In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
My name is Ettienne and I’m a South-African based Freelance Blender 3D artist and founder of Blender3Digital.
I mainly focus on working on any sort of mechanical type of 3D work, whether it be cars, weapons, mechs etc. Together with my 3D work, I also love to mod games. Elder Scrolls Series, Unreal Series, Counter-strike Series and worked with many different game engines over the years. Video games have always been part of what I do, and they were the reason why I decided to become a 3D Artist.
For this article I would like to indulge you on how the F-79 VTOL Dogfight scene came to be, and how it was made, what inspired me, and what the process was that I went through to make the scene and the models in it:
- Building the VTOL
- Texturing the VTOL
- Rigging the VTOL
- Building the Scene
- Adding Effects
- Finalising the Scene (Sketchfab)
Before getting into the juicy details, I would like to give a bit of a background as to where this whole idea came from. (Always know your history kids).
Being a gamer by heart, video-games have inspired me more often than I care to count, and naturally, the more enjoyable and sci-fi futuristic they are, the more I tend to be inspired by them.
It all started with talking to the folks over at saintsrowmods.com about how the community could somehow get the models extracted from Saints Row ¾ to mod them, create custom skins etc, and seeing as no one had any way of extracting them, I decided to instead, model the vehicles I would love to have which ofcourse was the F-69 VTOL, the N-Forcer, Challenger Tank and many others.
That in mind, I started asking around about how I could maybe take images/screenshots of the vehicles mainly the VTOL in-game and use those images as a reference to build my own version of the VTOL, but still try to keep it as close as possible to the original. So some time later two mods were made by the community that allowed the player to change their FOV as well as being able to look down 90 degrees.
These two mods led to the possibility of me being able to take screenshots of the F-69 VTOL in-game and have a rough guide of the Aircraft’s silhouette and structure. So after taking a few screenshots, I got to work.
The First Steps
To be able to use some of the somewhat orthographic images I could take, I needed to create some sort of a Blueprint. Using Photoshop, and created a sort of blueprint.
Blueprint Guide Image
These aren’t the images that I solely relied on, they were good for getting a rough draft shape and silhouette, however seeing as the VTOL has a lot of angular odds and ends, images that I took of the VTOL at angles gave me a better understanding of how the surfaces connect with each other and how they work together.
With that said, the VTOL isn’t any ordinary jet of any sort, the vehicle has 3 different states, all of these states affect the look and feel of the Aircraft. Landed, Hover, and Flight mode. In order to get a good looking idea of the how all these parts move and fit into each other, various images I took ensured that I knew where the major parts move to if the vehicle is flying, or doing any sort of movement.
Modeling the F-79 VTOL
Using the above images I jumped in and started making a few drafts to get an idea of how the jet should look like, mainly using only the top view I took in-game as a means to get an idea of the jet’s bounds. Modeling the F-69 in a pose where all the parts were together was key.
This would ensure later on that the parts that do in fact move will fit together like a puzzle and appear correctly. A few hours later the first revision was completed. Nothing extraordinary, but merely a static object devoid of color and life.
First finished version of the VTOL (static) object
Modeling the VTOL, was done in a few phases, the base aircraft was built using the above images, however each movable part was then marked on the base mesh and split and then refined with a slight bit more detail. Each part was then unwrapped where textures will be applied, however seeing as the original F-69 wasn’t the sort of filthy industrial vehicle we’re all used to (and some tired of seeing) the vehicle would stick to simple colors, simple in appearance, but complex in detail and shape.
Here is an image of the F-79 with a simple recolour of the body parts. All the parts that made up the first base model before the rest followed. As the VTOL has very few curved surfaces, most of the jet exists out of simple triangular shapes and sizes.
Individual parts of the VTOL
Simply put, the original VTOL didn’t have any highly detailed textures, but is merely a clean flying Angel of Death, so for my own model, I decided to follow a similar route, and keep things at a minimum. Think of it as a car, the body’s color came all from within sketchfab/Blender’s Color system. Select parts were given textures such as the carbon parts on the jet as well as the vinyls seen over the Aircraft.
Making the Vinyls/Stickers that is meant to go on the VTOL, existing parts of the VTOL’s body was copied, unwrapped and then textured with a simple Diffuse map, and an ALPHA map.
Sticker meshes with their diffuse texture on
Now that the majority of the work has been completed, I wanted to be able to pose or even animate the jet if I so desired, so for this I needed to rig the jet with a skeleton I could use to create scenes like the Dogfight scene.
For this, I used a simple skeleton that would allow me to twist the wings and flaps, open the jump jets at the rear angle the canards, and generally just be able to pose the Aircraft as I need it.
With the rigging done, I started to experiment with the idea of how the original F-69 VTOL had a form of “Transformation” going on between modes in the Saints Row Game.
With that said, I wanted to expand upon the idea of making it transform between its, Landing Mode, Hover Mode and Flight Mode and one new mode. Having the skeleton set up, it was easier to switch between the modes and get the desired effect.
It was ready for a few test images to make sure everything looked like it should. Supersonic mode was the 4th mode added to this version of my VTOL. And thus I decided to rename the VTOL, instead of being the F-69, but rather the F-79. This was the last step before I started working on the Dogfight scene.
F-79 VTOL Modes
The Dogfight Scene
Now I’ve always been one for slow motion action scenes, and anything that could possibly make you sit on the edge of your seat. Always liked the idea of seeing scenes where close-calls are the order of the day. And thus, after watching movies like Transformers I had the idea of making the Dogfight scene, but instead of having two jets just chasing each other in a straight line, let one fire a missile and the second jet dodges the missile, and at the very “Epic” moment that the second pilot attempts to evade the missile, that moment is the moment I wanted for the Dogfight scene.
One last touch to make the scene look cooler was to, instead of having the jets fly in a straight line and the targeted jet deploys its flares, I wanted to make the scene feel a slight bit more dramatic, and thus decided to let the front jet turn left and slightly pull up.
The slow motion idea was the main inspiration for this scene, much like Transformers, where Ironhide basically jumps over the camera in slow motion with two rounds flying past us, I wanted something similar for the Dogfight scene.
Scene Inspiration: Transformers Ironhide jumping over incoming enemy fire
Building the scene
Now that I had the idea, there were few things I needed to take into account. One of these aspects are the most important, and that is the way in which a Fighter Jet’s wings would react if the jet had to suddenly change its direction, because ultimately, this effect would illustrate the movement of both jets and the missile’s trajectory.
The wingtip vapor trail is the one effect that would give motion to the static scene, and give you as the viewer the idea of how the two jets are flying, and how they’ve maneuvered in order to capture this moment.
Vapor Trail from an F-22
The first thing I needed to do, is create a second jet that would be the attacking opponent as well as creating the missile which would be the highlight of the action taking place. Both jets were originally aligned up behind each other, and from there I started to pose both of the jets at an angle, ofcourse the leading Aircraft would be turning far more than the following jet.
Both jets needed to be posed to reflect their current movements, which meant that the wings needed to be twisted in order to simulate the motion of these jets turning.
Now that they were posed, I had the idea of making a missile that would work a lot similar to a space shuttle. The missile would be launched from the jet and a few seconds after launch, the missile would break open its rear in order for its wings to extend so it could properly follow its target.
The missile was built with 4 pieces that could break off at the back to make way for the missile’s wings. This also allowed for wing clearance from the jet that fired them. Having the missile idea, it was then onto adding it to the scene and adding its trail.
Adding the Vapor trails
Adding the vapor trails was a simple process. For this I used two simple plains that overlap each other in a sort of a plus sign. Both meshes were unwrapped, and uses a simple smoke puff alpha texture. No Diffuse texture was needed, as this allows me to change the color of the smoke within Sketchfab upon uploading the scene.
After adding the texture, I went ahead and added an Array modifier and extended the smoke puff trail to the length I needed it. After that, the Array modifier was applied and then the trail was curved into the angle I need it, to illustrate the trajectory of the missile as well as the Jets themselves.
Curved trail added to the wing tips, and the Missile
Refining the scene
Now that the jets are posed, the missile is flying, there was still something missing. Despite both jets showing they are flying, their environment felt static. One way to solve this was to simply add air particles.
But instead of adding simple squares in space, I wanted them to appear as if though they have motion, this meant that the “particles” needed to be stretched, this would create the illusion of motion/motion blur. Once again two simple planes were used to create a single particle, then a simple shadeless material was applied to them and they were ready to be used.
Now seeing as the scene will be interactive, the particles required some depth, to do this a, I made a circle of particles that use the simple mesh I just made, each particle being at a different distance, forward, or backwards, to break the appearance of a simple circle. Each of these circles would add depth upon moving the camera, some air particles are further away from the camera, and some are closer to the camera.
After making the three rings of air particles, I used yet another array modifier to create a fairly long trail of particles. As with the Jet trail, I applied the array modifier and then curved the trail to illustrate the direction in which both jets are flying at this very moment. Making sure that the trail should follow the leading jet, that way the motion would feel more accurate and give a better sense of motion.
Curved Air Particles
Now the we have that, there is one last effect that needs to be added to complete the scene. Jet Blasts, vortexes and all sorts of sci-fi effects to the engines to make them feel like their active.
Referencing is key to making something like this look cool. Creating the jet blast, I made a simple Gradient, that would act as an alpha texture for the jetblast. Together with this, I’ve also made a simple vortex texture and a jet core texture that is used on the jump jets for the leading Jet.
For these effects I wanted to have as much control over the final effect’s appearance as possible, so no diffuse texture would be needed, instead, I’ll be using Sketchfab’s color system to give the effects the color they need.
Once they were made, a simple mesh was made that uses these textures. Mostly existing out of flat planes, the core was placed in the middle of the jump jets and the the Vortex was added on the outskirts of the jump jets.
The Jet blast uses a basic cylinder that was unwrapped and then transformed into a cone like shape with two open ends. Duplicates of the jet blast was made, and each duplicated model was scaled a slightly bit smaller, but a little bit longer than the previous jet blast. This creates a sort of stepping effect. The jet blast the closest to the aircraft is the biggest, while the one the farthest from the aircraft is the smallest, but the longest.
Jump Jet Effects & Jet Blast added
Now that all of that it is complete, the scene is ready to be exported to Sketchfab where the colors would be adjusted, reflections added, and all sorts of nice filters to get that Saints Row feel going.
Why the scene was made with Sketchfab in mind
It took a few hours to create the final result, but ultimately having the ability to interact with the scene, to explore it, and find your own angles you like about it, makes it so much more enjoyable. It allows for more detail to be added, finer things that would otherwise likely never be seen in a 2d image alone, a slight bit more freedom than being confined to a static set of image bounds.
Instead of waiting days to render hundreds of frames just so the video could last a few seconds, the scene can now be viewed with no delay, no need of a “replay” button. You can explore the scene, inspect the elements which it is made up of, and view the entire moment from any angle you can imagine.
Hope you guys enjoyed this bit of insight on the F-79 VTOL Dogfight scene made with blender, and brought to life using Sketchfab.