In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
My name is Glen Fox, and I’m an Environment Artist working in the video-game industry, and currently residing in the UK. I spend some of my free time creating low poly video-game dioramas, from existing IP, with varying cutesy art styles.
One of my most recent projects was a re-imagining of the Playstation classic Metal Gear Solid. I’d like to talk a bit about some workflow practices and considerations I made when creating this piece, and give a rough overview of how the diorama progressed from concept, through to the finished scene below.
As a big fan of Metal Gear Solid, I wanted to do this project justice, and incorporate many of the most iconic moments from the game in a single sprawling scene. Because of the nature of the viewport navigation in Sketchfab (being able to orbit the model through 360 degrees), it was important to have something significant to look at from every conceivable angle. I decided to base the majority of the diorama around the iconic front facade of Shadow Moses, and fit the other identifiable environments from the game around this initial thematic. Making an environment that moved from interior to exterior allowed me to create separate segments of action, that flowed together organically. It also allowed for a more diverse thematic, so I could have the heavily paneled hard surface corridors and rooms, juxtaposed against a snowy organic tundra.
I started with a simple whitebox, blocking out the basic rooms, and where major components would sit, including Metal Gear Rex, the Hind D, etc. The whitebox had several major edits, rearranging rooms, to ensure the defining points of the mesh were nicely spread around the entire level, and something interesting was viewable from each conceivable angle.
Once I was happy with the basic mesh, tiling textures were mapped to it, and larger props were detailed, unwrapped, and textured. It was a case of working from the larger details, down to the smaller details, refining and rearranging as it progressed. The final mesh (including all characters) ended up around 35k triangles.
A major goal for me was to create as detailed an environment as I could, while simultaneously using as small a texture budget as possible. All the environment textures fit well within a 1024x1024px sheet, and weigh in at just 600kb.
A lot of the textures tile in at least one axis, and a lot are used for multiple purposes. The nature of Metal Gear Solid’s art style means that a lot of the world can be made up of generic nondescript panelling, with smaller texture details layered over the top in places, to break up monotony.
Because most of the textures are hard surface, it allowed me to create them at a super low resolution, but retain a relatively sharp quality. Most seams and bevels were a single pixel wide, but because they coincide at right angles to one another, you don’t notice any aliasing or lack of detail in the edges.Most textures were created in greyscale, since I wouldn’t need the colour information, apart from on emissive surfaces, such as LEDs and monitor screens. This also made it easier to ensure that textures sat well next to each other, were of a similar luminance, and had similar contrast in the textured highlights/lowlights.
For the characters, I drew up a simple orthographic sheet to model around. The sheet contained rough front/side views of each character, with minimal detail, just enough to get an understanding of each character’s silhouette. Their meshes were kept to just under 1000 triangles each. This was enough to give detail to the silhouette, and to allow for a certain degree of deformation when the character is skinned and posed, but still low enough to not look juxtaposed on top of the low poly environment. Most of the more intricate details were painted into the texture, as opposed to being modeled.
Characters were textured using 3D Coat, after being unwrapped in 3DS Max. 3D Coat allowed me to paint directly onto the mesh without worrying about having to clean up seams at edges of UV shells. It also made painting highlights and finer details easier, as I could see how they affected the mesh as I painted them.
I laid out lighting in 3DS Max, mainly using simple point lights and spotlights. The exterior light went in first, which was a dominant direct light, with a cool blue hue, and heavy shadows. This established the main lighting for the exterior. The interior lights were warmer colour point lights, with small fallofs, and bright hotspots.
To help keep texture memory to a minimum, I decided to bake lighting information to vertex colours, as opposed to a lightmap/series of lightmaps. The exceptions to this rule were the characters and the large props (namely the Hind and Metal Gear Rex), which already had unique UV unwraps, so could have lighting information sitting in the diffuse texture.
Vertex colours still add memory to a mesh (the whole diorama ended up 2mb in size), but they were already going to be used to define an overall ambience to the theme, with a colour overlay. One caveat to using vertex colours for lighting, other than the increase in mesh memory, was the increase in polycount. Simple walls and floors needed to have extra geometry cut into them, in order for there to be enough verts for 3D Max to render the lighting to.
I knew from the offset that I wanted to give a distinctly retro feel to the entire diorama, through the use of colour overlays, which would also help tie the entire building together visually when viewed from a distance. To achieve this, a simple colour gradient was applied to the entire diorama, and baked down as a separate vertex colour layer. This layer really helped to bed the artwork together. I played around with different colour gradients, but settled on a blue to purple fade.
The final stage was setting up the scene in Sketchfab itself. Materials were set to ‘unfiltered’, to give a true pixely look, post process effects such as bloom and sharpness were layered on top, to give added polish, and the entire environment was set to be rendered as unlit, so the mesh would not be shaded according to normals.
You can view the finished diorama at the top of this article. I applied similar thought processes and techniques to my other dioramas, which are based on some of my other favorite videogames, and can be viewed through my
profile. Hopefully I’ll have some more on the way soon!