So this will be my first of many blog posts discussing some of the techniques and challenges that we face while developing our 3D assets. While I work in a particular environment (MODO) for most of my 3D development I will try to keep the content of these posts broad enough so as to be applicable in whatever production environment you are using.
For this first post I will be discussing the development of a high poly prop that could be used for illustrative or product visualisation purposes. In subsequent posts I will be talking about the texturing process of this prop using procedural materials as well as developing a ‘game ready’ version of the asset for use within a video games engine.
One of the most important steps when approaching a new asset is to collect as much reference material as possible. A good selection of reference images are integral, not only for defining the form of the object but also in determining the materials and lighting to be used within the scene. For this exercise I chose to model a set of vintage opera glasses, as I felt that they would offer an interesting challenge for hard-surface modelling as well as having some great materials to define later in production.
Although it is tempting to dive right and start modelling basic shapes, I always find it helpful to start by breaking down the asset on paper first. The main thing that I am considering at this initial stage is essentially: ‘How can I make modelling this asset as quick and easy as possible?’ The primary thing to look for in this regard is symmetry, as this allows us to cut our production down quite significantly depending on the asset. In this particular instance, we have a central line of symmetry for the entire object, as well as local symmetry for the two eye-pieces. Essentially this means that we only have to model one of the eye-pieces and mirror it, and we could even get away with splitting the single eye piece into one quarter if necessary. Although this initial pre-planning takes a little bit of time, it can end up saving you lots of time (and stress) later in production.
In regards to this I drew out the initial shape in Modo with 24 sides. I picked this number as in order to be both vertically and horizontally symmetrical the number of sides must be divisible by 4.
I then started to block out the basic shapes using bevels to push and pull faces and define the basic forms.
When modelling the high poly forms I find that it is good practice to split the object up into the component parts that would occur when building this object in the real world. This ensures that your seams are naturally formed whilst keeping the object in manageable chunks.
Once I am happy with the general form, I will then smooth preview the object. This leads to a problem however where our form becomes very rounded and we lose the hard edges that define the metallic nature of this object.
In order to address this we must add ‘support loops’. These are essentially edges that when smoothed stop our form from collapsing as much.
By adjusting the distance between these support loops and the corresponding edge we can change the sharpness of the edge when smoothed.
This is the eye-piece with all the necessary support loops.
A particularly tricky part of this model is in the indented triangular detailing around the leather part of the eye-piece barrels.
This particular bit required a lot of hand manipulation but fortunately, because of our pre-planning and identification of the local symmetry, we can reduce the amount of work by 3/4.
I started by blocking out the basic form.
I then split the model across the front face and deleted 3 quarters. I also added an edge loop down the middle of the triangle detail face to split it in two.
I created the triangle shapes by splitting the existing quad faces down the middle.
I then mirrored the whole object to bring back the 3 quarters I previously deleted, including the new triangle polys I added.
Almost there but now the triangles are pointing directly at one another when they need to be offset. To fix this it was just a matter of selecting one half of the triangle sets, extracting those faces into a separate object and then rotating that object so that the triangles align properly.
Merge the vertices and now the shapes are correctly aligned.
Now simply select the triangles, bevel them in and extrude down to create the indents.
The indented triangles with appropriate support loops. The support loops took lots of hand manipulation but this task can be reduced by employing the previous technique of deleting out 3/4 of the mesh, adding the loops and then mirroring back the deleted quadrants.
Tasks like this really illustrate the benefit of a bit of pre-planning. By ensuring our mesh was horizontally and vertically symmetrical right at the start of modelling we reduced the amount of work required to create these shapes by a very large margin.
It was then just a matter of building the rest of the model using the same techniques explained above. When I was happy with the entire eye-piece I simply mirrored the whole thing across, smoothed out the mesh and then took some quick renders with a default material.
Next time I will be talking about the texturing process for this asset and looking specifically at how we can use procedural texturing techniques to quickly create modular materials that can be used across multiple unique meshes to create realistic and consistent visuals.