Creating a Vintage Camera in Blender and Substance Painter

Creating a Vintage Camera in Blender and Substance Painter

Nikita Osmanov shared a detailed breakdown of his 3D prop Eumig Vintage Camera: modeling and UVs in Blender, baking and rendering in Marmoset Toolbag, and texture creation in Substance Painter.

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Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Nikita Osmanov, I am 19 years old and I live and study in Saint Petersburg, Russia. I am a Junior 3D Environment/Prop Artist, and I usually work in a realistic style, PBR.

My journey into the world of computer graphics and game development began in 2017-2018 when I was still in school. At that time, a friend of mine was fond of programming and knew the basics of Unity. It got me interested and I thought: "Why don't we create our own game?". We started the development, I became responsible for the visual part of the game, and my friend — for the software, so we began to learn the craft of creating games. As a result, nothing worked out for us and our venture failed.

The development of the game stopped, but my love for 3D art remained, and in the summer of 2018, on school holidays, I took up modeling again. This marked the beginning of my career! I began to diligently study everything on my own day after day. It was difficult, but after a little over 2 years I am here, giving an interview to one of the best portals in computer graphics! This is very motivating! 

In the process of studying, I also thought about how to monetize my hobby (I needed pocket money). Once, on one of Gnarly Potato's streams, I found out that you can sell your models on special sites such as the Unreal Engine Marketplace and Unity Asset Store. From that day on, I began to create models specifically for them, thereby practicing my skills and knowledge that I got from the Internet. I did not make a lot of money back then, $5-15 a month, but the experience was cool and useful!

Now I am working at TRACE Studio and continue to study and practice because there is no limit to perfection! 

Education

I had no money for paid courses, so I learned everything on my own using YouTube. I watched videos and streams of famous artists, analyzed and took inspiration from works of other artists on Artstation, and read articles on various forums and portals about games (including 80.lv). Nowadays game development is becoming more popular, so there is more and more content for self-development! 

Courses are also very useful, and if you have the opportunity, I advise you to take them, since they include the necessary information and you won't waste time looking for it by yourself. This greatly speeds up your development and will help start your journey in the industry!

When I began to think that my portfolio was good enough, I started sending my resume to different companies. Some rejected me, saying that I did not have enough skills, but some gave me the opportunity to complete a test task and pass an interview. I ended up getting a job at TRACE studio, a great outsourcing company!

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Vintage Camera Eumig: Start of the Project

Before starting the project, I thought about what I wanted to show in my work. It had to be something aesthetically attractive, unusual, with complex and simple forms and different materials. 

I used Pinterest a lot to find inspiration and references. There you can conveniently sort the pictures you like into special boards. The site then independently analyzes them and generates new preferences.

Example of my image boards:

When I found the idea that I wanted to implement, I began to collect a lot of pictures from different angles for better understanding. I collected all the images on a special board for references, PureRef helped me with this.

Here is the reference board I got in the end:

A better understanding of all the mechanisms in an object is very helpful in its creation. Proportions, silhouette, type of material, and history of use – all this can and should be used in your work. Take the time to search for references, because this is a very important stage!

This camera captures the retro style quite well, so I did not add anything of my own. My task was only to show it properly.

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Experience with Blender

It so happens that I initially started modeling in Blender. I just searched ‘Top Modeling Software’ on YouTube and chose Blender after that. After some time, of course, I learned about other programs that are used in the industry, but my experience with Blender was only positive, so I did not want to change anything. 

In general, all modeling programs are similar in their functionality and workflow fundamentals. But I noticed that Blender looks much simpler than others. Its interface and how comfortable it is to work with appeal to me. And of course, a huge plus is that it is free and is frequently supported by developers and users.

Blender is open-source, which allows users to create unique tools for working with it on their own. Many artists share them and this greatly simplifies and speeds up the workflow. 

Modeling

I started the modeling process with the simplest shapes in order to understand the position of the parts and the relation between them, the resulting silhouette, and the full size of the model. At this stage, do not bother with the polycount and preferably use primitives since it is important to see what the main shapes will look like.

The main part was made out of the primitives, and the smooth shapes of the handle were sculpted using bool tools with manual adjustments. You might spend a lot of time improving your mesh at the blockout stage – just do it until you feel confident in your shapes and silhouette.  

When I have the model with basic shapes, I start making a mid-poly version of it, i.e. a model with corrected shading and round chamfers. This method allows you to easily move on to high-poly or low-poly later. 

For high-poly, I add surface details that I wanted to bake onto the normal map (you can do this with sculpting or solid modeling). You also need to remember that the chamfers shouldn't be very small, and sometimes they can be exaggerated for better perception. 

For low-poly, I simply reset all modifiers, remove unnecessary edges, make sure that cylindrical shapes keep the edge length, and mesh density is approximately the same throughout the model.

I also used a simple UE4 mannequin to see how the model would look in the hand.

After my low-poly is ready, I set up hard edges in the places where chamfers will be and immediately assign seams for UVs there. This is necessary for the information about the chamfers to be baked correctly on the normal map, otherwise, there may be artifacts. Hard edges must be placed at corners of 90 degrees or less, as well as in places with distorted shading.

If the angle is less or equal to 90 degrees, you need a hard edge. If there is a hard edge, you need a seam.

UVs

I also do unwrapping in Blender. Its internal tools with the help of several add-ons allow you to do it clearly, quickly and efficiently.

Here are the addons I use:

  1. Texel Density Checker
  2. TexTools
  3. UVPackmaster 2 PRO
My UVs are not very neat, because I decided not to spend a lot of time on the layout and generate them automatically using the add-ons. 
However, the correct layout is very important because the textures you will lay over it may have a pattern with a certain direction. Also, if the UV shell is tilted, the image quality close to the borders may suffer because a ladder effect will appear.

Baking

When the unwrapping process is over, we should move on to baking maps. For this, we need to prepare the models and match the high-poly and low-poly perfectly. 

In high-poly, I assign materials in order to create ID maps later on.
I bake in Marmoset Toolbag, so I divide the model into parts in such a way as to place parts situated close to each other in different groups. This is necessary so that the model does not bake onto itself. I also add _low or _high prefixes in the title to discern the high-poly from the low-poly later. 
Next, I bake the maps I need: Normal, Curvature, Concavity, Convexity, AO, ID.

Texturing

Texturing is an important stage, the results of which will greatly affect the perception of your work. Here we create the play of contrasts, tell the story, add accents and points of interest to the model. 

Many beginners have trouble getting started with the texturing process correctly. You need to begin with the simplest — basic colors. A fill layer with the correct reflection and metalness values will be enough. It does not take long and provides a solid foundation. 

Then follows a long process. Even professionals spend a lot of time trying to create the best textures. You don't know what it'd look like until you try it. Of course, over time, your actions will be much more accurate and quick, so you just need to practice a lot. It will be to your advantage if you constantly examine the things that surround you and their details – for instance, dust accumulates in a corner, chipped paint, or rust stains. All this adds history and uniqueness to a model.

There is a very cool free course from Dylan Abernethy on creating a typewriter, in which you can clearly see the whole texturing process. It took the artist a lot of time, but the result turned out impressive!

Texturing steps in Substance Painter:

To be honest, I think that texturing skills can only be learned through constant practice, observation of interesting details from real life, and analysis of other artists' work.

It is also to your advantage if you know how to work in Photoshop because I was able to make logos with its help. I am not very good at drawing, so I couldn't portray the correct style. I found a suitable photo from the right angles and using Photoshop I cut out the masks for texturing.

Closer to the end of production, I like to add a layer where I can do post-processing for all the materials, edit the settings for brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, etc. To do this, you need to create a layer with the passthrough blending mode at each level and add the necessary filters – this way, they will affect all layers below. Also, this will allow you to change the values of different maps, such as normal or roughness, using levels. If you combine these layers into a folder, do not forget to enable the passthrough blending mode for it too.

Lighting

I rendered everything in Marmoset Toolbag. All tools there are simple and I like that.

I worked on lighting for quite some time, as I needed to illuminate the parts I wanted to show, highlight the surfaces and shapes, and at the same time not spoil the contrast of colors. 

In my scene, there are many different cameras with fixed angles and for each angle, I set up the lighting separately. I took a three-point lighting scheme as a basis – directional light, fill, and backlight – and added a few more sources from above and from the side. All lighting is divided into three parts: warm on the left, cool on the right, and neutral white in the center. This scheme allows you to highlight and enhance details. I tried not to overexpose the image because then the contrast between the surfaces would disappear. Light should emphasize shapes and detail. 

The lighting process:

Rendering

To make everything look organic, I tried to make all renders in the same style and keep the same resolution for all images — 1920x1080. As for post-processing, I only used built-in functions in Marmoset Toolbag.

In 6 months of hard work on my portfolio, I leveled up my skills a lot and developed my own style of presentation which can be seen on my Artstation page, all previews look similar.

Afterword

In this project, I tried to make a game-ready model and show all my technical and artistic skills. I paid particular attention to a beautiful silhouette, correct geometry and shading, mesh density, edge length of cylindrical forms, good map baking, artistic component of the textures, lighting, and rendering. I hope I succeeded! 

It was a big challenge for me to keep moving toward perfection. When I achieve something in my life, it seems as if success is already here, but this is false. When you achieve goals, you get “a feeling of a comfort zone” that slows down your development, and in the modern world, the one who does not improve seizes to be in demand, so it is worth “pulling” yourself out of this state by force. 

Advice from experienced artists can be extremely helpful, so you should talk to people more, ask them to take a look at your art or give some tips. 

I recommend the following discord channels: Potato Family Hangouts (Russian-speaking server), 80 Level, The DiNusty Empire, ExperiencePoints.

I want to thank all the artists who inspire me every day! Many thanks to the creators of helpful lessons, thanks to you we have an opportunity to learn new things!

Many thanks to everyone who's read this article until the end! And thanks to 80 Level for this opportunity! I will continue to improve in order to once again get featured here.

Nikita Osmanov, 3D Environment/Prop Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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