29 May 2021

National Cash Register 1890s – Prop Breakdown – Justin Myles

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Introduction

Hi there my names Justin Myles, I’m a 3D Environment artist currently working at Bulkhead Interactive.

For this breakdown, I’ll be explaining the process I took in order to produce the 1890s National Cash Register scene.

Mental Health and Art

I wanted to start this article off a little different and discuss the mental health side when taking on an art project like this, no matter how much technical knowledge you have there will be times where some of us will struggle mentally in terms of improving the quality of our art and this may lead us to push too hard to reach that unobtainable final art piece.

Understand that when I produced this project I took breaks during the process, I let myself play video games, go see family and went outside often to take my eyes off the computer screen.

You’ll produce your best art when you feel loved and appreciated by those around you and yourself, I wasn’t a robot constantly working on this and you shouldn’t feel the need to do that either, I made many mistakes and failed at times, you, yourself should allow that too.

What Software Did You Use?

The majority of the initial hard surface modelling was produced in Maya, this was then followed up in ZBrush to add damage/wear and tear.

Substance painter was used when texturing the asset and during this stage, I was also using Substance Designer to create some of the specific alphas I needed.

Marvelous Designer was used for the blanket and Marmoset Toolbag 4 was used for the presentation of the scene.

 

I used the imageboard software called PureRef in order to store my images in a neat location, a lot of my photo references came from antique websites and eBay.

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Planning

“I consider my personal work almost like a tech demo, it represents your abilities but also gives a glimpse of what you can do for a future employer or personal project. This is why I gave myself a lot of time to learn and complete the project, I simply pushed this project as far as I could”

Blockout/Modelling

The beginning blockout was produced in Maya, I started by modelling the basic body of the cash register, ignoring any of the ornamental pieces that would come later. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of detail on this piece but I had to make sure the beginning shapes were correct or I would be moving a lot of ornamental pieces around later.

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When the blockout of the prop was completed I then began working on each side a little more, I could be a bit more confident now that the bigger shape was correct.

With the body shapes completed I then moved onto what was the most asked question about my project.

Modelling The Ornamental Pieces In Maya

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When the body was completed I moved onto the ornamental pieces, the shapes were achieved by low poly modelling over my reference images, in Maya you can hit 3 on your keyboard to get a “smooth mesh preview” so essentially a look into how it looks in high poly.

Below you can see what I was explaining, on the left is the low poly shape I wanted over the reference, then I hit 3 on the keyboard to see the high poly.

High Poly Model

For the high poly (all the ornamental pieces) I used the Clay Polish and Dynamesh options in ZBrush, this was because I wanted some ornamental pieces to fit together and found doing it in Maya would have taken far more time, especially when I intended on retopologizing it at the end anyway.

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I saw a few other people produce the same Cash Register and one detail many had missed, were damages to the wood, I really liked the look of chipped-away corners and so went about using the Clay Buildup brush to destroy chunks off the corners.

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Retopology

When the high poly model was completed in ZBrush I exported out the parts back to Maya, so I could begin retopologizing, I chose to do this as I wasn’t too happy with the geometry on my low poly up to this point, it got a little messy with all the ornamental pieces.

UV Mapping

There wasn’t anything specifically amazing about the UV mapping stage, I just used the UVToolkit plugin in Blender and made sure all the parts were given equal space in the UV Tile, I chose to go for 4K textures on this project as I wanted to really push my texturing to the best of my abilities.

Baking & Texturing

I baked the high poly down onto my low poly in Substance Painter then began the texturing stage, I usually throw a smart material on first just to get a quick result and spend a large amount of time manually adjusting a lot of the options.

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I really try to pick projects that have a large amount of material variation, I love how the buttons have all these different colours and a paper material mixed with the gold/brass materials on the rest of the cash register.
Remember to get your textures exported out of Substance Painter early followed by importing them into your game engine and then you can return to Substance Painter to continue texturing because then you just have to hit export and your game engine should automatically update with your textures because you’ve already set them up! You want to make sure this is done as early as possible so that your texturing looks similar to what you have in your game engine.

Presentation

When I first started this project I actually intended on just having the Cash Register on its own, however over time I felt I needed to give it a little more of a story, I loved the idea of it being left behind in an abandoned bar and so went about adding some extra details like bottles, cloth and cobwebs.

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Perhaps the biggest lesson for me during the presentation stage was that it’s okay to create art and then backtrack, I know it can be difficult to just outright remove your hard work – but originally my bottles had labels that were removed as it added too much noise, I needed the focus to be on the cash register, not the background scene, always think about your focal point.

Conclusion

I’m glad I was able to present my current 3D modelling abilities in my portfolio, I learnt a lot about presentation through Marmoset Toolbag and I think in the future I’d like to try and work on a smaller exterior environment.
I also learnt a lot more about being patient towards the end and feel like now I should of taken those extra few weeks to take my prop one step further.

Thanks for taking the time to read through my breakdown! You can find my portfolio below and feel free to send me any further questions!

Justin Myles’ Artstation: https://www.artstation.com/justinmyles

Thanks to Justin for allowing us to have such an in-depth look at their process. If you liked this environment breakdown and want to see more like it from other inspiring artist’s make sure to follow us on:

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