I recently did a podcast discussing the artstation competition with Experience Points. Had a lot of fun chatting with the guys :)
Had a blast chatting with Alex on the GDD podcast. Check it out if you can :)
Listen on Spotify ⯈ https://open.spotify.com/show/7spDMpMZJ9dr3Ziu8bRwCA
Listen on SoundCloud ⯈ https://soundcloud.com/gamedevdiscussion
Listen on iTunes ⯈ https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/game-dev-discussion/id1459400002
Listen on YouTube ⯈ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w42pSBbFLv0
Thank you :)
Add ons are where the real power of Blender comes in. Similar to scripts or plugins in other software, in Blender an add on is a zip file that contains new tools. They are commonly accessed through menus, pie selections and shortcuts. A community of people contribute to a wide range of different tools for Blender and in most cases these make the program more expansive and powerful. As they are just a zip file they are always a simple one click install.
Below is a list of add ons that I use regularly. I have dropped a quick description for each one below and a link. Worth checking on different stores as the prices vary and often there are sales on certain add ons. This information is valid at the time of posting and work with the latest version of Blender.
Also worth noting that I actually didn't touch add ons until I was comfortable with the base tools. I think it's worth doing that so you are comfortable with the Blenders toolset first.Currently I find that a lot of add ons I pick up to solve gaps in where Blender is missing certain features, a lot of this comes from experience and personal preferences in modelling. However, as time goes on I require less add ons to solve these problems and my list of commonly used plugins gets shorter. This is what is great about Blender. It is ever growing and evolving and if a feature is missing the community requests it and it often finds it's way into the software.
HardOps and Boxcutter - Paid
Probably the biggest game changer for me. Hard ops is bunch of tools activated by pressing Q. It is a workflow change to make using Blender easier. Boxcutter is a boolean tool where you can draw cutters in the view port and on the models to perform quick boolean operations. It's so extensive it has it's own documentation and YouTube channel where Masterxeon1001 details the workflow.
EdgeFlow - Free
Edge flow was a small plugin I found that allows you to do a 'flow connect' operation. This was something I missed from 3DS Max and allows you to connect while taking into account the smoothing of an object. Perfect for increasing the amount of divisions on cylinders and ensuring it stays smooth.
MaxVis_Tools - Free
This tool has a bunch of useful shortcuts and features. The main reason I got it was for 'super smart create' which is a script I was used to using in Max. It binds lots of useful actions to one key; such as connect, bridge and weld verts. I missed that functionality in Blender and MaxVis was a good way to get it back.
MeshMachine - Paid
Mesh machine is an amazing tool that can be used to perform a variety of operations. I mainly found it useful for things like unbevelling edges. It comes with a library of plugs which can be snapped to the surface of your model and meshed perfectly together while fixing smoothing. Decal Machine is also another plugin made by the same team. I didn't use it much because I often want to model the geometry into the surface for baking.
QBlocker - Free
In 3DS Max there is a setting called 'autogrid' this allows you to draw primitives out from the surface normal of an object. This was a small plugin that adds primitives to the shift + A menu and allows you to draw shapes on the surface normal of other objects. I believe in the new version of Blender there is a new primitive that solves this issue.Perhaps in the future this add on might becomes less useful, but for now it solves the problem until Blender releases a new version.
Asset Management - Paid
A handy little tool that allows you to build up an asset library which you can organise. What I really liked about this tool was you can create an asset and it will create a nice render of it when you add it to your library. For quickly building a kitbash library of pistons, canisters and high poly bits it's perfect. It also comes with a free set of bolts.
Pivot Transform - Paid
This is another essential tool for working in Blender. The pivot transform tool means I can easily align the pivot to faces, snap it to the bottom of objects. Easily transform it wherever it needs to go. A really useful little pie menu for easily snapping the pivot where you need it. Now I am used to using it I wouldn't be without it.
Blender for Unreal - Free/Donate
This add on is a great add on for exporting collections or static meshes. Setting up collision and exporting animations for use in Unreal. It has a great checker to make sure your meshes work and don't have any issues
Texel density checker - Free
Simple texel density checker. Found it useful for setting texel density on assets that I wanted to export into Unreal. You can also do this in tex tools and other uv plug ins as well.
Textools - Free
Tex tools is a classic. Used in 3DS Max for a long time and it has a bunch of useful UV shortcuts. In Max I mainly used the texel density options, different uv grids and flatten uvs by smoothing groups options.
UVToolkit - Free
UV toolkit is another great add on with a bunch of handy shortcuts for doing common uv operations. You can use it to align uv shells and also enable uv sync, which means you can work in the 3d view on your object and in the uvs at the same time. This does work in Blender as default but this makes it more streamline.
UVpackmaster - Paid
Another paid plugin but worth the money if you don't want to do any UV packing. It runs the algorithm until it finds the best solution with smallest percentage of wasted space. Very much like Ipackthat but built directly into Blender.
These are add ons that ship with Blender but are not enabled by default. You can just hop into the preferences add on menu to enable these without downloading anything.
Loop, bool, mesh, edge, curve tools are all add ons that you can enable to give you extended functionality within their respective sections. Just search 'Tools' under the add on menu. Though it's worth saying I don't use these all that much and a lot of plugins such as Hard ops/Maxvis have their own shortcuts for these functions.
There are a few different add ons which opens up extra objects in the shift + A menu. Just search 'extra objects' in the preferences under add ons. This gives you more primitives to work from in Blender. Assets such as gears and pipe joints, or extra curves. This makes the menu more cluttered but I personally prefer to have more primitives to work with.
Another standard tool that should probably just be on in Blender by default. It turns the f key into a handy tool for filling polygons and doing handy functions.
Again similar to the F2 function I think this should just be enabled by default. It allows more control over the modifier stack. You can expand and collapse all the modifiers and apply them all at once. Just super handy for keeping on top of all your modifiers.
Copy attributes allows you a more expansive copy menu. It allows you copy different things between 2 or more objects. This can be options such as the objects location, scale or rotation. You can even copy modifiers using this as well.
Edit Linked Objects
Recently I discovered that linking and appending files in Blender allows you to reference Blender files into existing files. You can do this with all aspects of the files too like collections and materials. If you enable this add on it means you can edit the linked file and in one click jump into the linked file to edit it. Then you can click the same button to go back to the original file and everything auto saves as you go.
All images are copyright to the original authors.
Some of you may know that recently I have invested some time into learning the wonders of Blender. I wanted to write a couple of informative blog posts about tutorials that helped me in my journey to learning the software. It is useful to know that before this I was predominantly a 3DS Max user and had used a little bit of Maya as well.
A shout out to Ivan Nestorov for his help as I bothered him lots with my questions and he was a great help.
I confess that I only watched part of this as I was already fairly comfortable with Blender when it was released. It is a good place to start as a complete newbie to the software.
Andrew Price aka Blender Guru has lots of great Blender tutorials on his YouTube channel and is generally just an interesting person to learn from. I found a lot of his tutorials were great to just chill out and watch when you had some spare time. Especially for topics I might not normally look at such as rendering. He has good beginner series for 2.8 as well.
He also has a bunch of great general 3d tutorials not related to Blender such as lighting, composition and colour.
Heavypoly YouTube has a bunch of beginner YouTube videos which you can watch for free and he has some paid content so he features in both sections. The Braun desk fan prop was one of the first Blender videos I found. Heavypoly has a great style to his tutorials, they are entertaining and the humor is compelling to watch. I bought a bunch of the his paid tutorials as well as I enjoyed his style.
Along the way I found a couple of videos to make the process of learning Blender from the perspective of another modelling package.
I found this video by flipped normals to be helpful and informative. Flipped normals has an impressive collection of videos with a lot of great topics. This video is a good place to start if you already know how to model in other 3d packages.
Another video I watched focused on transitioning from 3DS Max to Blender specifically. Although a lot of videos will tell you to keep the default Blender control scheme I actually changed my controls such as move and rotate to match 3DS Max. It eased the transition and helped to make me feel comfortable in Blender right away.
My advice would be to try and keep as many native Blender controls as you can. This makes watching tutorials a little easier while you learn the controls and shortcuts and you can always customize it to your needs once you are comfortable. The only time I changed controls was when I felt I was really battling against my natural modelling instincts.
These guys have YouTube channels with some excellent free content but they are mainly known for their hard surface modelling tutorial in Blender. I found this was a great intro to a lot of the tools and techniques for hard surface modelling. The commentary is great for learning Blender but also just generally good practice 3d modelling techniques. With some great cheesy jokes! They also did a free 2.8 update on their you tube channel.
As mentioned in the free section Heavypoly has a great YouTube channel of free tutorials. He also has a Gumroad with paid tutorials, I found the crab bot and cargo spaceship were pretty in depth useful videos to pick up more skills in Blender. Plus the end result is pretty cool and that interested me enough to make me want to watch the videos.
Number one takeaway
Pick an asset and try and do the whole pipeline.
Having learnt different 3d software in the past, I have found this was the best way to learn. I did a small CCTV screen as my first proper asset. This way I would run into problems. As I already know how to model, I would have an approach or technique in mind from 3DS Max. However I wasn't sure how to approach it in Blender. For example - how do I do target weld?
It would force me to jump on to google and learn how to do that technique. I would struggle and sometimes I would have to look up solutions more than once. However eventually it started to stick. This way of learning and struggling meant the information is committed to memory.
All images are copyright to the original authors.
Recently I wrote two articles. One for 80lv and the other for Experience points. I was very happy to collaborate with both of these websites to create different pieces featuring my recent foliage project.
You can find the articles here. I hope that they show some of the progress and give people an insight into how I created the work. If you have any questions you can always reach out and I try and get back to you to answer the questions.
Deciding to change project ideas was not an easy decision. On the run up to the Christmas break I took a month off to work on art, so changing paths was that much harder. I had many conversations with different artists, friends and my partner, but ultimately decided that somewhere during the process I had lost the spirit of type of art I wanted to create. The stylized art of my Tokyo street was fun but not hitting those main objectives I had set out to tackle from the beginning.
Although I felt demoralized, I decided the correct route forward was to try to plan out what the series might look like as an overview. I began by thinking about scenes I wanted to create and how I could link the story of the robot. Below is a ref board to detail the sort of themes I thought could be interesting settings for future projects.
The gas station theme stuck out to me as hitting all the correct objectives, it felt cinematic and I always wanted to revisit a more abandoned setting. I settled on this concept which encompassed everything I was striving for, I chose it because it does a great job of establishing a mood but is still open to interpretation.
Since deciding to stop working on the Tokyo scene I have been working on a new blockout. As with the other scene, it establishes a framework of assets, materials and processes that will ensure the creation of final art is as straightforward as possible. (including borrowed assets from ue4 resources which I will replace later)
I still wanted to keep some of spirit of the other scene with some crazty and nod to Simon Stålenhag with a giant Octopus on the top!
Side composition inspired by Ed Freeman
As well as the abandoned gas station I wanted to tell a story about the world of human emotions. An alien virus is feeding from the fuel sources. Which gives more of an unsettling feeling to the closer shots. The story and the actual final assets for these are still very much to be determined, but currently I have a fleshy growing theme for these.
This is a relatively shorter blog to update on the progress for the blockout before I start asset production. I will do more of a breakdown for some of the process involved in this. Including the blueprints and other relevant information.
In my last post I explained what I learnt during the process of blocking out the Tokyo street scene. I invested quite a bit of time and hard work into this and most of it proved extremely valuable for the project. I hope that this blog will serve as a reminder to myself of the steps I took to get to the end result, as well as provide some insight for anyone interested in my process.
Considerable time was spent attempting to figure out the right approach for lighting. On previous personal projects I worked with a baked solution in Unreal. Despite good results, I often wasted a lot of time while the lighting was building. This slowed down my progress and meant I couldn't be as flexible with updates and changes. I researched into LPV's which Epic used on Fortnite. I watched a great GDC video Here which sold me on the technique and with the help of the documentation got it setup. For the Blockouts this gave me decent results. I was able to achieve accurate bounce light and was confident some of the resolution issues would be less noticeable with final art.
Find more here: LPV UE4 Docs
During my time on the CGMA lighting course I discovered the disadvantages of the LPV system. With the systems current implementation, it only works with the Skylight, Directional and Emissive materials. Not having access to point and spot lights meant it was a lot more challenging to light interior scenes. After further research it was at this point I switched to NVIDIA VXGI solution which used voxels to drive the bounce lighting. I used this for the course and my upcoming project, so I will do more of a breakdown about this later.
To create a framework for the materials in the scene I started a mini library. These were all created in Substance Designer and to a first pass level. The idea here was to get the main materials in the correct folder structure and get a consistent art style defined early. With a good structure replacing them later would be easy.
I pushed for a more stylised look for the art style as my main source of inspiration was the overwatch short.
I created a trim sheet which I used to texture most of the street and pavements in the scene. Plus, a decal atlas which covers the Japanese signage.
For the blockouts I normally start with the largest brush strokes. First, I create a blockout in 3ds Max, modelling the whole layout in one file allows me to figure everything out and establish a good sense of scale. Once the idea grows i separate the individual elements and establish either modular pieces or unique assets. This isn't always perfect straight away but more of an organic process that grows over time.
Full blockout street scene
Post blockout, I pushed ahead with finding a style in the unique assets. I wanted to find a balance of exaggerated realism with somewhat simplified details, exaggerated silhouette and realistic materials.
This started with the post box asset. For art example assets I normally try to find something with multiple techniques and materials to try and encapsulate and answer as many questions as possible. Here I had sculpted worn paint, metal and stone. For stone I was inspired by Michael Vicente (Orb) Portfolio style with slightly more realistic micro noise. The metal was mainly about subtle edge damages and stylised warps. For the paint I attempting to reveal the metal surface underneath. for the Silhouette and mesh itself it was about finding the balance of how far to push reality.
As I have become more familiar with UE4 I have adapted my approach to environment creation somewhat. I now make simple set dressing assets in blueprints which helps to easily replace and add logic to asset prefabs later. (more of this in upcoming blogs)
Shader wise i am focusing on master shaders to encompass parameters for flexibility later. The most bespoke work I did was parallax interiors. I built small rooms from blockout assets. I then capture an HDR using a scene capture actor, this is driven in the Shader to create a fake room. These are blurred and provide enough depth along with set dressing to give the look for rooms in buildings and shop interiors for the various shops. The beauty of this is as the assets get to final art quality, a simple recapture improves the HDR rooms.
Small rooms created for the interior windows
I did some initial design work at the start of the project to figure out how I planned to handle the robot. I made a series of kits of arms, legs, bodies and heads and kit bashed them in 3d to generate the designs. Had a lot of fun with this but I plan to redesign this guy with more detail later.
Kit bashed designs for Robot
Final design choices. In the end I chose design 3/6
In the next post I will be covering the switch to the new project idea. Showing some more process and blockout work towards my new idea.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my process and if you have any questions or require further information let me know in the comment section below.
After the first blockout, I still wasn't satisfied with the layouts. I continued with another composition, which was loosely based around the first blockout from the previous blog post. Visually this composition was my preference but it lacked depth. To counter this I messed with having a strong fore and background where the robot was the main focus. The background trailed off to the city behind.
At this stage something that I thought could be interesting and fed into the tutorial side of things was different time of day setups. I was quickly able to visualize this inside of marmoset and play with what a sunset and night time might look like.
From here I focused on refining the idea and creating a more finalized blockout. As I grew more confident with my idea I ported everything over to Unreal and started setting up all the assets in a proper folder structure and getting the mood and lighting right.
Here is a process gif to show how this evolved as I blocked out the scene.
At this stage it was easy to see the trajectory of the project and visualize the end result when finished. I was pretty happy with how everything felt here but It lacked a little focus composition-wise as the street distracted me too much from the robot.
I tried one final composition which had more focus in terms of camera and scale. I also loved the idea of doing a portrait image as you don't often see this for Environment scenes.
Decision to change the project
At this stage I made the difficult call to change the project theme. Somewhere along the line I lost the initial theme of an abandoned world with the robot and heading into overly stylized. I realized I was working towards something that my heart really wasn't in. Bearing in mind the plan for tutorials and a continued series of work it was best to take what I learnt and change gears. I am much happier about the new project and I have taken a huge amount of the process/learning forward into this. (will be showing this in a future blog)
To round this work up I will be doing an update about the process on the environment blockouts, Shaders and tech I used to get the blockout to where it was at the different stages. As I put a lot of the framework in place even at a blockout stage it was a lot further along than any environments I have made in the past.
As always love to get thoughts/feedback and comments.
Anyone who follows my Artstation page may have noticed that there has been very little recent activity or updates lately. This is due to a major project I have started work on that is going to be taking up most of my time for the foreseeable future. In an effort to stay active and provide insight into my work flow, I have decided to document my on going progress and ideas on this journey.
The working title for the series of work I am developing is 'Human Emotions'. I plan to let this title sit for as long as it doesn't feel weird or until I can think of anything better and more appropriate for the project- feel free to suggest something in the comments if you have time.
My aim with the project is to create a series of environments, assets and materials that I can be recognized for and set a standard of quality in my work. It is an evolution of my original V Ray work here; Previous Blog Post In my previous post I wanted to work on something themed around robots, I planned to use the robot to tell the story and the basis or signature for future environments.
Story: A robot in an abandoned world interacting with every day human themes or finding itself stumped by human emotions.
Aims of the project:
Here are some images of the first blockouts where I was initially trying out ideas. The assets are blockouts modeled in Max with the scenes created in Marmoset. Marmoset is a great tool for quickly iterating and visualizing ideas and I had a lot of fun throwing around simple meshes and lighting.
Here is my initial ref board for the project at this stage. I was also leaning more heavily towards vegetation to serve the tutorial.
After running several iterations of my CGMA Introduction to Substance course I thought it be good to try to write a blog aimed at Students and professionals learning Substance Designer. I wanted to detail the information that I teach every term and use this as a resource for people who are new to Substance. I hope that it is useful to a wide range of people and if it proves to be popular, I may do another more advanced one.
When people are starting out they use the gradient nodes sample gradient feature, it involves sampling an image to generate gradient keys. This is both a fun and practical feature but becomes a nightmare to edit later if it’s not correctly optimised. It's worth cleaning up the keys for refinement later. Plus alterations become near impossible with lots of keys. It's generally good practice when you get into a studio environment.
It is good to stick to the general rule of using greyscale to create your height/roughness/metallic and colour for your diffuse and normal. It is not always 100% clear but often there are options in one node for both. You have either two versions of the same node or a switch, which alters between colour and greyscale. This is super important because it’s a lot cheaper to use greyscale. As you use certain nodes, you will see that it tries to convert between the two types if you use the wrong input. This is adding unnecessary nodes and makes no difference to the result so it’s worth identifying these issues.
Different versions of the same nodes
Often beginners will try to blend multiple normal maps, which for the vast majority of cases makes no sense. It is better to focus on getting an excellent height map first. This will let you drive your other maps later down the line and blending multiple materials will be more successful. There are always exceptions to every rule and sometimes you will want to control your normal map separately to your height. Vegetation being a good example of this.
It’s always a good idea to focus on larger forms first and work your way through the varying scales of detail, this ensures for a compelling and well balanced material and helps you to tackle material definition. One mistake I see very often is using slope blurs with quite grungy maps very earlier on which makes for a noisy material. You tend to find you will lose the macro to micro detail. Getting finite granular detail is a great process to have in your materials but it should happen once the larger forms are established.
Example of Macro to Micro
In the first week of the course, I set some simple patterns for students to create. One of which is a tree bark material. This is quite a complex pattern to create and naturally students look in the library to find the easiest and fastest result, which happens to be Grunge Map 005. It’s good to understand that while easy and fast is a great method, Designer's strength lies in iteration and procedural approaches. It’s better to break down the construction of the bark because as an artist that means you will have superior control later down the line. It's far more scalable and if needed you can create another type of bark in the future. Breaking it down means you have a great starting point to work from if you need another version in the future.
Often when I see artists starting out in Designer there is a tendency to over warp shapes. Warping is a great tool but it can blur pixels together if over warped. Extreme warping can look quite unnatural and give nasty results.
This is probably the number 1 issues I see with people new to Designer and even in quite a few professional pieces. With PBR, it is very important that the base colour values are the correct RGB value. Often when authoring you tend to look at your material in one lighting environment and do not change the setup a lot. This means you balance your material for that condition and once it’s used in other setups it doesn't work as well. This was definitely something I was guilty of myself but working with different lighting setups and time of day systems across my career has helped me to understand how important this is. The other benefit this gives you is the ability to be very creative with lighting; you can make a super dark night-time scene with hardly any natural light or a very bright daylight scene and know your materials will work great!
To ensure your material is flexible enough to work in multiple setups follow the charts linked below.
Don't Nod Chart
Observing scan data you can see how much variety exists in your albedo map that isn’t lighting information. As I have pushed and developed my materials, I have tried to push these details and learn from scan data. Using generators as well as grunges is a great way to get this information in and have it line up nicely with your normal and height information.
A common issue with materials creation is creating awesome content and detail super close up but without much consideration when pulling back from the material. This often means you run into obvious tiling issues from not observing your material from a distance. Ideally, you want a material that works well from far away and close up. It’s a hard balance to get right. There are cases where putting unique detail into a material can work well such as a vertex blend that you don't see that often. Pulling back can help to identity problems and help to balance your material. Equally getting in close will ensure a good read close up. It’s good to keep in mind the use case of your material and cater for that.
Often when marking work I see a great deal of metallic bricks. Although reflections can help to identify details in the material it's always best to try and make your material represent the type of material it's made from.
This is quite counter intuitive but the example I always use is the Polycount diagram of baking. By blurring your height map a certain amount, you are allocating more pixels to the map. Similar to chamferring an edge in 3D. This is an important technique to remember when creating good normal maps
Image from Normal Map Wiki Polycount
It can be hard to know the amount of bricks to put into a brick material, or the amount of sand dunes on a sand texture. I often find it is best to look at pre-existing materials and experiment yourself to find a good balance. Remember you can push higher resolution the larger the scale of your individual elements in your texture. This is a balancing act though because you want as much variety as possible. I have seen students putting double the amount of bricks in a material and although they have lots of variety the material can become muddy and low res.
It's also worth mentioning the content of your substances. I have seen many passionate and exited students wanting to create amazing work which can lead to over complicated graphs attempting to tackle too many things. Try to not create a brick with damages and plaster all in one material but instead keep it simple and break these down as separate assets.
Example of excellent scale and simple consistent material patterns, Week 1 Alina Godfrey
Thanks for reading, I hope this is useful to you. Let me know if you found it helpful and would like me to tackle more topics like this.