Simon Mercuzot has shared the texturing workflow behind the SKS project, explained how wooden and metallic surfaces were created, and showed how dust and grease were added.
My name is Simon Mercuzot and I’m a 20-year-old Weapons Artist from Dijon, France working full-time at Wardog Studios. Over the past year, I have worked on a multitude of AAA projects I can’t wait to show but are unfortunately currently under NDA. I still find time for personal projects though and push myself to improve with each new gun.
I’m an entirely self-taught 3D Artist but I studied woodworking for 2 years, which played a part in the texturing process for the SKS.
I have always been amazed by firearms, their history, and especially how they work. A few years ago, I was spending most of my free time trying to build my own, shooter-oriented video game, and I quickly realized that I was having a lot of fun modeling hard-surface objects. It seemed the perfect combo with my passion for weapons, so I have continued in this branch ever since.
In the following article, I will show you the steps I went through to texture the Russian SKS.
Gathering references might be one of my favorite steps, not only do I build a massive library of pictures of the gun, but also learn a lot about the materials and the way the gun operates. For this asset, I bought the reference pack from Darko Miladinovikj which can be found here and it was more than enough.
Organizing the references in PureRef is kind of an important step for me, I usually position them in a way that they represent the gun seen from the left side.
I started by importing my baked maps and mesh into Substance 3D Painter, set the shader to metal-rough, and set the Tomoco Studio environment. It's a great HDRI as it has both harsh and soft lights without too much color. I also added a bit of contrast in the Color Correction panel. And with that, I'm all ready to start texturing!
The first thing, the most important for this asset, in my opinion, was to set up the masking of the wood, it was very tedious work, but it defined all the next stages. The main mask is just a striped texture from Substance 3D Painter, set to planar projection, that defines the vertical and horizontal sections of the laminated wood.
I also have a few other layers without any values, they only serve as anchor points that I use later in the process.
The masks I create can be reused wherever I need them using anchor points. I add a fill to any mask referencing the anchor point and set the blending mode to multiply or something similar based on my needs.
I then started defining both the horizontal and vertical wood patterns, both wood layers are defined by the first layers I have shown above, using anchors points.
At this point, both wood materials are just a few layers, masked with linear grunges to create the grain. These mainly focused on the Albedo channel, as the Roughness will be almost completely covered by the varnish later.
Then I added the glue layer: a dark red, slightly glossier layer, blending the horizontal and vertical sections.
A little detail that can make a huge difference, is to have a different wood pattern on each wood layer, as it should be on the real object. It’s not just a single wood piece cut by another vertical wood piece; they are completely different wood planks.
To make this detail, I simply duplicated the wood base a few times with a small offset each time and hand-painted each strip on the mask.
Then I added a few layers, to correct the colors and the roughness of the overall material.
Setting up the base wood was probably the trickiest part, sure it can be edited later, but it’s the base for all the following layers. It would be a pain to get back to this stack and edit it, without disturbing the layers above. So, in my opinion, it’s better to take the time to land a proper base material that you only need to tweak a bit later, than rushing it and having to go back and forth a lot more.
Now that I’m happy with the base, it’s time to move on to some weathering. The first thing I did was reproduce the varnish values. I started with the main layer, glossier than the raw wood under it. Then added a few layers on top, rougher this time, to create those damaged corners to the stock:
It’s also one step where creativity and personal touch are important, understanding why these things happen will make it way easier to reproduce. This layer is also way rougher, brighter, and has a bit of a negative height value, to represent the varnish layer getting ‘sanded down’.
A difference in opacity, even in a single layer representing the same kind of damage is very important and can make a big difference. Just because two scratches are caused by the same object doesn't mean they'll be identical in depth, hitting different parts of the wood can have quite different results.
The next thing I did was create this ‘outline’ effect to the varnish:
I basically masked the entire inside of the stock and all the cavities.
This layer defines the varnish master folder mask. The white part is subtracted from the varnish.
The outline is basically the wear layer, subtracted from itself.
This layer is here to add that positive height of varnish build-up right next to the border of the mask.
Then I added a bit of height variation to this outline, by referencing the layer in an anchor point to the next one and subtracted a few grunges from it.
Then I added another Color Correction layer, to bring back a bit of saturation.
For this stage again, the main point was to focus on the references to recreate what exists. This doesn’t mean going 1:1 reproduction but making sure everything that is on the pictures is also on the 3D model. For example, the wood layer thickness, the outline of the varnish are things that I tried to accentuate, so it reads better from afar.
Once the varnish is done, I pushed the overall weathering and damage a step further by adding some larger scratches, color variations, and all kinds of surface imperfections.
I started by adding wear, both subtle on the surfaces, and harsher around the sharp edges.
Both are mainly made out of stencils, and a bit of hand-painting, I also used a few grunge maps (default Substance 3D Painter library) for the surface damage.
Right on top of that, I added two new layers, one to make the wood darken on both ends, and the other to add some interest in the roughness on the ends of the stock too.
None of these are really something we can see on the references, but it adds a bit more life and contrast to the material, and helps to mark the separation between the wood and metals parts.
It’s important to take a bit of freedom on those points, it’s very easy to get a boring result by only following the references, and making a 1 to 1 reproduction.
And like that, wood texturing is done!
Let’s now focus on the front sight metal textures and micro details.
When I started the front sight, I had this image in my head, really enjoying the angle, and all the little details going on. We can see some corner damages, brushed metal, proof marks, micro dust, hair dust, and some very interesting metal values.
I started by matching the value of the metal that we can see in the picture. As it’s an uncoated metal; very glossy, high metallic value, and quite a bright albedo.
I added some extra roughness to the edges, some subtle noise in the color and normal, and some larger color and roughness variations.
Then I painted the alignment marking of the sight post.
With a handful of layers, I defined what will be a good base to work on top of.
Right after that, I started integrating the brushing effect on flat surfaces. It mainly consists of layers with linear grunges as masks, with a negative height value, rougher than the surface, and less metallic.
It looks a bit silly now to have the brushing well defined by the hard edges, but that will change later with the addition of the edge damages.
Right after the brushing, I added the proof marks. Proof marks are basically a stamping from the factory, applied at different stages in the making of the gun. It can just be to confirm that the part was inspected, up to proof that the part has passed reliability tests.
I decided to not include every marking from the reference, to keep a bit of resting area, and to not end with a totally noisy, unreadable surface from afar.
Once again, as it’s a stamped thing, so negative height, it automatically gets dirtier over time, so rougher and darker.
In my opinion, the key to selling these markings is to represent the pushed metal and add imperfections such as a bit of warping and some marks that are only partially stamped. It should not just be a hole; the stamped material must go somewhere. As it’s visible on the references, a little outline with a positive height is formed right next to the stamping, so I focused on this just after.
So I created a new layer on top, positive height value, glossier than the surface, and brighter color to make it visible from a distance.
I referenced the previous layer by using an anchor point in a fill, added a bit of blur to make it wider, levels to adjust the white point, then subtracted the original layer on top.
With this done, I started adding some edge damage and some highlights. I started with a simple curvature as a mask, with a glossier look and brighter color, I like to subtract the ambient occlusion to this mask, as the edges that are the most exposed are usually not the ones in inaccessible areas.
When I use the curvature generator even for simple layers like this one, I like to add a texture to it. this helps to break the regularity of the simple straight edges. In this case, I used ‘BnW Spots 2’ which is a default procedural texture from Substance 3D Painter.
Then, using the Curvature Map with a few filters and levels, and a bit of hand-painting, I created these very harsh edges. This will represent the very heavy damages, which almost ‘bevel’ the edges on the metal piece.
It helps significantly with catching light in the final renders.
Dust and Grease
Now the metal is pretty much done, I moved on to the dust and grease.
As we can see from the references, there is a lot of dirt and dust accumulating in the cavities. I tried to replicate that while making it a bit more visible and accentuating its radius and color.
I started by adding a grease layer, high gloss and very dark, masked by the ambient occlusion. This will be the main base for the following dirt and dust. Since it's a very sticky surface, the dirt is most likely to stay there.
I added a dirt texture and a level to edit the output color of the dust layer, to add a bit of color variation as well.
It’s a very minor change but added to all these little tweaks, it does make a difference.
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