Intricate Prop creation using Blender ‘Bass Lure’ – Peter Wano
Hey Everyone! My name is Peter Wano.
I’m an Environment and Prop Artist from Chicago. I worked at Iron Galaxy Studios for a spell, until me and my partner were given a chance to go and live/work in the Netherlands! Currently, I’m in the process of moving over to the EU, but obviously due to world events me and my partner have been instead living out of suitcases waiting to be able to shift into our new lives. That kinda free time led me to trying to find something productive to help feel like I was moving forward, so I decided to give Blender a stab after seeing all the awesome art that’s been coming out lately!
So since I was starting a new program, and I was already familiar with programs like Maya and Max, I decided to try and find something that had a variety of shapes that would force me to use all of the tools the program had to offer. So searching around I found that fishing lures and bait had the shapes and complexity that I felt would be good for a beginning piece. Also, since I missed outside, I wanted to make something a little outdoorsy. I figured that this particular lure would allow me to push my knowledge on form, texture, and some materials like clear coat and subsurface that I wanted to dive a little more into.
Overall Goals of the project-
- Learn a new program
- Teach myself at least one new technique in substance
- Add life into final renders/give it story
First step, like starting any new project, was grabbing reference. I knew in my head that I wanted to do at least two to three texture variations when I started. For sure, the classic green/yellow lure and an Antique version. As I scrubbed the internet a little more, I saw a couple mackerel lures that looked really neat which was the inspiration for the Blue Bomber.
I use PureRef for organization and its ease of use for all my projects.
The block out stage is where the old saying “measure twice, cut once” lives and breathes. Blender has a nice built in “reference” tool under it’s image tab that makes setting up your initial scene incredibly quick.
Using Blender’s modifier system was an excellent way to quickly shape out what I needed while being non destructive. Using the Subdivision and Mirror modifier I was able to quickly form what I needed without adding too much geo. It’s good to start simple in the beginning, as it’s easy to get in the weeds when adding in more cuts and verts. This project while having organic qualities, was very much a hard surface exercise. So clean and readable was the goal of the initial blockout.
Here I’m just making sure that my silhouette is lining up and strong for when I moved onto shaping out the high poly. For the next step I ended up separating the segments, and using the Bevel modifier set to weight instead of anglem I was able to create nice transitions along the body.
By highlighting edges and assigning the weight to them, you can essentially crease the form to hold more complex shapes and vary your edge widths. For those familiar with creases in Maya, it begins to function similarly. This allows you to isolate edges that you want the modifier to apply to instead of it being put on the overall mesh.
After I felt the block out was looking solid, I brought it into zbrush for merging shapes together and general smoothing. I ended up adding in more detail to the hooks so i would get some nice masks to work with in substance from the height and AO. I ended up not really needing a high poly for the fabric that was in between since I was planning on achieving most of its look in Substance Painter.
Creating Final Game Resolution Model Utilizing Blender
For this project, I scoped it as hero prop creation. I wanted to make sure it looked good in closeups, and could be easily optimized if I ever had to hand it off or go back to it myself. So I treated it like something that the player might interact with in an inventory viewer or something to that effect. Like Resident Evil or the like, so I gave myself a more generous budget with polys than normal.
So this was by far the most frustrating part for me coming from Maya, just because the tools took some setup and getting used to, but all in all i was fairly happy with the result. There’s a great Flipped Normals tutorial on how to essentially set up Quad draw inside of Blender using the Shrinkwrap and Mirror modifiers with snapping set to faces turned on.
I found for the face and spines this was incredibly useful, but for the rest of the body and fins I just modeled the geo on top of the high-poly for speed.
For the Uv’s I’ll just talk about how they function in Blender. First you select your edges that you want for your islands, mark them as seams, and then in the UV tab you can unfold them there. I found it also useful to mark the seams as “sharp” which functions like maya’s hard edges. After that step is done, you then set the overall meshes edge angles to 180 degrees. This ensures that all angles that aren’t marked sharp will be considered softened.
Marmoset: Baking Highpoly information to the Final Game Model
For baking I used Marmoset Toolbag 3, It’s ability to set up baking groups to help isolate meshes create incredibly clean bakes. It also saves time due since I then didn’t have to explode the mesh or set up naming conventions for substance painter.
The first thing I did was make sure that my tangent spaces were correct with Marmoset and the exported mesh from Blender, which is Native to MikkT tangent space. This will help you to not get any weird bake errors and help to cut down on frustration. Marmoset has a dropdown inside each mesh that you can set this too, you can also go to your preferences and have a native import setting for all your meshes!
I actually ended up running into some weird issues when baking with this project, which helps me to segway into the next takeaway from any project, reachout and get help where you can. Marmoset toolbag 3 group on facebook, Polycount, Blenderartist.org, and Blender stack exchange were beyond helpful. I also have a group of old colleagues and friends who I get to put their critical eye to my pieces. The more feedback you can get on stuff can enhance your piece and save you time, as it can stop you from “noodling” or “pixel pushing” your work.
Texturing in Substance Painter
For me, this is the meat and potatoes of any project. I had a blast texturing and coming up with patterns for these variants. I wanted to challenge myself to find solutions to some new techniques and was happy to also find some cool materials on substance share to play with.
- Clear coat
- Holographic eye/sticker
So the first and most important part of any substance file is the setup. I use Bleleux’s ACES LUT for UE4 for my scenes in painter. Using the LUT, combined with an environment with no color information, is incredibly helpful to give a more accurate PBR readout of your materials. It helps to put a smaller buffer into “why doesn’t my piece look like this in engine?”. I also make sure that I have some form of color checker in the scene with a neutral gray in it. This allows me to understand more accurately the values of my colors as I apply them.
Substance has a shader set up for clearcoat, but after some quick research, I found that in order to achieve what I needed in Marmoset I’d have to duplicate the mesh on top of itself and apply a separate material. I ended up creating a separate mesh entirely so I could have all the detail and opacity masks I needed.
– For the holographics, I ended up having to fake it with emissive maps since Marmoset has no way of mimicking true layered reflections. I created it by blending multiple colors from the opal spectrum, and then subtracting them from one another to gain more variance. I had the most breakup in the silver eye, and for the red I actually ended up taking away most of the smaller noises to create a simpler reflective quality.
Marmoset: Lighting and Postprocessing
I decided to render this in Marmoset so I could teach myself more about the camera functions, and overall how cameras work as an whole. I’m not a photographer or savvy in any way with a camera, so this was a great way to get myself to push my work that extra 10%. I had a friend sit down with me an explain how camera’s work, and how they can function in Marmoset. I put the most focus on depth of field (get it), as even a little here and there could breathe more life and dynamism into an image.
Before depth of field
After depth of field
After depth of field
This was also the first time I had attempted fluid simulation for a piece. I used a tutorial by Jonathan Kron, which explained how by using the physics in the Cycles renderer, you can set up volumes in blender to basically animate an object shooting through water. I feel like this helped to solidify the lure in the world and give it a more realistic look and add story.
I’m incredibly pleased with the way this turned out, I felt like I accomplished the goals I laid out in front of me and am so grateful to the people who helped me push this further.
Blender is a program that I would recommend to almost everyone at this point, it makes me want to explore what more it has to offer after only dipping my little toe in the pool.