27 May 3ds Max Tutorial: Hard surface modelling for a mech
3ds Max Tutorial – Tim Bergholz teaches us how to create a high-poly model, unwrap UVs and texture it with Substance Painter
This 3ds max tutorial was written by the amazing Tim Bergholz and appeared in issue 103 of 3D Artist
3ds Max 2017,
Substance Painter 2,
Marmoset Toolbag 3
Inspired by the recent battle mech trend in videogames such as Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2, this article covers all the essential modelling and texturing steps for a game-ready battle mech. The two main software packages used are 3ds Max 2017 and Substance Painter 2. We’ll cover the base shape refinement as we work on our low-poly model, learn about instances and the Symmetry modifier, and how to create realistic-looking edge panelling on the high-poly model. Learn how to bake by naming convention for the best texturing experience in Substance Painter 2 as we continue to create a stunning-looking texture with plenty of wear and tear on it. At the end we’ll take a look at the Export settings where we get them ready for creating a striking render in Marmoset Toolbag 3.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 01 – Block it out
At the beginning we’ll start with a rough block out, which we’ll detail out more and more as we go. It doesn’t matter too much which element we tackle first, but the main body makes the most sense to get the initial feel for our mech. The blockout is the base on which we’ll build our low-poly model. Let’s keep the poly count low in the beginning to have maximum flexibility in shaping it until we like it.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 02 – Refine the silhouette
Once we have the main elements blocked out with simple geometry it’s time to take a step back, squint our eyes and look to see if we are headed in the right direction. Does anything look out of proportion? Now would be a good time to address it. Consider adding a pitch-black material to your geometry so far. That will help you to see the silhouette without any distractions.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 03 – Instances
Our mech has a couple of identical pieces, such as the feet and the legs. The best way to approach them is to create one element first and then copy it as an instance. The beauty of that is that once we put them in place and want to further change them, those changes will automatically be applied to our other instances. That saves us plenty of work and allows us to concentrate on one piece only
3ds Max Tutorial Step 04 – Symmetry modifier
As we get more into the detailing of our geometry, it’s time to use the Slice tool in the vertical centre of our model. Cut everything in half and apply the Symmetry modifier, which lets us do all the work on one side only and automatically applies it to the other side. Our mech is perfectly symmetrical, which makes that step easy. In a case where you find yourself with an asymmetrical concept, it is still good practice to do as much work as possible with the Symmetry modifier and only collapsing it at a later stage where it would then make sense to do your custom changes to it.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 05 – Make the high-poly
Once we are happy with our progress from a low-poly model perspective it’s time to create a copy of all our geometry and paste it into a new folder that we’ve named ‘high-poly’. Make sure you don’t copy it as an instance, as we want to keep our current-state low-poly geometry. For the high-poly model we can make a lot of use of floaters. In combination with Smoothing groups, the Chamfer modifier and the TurboSmooth modifier, we’ll be able to create our high-poly model in record time.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 06 – Edge panelling
Usually at the very end of the high-poly modelling phase comes the edge panelling. This is a crucial step to get a lot of realistic-looking depth in our model, which we want to have in our Normal map later on. A good practice is to make use of the already existing edges. Pick them one by one while holding Shift to make a selection where you want your panelling to appear, which is usually at the border of two elements. With our selection active, we can then extrude in by a small margin and get a precise machine-cut look that represents our panelling.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 07 – Unwrap UVs
After the high-poly modelling phase it’s time to unwrap all our individual UV shells. There are a lot of different approaches to doing that and a proven way can be to start with a Flatten Unwrap. Right after that we can start stitching all the pieces back together how we want them to be laid out. Later on, we’ll make use of the Packing tool that 3ds Max comes with. Make sure to leave enough space in between your UV islands, as we want to prevent intersections at all costs. At the end of unwrapping, we’ll use the TexTools script to generate Smoothing groups based on the unwrapped UV islands. That guarantees the perfect baking result.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 08 – Export for bake
In earlier times, people would explode the mesh out into the scene. The reason for this was because otherwise the rays that project on our meshes during the bake would intersect with each other. This results in Normal map intersection errors, which are ugly to look at. The good news is that nowadays we can keep everything in the same place by simply naming every element with _low and _high for our low and high-poly elements. Later on in Substance Painter we’ll bake based on mesh name, which bakes every piece individually and we can keep our low-poly model in one place.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 09 – Bake the essential maps
After exporting our high-poly and low-poly meshes, it’s time to boot up Substance Painter where we start by adding our low-poly model. In the bake window we’ll add our high-poly to it and bake out our so-called support maps. All these maps that we initially bake out will help us getting the maximum out of our upcoming texturing work. The different generators and filters in Substance Painter require these maps and produce their effects based on them.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 10 – Clean up normal map errors
In nine out of ten cases you will discover errors in your initial bake. The more complex the geometry is, the more likely it is that some parts didn’t bake properly or you may even discover some parts that require some model adjustment. Whether it’s in the unwrap or on the mesh itself, now is the time to address these changes. We should only start texturing once we have the perfect bake result in front of us. This is the last control check.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 11 – Different material types
With our textures all baked properly, it is now time to get started on the actual material setup. Just as we started out by modelling our basic shapes, it is the best approach to lay out all our different material types that we want to use. In our case, that is a yellow-coated metal with a medium-range Roughness on it, a matte dark metal and a shiny chrome-type metal. All these materials come out of the box in Substance Painter. The Polygon Fill tool enables us to mask these materials to only the regions where we want them to appear.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 12 – Include an Emissive channel
We want to have cool-looking laser eyes on our mech, so in order to get the glow we’ll have to add an Emissive channel under our TextureSet settings. This enables us to make any material glow. All we have to do is enable it in the material and mask it to wherever we want it to appear as glowing. This step can still be counted as setting up our base layers.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 13 – Build some wear and tear with oil smears
Once the base layers are all in place, it’s time to have fun with the many powerful generators that Substance Painter comes with. One that always creates great effects on machine-looking objects is the MG Leaks generator. Let’s drag a fresh fill layer into our scene, change it to black, make it very glossy and add a black mask to it. The mask will make it disappear until we add that generator onto it. Now we can see oil leakage forming up and we can control the length, variety and many other parameters until achieve something we like.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 14 – Add metal damage
After adding the oil smear, we’ll add another fill layer into the scene, this time as a chrome-looking metal. With the same procedure as we just used to create our oil, we can now use the MG Metal Edgewear modifier, which looks very good on top of our black and yellow metal and gives it a lot of contrast. Additionally we can drag a few Smart Materials in the scene, such as Dust. This generates tiny speckles on our mech and makes it look like it’s seen some heavy service.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 15 – Add text and symbols
Substance Painter comes with plenty of Alpha symbols, which we can apply quickly and easily through the Projection tool. Specific text is best created in Photoshop, saved out as an Alpha PNG and simply dragged into the shelf of Substance Painter where we can then project it onto our model.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 16 – Export textures for target engines
After a final Polish pass, it’s time to go to Export Textures. In here we can export our textures to almost every possible target engine out there. Substance Painter will automatically create the textures based on the needs of the chosen engine. In our case, we want to export for Marmoset Toolbag where we’ll be able to create stunning-looking renders.
3ds Max Tutorial Step 17 – Light and render in Marmoset Toolbag 3
Marmoset just got so much more exciting with its excellent version 3 release. Let’s drag our low-poly model into the scene and plug our exported textures into the materials. If anything looks odd compared to Painter then you’ll want to make sure to invert your Normal map’s Y channel and invert the Roughness – that should fix it. For the best possible render, add a few lights to the scene. Turn on Global Illumination and Local Reflections. In our Camera settings, we’ll add some bloom, lens flares, depth of field and a bit of sharpening.