Walter Torezan Junior presents Vintage Prop 101: in a detailed breakdown, the artist explains how the initial shape of the antique phone was modeled, talks about how you can use Substance Painter to create smaller details of the props instead of only using it for texturing, and shares some great tutorials on Blender.
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My name is Walter Torezan Junior, I’m 27 years old, and I am an aspiring character artist raised in Brazil, living in São Paulo.
At the beginning of my studies in 2014, I tried to learn everything as a self-taught artist by watching YouTube videos and making-of's by experienced artists, those were really helpful and they were my main educational resource when learning 3D art back then, however, after some time studying, I decided to take online courses with professional artists working in the industry in order to level up my skills.
In the past, I had the opportunity to work for a few small advertisement companies and clients, mostly modeling products or assets for web commercials as a freelancer. At the moment I’m studying full-time in order to improve my portfolio and anatomy skills, wishing to one day become a 3D character artist in the game industry.
Working on the Old Vintage Telephone
Speaking about courses, the project was born thanks to one course that I took recently. I took a course created by an amazing 3D professional here in Brazil called Felipe Ferreira, who has worked for many companies on great projects. In Felipe’s course, we learned about the VFX pipeline, UDIMs workflow, and offline rendering, all those things that I wanted to improve in my work and learn more about. That was a great opportunity to level up my skills on that part, and with Felipe’s guidance, I was able to push myself forward to become better.
In the first classes of the course, Felipe taught us the entire VFX pipeline for creating a prop, which was an old telephone, and we could do the same in our projects or other kinds of telephones that we liked. It was thanks to my good friend Diego Almeida who is a great 3D artist as well and who took this same course who suggested that I create an old vintage telephone, this could be a good challenge to me in all aspects including modeling, texturing, and rendering. Then he sent me a photo as an example, and right away I got excited to create that same model, my main goal for this model was to improve my modeling skills and to learn how to use Substance Painter as never used the software properly before this project and also get into the UDIM workflow, which was pretty new to me.
The first photo reference
After saving this first image, I created a folder for the project where I was able to save all the files, references, textures, and anything related to this project. Remember, organization is always important.
After that, it’s always important to get as many references as you can, for this project, I found many images of this model in web stores like eBay or Amazon, which were pretty useful. Also, I think it is important to grab image references showing things like materials that we have to create in the texture and lookdev stages as well as lighting references. There is an amazing application called PureRef, which helps a lot while saving and organizing references, below we can see my mood board for this project:
For this project, I tried to grab as many references as I could, while making sure they would be helping along the way.
I had references for wood, golden paint, small details, close-ups, and even for wear and tear that helped me in Substance Painter.
I started the modeling process in Blender where I tried to split the task into 3 parts: blocking stage, refinement stage and final details. I decided not to use sculpting in this model, as I wanted to improve my modeling skills, so everything in this project was modeled with the good old polygonal modeling tools in Blender.
But, first things first, I opened Blender and I set up a few reference planes in order to help me to block out the main shapes of the telephone. So first I was simply creating planes and applying the images to the models and positioning them accordingly.
These image planes helped me while checking proportions and overall shapes.
I would like to mention how important it is to work with real-world measurements, I use the metric system in Blender to make sure that my model has a realistic size.
I started working on the model by creating a really rough blockout using simple primitives from Blender like cylinders and cubes, always keeping it simple and fast, but being careful trying to match the silhouette of my reference.
As we can see, they are really basic shapes, the rotary dial is a simple cylinder, and the receiver pieces were done by creating the silhouette of the piece first and then adding the Screw modifier in Blender. Even with these simple and blocky pieces, the overall look of the telephone must be there already, and of course, working on such simple geometry, we can change things fast, not worrying about any details or destroying topology.
Once I was satisfied with the overall blockout, I was ready to move to the secondary shapes:
The secondary shapes are the stage where I start to add more resolution to the pieces, I start to break the big parts into smaller pieces, and I add the Subdivision Surface modifier along with supporting edges in everything to add more definition to the entire telephone. As we can see, the topology for the support feet looks terrible right now, but I used the first blockout model with a few subdivisions and the sculpting tools to get the shape right first and retopologize the piece in the final stages to bring the details together.
In order to avoid baking issues in Substance Painter, note in the image above that the round piece which supports the rotary dialer is merged with the main body of the telephone, it might be my personal opinion, but I felt that it was important to avoid the pieces penetrating each other, it may ruin the realism of the model. So I kept the round and the rectangular wooden pieces merged together on this model.
For the rotary dial, I created a plane with a hole and then I used the Array modifier in Blender in order to create the copies, I applied the modifier and I merged the vertices using the Merge by Distance option in order to make sure there isn’t any loose vertex. After that, I created a circle, converted it to a curve, and I applied the Curve modifier to my model, which gave me the complete disc. I closed two circles that weren't supposed to have a hole in them. With everything looking about right, I applied the Solidify modifier to have some thickness, a few supporting edges, and the Subdivision Surface modifier in order to give a nice high-res look to the model.
Here are a few steps I took to create the main piece of the dial:
In order to create the receiver, I followed the same approach, I broke the big pieces into smaller ones and refined everything using standard polygonal modeling tools, I also used the same approach in order to create the inner holes, after that, I used the Lattice modifier along with the Proportional Editing tool in order to give that shape to the piece.
With my entire model adjusted and my secondary shapes organized, I check my silhouette and compare my model to the reference. One nice thing to do, no matter if you’re working with props or characters, is to check the model in the flat color mode in Blender. That’s an awesome way to check if the silhouette of your model looks appealing and close to the reference:
Detailing the Model
This stage is where I add small pieces like ornaments and the cord (and yes, I left the modeling of the telephone cord for the final stage). I decided not to use sculpting for details in this project, so I had to decide which details should be modeled and which details could be created in the texturing process inside Substance Painter.
The first pieces that I detailed were the support feet, I made a retopology to this piece using the Snapping tool along with the Shrinkwrap modifier. That was the only piece that required retopology, the other pieces of the telephone were created with the final topology in mind already. For this piece, I just modeled one foot and the other 3 were created with the Mirror modifier. With clean topology for the support feet, I was able to detail the pieces. It was a bit time-consuming to create the details without using sculpting, but it was also a great modeling training for me.
As we can see, these details were modeled using mostly polygonal modeling tools like the Knife tool in Blender and simple extrusions.
The ornaments followed the same approach, starting from a plane with polygonal modeling tools like Extrude, Move, Rotate, Knife and modifiers like Mirror, Array, Bevel, Solidify, and Subdivision Surfaces.
These ornaments were created starting from a simple plane and by extruding along, always looking at my reference trying to get a good look and a soft curve on the model. The flowers were modeled from planes as well. Once the shape was nice enough, I added the Solidify modifier and the Subdivision Surface modifier.
Extruding ornaments using the reference as a guide
The phone cord was a nice way to learn how to use the Screw modifier in Blender the right way, I had to try a few times until I was satisfied with the result that I got, but the Screw modifier is a really powerful modifier in Blender.
In order to create this phone cord, I followed this great tutorial. I had to adapt a few things in order to get the result that I wanted, like the number of turns and the sale of my cord, the thickness of it, but the tutorial was pretty useful.
Once I had the cord shape right, I created a curve following the path that I wanted the telephone cord to follow, and I added the Curve modifier to it. That’s it for the cord!
For the golden trims that surround the telephone, I followed another great tutorial that helped me a lot.
Nowadays we can find a lot of good resources online including videos, lectures, making-of's that can help us when we have doubts regarding a specific part of our project, so don’t hesitate to look for tutorials or ask for help if you hit a wall when working on your project.
After creating the trim using the techniques from the tutorial that I mentioned above, using the Screw modifier options and simple editing I adjust the size and the thickness of the piece in order to make it fit in the right place. I created a rectangle, I converted it to a curve and I used the Curve modifier in order to make the trim follow the curve, as I did for the telephone cord.
The final trim
Working slowly and trying to keep all pieces at a good quality, I refined all the parts of my telephone following the same approaches as I showed before.
The telephone model with all the pieces modeled
I also created a simple camera in order to check how the model looks with different focal length settings.
And here we can see the final model, ready for UVs:
Retopology and Unwrapping
As the only piece that I had to retopologize was the support for the feet, the topology of my models was good to go straight to the unwrapping step.
For the UVs, i used a few free add-ons in order to speed up my process in the UV stage, they are:
- The UV Packer;
- Texel Density.
These three add-ons helped me a lot with the UVs, the UV Packer is great to help when we need the layout of the final UV shells, the TexTools helps with straightening and aligning UV islands and the Texel Density is great for adjusting and matching the texel density for each UV shell, so all my UVs were able to have proper sizes in relation to each other.
For UVs, in the course, we were learning the UDIMs workflow, which was pretty new to me. But with the great lessons from Felipe Ferreira and a few videos from YouTube, I was able to understand this workflow really easily.
These two videos helped me a lot to understand the entire process:
One important thing I’ve learned about the UDIMs pipeline was that it’s good to organize your UDIMs by material, for instance, wooden pieces that will have the same material should be together in the same UDIM, metal pieces should be together in another one, and so on. It’s not a rule, but it helps a lot when creating masks and different textures in Substance Painter or Mari.
Here are, for instance, my final UVs for the telephone.
As we can see above, that’s how all pieces of the telephone were unwrapped, I had 13 UDIM tiles for this prop, and I was planning to use 2k textures for each UDIM. Today, I would be able to improve this UVing a lot, but as I was starting to learn how to proceed with this workflow at that time, it’s OK.
Model with a checker texture applied
I always apply a checker texture to my models in order to check if there is any stretching or any problem in my model.
Once I was happy with my UVs, I exported my entire model to Substance Painter, one important thing that I did was exporting my model with 1 level of subdivision. That way I avoided any texture stretching, as my model was going to have 2 levels of subdivision in the final render, the UVs would get smoothed as well.
After checking everything, I was ready to import my model in Substance, and here's where the fun begins!
This project was my first experience using Substance Painter for a real project, before that, I was used to doing everything in Photoshop or Krita, so it was a challenge for me, but with the guidance that I had in the course, I was able to learn the software really fast. But not only learning the software was important, but also learning how to tell a story through your textures was what Felipe taught me in this project, and I am hugely grateful for his classes.
In Substance Painter, I like to break my process in the same way as I do in the modeling stage:
A) Primary stage;
B) Secondary Stage;
C) Final details and Easter Eggs.
In the primary stage of the texturing workflow, I create the basic materials for my model, making the telephone look like it was a brand new object.
I don’t like to use pre-made materials or Smart materials at this stage, so to start I look at my references and using a fill layer with the base color, roughness, and metallic channels adjusted, I can create a good base for all the materials.
That’s important to have our UDIMs well-organized, because we will be able to work easier with texture sets in Substance, and we can copy and paste layers faster to the pieces that share the same texture set and material.
For the Wood material, I started with a fill layer, and I imported a simple mahogany PBR texture that I downloaded from the site called Poliigon, the maps that I used from that texture pack were the base color, roughness, and the normal map, with these maps, I was able to create a simple but good base for the wood.
For the golden objects, it was a bit trickier, however. I started checking my references, the secret here is that the piece is not made from gold, actually, it’s made from a dark resin material, and then painted with golden paint, that may sound obvious, but, understanding the layers that build the material in real life is crucial to achieving realism.
So, I said that at this stage I don’t like to use Smart materials, and that’s true, but, what I did was I applied a simple gold material from the Substance library, not to use it, but to study this material, and to understand the process that was used to create that material to look like gold. I studied each layer of that material, and once I got a good understanding of that material, I deleted it, and I started to create my own golden material from scratch.
In order to do that, first, I created a resin material, which is the base material for almost all the pieces of the telephone (except for wood and the metal for the rotary dial). This resin material is really simple, once again looking at references I created a simple dark gray fill layer, with a high value for roughness and small and soft noise in the height channel, to create a simple variation.
On top of the resin material I created the golden paint, I tried to create it in the most basic way, starting from a fill layer, I grabbed a chart on the Internet showing some hue values for golden paint and other metals in a PBR workflow, and I used it to find a nice base color to start my golden paint material, also I added maximum metalness, and a bit of roughness (around 0.3).
Another nice thing to add on metals are filters, I like to use the finish rough filter to add a bit of variation in the roughness, it’s a nice filter that can help to achieve a nice metallic look. But be careful, this must be subtle at this stage, it’s the initial step for texturing, we shouldn’t exaggerate our textures using filters too much. I also like to use the HSL perceptive filter, this filter works like the hue and saturation filter in Photoshop, I find this filter to be really useful, especially when I’m choosing the base color for my materials.
As we can see in the image, the model looks alright right now, but the telephone looks really boring and not at all realistic, it looks empty, without a story to tell, no character to it, however, that’s important to be patient at this stage. It’s really easy to get frustrated and to think that the model won’t look good in the final stage (I felt like that many times, trust me, my friend). But, adding details like crazy, scratches, rust, a lot of noise trying to make the model look better without planning your steps and not looking at references won’t be a good idea, your model will just look busy with noise and it will kill the realism.
So, being patient and understanding the process, respecting each step, observing my references really closely, trying to extract as much information as I could from the photos, was the way that helped me to advance with my texturing process.
At this stage, I decide to add the numbers to the inner part of my rotary dial, basically, I created the numbers in Photoshop, and using the projection tool in a simple paint layer, I painted each number, always trying to get as close as I could to my references.
After that, I started the second stage of working on my textures, at this moment, I started to add color variation to each material and a bit of roughness variation to the pieces, this is when I start to use procedural textures for my project.
As we can see in the example below for the wood material, we are not detailing the model right now, it’s just a subtle variation in the color of our materials to make them look a bit more natural, and less CG.
In order to create this variation, I started creating two fill layers that only affect the base color. For the first layer, I like to grab the base color of the material and change it to a more saturated and darker tone. I add a black mask and use a procedural texture to mask out some areas so we will see the variation in just a few parts of my model. I like to add a paint layer in my mask with the Dirt 2 brush to be able to manually paint some areas that I want to see more variation in, more saturated parts of the model, and in order to avoid a procedural look in the colors, and, of course, I always keep looking at my references. I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention to references, they will guide you through this process, you will know which parts of the model you can make darker or lighter.
After that goes the second fill layer of variation, this time I used a lighter tone in order to create brighter spots on the texture, once again I use a black mask with a procedural texture in order to add a bit of randomness to the effect, but one more time, I add a paint layer and with my Dirt 2 brush, I try to paint manually a few spots that would make the model look good.
When I’m texturing my model, I always check my base color channel in Substance, in order to see if my base color textures are having a nice variation, avoiding having solid colors in my color textures.
I also work with variations for the roughness at this stage, following the same principles, having a few layers only affecting the roughness channel, this time using either a procedural or a grunge texture to add random variation, and one paint layer above the mask to paint manually this variation in order to add a more natural look to it.
Variation in the Roughness map of your model is really important, you start to break that perfect brand new look of your model once you start to create variation in the roughness channel with subtle imperfections.
I followed the same approach for all the materials in the base color. For the gold, I like to add a few lines with variations of color and roughness using a fill layer with a lighter and desaturated base color, I create a black mask and add an anisotropic texture to it. That way, I was able to create a simple brushed metal look for my gold paint. Also, I duplicate my base layer for the gold and change the color to a dull version of the base color. With a grunge texture in the black mask, I can make the effect of the golden paint losing its saturation and getting a bit of an old grayish tone to it.
However, at this stage, I’m not trying to get that old look just yet, I’m just breaking that perfect feeling from the initial basic materials giving variation and basic visual appeal to the entire piece.
Roughness variation at this stage
Once I was satisfied with this first variation pass, I was able to move on to add more variation to my model, but first, let me tell you about a mistake that I made. My main advice here would be to take all of your textures at this stage and test them with a simple light setup in your final software (in my case Blender). That way, you will be able to see if everything is looking as good as you expect from this stage in your final render. But, in my case, I was so involved in the texturing process that I only tested my model in Cycles in the final stages, which was a bad decision because I had to change a lot of things and details that looked pretty different in Substance and in Cycles. However, that was a good lesson for me, always test your textures early in your final render engine!
At this moment, I decided to begin adding the story and the vintage look to my model, starting with the ornaments.
For the ornaments, I modeled them in Blender, I got a simple render from the 3D pieces and then I converted the images into alphas and normal maps in Photoshop. After that, I imported the alphas and normal maps in Substance Painter, and by creating fill layers only affecting the height channel for the alphas and the normal channel for the normal maps, I was able to load the ornaments into my brush and add all the detailed engravings on my telephone.
One nice thing that Felipe Ferreira taught us was that we could hide a small Easter egg in our projects in order to leave a piece of ourselves in the model.
Adding the patterns and the Easter egg
The Easter egg — my initials (W.T.)
With my ornaments in place, it was time to give some story to my telephone. In order to give that old vintage look to it, besides looking at my references, I asked myself a few questions in order to understand my model better. My questions were the following:
1. In what year did this telephone exist?
2. Who was its owner?
3. How did this model age through time?
4. What kind of place could you find this telephone at?
Asking these questions and finding answers to them helped me a lot in order to add a story behind this prop and make it more interesting to look at. If you feel that your textures are not telling a story, try to ask yourself a few questions about the model, that way you will find a solution to create more visual interest in your model.
With all those things in mind, I started my tertiary stage, the detailing part.
Although I was able to give a nice variation to the base color and the roughness channel, my model still looked too perfect, like it was recently bought. So, it was time to add some wear and tear to it, but once again, being careful and checking references all the time in order to avoid having a model with a lot of noise and no rest areas.
As we can see in the next image, I decided to think about the story of my model by adding fingerprints to the top of the receiver, giving the idea that it was touched many times. I added some wear and scratches to the golden paint affecting the color and the roughness, showing that it had already lost its shiny look through time, and started to show off the resin material behind it. The same goes for the telephone cord, looking at some references, I saw that a few rubber cords sometimes get a few stains of a dull color after getting really old.
At that moment I started to use a few generators to help me to give that worn look to my model. Metal edge wear, curvature, and dirt were the most used generators for this project, however, using only generators and calling it a day will not solve your problem. You will have to break the procedural and automatic look that these tools give, I do that by adding fill mask layers with grunge textures in order to break the CG worn look that the generator gives me, and above it, I always add paint in all the layers and with the good old Dirt 2 brush, I paint manually adding and removing details from those effects.
After that, I add a few more layers with details only affecting the roughness, this time in order to get a nice contrast and variation over the model. For those roughness details, I use a fill with a grunge texture, and I add paint to manually decide where I want these details to show up and the variation to be more or less noticeable.
At this stage, I decided to use the Iray Render inside Substance in order to check my model in a render, although it would be better to test my model inside Blender, I decided to keep checking my model in Substance Painter to save time.
I kept working on the wear and tear of my model, always rotating my light in Substance and testing different environments to check how the model is looking under different lighting conditions.
Once I had a feeling that the model was moving in the right direction, I started to add the last layer of detail on it, a dust layer and an edge wear layer.
In order to create these layers, I started using Smart masks, more out of interest in how they work than the actual need of using them. I wanted to learn how they would affect my model, they are really cool, I used the Dust Subtle mask in a fill layer with a light brown color and 0.9 of roughness to simulate dust and the Edge Dirty and Scratches Subtle to create some worn edges and small scratches in another fill layer with a lighter base color and a high roughness value, in order to get those damaged edges, but make it really subtle. I decided to use them to add the final layer of detail to my model, but of course, above the smart masks, I added paint in order to remove or add all of those details manually and to break the automatic masks.
Here are the Dust Smart Mask and the model with final wear and tear added to it:
After that, I finally decided to export my textures and test them in Blender by doing a few tests in Cycles with a neutral HDRI map, in order to check if my textures were working properly.
In order to export my textures from Substance, I had to change a few things, first, I chose the PBR metal roughness preset to export my textures, I removed the emissive map because my model didn't have any emissive pieces, and I changed the normal map option from DirectX to OpenGL, which is the way that Blender reads the normal map better.
I exported my textures in a 2048x2048 resolution.
But before testing the initial renders in Cycles, I would like to talk a bit about the amazing add-on called Node Wrangler, this node comes by default in Blender but must be activated in the add-ons tab.
This add-on helps a lot in the lookdev process in Blender and it also helps to import all of our textures and organize the nodes tree.
This tutorial helped a lot to import all my textures from Substance Painter to Blender.
After following this tutorial again, and thanks to the Node Wrangler add-on, I was able to bring up my textures in Blender really easily, respecting my UDIMs setup.
If you open the Shader tab and press Control+Shift+T with the Node Wrangler activated, the add-on will be able to bring all the maps (if they have proper names), and it will organize the nodes tree for you.
Node Wrangler organized the shader setup
For the telephone, I only used the textures from Substance, I didn’t feel the need to add any procedural nodes or maps inside Blender.
With all my shaders set, I brought in an HDRI map in order to test a few renders in Cycles.
I like to play around with the rotation of the environment map, in order to check different directions from the basic light. That's not my final lighting setup, but just a simple and fast test in order to check if my textures look good so far.
As we can see, the model looks OK, but there's nothing really exciting about it. So, I decided to go back to Substance Painter and keep testing and adjusting the textures, adding more contrast and variation to it and bringing the textures back to render in Cycles. It’s a back and forth process, this is the time when we need to be patient, don’t call your textures done too fast, save the project, go to take some rest, watch a movie or a TV show, play a game, let the project to rest for a while, and then when you come back, you will be able to see what you can improve and what you need to change.
After many tests with different HDRI setups, going back and forth between Blender and Substance, I finally decided to move forward to build the final lighting setup and the final scene.
Lighting and Rendering
Firstly, I decided to build a simple scene to help the telephone, I think a telephone in an empty space is OK to showcase a prop study, but if we can create a scene around it, the composition will help to tell the story that we want.
For that, I wanted to have a closer look at my first reference, that first photo that inspired me to create this project.
As we can see, we have a couple of books, a wooden table, and a blurry background to support the telephone, it’s important to note that, even having a scene with a few pieces around, the telephone is the main part of the image, it's really important to make it clear which model must get all the attention, and which objects will have a secondary place in the final composition.
So, in order to start, I modeled a couple of books, it was a really simple task, I only modeled the covers, as the inner parts would never be seen.
As they were background assets, I created really simple UVs and topology for these models, as we can see in the next image.
Following the exact same principles from the telephone texturing process, I created the textures for the book covers. And of course, I wouldn’t waste the opportunity to add an Easter egg to these assets as well.
For the wooden table, the process was much simpler. It’s made from many rectangles with the Solidify modifier and the Bevel modifier to soften the edges, for the texture, I just used a wood material from the Poliigon website, adjusting the colors and roughness using the Color Ramp node in Blender, and that’s it.
After adding the wooden table, I had to readjust the telephone cord. I could have used the Curve modifier again, however, I decided to use the sculpting brushes in Blender, especially the Move brush to adjust the cord with the floor.
With everything in place, I felt I had a problem with the background as it was really hard for me to find a good image to fill in the background in the post-production, so I decided to add a curtain behind my models in order to make it look like the model is inside a living room.
I knew that in order to create a realistic curtain I would have to use cloth simulation in Blender. Thanks to Blender Guru's tutorials, I was able to learn how to create a simple but nice curtain for my background, I followed this tutorial.
For the curtains material, I used a simple setup using the Great Layer Weight node which creates a nice Fresnel effect on your shader making the edges of the folds lighter, giving that cloth-like look to it. I also added a simple royal pattern to the specular, in order to make that pattern with a different specular level than the rest of my model, and a simple fabric bump map to add a bit of noise to the curtain.
Once I was happy with my scene, I picked a camera angle that I liked, and with the help of the composition guides in the camera settings, I tried to find a nice frame for my final shot.
Happy with my scene, I started to work on the final lighting setup, I decided to start calibrating my HDRI map.
I used a hue and saturation node in order to remove a bit of the color from my environment map, and after — a gamma node to have more contrast. I also decreased the strength to a low value so the HDRI would work as an overall fill light for my scene.
In order to add depth and focus more attention on the telephone, I created an empty in Blender, and I moved it to the center of the telephone, after that, I used this empty as the focal object for my camera, adjusting the F-Stop in order to control the strength of the depth of field.
In order to create the final lighting setup, along with my HDRI, I decided to use planes
with a circular gradient and a strong emissive value and an alpha, giving me the same result as a softbox in real life would give me.
Each light plane here has its own gradient shader in order to control the intensity for each emissive plane. I tried to create a realistic result with the lighting, keeping the logical aspect of the scene, however, my main purpose for this scene was to have a nice lighting setup in the final render. I tried to add a main key light on the left side of my telephone to give me nice shadows which could add much more volume and depth to my telephone. The other lights act as really soft fill lights and rim lights in order to help the main key light but never stealing the "protagonism" from the main light source.
Here's the final lighting setup, note the planes, the circular gradients will emit light as a softbox in real-world photography would.
As we can see in the image below, the shader for the gradient lights is very simple.
I was always testing quick low-res renders in order to check if my lights were working nicely or not, but once I was satisfied with the result, I decided to move on with my final render settings.
For the final render, I used Cycles. In order to have a nice and clean result with the metallic shaders, I enabled the data denoiser in the compositor and set my samples for the final render with 2000 samples at a 2200x2200 image resolution.
I also enabled the render passes in Blender compositor to be able to work the image a bit in Photoshop. I saved all my passes in 16 bits and EXR format.
To be able to set up Blender to export these passes in 16 bits and in an EXR format, I followed another tutorial which also taught me how to open 16-bit images in Photoshop using the free Exr-IO plugin, you can find more about this plugin here. And the tutorial that taught me how to export my render passes from Blender to Photoshop is here.
In my personal experience, the main tricks when rendering such detailed models, especially when dealing with very reflective materials are setting up a low number of samples for your test renders and using denoiser (either OptiX or the other denoisers in Blender) in order to be able to check your materials and lighting really fast so you can make decisions and change things easily along the process. And once you are satisfied with your result, start increasing your samples slowly and keeping testing your settings, don’t start throwing 5000 samples just because you want to see a clean render. It will take you too long to see your render finished and that way you won’t want to change things and issues too much because every time you render you will have to wait a long time. So start with a low sample number, use denoiser with a high value at first to your advantage so you can render much faster and you can see your mistakes and fix them fast as well, and then once you are in a good spot, satisfied with your results, you can start increasing your samples and decreasing the denoiser strength little by little until you have a nice result keeping most of the details in your image and no unneeded noise.
After waiting for the final render, I decided to render a close shot of the rotary dial as well to show off the ornaments better.
Inside Photoshop, I didn’t want to do a lot of things in post-production so I just brought the render passes in layers, I used the AO pass in multiply mode in order to add a bit more depth to my image, and with a bit of color correction using adjustment layers like color lookup, photo filter, curves, hue and saturation, and the camera raw filter to tweak a bit of the exposure and to add a soft vignetting to frame the telephone a bit more in the final image.
A few things that I learned so far in my journey and would like to share with art students and aspiring prop artists like myself are:
- Firstly, take your time, don’t rush your projects, always prioritize the quality of your pieces, and always plan ahead your steps when working on your personal projects, because the final quality of your work will always be a consequence of how well you planned your project;
- Always use references and try to grab good references and concepts for your projects always paying attention to the silhouettes and shapes of the model that you want to create. Ask yourself: why is this prop so appealing to me? What is the story behind this model? What am I going to learn with this project?
- Always try to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone. For me, this project was a big challenge and after finishing the scene, I learned a lot because I was able to improve my strong points but more importantly, I was able to improve my weak points as well. And that’s when you grow as an artist, not only improving your strengths but improving your weakest points as well. Then look at yourself before starting a project, and try to separate your strong points and your weak points, and start a project that will help you to improve both, this challenge will take you out of your comfort zone, and you will grow much faster;
- Take courses with professional artists working in the industry that you wanna be a part of, no matter if it is the game or the VFX industry, or any other. I know that being a self-taught artist is cool, I was self-taught for a long time, but I can’t express enough how important the courses that I took recently were for me, taking courses with professional artists can save you a lot of time, making you grow faster and helping you to avoid making mistakes that we can make while studying alone;
- If you wanna create props, start learning the fundamentals of modeling, how to create a good topology, UVs, and of course how to texture your models using software used in the industry like Substance Painter, Substance Designer, Quixel, or Mari. One more big challenge is improving your artistic eye which takes time but following good artists and studying their works can help a lot;
- Understand how important it is to know how to present your work. Studying PBR render workflows and good lighting setups will improve your models and the quality of your portfolio as well, no matter if you want to work with games or VFX, that’s really important;
- And my final advice, enjoy the journey! Remember that with each project that you finish you are improving, it’s all about progress and consistency. Enjoy the time that you have to study, and do your best in your personal projects, but also remember to take some rest and have fun in your life!
I would like to share a few useful tutorials that helped me along my journey and may help you too.
I would like to say a huge thank you to 80 Level for giving me the opportunity to talk about my project and my process, it was a huge honor for me, I’m still a student learning a bit every day, but I hope this article will help someone. And if you have any doubts about my process or anything, you’re more than welcome to contact me via Facebook, Instagram, or ArtStation.