

geremia-merzari-14
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Geremia Merzari

Prop Artist

Introduction

Hi! My name is Geremia Merzari, I’m from Italy and I’m currently looking for a job as an Environment/Prop artist. I come from a background in Literature, and I quickly fell in love with how storytelling is abundantly present in Game Art! These past few months, I’ve also discovered how much I love creating props from scratch and developing stories by texturing!

Tools

  • Pureref
  • Blender
  • Houdini
  • Zbrush
  • Marmoset Toolbag
  • Substance Designer
  • Substance Painter
  • Photoshop

Inspiration and Reference

The goal of this project was to practice and push both texturing and modeling, to enhance my portfolio and showcase more of my core skills.

When I look for inspiration, I tend to browse Pinterest, where I can find a lot of inspiration and interesting ideas.

As soon as I found this old Japanese camera rifle, I was immediately captured. It’s such a unique prop and has loads of material break up, so it was an excellent choice that fit my goals!

Some great ways to find references include using second-hand websites like eBay or auction websites, which often provide high-quality pictures.

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Blockout & Modelling

All parts of the gun (like the trigger/barrel/stock/nuts/screws/bullets and bolts etc) The initial phase involved creating a blockout, during which I established the primary shapes and set the proportions.

In this stage, I usually put the main reference on a plane inside Blender and create the general silhouettes. Once that is done, my next step is to refine those shapes and create a midpoly version of the prop.

I pay particular attention to the more curved areas; I construct them with a slightly higher number of edges to avoid faceting issues when creating the highpoly.

For simple shapes, I tend to use the bevel modifier in Blender, so then I can control the number of segments procedurally, which helps later to build the lowpoly. On the other hand, for more complex shapes I just build them with more segments, and I just clean them up after to get the lowpoly.

High & Low poly

I ensure that everything is triangulated in Blender before exporting to smooth the mesh. After that, I send everything to ZBrush with the GoB addon, which sends my .fbx from Blender with just one click.

From there, the workflow to get a smooth highpoly is very straightforward. I dynamesh to a high enough resolution; I usually start with around 1000 and then increase if needed.

Then, I apply polish with the dot checked until I get smooth enough edges, which will be important later to achieve a perfect bake of the prop.

I used to follow the ZBrush polish workflow to create my high-poly models because I found it incredibly useful the first time I tried it.

This method quickly became a staple in my pipeline, significantly speeding up the high-poly creation process.

However, I’ve recently switched to Houdini to achieve the same results.

I constructed a simple HDA (Houdini Digital Asset) that streamlines the process – once I set it up with the initial FBX file, obtaining a high-poly model becomes as easy as a single click.

Additionally, I added the option to decimate the mesh within the single click, although most of the time, unless the polycount is too exaggerated, I keep the highpoly as it is straight out of Houdini.

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UVing & Baking

While creating the UVs, I noticed that the rifle has loads of bolts, all pretty much identical. So, I decided to optimize the UVs while still maintaining some variation, given that this is a portfolio piece and I wanted to push the quality to the extreme.

I retained three variations of the bolts and duplicated them across the prop while mirroring the UVs. This approach allowed me to save some space and gain extra TD for the other parts of the rifle.

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Once all the UVs are done, I make sure to rename all the pieces of the lowpoly the same as the corresponding pieces of the highpoly, the reason being that I will have to import everything into Marmoset Toolbag to bake every element singularly.

By doing that, I can set up the bake scene in Marmoset with just one click.

I bake each item individually because I can troubleshoot much faster if something goes wrong with the baking process.

Thanks to the Paint Offset tool, I can paint the cage and modify it manually in real time without affecting the other pieces.

Texturing

The first thing I do before texturing is set up the Painter scene.

The ArtStation tutorial made by Jason Ord, “Substance Painter: Pushing Your Texturing Further”, helped me a lot with that and to understand how to work in Painter and how to create complex materials.

I highly suggest that to everyone; it contains a lot of gems!

Embarking on the texturing process, the approach I follow is to recreate the material as if it were created in real life.

So, for example, if I need to make painted wood, first I create the wood, and then the paint on top.

In this case, one of the materials I had to create was painted metal.

Therefore, first, I created the metal as the base. I didn’t spend too much time on it because I knew it was going to be covered by paint and that it wasn’t going to be very visible in general.

After that, I created the base paint material on top. In my texturing approach, the base material is mostly created procedurally.

I add color, roughness, and height variation mostly procedurally, but I always add 10% of manual labor even on procedural layers.

I try my best to avoid 100% procedural layers. Once the base is done, I start adding hand-painted details on top such as dirt, scratches and grime, but I also do a pass of hand-painted color and roughness.

This is the stage where I spend most of the time, and I think this is the moment where the artist gives it all and achieves uniqueness and photorealism.

Most of the hand-painted work is done with stencils.

To get the best results, I often use a photo-enhancing software called HitPaw. I can simply import one of my reference pictures, enhance it, and then bring the upscaled picture into Photoshop and create the stencil there.

By doing that, I don’t waste much time looking for super high-res pictures online, and I can just pick anything I like from my PureRef file and get a high-quality stencil out of it.

In my opinion, this way of adding extra and unique details copiously aids in achieving photorealistic textures because the type of added details is the same as the ones found in real life.

Stencil Creation

To create the stencil out of the reference picture, I import the enhanced version into Photoshop, apply a black and white filter, then I add Curves to increase the contrast and get a clear separation of the values, finally, if necessary, I add an Exposure layer to sharpen the result further.

Lastly, I resize the canvas to get a square stencil out of it and import it into Substance Painter.

Lighting & Rendering

Before I can start lighting the prop, I always make sure that my camera and render settings are on point for the kinds of shots I am going for. The first thing that I tweak is the camera FOV; I tend to favor lower FOVs, as I dislike the distorted effect that high FOVs give.

I usually keep the value of the field of view between 5-15 and the mm between 200-250.

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Once the camera settings are finalized, the second thing to do before adding the lights is to set up the Post Effect.

I usually do most of the work already in Marmoset so that I am left with some final touch-ups later in Photoshop.

Additionally, I like to play around with the depth of field to enhance the cinematic aspect of the shots and help to direct the focus on specific parts of the render.

When it comes to lighting, I tend to keep things simple and give value and reason to each light I place into the scene. I use a three-light setup, and I often either turn off the skylight or leave it on but turn down the intensity abundantly.

To achieve a more realistic render, I make sure to have enough contrast between darker and brighter areas in the render, in a way to have a wide spectrum value-wise, from highlights to dark shadows.

Plus, I fiddle with the light source to avoid too sharp shadows.

However, for bigger and more complex shots like the one below, the lighting setup became more complex, as I needed a few extra lights to highlight the surface information.

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I’ve always wanted to try out adding silhouettes to my renders.

I see these kinds of renders a lot on ArtStation, and I thought that it could add more context and in-game visualization of the prop to the viewers. My main inspiration for this kind of shot was the Herakles by Louis Squara, so I went ahead and looked for a soldier model online.

Since the camera rifle is from WWII, I picked a model from that era. With the assistance of Naoman Ahmad, I posed the character in ZBrush. Incorporating feedback, I also decided to include a turntable to emphasize the rifle’s potential in in-game scenarios.

After a few rounds of feedback, I decided to add a turntable as well, which would really sell the in-game idea of the rifle being used in games.

Additional Advice

I suggest always studying your reference, but also be curious – try to understand how a specific material gets created or is formed in real life, study the process, and understand what factors influence the material.

Especially if you’re starting out, make sure to ask for feedback on all stages of the pipeline! Also, I would like to add to not stick to just one kind of reference, but explore different options – for instance, I had a lot of reference pictures where the rifle was well preserved and had only some minor dust build-up in the crevices.

So, I decided to look for elder and worn references, which is where I found the same rifle in terrible condition, very dirty and rusty – which gave me a lot of inspiration and I decided to introduce some of those very interesting details into my version of the prop as well.

I’d like to suggest people out there get involved in game art servers, meet and talk to new people, and create new friendships! This is, in a nutshell, what helped me develop my skills the most.

I’ve met some amazing people through Discord servers, and that is where I’ve learned the most. Many of them became very good friends of mine, and a few were even brothers!

Conclusion

Making this camera rifle challenged me and taught me a lot. It helped me explore Substance Painter and understand and learn AAA workflows and techniques to achieve the best possible result.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article; I hope that you found something useful here that can be applied to your own art! A huge thanks to GameArtist for giving me this opportunity!

Feel free to contact me on ArtStation or on Discord if you have any further questions or if you want to look at my painter file. https://www.artstation.com/cjb_kanzo