My goal was mainly to improve my texturing as well as my sculpting skills. I decided to go with a relatively small and simple concept, so I can devote myself to each section and not rush things out. I chose that specific axe because I loved the concept art and it let me experiment with three challenging materials that intrigued me- wood, metal and leather.
During the blocking stage, I initially used cylinders and other primitive shapes, When modeling the blade I drew its outline over the reference and extrude it out side.
I also gave the blade an angle so it wont be too flatten. I paid attention to the big shapes of the model and kept it as low-poly as possible.
Usually, when I start sculpting, I envision the material and how it ages over time. In order to avoid a destructive workflow, I aim to save high-frequency details to the texturing stage, this way I can change anything quickly in Substance Painter if needed.
There are changes that were made to the concept art- I got a cool paintover from Tim Nijs and thought it could push the model even further. I figured the wood and the blade would have been used a lot, so I visualized them accordingly- like adding hit marks to corners. I mostly used the Trim brush and Clay brush (Zbrush default), while the top and bottom of the wood were made with JROTools Wood Brushes, which saved me a lot of time.
My first step when texturing is to assign basic colors to each part of the model. The next step will be adding AO and gradients. I prefer to avoid manual and hand-painted textures at the beginning since it’s harder to make changes on hand-painted layers. This is the stage when I would want to test things and make mistakes and procedural textures are the perfect way to experiment. The main challenge in this project was to make the Axe look like it has been used in the past. Sometimes the textures look too noisy and sometimes they seem too clean – This stage requires fine-tuning and I find myself jumping back and forth to make small adjustments in order to achieve the right balance.
There are three important things I try to keep in mind while texturing:
1. Changing the roughness variation so the material would feel like it aged unevenly.
2. Go easy on the normal map, if the value of the normal map is too high the textures can look too noisy.
3. Leading the viewer’s eye to the most valued part of the piece. In this case, I wanted the viewer to focus on the blade of the axe so highlighted it. When I see things are working well, I import the model to the render engine and export the textures. then I start testing the
lighting on the textured model.
Usually, I put a black/grey background to test the lighting in the scene. While working on this project, I discovered a render by Maxim Ilchenko in Artstation that caught my attention, because it was rendered on a white paper-like background. It complimented the realistic style of that piece, so I figured, why not try that myself? I did a quick test and the result was really good!
Below are Maxim Ilchenko renders
In the past, I used to fill my scenes with a lot of spot lights, but with experience, I learned that most of the time there is no need for more than a few lights in a scene. In this project, I only used HDRI and a directional light, of which I changed the diameter so the edges of the shadow would look softer.
When I’m lighting a scene I’m considering the material I created and what lighting would compliment it best. This stage is extremely important because unflattering lighting can ruin any good texturing that you spent hours working on. In the example below you can see that point demonstrated- The materials in both pictures are the same, but the lighting is vastly different.
One last thing, make sure you don’t make your model look flat! As seen in the example the handle looks too flat, solely because of the lighting. In the same way textures can be heavily affected by the lighting you choose, so can the model itself. My advice is don’t underestimate the lighting stage of the process. Take your time, try different types of lighting setups, and test things around.
I used Pinterest to find references and inspiration. I searched for images that showed dirty and used axes. I wanted to elevate my 3D version and make the Axe even more ruined than the original concept.
My main conclusion from this project is that even if I feel like I finished my project and it looks good and I’m satisfied, I can try pushing it further. A couple of more hours can make a huge difference.
I feel like the extra time I spent on the lighting and the textures really took my final result to another level.
There are a few things I would recommend if you ever feel stuck on your own project:
1. Ask for feedback from your friends/coworkers. It’s always good to show your work to a pair of fresh eyes!
2. Join Discord servers. there are some cool Discord servers out there that can get you inspired, and you can also share your progress there.
3. Write your own notes. One thing that always helps me is to look at my project after I haven’t seen it in a while (in the morning or after work). It’s always easier when your head is clear.