Course overview Course overview
From concept to finished assets
Students learn how to make stylized, hand-painted 3D art for video games. The course will cover the whole process from concept, model, texture, to completed asset. Students will create a variety of smaller projects, and one larger scene for their portfolio that targets their individual career goals. In the last week, there will be a stylized art test to give students a feel for what it takes to apply for a job on a stylized game! Students will be painting textures in Photoshop and mapping their textures onto 3D assets. Some assets will be provided, but students are encouraged to create their own.
Creating Stylized Game Assets WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
The more you know, the better.
Igniting your imagination
Ashleigh is a prop artist with seven years of experience in the game industry making stylized 3D art. She is currently at Blizzard Entertainment working on the World of Warcraft team, and has worked on five expansions: Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, Legion, Battle for Azeroth, and Shadowlands. Her expertise is in hand-painting low poly game art, focusing on creating cultures and storytelling through objects--like a virtual set decorator. Ashleigh got her start with a traditional art education—a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Arts (Illustration) from Virginia Commonwealth University—and then moved into game art with a Master of Interactive Technology from The Guildhall at SMU. Now in addition to making WoW she instructs students, does portfolio reviews, and mentors new artists at Blizzard.
Creating Stylized Game Assets Student gallery
Spring TERM Registration
Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021
It was good to always be practicing on something different every week....It was a fun course overall!
I feel more confident with my skills and have learned quite a bit from taking this course.
I learned a lot of new skills such as becoming more efficient in 3DS max, design, color theory, UVing trees, etc.
I improved a lot with designing my own concepts and got a lot faster with painting textures but still maintaining a high quality. Really impressed with the growth I've seen in 10 weeks!
Taught me new ways to break down a task and brainstorm my ideas. Helped solidify my methods and create better concepts that read well.
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Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.
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Creating Hand-Painted Dioramas
Interview with Dawnson Chen
Dawnson Chen breaks down his assignment from the Stylized 3D Asset Creation for Games course.
Hi, my name is Dawnson Chen and I am currently taking the Stylized 3D Asset Creation for Games course, taught by Kevin B. Griffith, on CGMA. I am going to break down one of my assignments we did in the course.
I graduated with a four-year Bachelor of Arts and Animation program at Sheridan College. That was where I learned most of my traditional skills, like drawing and painting. Following Sheridan, I took a one-year Game Arts program from Seneca College, where I learned how model and texture.
After school, I landed a job at Gameloft Montreal as an Environment Artist, and that is where I currently still am. We recently released a new game, Gangstar New Orleans, which is my first released title.
This is my second CGMA course; the first was Environment Design with Aaron Limonick. The goal of taking both these courses was to improve my design skills. Both Aaron and Kevin have been great mentors in helping me achieve that.
The goal of the assignment was to create a small stylized 2.5D vignette that included multiple material elements: rocks, terrain, foliage and something manmade. It is based on a workflow similar to games like Diablo 3 and League of Legends. We used four 2048 textures, one for each element, and the final scene was to be presented and lit in Marmoset Toolbag.
I chose to do a witch’s cauldron brewing a potion in the woods. Normally I would do a bit of a concept painting, but time was an issue. I only had a napkin sketch of the idea, so instead, I found a really nice painting on Artstation, done by Grace Liu. I used it as a mood inspiration and tried to imagine my cauldron inside that painting.
I began modeling a block out inside of 3dsMax, just to get a sense of scale and position for most of the elements. Everything is really rough here. I didn’t use any of these meshes for the final.
Modeling and Texturing Rocks
Then I went to Photoshop and began painting the rocks. I used the meshes from the block out as a reference and painted their approximate shapes. When I was happy with the painting I went back to 3dsMax to start modeling. I started by mapping the rock texture to a plane and began cutting the plane, trying to follow the volume of the rock.
Once the plane was all cut, I began to mold it into a 3d shape. I pulled out the areas that came forward, trying to give the rock some volume. This part can be a bit tricky; it just takes some time to massage the mesh into the shape you want without stretching the texture too much. After I finished all the rocks, I replaced the block out mesh with the textured mesh to see how it fit into the scene.
The next part was the terrain. I painted two tileable textures: one rock and one grass. Then I blended the two of them together, trying to keep the shapes of the blades of the grass. After I painted in a rough shadow on a separate layer, I keep it rough because at this point things are still being shifted around. I also painted a circle in the alpha channel to give the base a circular shape and grass coming off of the edges.
Here I did a quick paint-over of the props I wanted to make for the next stage. I like doing this because it helps me take inventory of what I have left to do, and also see what I can get away with repeating a few times. As you can see, I changed my mind about a few props for the final. After getting feedback from Kevin and other people, I thought it would be clearer if I left out the some of the props and kept it more focused on the witch theme.
Marmoset Toolbag and Lighting
*Note: I added the trees and foliage; they were made the same way as the rocks so not much to explain.
At this point, I imported everything into Marmoset Toolbag and did the first pass on the lighting. The lighting for this scene is very simple. I just had one main warm directional light coming from the top left and a cool backlight to give the objects some rim lighting. Then I added some Omni lights in a few places where I wanted to draw the eye (the fire, the book etc.)
*warm directional light is offscreen
Props and Polish
The final step was making the props. Unlike the rest of the scene, which is 2.5D, the props are all 3D. This way I could rotate and place them around wherever I needed. After I finished painting the props, I scattered them around the scene.
Finally, I went back and did a polishing pass. I cleaned up some areas in the rocks and trees, just adding some details at the points of interest. I made sure the shadow on the terrain matched the rocks and props and I fixed the discoloration in the grass planes. And for the cherry on top I added some bubbles.
This was a fun scene to work on. I enjoyed having time to paint everything and polish until I was satisfied. It was really good practice for doing hand painted textures, which I hadn’t done too much of it the past. Thanks, Kevin, CGMA, and Gameloft for the experience.
Hand-Painted Interior of Cat's Bakery
Interview with Joanna Lin
Joanna Lin explained how she worked on her recent stylized hand-painted scene Cat’s Bakery made with diffuse maps only.
Hi! My name is Joanna Lin and I’m an environment artist from Seattle. I enjoy low-poly, hand-painted textured assets and I’m fairly new to the industry. My first industry job was at Topstitch Games making Trip Troupe for Mixer’s interactive feature and now I’m with AggroCrab Gamesworking on their new game.
I have always loved video games and drawing as a child but combining them was not something I even dreamt of until after finishing my undergrad. After enrolling into a local game art school in Seattle I found a particular passion for creating and directing the art for games. Video game art has the potential to take on another form. Its power to captivate and enthrall players and spectators with its interactions in the context of games gives it a special feeling that I want to always emulate in my work.
The goal of the assignment was to create a stylized interior within a “fantasy tavern” theme. The scene required a large number of props and the wall and floor textures were painted in a “paint-to-cam” method used in games like Diablo 3 and Starcraft. We had two 1024 textures for the floor and wall and the prop textures were done on a 2048 texture. The final scene was lit and presented in Marmoset Toolbag.
I chose a cat-themed bakery with a cozy atmosphere similar to that of a warm, bustling interior of a tavern. The cat-kiln was the main centerpiece of the scene and I was also heavily inspired by Vasili Zorin’s concept art pieces he created for a Hearthstone animated short. My concept was bringing that style and atmosphere together with the centerpiece and building off of that concept.
I started with a rough sketch and then began roughly blocking out the scene and implementing lighting to get a general feel for the interior.
It may have been a bit overkill to also model out all the props (which were the final meshes for the scene) and then paint over that but it helped me lay down the colors for the textures quickly and it worked out fairly well for my workflow. In the future, I feel I would paint over the initial rough graybox to lay down the idea a bit quicker.
Hand-Painted Textures with Diffuse Maps
A lot of painterly and stylized scenes use diffuse only and this approach is mainly about the artistic style. You get a very specific look with it and this look currently can’t be achieved without this method. I think when it comes to choosing the methods, it’s just a matter of choice and depends on the style you are going for!
I approached most of the textures in the same manner – by starting out with a flat color, defining any large shapes and patterns and then slowly building more details on top. I spent the most time with the detailing on the floor texture. For the props in the scene, the textures were fairly simple but they worked out well.
Everything was modeled in Maya and I tried to keep the forms basic but not too rigid either. I actually enjoy 3D Coat’s UV system a lot so I UV unwrapped a few slightly more complex models there instead of Maya.
I set up the lighting once I finished the initial graybox for the scene. There are a few Omni lights in the scene: an orange and yellow one in the kiln, a soft blue one for the window behind it and a purple one to the right for extra rim lighting. The only lighting that was painted onto a texture in this scene is the blue light on the kiln’s ears and pipe which helps sell the blue lighting there.
This is my first time doing a scene like this so I still have much to learn but I’m also proud that it’s presentable and close to what I envisioned! What I really enjoy is a low poly look with painted textures that give a charming effect. I tend to be too focused on the details sometimes but over the course of this project, I found a balance in how much detail is actually shown on the props. In terms of using Marmoset Toolbag, I feel that the lighting along with the global illumination setting really helps bring the scene to life. Coming from a 2D background and translating things to 3D helped me see what I could get away with. Things don’t always have to be complicated and crazy-detailed to look good!
Joanna Lin, 2D/3D artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
Creating a Hand-Painted Dwarven Feast Hall
Interview with Angus McMeekin
Angus McMeekin did a breakdown of his project Wildhammer Feast Hall made with 3ds Max, ZBrush, and Photoshop during his studies at CGMA.
Hi, my name is Angus McMeekin and I'm a 3D artist specializing in stylized art. I was born and raised in Scotland for most of my early life but I now live in Brisbane, Australia. I've been making 3D art for about 5 years, although I didn't get really involved until about 3 years ago. I'd say my love for stylized art came before my interest in 3D art. I'd always been glued to video games from a young age and upon reflection, I can say I was more drawn to stylized art in all forms of media, be it comics, cartoons, or games. Some of my favourites were Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, and World of Warcraft. From about halfway through high school I had a good idea that I wanted to work in games but it wasn't until I actually started studying game development that I connected the two interests of stylized art and video games, and began focusing on stylized 3D art. Now that I look back at it, I can't see myself doing anything else. Currently, I'm busy working away on personal projects, mostly environments/props, and looking for work!
I'd finished university and was pretty disappointed with what had been offered in terms of professional feedback. I'd also been making hand-painted assets for the majority of my stylized art portfolio but I felt the progress I was making, if any, was very small. I was consistently making flaws such as muddy textures and sloppy brushwork. It felt like there was a barrier that I just wasn't able to cross and I felt the best way for me to overcome it was to revisit the fundamentals of hand-painting and revitalize my skillset. I'd tried a few tutorials before but none had helped as much as I had hoped. I came across a CGMA study group in the Handpainters Guild Discord group that discussed the 'Creating Stylized Game Assets' course. The discussions and work being showcased really stood out to me and there were clear improvements being shown. Also, the class was held by Ashleigh Warner, a prop artist at Blizzard Entertainment, working on World of Warcraft. Ashleigh stood out to me as an amazing teacher, her work was fantastic and the prospect of being able to receive feedback from someone with professional experience and such a good understanding of hand-painted texturing was what had me the most interested.
Wildhammer Feast Hall: Inspiration
There's something about the Dwarven culture in fantasy that I just love. The Wildhammer clan felt like a sort of sub-genre of the culture that seemed relatively unexplored, with the last major zone related to them, the Twilight Highlands, being released back in 2010 as part of the Cataclysm expansion. It's a beautiful zone and the Wildhammers have such a fun and unique style. The main Dwarven culture (the Bronzebeard clan) is more focused on snowy mountains, grand halls of stone, and angular designs.
The Wildhammers, however, live in smaller hilly regions in small, grass-topped, almost burrow-style homes, somewhat akin to Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings. Their architecture also uses much more wood, cobbled stone, and extensive gryphon imagery as opposed to the Bronzebeards heavy use of stone, primarily in large blocks, and ram imagery. I felt like these differences could be explored even further to a level that you see in the newer cultures within WoW, where every culture has its own custom-made props. There are certainly some interesting designs that existed but I felt there was so much more to be explored. So, I started by exploring the Wildhammer areas and taking plenty of screenshots to understand their culture as best as I could. I think this concept art from the Cataclysm game manual best illustrates the key elements of what makes up the Wildhammer culture. I noted the arced shaped beams of the roofs and the split logs that uphold them, the sloping pillars, the stone brickwork, the gryphon imagery, the celtic-inspired patterns, and the mossy/grassy exteriors as key design elements. You can also see many of these elements in the houses in-game.
With these all in mind, I wanted to design an environment that captured the wild, drunken, and proud energy of the Dwarven culture. What better way to capture this than a Dwarven feast? I created the concept using what I had learnt, I’m no master at sketching up concepts but as long as you can get the idea across, I don’t think it matters much.
A goal of the environment was to feature some sort of 'Hero Prop', something unique that acts as a centrepiece and grabs the viewer's attention. I decided upon an unlucky, recently deceased Boar that had been hunted in true Wildhammer fashion, by Gryphon Riders, Hence the spears atop its back and the large axe embedded in its skull by a descending rider. They also serve as lines of action, helping to guide the viewer's eye back down towards the boar. The boar is then laid atop the feast table, honouring the prize of the hunt in true, wild dwarven fashion. I wanted to capture the somewhat comical elements often seen in WoW so I presented it in a goofy way with its crossed eyes and outstretched tongue.
Modeling the Scene
I blocked out the majority of my props in 3ds Max. A lot of the details in hand-painted works can come from the textures so it’s all quite low poly, with the majority of the tri-count coming from the boar. A good rule of thumb is to add geo when it will affect your silhouette, so I'll add loops anywhere it can help me exaggerate proportions. An example of this is where my pillars flare out towards the bottom.
I’m always trying to speed the creation process up so I use plenty of symmetry and object instancing. This also comes in handy for texturing as I can stack faces during the UV unwrap process so as to share texture space, allowing me to paint less while providing more texture resolution. Note the table and chairs as an example. The chair is actually just three unique objects repeated to make one, the armrest, one single plank, and two feet. The table is one plank repeated and flipped to break up repetition along with one leg and a supporting beam. The split log that runs through the middle is just the same log used on the bench!
For the walls and floor, I used planes. The wall has a few cuts in it and is curved to emulate the curved roofs seen in the Wildhammer architecture. These are then textured using a combination of tiling textures that I blend together in Photoshop using masks. Again, this is a great time-saver. Instead of texturing the whole wall uniquely, I can use a tiling stone texture to quickly cover a large area then break up repetition by blending in moss. To blend them together I used masks in Photoshop. I overlay the entire texture with tileable moss, mask it all out then remove the mask in the cracks and areas that I want to reveal the moss.
Although I blocked out a low-poly boar in 3ds Max, it was purely for scale and reference on proportions for when I wanted to sculpt out my boar in ZBrush. I start low detail using methods similar to those in traditional 2D drawing, working in simple shapes to block out a character's anatomy. Using mostly spheres and appendages, I apply the move brush to push and pull until I have a silhouette that I like. I keep all my objects separate until I have a rough blockout that I’m happy with. I do this as it’s much easier to move shapes about without breaking the overall structure of your blockout. I’ll slowly increase subdivisions, using pinch and detail brushes to define the silhouette more, see the boar's snout as an example.
With my blockout complete I use dynamesh to combine my shapes into one single mesh. From here it’s just a matter of slowly adding details, starting from large then progressing to small. Some of my favourite brushes are Shane Olson’s brushes that he gives away for free over on his 3D Character Workshop website, along with his Custom UI. I’ll use the pinch and detail brushes that are included for a large majority of my details. For the fur of my boar, I used some IMM and fur brushes from the ArtStation marketplace. I used the IMM brushes sparsely as they can make retopology tricky, opting to add just a few on the front of the boar to simulate some big bushy eyebrows. The fur brushes just affect the surface of my model so I can easily bake those details into the texture instead. Once I’m happy I just retopologize and UV unwrap in 3D Coat.
I baked out an AO, Curvature, Normals, and Diffuse Lighting maps in Marmoset Toolbag and combined them to create a base texture for my low-poly boar. I then applied paint on top of this using an overlay layer to get some colour blocked out. From here it’s all hand-painting.
I clean up any baking errors and again start with the major details, painting in any details that weren’t part of my bakes or weren’t covered by my gradient map, e.g. the eye colour. The process from here is the same for the rest of my regular low-poly props: blocking in base colours, adding major details, then colour variation and highlights. I also like to add overlay layers to quickly brighten or darken certain faces more or less affected by light. See the shield texture as an example (before and after):
For certain surfaces such as the stone, I like to use the brushes Ashleigh provides as part of the course. Anything with a charcoal style texture works great for rock. Other than that, I mostly just use the regular old hard-edge brush and the smudge brush with a nice sort of chalky texture to blend colours. I set out a colour scheme early on in my concept using Gamut masks. This helps lock me down to certain colours and retain a harmonious colour scheme. I wanted my environment to look warm from the candlelight so this was vital to retaining that look.
Details and Patterns
I created the interweaving pattern of the pillars using symmetry in 3D Coat. I first paint out the lines not worrying about how they will weave in and out one another. Once I’ve got a pattern, I go back and erase certain parts where they intersect to create the illusion of them passing over and under one another. With the pattern sorted, I do a final pass and apply the usual process of adding shading, colour variation, and highlights. And I used the same process for the shield! Painting out a nice pattern, removing intersections, and polishing up by erasing away at parts where the paint has flaked away from battle. The axe is a really simple model. I didn’t want to make it overly complex or it may have drawn attention away from the boar. I just needed it to help tell the story.
Vegetation can be tricky as it can end up looking pretty flat or out of place sometimes. I actually created the texture for the foliage before the model. This way you can focus on the shape of your foliage beforehand and worry about geometry restrictions later. I started with a regular Photoshop document, painting out the various plant types I wanted around my scene – leaves, mossy clumps, ferns, and blades of grass – keeping it all pretty low detail and painterly. It’s all really small so you don’t want the texture to be overly noisy, just enough shading to give it some depth. With the texture complete I apply an alpha channel and place it on a plane in 3ds Max. Using the cut tool, I cut shapes around each plant object that will allow me to add some depth. I then shape these cut-out objects by pulling and moving the verts and edges to better reflect the curves of the plant!
I used Sketchfab for my lighting as I really like the tools and post-processing options it has available. I placed two nice warm orange point lights in each of the candle lanterns to help cast light in all directions. These didn’t reach quite as far as I liked so I also added a spotlight in front of the central lantern that shone down upon the table and boar. This helped to really illuminate the boar with that nice warm lighting and again, focusing attention on it. The boar, however, was blending into the background a bit too much and the light wasn’t catching the boar as well I wanted it too. So, a workaround for this was creating an artificial rim light. I did this by taking the boar's geometry, applying a push modifier in 3ds Max (this nudges all the geometry slightly in the direction of its normals), flipping the normals, and deleting the front-facing geometry that would receive any rim lighting. I then apply a nice yellowy-orange emissive texture to it to really help it glow. This worked wonders in making the boar really pop out from the scene. Lastly, I applied speculars to all my metal surfaces, this helped to really catch the orange light and give them that nice shiny look.
For me, the hardest part of the production process was taking everything I’d made and balancing it to work together. Sometimes, your colour values can all blend together and nothing really stands out or you can be on the other end of the spectrum and nothing looks like it fits together. It can all really come together in the end with just small touches and I think this is what makes art so difficult at times. You’ve really got to stick it through and keep pushing and chipping away at it and eventually it will work.
Ashleigh was vital in helping me learn to identify issues in my art. She helped by not only pointing out textures that could be pushed further but how to push them further. I think this sort of feedback is what makes the CGMA course so great and it is what I had been missing out on in the online tutorials I had done before.
If I were to go back and enhance the scene further, I’d likely keep working away on some of the textures. It’s one of those things that you could keep poking away at, adding small details and highlights. Ultimately, I only have so much time though! I’m happy with how it turned out and looking forward to applying all I learnt from the course in my future projects. The course really helped to bring out my love for making environments/props so I’m going to keep working on those in my personal projects. Hopefully, I will have more fun artwork to share in the near future as I continue to look for work!
You can see more of my work over on my
Angus McMeekin, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova
Creating A Revendreth-Inspired Scene in Maya and Photoshop
Interview with Pat Klisiewicz
Pat Klisiewicz did a breakdown of his scene inspired by Revendreth, made during the CGMA course, shared his modeling workflow in Maya, discussed the texturing process in Photoshop, and explained his lighting set-up in Marmoset Toolbag to recreate the game’s atmosphere.
Hi, My name is Pat Klisiewicz, I am currently a 3D artist working in the video games industry. In this article, I hope to share the things I learned whilst undertaking the CGMA Stylized Assets for Games class.
About the Course
I was always interested in drawing, fantasy art, and video games, especially, the Warcraft RTS series and Zelda. I always loved digital painting and in 2017, I discovered ZBrush which showed me how amazing and fun 3D art can be.
After experimenting with different software and styles, I loved how Stylized Hand Painted assets combined my love for painting and 3d modeling. It was the perfect fusion of illustrative skills and 3D.
I signed up for the class when I received an email that the class had been renewed and would be taught by Ashleigh Warner, I think going into the class I didn't expect to learn any skills in terms of software, but more the workflow and artistic approach to creating assets, how I can improve my textures, values, topology, etc.
Inspiration and Reference
Ashleigh was very clear that we should be aiming our Portfolio pieces at the studios we would like to work at so the inspiration for this piece was World of Warcraft. At the time not a whole lot was known about one of the new zones, other than a few pieces of art that could be found online. I thought it would be interesting to apply my vision of what I would like to see in the next expansion.
I will usually use PureRef to organize my images. I find a lot of the time whilst working on a piece I will always be browsing Artstation, Instagram, or Pinterest and constantly pulling images off the web that inspire me to use as a reference.
I always try to first find a reference to the general atmosphere and feel. Then find a reference for the smaller elements in the scene, in this case, the atmosphere was set with the concepts for in-game Revendreth that were available online at the time. I then looked for references to stone arches, thrones, stone, gargoyles, etc.
I think when doing initial concepts I do not use a large amount of reference, I think it is important for me to get my broad ideas down on the page. Here for example I started with silhouette designs of the throne which I knew was going to be the hero “prop” for this scene. Before moving into some thumbnail sketches, I then took a blockout and created a base for a paintover, from which I painted my original concept and did some experimentation of other colour variants.
This assignment for the class was the largest and was broken down into 5 weeks.
- Week 1: Concepts
- Week 2: Tiling Ground Textures
- Week 3: Tree / Foliage
- Week 4: Hero Props
- Week 5: Details
My modeling approach in Maya was following along with the plan set out in these weeks and slowly working large to medium to small, then slowly adding detail to build up the scene. I started with the base ground, tree, wall/window, floor, and column as I had established in my concept, and when I was comfortable with how things were looking, I built up the smaller details.
The geometry for this type of stylized hand-painted artwork is quite basic as can be seen in the wireframe images. The goal here is to use the painted diffuse textures to build up detail and depth.
When modeling, for example, the column, I started with a really basic shape, and as I needed extra edge loops and geometry to match my texture and give it extra depth.
TIP: I use instanced objects and symmetry/mirror to speed up the workflow!
In order to achieve the 2D look, I used a Diffuse only workflow, meaning that the only map used for this piece is a diffuse (Colour Information) as opposed to PBR workflow which involves using several map types such as normal/roughness/specular, etc. For this piece, my workflow was almost exclusively using Photoshop, but also some initial setup in 3DCoat. To get a good base for me to start painting my textures onto, I bake an Ambient Occlusion Map, Curvature Map, and a top-down gradient. This can be done in any baking software such as Marmoset or xNormal. It is not necessary, but I do find it speeds up the process considerably.
I think the trick to getting highlights on stylized textures like this is remembering how something is positioned in the scene, and generally imagining a top-down light source, so any faces or edges facing up will catch a highlight and vice-versa. I would normally paint in the flat values and then using my curvature map as a guide paint in the edge highlights.
Creating textures that have a stylized but rich feel, I think, comes down to using color variation through the piece. Adding tints of greens, blues, and purples can really bring the textures to life and give them the colorful, comic book vibrance that many hand-painted games such as World of Warcraft have.
Working on the Details
The lanterns are probably one of the funniest parts of this to work on, I started with a basic primitive rectangular box, divided it into 4 sections, I experimented with only painting a quarter of the lantern and just having the same UV texture on all 4 sections, but this was very obviously repeating and looked lazy. So I decided to paint half of the lantern, and mirror the geometry as seen below, this way, I could get more variety into the overall texture.
The entire texture for these lanterns and every other prop is the same workflow as mentioned before, I exported the model into 3D Coat, baked my Ambient Occlusion, Curvature, and Top-Down Gradient. It is then just a matter of painting in detail including things like the skull or other decoration elements, I will also switch back and forth between Maya and PS to make sure the values and colors all match throughout the scene.
For the lighting, I used Marmoset Toolbag 3. I started with the basic HDRI in Marmoset of a late sunset environment with an orangish horizon and purple clouds.
I kept my original textures very neutral in terms of colors, I thought about the textures as if there was no lighting, and they were lit by a simple top-down neutral light with no color. This way, I could have more control over the overall final atmosphere of the piece with the lighting and HDRI setup inside the Marmoset Toolbag.
My general theory behind lighting this piece was to have it quite dim and grim as it would be in Revendreth. I used the bright pop of red light from the window to attract the viewer's eye towards the center and throne and then adding in the light rays to guide the eye down to the throne. Anything else I wanted to pull out and draw attention to. I used a spot or omni light with a slight color to add visual interest.
I think the biggest challenges that came with this project was the timeframe, and getting the look of Revendreth right with very little material about the zone having been released at the time. This was a personal representation but I did want to try and get it as close as possible using only the concept art available. I also made sure before posting my final portfolio pieces to go back and polish everything to a level I was happy with and make all of the changes from Ashleigh’s feedback.
I spent time after this class polishing all of my portfolio pieces to a level I was happy with before posting them to my Artstation for the world to see!
Pat Klisiewicz, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova
Naga Shrine of Rejuvenation: Texturing Game Assets in Substance Painter
Interview with Alexander Nguyen
Alexander Nguyen did a breakdown of his stylized scene, Naga Shrine of Rejuvenation, made during the CGMA course, discussed his approach to creating a stylized look to the assets, talked about working on the vegetation and water texture as well as shared his lighting setup.
Hi, my name is Alexander Nguyen, and I’m a 3D Environment and Prop Artist from Southern California. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Entertainment Arts: Animation from California State University Fullerton. I’ve been enamored with video games and animation, so it was natural for me to gravitate towards stylized game art. Some of my favorites over the years have been WoW, Legend of Zelda, Trine, Dark Souls, Battle Chasers, Ghibli films, and Avatar, the Last Airbender. I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to intern at Obsidian Entertainment as a 3D prop artist for The Outer Worlds after finishing school. I also had some freelance gigs as an environment artist for EscapeVR. After working on those projects, I decided to follow my heart and focus on creating stylized art. My journey thus far has led me to CGMA’s Creating Stylized Game Assets with Ashleigh Warner. I will be breaking down my fourth project from the class.
On the CGMA Course
After learning how to make a hand-painted hero prop from Brushforge’s Aeon Core mentorship with Jordan Powers, I wanted to challenge myself for my next project. Seeing all of the progress from the students of Ashleigh’s previous term and her incredible work on World of Warcraft were significant deciding factors of my enrollment. The various topics covered throughout the course outline seemed like perfect exercises for me to hone my skills.
Inspiration and References
My 4th project required an environment with plants, architecture, and blended ground texture. I knew that I wanted to make a diorama of a flooded temple, so I gathered all of my references and organized it in PureRef. When it comes to finding references, I try to combine my ideas from games, travel experiences, real-world locations, films, and illustrations. Zuldazar and my experiences from exploring temples in Thailand were my main inspirations for this project. I also looked at background art from the 1967 Jungle Book film, the Balinese Tirta Empul Temple, and various concepts from artists such as Jourdan Tuffan for additional references.
I wanted something sculptural to stand out in my scene, so I sketched a water fountain with an ornate serpent to serve as the focal point. The design went from being based on a cobra to being a blend between the mythological Naga and Quetzalcoatl. Another idea that I wanted to tackle was a cross-section of a pond with fish in the scene.
Working on Game Assets
It’s beneficial to strategize and figure out what parts need to be modeled from trims versus what needs to be uniquely unwrapped for modularity.
Since this is a portfolio piece, I wasn’t too concerned with the polycount. My main concerns were with the overall silhouette shape and avoiding shading errors. I wanted to leave the rest of the detailing to the textures. Most of the assets in this project are between 500 - 4,000 triangles.
The bricks began from a tileable texture that I painted in Photoshop. To get the chunkier brick pieces, I used the multi-cut tool and extracted them from the plane. I also pushed around some vertices to get the volumes that I desired.
When I made the columns, I started with a 12-sided cylinder. From that cylinder, I made a trimsheet and added some embellishments. After finishing the column’s clean version, I deconstructed it and created a ruined version with the multi-cut tool.
The tree stump started as a cylindrical base with flared edges. To add roots to the stump, I created a curve with the CV curve tool and undulated it from its sides. I then made a diamond-shaped plane with the Create Polygon Faces tool and snapped it to the curve. After selecting both the curve and diamond shape plane, I extruded it along the curve and played around with tapering, thickness, divisions, and twist until I was satisfied with the results. Once I had the desired root shape, I welded the verts of the base with the roots.
Texturing Workflow in Substance Painter
When hand-painting in Substance Painter, it's crucial to isolate the viewport to the Base Color view to represent the diffuse texture accurately. I usually set up a base fill layer first and then add paint layers for the forms, details, and colors to blend with the smudge brush. Substance Painter’s update with native support of Photoshop brushes, the opacity blending mode, and the ability to toggle on and off pen pressure sensitivity has allowed me to spend more time within that program rather than having to jump between different painting apps. To get the wear-and-tear and organic look on my surfaces, I alternate between Kyle’s Paintbox and Spatter brushes when I paint and smudge the colors around.
Joe Pikop’s SoMuchMaterials plug-in helped establish the initial base color, lighting angle, and roughness for the serpent’s head. To fully take advantage of that plug-in, I had to sculpt a high poly version of the statue’s face with ZBrush first and then bake the volumes down onto the low poly mesh. After the bake, I painted in the scratches and sharpened some of the edges to get a more chiseled look.
The painting process for plants
To make my lotus set, I blocked out the silhouettes of petals, buds, leaves, stamen, stems, and a seed pod in Photoshop with the lasso tool and made tweaks with a hard brush. Doing this allows me to set up an alpha channel early to use for the modeling phase. After rendering everything out, I added padding to the plants by duplicating the layer, applying Gaussian blur, duplicating the blurred image a couple of times, and finally merging the blurred layer with the original layer on top. This step is crucial to avoid bleeding and artifacts.
My ivy bushes are composed of a bunch of duplicated leaves. To add some depth and variation, I made shaded versions with the levels editor and liquify filter. After creating all of the leaves, I made two sets of vines and placed the brighter leaves on top of the darker set.
When I make plants, I generally start from a polygon plane with the diffuse and alpha maps applied. I’ll usually toggle on preserve UVs before cutting out the leaves and petals with the multi-cut tool. Doing this allows me to adjust the vertices without any stretching. Once I’m happy with the topology, I’ll turn off preserve UVs, extract the selected faces and either deform the shape with lattice or push around the vertices with soft selection turned on. I’ll then duplicate and rotate the foliage card around a center point to build up my plant. After finishing the top portion of the plant, I’ll make a stem and attach it to the bottom.
My approach to making plant stems depends on its thickness. The fern’s stem was modeled directly from a plane and kept flat while the monstera and lotus’s stem were made from separate meshes and attached to the base of the flower or leaf. To make a low poly stem with enough volume, I needed to make a flat triangle as the base and then extrude it to the desired length. One of the things I learned to watch out for is overdraw, so I modeled the leaves as close as possible to the plant’s shape.
Simulating Fountain and Pool
I based my water texture on some water caustic photos that I found on google. I started with a mid-tone for the base and then painted the brighter caustics on top. I wanted my caustics to be subtle, so I painted it with a lower value. To get my transparency map, I desaturated the diffuse texture and adjusted the levels to reduce any extreme values.
The liquid in the water fountain started from a circular plane. To get the cascade and rim, I selected some of the edges and extruded it to its destination. After adding additional edges and getting the shape down, I UV’d them into strips and placed them on a trim sheet with vertically tiling streams on the right and horizontal ripple lines on the left. The direction of the flowing water depends on the orientation of the UV shells. It helps to test the stream’s path by vertically dragging the UV shells.
To make a ripple effect that spreads outward, start with a circular plane with the vertices merged in the center. Select the outer edges of the circle in the UV editor and scale them down until you have a pyramid shape.
To get a softer transition between the edge of the waterfall and basin, I applied a duplicated waterfall material to the mesh and combined the gradient mask texture with the albedo’s alpha.
The pond reuses the same tileable water shader and the water stream trimsheet.
Danilo Paulo’s Collection of Custom Shaders for Marmoset Toolbag 3 was crucial to getting the water to pan and animate. I ended up copying the alpha map from my water texture and increased its contrast to utilizing it as my gloss and displacement map.
The directional light angled towards the wall was my main light. I positioned it to get cast shadows from the ivy hanging from the roof. To get more color and atmosphere into the scene, I placed a golden Omni light above the fountain and a green Omni light behind the foliage. Finally, a spotlight was used to lighten the cast shadows and add a bit more roundedness to the pillars.
Figuring out the shape language for the secondary assets and the scene’s overall composition were the biggest challenges for this project. I was a little lost with my pillar and gateway designs until Ashleigh painted over them. She also helped me improve the pool’s shape by getting rid of the sharp corner and making it curve towards the viewer. Other suggestions that helped with this project were the addition of bigger plants up top and varying the bricks’ wetness and size. The 5 weeks of feedback taught me a lot about shape language, balance, and the reuse of specific motifs to tie everything together. After finishing the course, I revisited and polished the scene by adding fish, FX, and animations. Overall, I had a lot of fun working on this and learned so much from this experience. I have a couple of unfinished projects that I plan to work on next. One of them is a broader environment in Unreal.
Alexander Nguyen, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova
Hand-Painted Witch Cafe: Texturing a Stylized Scene
Interview with Finn Stevens-Lock
Finn Stevens-Lock talked about their small cozy scene Witch Cafe made during one of the courses at CGMA: idea development, different approaches to texturing, the use of a 2.5D art technique, and lighting.
Hi there! My name is Finn Stevens-Lock and I’m a 3D artist, specialising in stylised environments and props. I’m from the UK, and I currently live in Plymouth. I graduated from Plymouth College of Art in 2018 having studied Game Arts. It was during my time at university that I realised my love for stylised art by beginning to create it myself. Having played video games for most of my life, I can still remember the bright, inviting colours in the platformers of my childhood such as Spyro, Crash, and Croc. Those games have really inspired me and continue to do so.
That being said, I’ve been creating 3D art for about five years or so now, but only in the last year have I really begun focusing on my craft and pushing myself to develop my skills. I currently work as a contract artist for Dekogon Studios, and I’m also doing personal projects for my portfolio while I look for work!
Taking a Course at CGMA
I was introduced to CGMA by a close friend of mine who has also done a few courses with them. They sang the praises of the lessons and the instructors, and I was really eager to take a course myself. Since I graduated in 2018, I felt like I’d been lacking direction with my art and how to level up my skills, so organised online learning felt like a really good way for me to move forward. I took Ashleigh Warner’s Creating Stylized Assets for Games course at CGMA during the lockdown. The stars aligned here for me so that I was able to take the course – I’d been furloughed from my previous job, and I felt it was the perfect time for me to just really indulge in art.
The main goal I had was to simply turn something in every week. It’s a very intense ten-week course, and with the exception of the last week, I managed to achieve my goal! Other than that, I wanted to get some more experience with hand-painting my textures, learn some new techniques, and just be in a learning environment with great feedback.
Witch Cafe: Idea and Concept
For my cafe scene, I was really inspired by these cafes I found on Pinterest that had trees growing in them. I thought it was a really interesting concept to bring the outside inside, and wanted to explore that with my project. I’m also personally inspired by and interested in magical, witchy aesthetics. Finally, I was really grieving for the loss of my social life during the lockdown. I wanted to create a piece that reminded me of my friends, and somewhere that I could envision us all hanging out.
I knew I wanted to attempt to create the scene in the style of World of Warcraft – with an instructor who works for Blizzard, it just made sense to try and emulate this style. I used references of individual objects to build my scene around: for example, I found an image of a cafe that had a giant arbor covered in wisteria and a shelving unit shaped like the phases of the moon. I try to use references loosely when I create a concept, with maybe one or two images that I can play with and try and create something new.
When it came to the production stage of the project, the concept was pretty strong and fully formed in my mind, so it didn’t actually change that much from beginning to end. I developed my concepts a little further when it came to the modeling stage: the tables you see in the cafe didn’t originally have an opal tabletop, but it’s nice to have that freedom to change and develop ideas as the project progresses. I think if I made the scene again I’d make some tweaks here and there, but the original brief was to create the scene in five weeks, and the intensity of the project didn’t really allow for that much thought once I got started!
General Workflow for Modeling and Texturing
For modeling, I used 3ds Max. I began the scene with a blockout to work out where I wanted everything to be and to get the proportions right. Then, I refined the models and prepared them for texturing. I used 3D Coat and Photoshop in tandem for the texturing of the models.
A lot of my scene is made up of tiling textures, which I would say is probably the technique that I’ve gotten the most out of so far. The walls, floor, counter, and tree all use tiling textures. It’s such a great way to texture large parts of a scene quickly. To create these textures, I used Photoshop’s offset tool.
We also learned about 2.5D art techniques, where you work backwards by creating the texture first and then adding geometry later. I used that technique throughout the rest of the course, actually! That was how I created the wisteria flowers that hang over the cafe.
Finally, during the course, my modeling just improved overall. While I’m not extremely confident in my modeling, by the end of the course I felt that I had a better grasp on it, and I felt I could continue to improve. I was able to get a lot of help from both Ashleigh and my peers through the Discord we shared.
Working on Stylized Textures
All of my textures and materials were created in either Photoshop, 3D Coat, or both. My process for creating stylised materials involves looking at real-world references and painting something that looks similar, but not totally the same. I try to keep a medium level of detail in all of my textures, with large chunky shapes. My textures are more approximate than accurate, which I think gives things a little more of a whimsical look. The bark of the wisteria tree, for example, is where I used a reference but took a lot of artistic liberties for the final result. I also ended up painting an inordinate amount of wood for this project, so I was able to paint wood quite quickly and with an established workflow.
My favourite texture of this piece is the surface of the opal table. I adore the look of opals and how many colours there are in them, and it took a lot of painstaking brush strokes to recreate it.
Adding Small Details
The smaller assets were really enjoyable for me. They were all super quick to make and I feel like they really pulled the scene together, making it look lived in and cosy. I used planar maps and gradients to texture all of the smaller assets, as I didn’t need them to have any kind of detail because you can’t really see it in the final images.
With regards to the flowers and leaves hanging from the tree, they were all placed individually by hand along the branches of the tree in 3ds Max. I wanted them placed in such a way that the ceiling looked full of blooms.
When it came to lighting my scene, I knew that I wanted it to look dark and mystical. I achieved that by playing around with different settings and HDRIs in Marmoset Toolbag 3 until I came to a result that I liked and that I felt captured the mood the best. I also added directional lights with a pink tone around areas that I wanted to bring attention to, like the counter and the rear table. I tried to keep the colour scheme in the cooler tones, even with the lights.
Challenges and Future Plans
One of the biggest challenges in this project for me was actually knowing when to stop adding assets. It’s quite a small scene, and I had ideas to add a lot more than what ended up in the final cut. The composition as well helped me make those decisions on what to keep and what to remove: I spent a lot of time in the blockout stage moving things around and trying to make the scene look cosy without it being too packed.
My instructor gave us feedback every week over the five weeks of the project. Using that feedback, I was able to develop the scene a lot more.
My next endeavour is to learn UE4, and I’m working on a scene right now that I hope will become a great portfolio piece. I’ll also be continuing to look for work!