Hi! I’m Kevin Skok and I’m a 3D Artist and Designer with a passion for creating hard-surface assets. I’ve always been a huge fan of robots and mechanical designs in various Sci-Fi franchises, which is why I love making these sorts of things myself.
Up until recently, I was a student at S4G School for Games in Berlin, where I studied Game Art.
I started doing 3D art as a hobby about 6 years ago and eventually got so into it that I decided to pursue Game Art as a profession.
Earlier this year, I had the great opportunity to create some assets for Fortnite at Airborn Studios and next month, I’m starting my job as a Hard0Surface Artist at Yager, where I’ll be working on their game The Cycle.
I created Bismuth Security Mech as part of my final thesis for school. We had some guidelines regarding the thesis but were relatively free in choosing a topic. So I tasked myself with designing and modeling a Mech that would be optimized for use in a modern game engine. I saw this as an opportunity to create a portfolio piece that would stand out from my previous works.
Before this, I was mostly working on stylized projects, so this time around I wanted to push myself and create something realistic-looking.
This was definitely a step up from my previous designs in terms of detail. I wanted the mechanisms to look believable like they could actually work, so I paid a lot of attention to those sorts of things.
Reference & Blockout
Before I began modeling, I looked at what other artists had done before that was similar to what I wanted to make and compiled the works I liked into a moodboard. For this project, I was very inspired by classic cyberpunk anime and manga like Ghost In The Shell. I think they have a very cool and unique aesthetic that I really enjoy. But I also looked at other, more realistic designs to get a sense of how much detail I wanted my Mech to have.
For the design part I pretty much directly jumped into 3D. I blocked out the shapes and proportions in Blender. What I like about this stage is that it’s super easy to change things if you feel they don’t work, or try out different things very quickly to see what works best. You don’t really have to pay much attention to the topology yet.
One thing I really liked about the references I had gathered is that they had this sort of animalistic or insectoid feeling to them, so that was something I wanted to capture early on.
This version of the blockout was very quickly modeled within one evening. I then used this as a base to make a more refined version with better proportions. I also established what features I wanted to be most prominent, such as the rotary guns and the chaff launchers and created a reference board in PureRef for all of those things. This was also when I started playing around with colors.
Working in 3D is great for mechanical design because you can move your parts around and see how they interact with each other. This way you can make sure to avoid issues like clipping if it were to be animated later on.
Modeling in Blender
A great advantage that designing in 3D has is that I already had a model to work from. All the proportions and volumes were already there for me to polish, I didn’t have to translate the design from a 2D sketch first. Blender also has some great tools that were very helpful for the creation of the high poly that I’ll cover in a moment.
For making the high poly I went for a pretty standard support loop workflow. All the support edges were placed by hand. This allowed me to create clean form transitions from sharp edges into rounded surfaces, as I was able to move each vertex of the control loops individually.
Since I knew that I was just going to bake the high poly details into the normal map of the low poly, I used floating geometry on top of that mesh for most of the details. I think that’s a great way to build details that don’t affect the silhouette of an object. It’s much faster to do since it doesn’t have to be integrated into the underlying geometry. But it’s also a lot more flexible, I could just move the floaters around easily and change the placement of details if I wanted to. I’ve found that a good way to do this in Blender is to utilize Vertex Groups and Shrinkwrap modifiers.
The way I would set it up is to have the vertices of the floater snap onto the underlying model with a Shrinkwrap Modifier, then apply only the vertices I wanted to be further away from the model into a new Vertex Group to which I applied the second Shrinkwrap Modifier. I could use that to control how deep I wanted the inset of the floater to be. This allowed me to change the look of the model without actually touching any of the geometry which was really useful.
I decided to give the Mech some ammunition chute covers made out of cloth. I thought it looked really cool in some of the reference images and felt like it added more believability to the design. It also makes for a nice contrast between the soft cloth cover and the mostly metallic robot.
This was something I hadn’t done before with any of my previous designs. I’ve been wanting to give Marvelous Designer a shot for a while so I decided to try it out for this project. One of my classmates was already familiar with the tool, so he helped me get into it.
I’ve barely just scratched the surface of it though and definitely want to look more into it in future projects.
Substance Painter already comes with a bunch of textures and generators that really helped me to get the asset to where I wanted it visually to be. It has some very useful grunge maps that I layered on top of my different materials to create a somewhat weathered surface look. I wanted it to look like it’s been through some use, but not heavily damaged, so I tried to add just enough roughness variation to make it look interesting. I also wanted the materials to stand out from each other, so I made the metals smooth and reflective, whereas parts like the rubber hoses or the cloth are a lot rougher. On the metal parts, I used the metal edge wear generator, which I then masked out by hand, leaving it visible in only some spots where I felt it made sense that the paint could have been scratched off over time.
Substance Painter was also great for adding normal map details like the cloth structure on the ammo chute or the detail on the rubber tubes.
I find it a lot faster to add these details in Substance Painter by modifying textures in the height channel, than modeling them into the high poly.
One thing I really like in Sci-Fi designs is when they have a bunch of decals like warning labels or stickers on them where it would make sense. It really adds to the realism of a design in my opinion, so I made some company logos and decals to sell the idea that this was an actual machine that’s assembled with parts from different manufacturers. These were created in Blender and Photoshop and stamped onto the model using Substance Painter’s planar projection tool. This made the placement of the decals very easy and fun to play around with.
The biggest challenge for me was pushing the design and the textures to a level where they looked believable. I’m pretty happy with the result overall, but looking at it now I definitely see areas that I think I could improve on. For example, I feel like the foot could have used some more detail, like pistons that would support the individual toes.
And this is what I would recommend to people who want to make their own Mech designs or hard-surface designs in general. Think about how the design would work, like how it would move or how it would be interacted with by whoever ends up using it.
That’s something that I really admire in good Sci-Fi designs – when you look at it and you quickly get an idea of how it functions and you get the sense that it could actually work as a real object.
Kevin Skok, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev