Night Vision Goggles – Prop Breakdown – Antijn van der Gun
Hey there. My name is Antijn van der Gun, I am 23 years old and currently studying game graphics production at Digital Arts and Entertainment Howest. I am in the 2nd year and before that, I have studied at Grafisch Lyceum Utrecht for 4 years.
My background is a lot more focused on stylized design but because of the Game Asset Pipeline course, I have been really digging the PBR workflow.
I hope to give you some insight into how I make cool props!
The prop was made for my third game asset pipeline assignment, we had to create a prop with sufficient complexity and it had to fall within the theme: optics. This could be anything from scopes, cameras and even monitors.
A personal goal of mine was to learn to work more with substance painter’s generators. For a previous assignment I chose to make a skateboard and because of its shape generators were often a bit lacking. So I wanted an object that had a lot of interesting curvature and ambient occlusion for generators to work with.
I use Pureref to organize my reference when I use a combination of pictures and links. Having front, backside and top shots helps a lot. A bottom shot is handy to have but often hard to find. When I have a hard time finding specific reference angles I often look at review videos as they often show uncommon angles when handling a prop.
When I start modeling, I always start with a quick and dirt block out. Just to get a feel for the object and the different parts. I don’t worry too much about the exact shapes.
After the quick and dirt blockout is done I choose a part of my model I wish to start with. I prefer starting with the easier sections, in this case, the tubes that hold the lenses.
I like Subd modeling a lot, I use it for everything in this prop but I am sure some things could be done easier in Zbrush. I start by better defining the shapes, I look at my blockout for the initial shape but be sure to keep looking at your reference. Often the side, front and top planes can look okay but in perspective, they look off. Don’t be to leave your initial blockout behind if you can make it look better while in perspective.
Using Subd modeling I add edges and try to make it look nice smoothed. I try to keep my topology good but if something is giving me trouble, I will just focus on making it look good smoothed.
I am still experimenting with how soft edges should be, as a rule, I try to keep them a bit softer than they actually are as that look better in the bake.
When I have my subD highpoly I delete edges and modify edge flow until I get my low poly, I try to avoid bevelled edges where possible. I think its always worth to make round shapes actually round.
Before the whole model is complete, I bake the separate high and lowpoly parts onto each other. I like doing this because the workflow makes the workflow flexible. For me, most problems appear at the baking stage and this way I don’t get all my problems at once. I can iron out all problems and save the lowpoly and high poly in a separate folder ready to be used when the model is completed.
When baking, always use match by name. This is a little extra work, but it’s work you often should probably do anyway just to keep projects organised. It also just prevents like 80% of bake issues so yeah. The fastest way to find issues is by looking through the different mesh maps using ‘B’. Applying generator also often show potential issues.
Above, is a baked lowpoly with an automatic unwrap.
I repeat these steps of modeling – baking until all parts are completed.
Up until now, I haven’t covered my UV’s yet even though I have some bakes. For the earlier mentioned bakes, I just use Maya automatic UV. It’s not perfect but it’s fast and gives a good idea. If the bake gives problems because of bad UV’s I might UV it beforehand and keep parts of that UV but most of the time I just leave it
The first thing I do is look where symmetry can be used. In this model both tubes could symmetrize and some of the screws. I look for simple shapes like cylinders and flat surfaces. Unwrapped these are often long strips that fit next to each other. This will usually form a kind of rectangle shape that I will put in one of the corners of the UV tile. From there it’s often just a puzzle.
Texel density is important but, in my experience, it’s okay to have small bits of difference as long as it’s not noticeable or in hidden areas of the model. When this Is done remember where these areas are though and are sure to triple check these when making textures.
Now it’s time for the real bake. We combine the testing we did with prebaking with our proper UV’s. This gives me more often than not a great bake first try, none the less, I still inspect my model for artifacts. Paying extra close attention to places that were trouble during the pre-bake.
Materials are my favorite. First, we define the materials we will need. For this prop, we needed a: metal, plastic for buttons, a rubberlike material, plastic, glass, and a bit of cloth.
The best way I found for making good PBR materials is by using multiple layers to create depth. I start by making the base material, Just the grain and approximate roughness.
I add more layers, focusing on making the base colour and roughness interesting. I use C to look trough the different channels.
I like to use the passthrough channel to make tweaks. I often use it to edit my roughness and give my basecolour some extra pop.
While doing all that I add height information, it gives the materials a more interesting specular and can also be used with anchor points. Anchor points are ridiculously powerful and if you don’t use them yet you should look into how to incorporate them into your workflow.
I add the last pass focusing on the roughness.
It can be tempting to rush this as it’s the last bit and sometimes you get bored of a project and want to start something new. But it is also the step where you show what you really did. Making cool stuff and showing cool stuff are different things and that’s where presentation comes in.
For the goggles I made a small blueprint in Unreal because I wanted to be able to adjust the lenses their angle quick and easily for posing the prop.
I light the prop with the skylight, directional and spotlights. I make sure to tilt the prop a bit so it gets more interesting reflections and the composition is nicer.
For me, it’s important to show my props in real-time as I want to work for games and the optimization is important that’s why I use Unreal Engine to render my work. turntables are nice as it shows light playing with the prop but also make plenty of stills.
I also like to include a Sketchfab viewport at the bottom of my posts because when I see cool work I often wish I could inspect it further and sometimes even reverse engineer it a bit.
Thank you for reading the article. I hope it was insightful and maybe you are even able to implement some things in your own workflow.
I would also like to thank Game Artist for letting me write an article. It’s the first breakdown I ever wrote and it’s harder than I thought it would be.
You can find my work on Artstation and Sketchfab.