Art Spotlight: House at Sea

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About Me/Concept

Hello everyone, my name is Marius Wittig and I am a 3D Animation and VFX student from Cologne, Germany. Due to being a student, I have no industry experiences to this date and am learning a lot from day to day. My main interests are in modeling (Sculpting as well), texturing, shading and a bit lighting too. The piece I am presenting to you today is one of my Demo Reel projects. I can’t really explain why, but the art of stylizing things always fascinated me. You simplify, but you do not lose expression or can even raise it to a level, which realism could never reach. You fill the missing details with your imagination. That’s why I always loved full animation feature films and that’s why I was instantly in love with the art style of “Old Man’s Journey”. I got first contact with the game’s art through Artstation, where Lip Comarella showed some scenes from the game and that was also where I found the concept of the “Old Man’s”-house. I was first a bit unsure, about how I could match the unique style of it, but because I also wanted to make a diorama for very long. Joel Zakrisson’s “Fishing Trip” was a huge inspiration (below), I decided to just go for it and try my best.

Blockout

Staying close to the reference, I blocked out everything I can see from this angle in Maya. I overpainted the reference in Photoshop multiple times, to understand every shape well when modeling. Sometimes, when going into detail, it was quite hard to read all the shapes, that’s one big downside of such an artistic style. I tried my best to fill the missing pieces as good as I could, what sometimes was harder than I thought at first.

UVs

Now it was time for UVs. To be honest, this was my first project, where my priority really was to make the cleanest UVs possible. I packed all objects together which shall get one UV sheet and put them on layers. UV Editors Layout function with all its features made it easy to pack everything on one sheet. Assets which required procedural shading (in Substance Painter) like wood or roof tiles were placed in the same direction or in 90 degree steps to ease up the process later on.

After the UVs were finished, I grabbed the cliff blockout and put it into ZBrush.

My workflow is: lowpoly blockout in Maya -> ZBrush -> Dynamesh+Sculpt details -> Retopology in Maya + UVs -> back in ZBrush and project retopo onto highpoly to bake normal and displacement maps.

ZBrush

Before changing much on the lowpoly model, I sculpted 4 versions of stylized stones, to use them with

the “insert mesh”-brush. For the stones I used the following brushes: Move, Trim Dynamic, Clay Buildup, Orb Flatten, Orb Rock Detail

I highly recommend the Orb brushes to everyone who is into stylized stuff, they really work great! 

To get the stylized look, I use the Orb Flatten brush and cut all hard edges. When new hard edges appear, you flatten them again and you will see, that quite fast you get a good result. Using the Polish Brush can be a nice touch for finalising the objects as well.

Now I placed them all around whilst scaling them in different directions to make them look a little different from each other. Like shown in the picture, under the brush menu, you can change the depth of the brush, this can be helpful, if you feel, the brush is placing the object too far away from the surface you want them to be placed on.

That done, I combined everything and used dynamesh to merge the meshes together. After adding details to the blank spots and resculpting some stones I finished the highpoly version. Now I did the retopo in Maya, UV’d it and reimported into ZBrush to project the details onto the lowpoly mesh. For the projection, you divide the mesh and then project. You repeat this process, until your lowpoly mesh looks the same like the highpoly one. The maps will be baked from the same subtool, comparing the subdivision levels with each other.

Same applies for the stone assets, the difference is just that I baked the maps in Substance Painter.

Texturing

Texturing was completely done in Substance Painter. I think Substance Painter is just great, because it is so easy to learn and can achieve good results quite fast. I started off with the cliff and continued with all the groups one after another. To keep the Painter files small and the performance up, I did not import the whole scene. For the texturing process, I like to work with fill layers most of the time. Starting off with a paint, I like to use generators and procedural fills and combine those layers with smart masks. It’s just trial and error for most of the time. To push the stylized look a little further, I like to add a layer of the baked AO map on top, it just looks nice.

When starting with the garden house, I had to really get the stylized look with different colours. I tried to stay very close to the reference and grabbed all colours directly from the reference image (from Substance Painter you can grab colours outside of the program). To get the correct stroke look, I searched for brushes in the Substance Share library and found some nice “artistic” brushes, which I used later solely. When satisfied with the colours, I added variation to the roughness and height attributes of every fill layer, to get some nice surface variations.

In the end, I created a new project, where I imported the whole scene including the cliff, imported all maps and baked the AO map again to overlay it again over every diffuse map.

Sketchfab

Now it was time to bring it all together. After importing and testing the textures in Maya, I went to Sketchfab. It was my first time using Sketchfab, but I found it quite handy to use and importing the mesh and adding the maps worked out pretty straightforward. For the lighting, I first added a directional light as the main source. I tried to mimic an early afternoon, this way the shadows make the model feel more shaded and prevent it from looking flat.

As Fill light I used the “Environment” Dome Light, which also creates nice reflections.

Post Processing

Post Processing can really polish up everything. A nice touch for creating depth is using Depth of field. Depending on your desired look, a color correction can really create some real differences in the final product, so never underestimate the power of colours.

Resume/Contact

I want to thank you for taking the time and reading my article and I hope, that you learned something or found it at least interesting to see the process of creation. If you have any questions, want to show me your work or want to talk about whatever it could be, don’t hesitate to contact me via my Website, Instagram, LinkedIn or in the comments. 

I want to thank Sketchfab, especially Seori from the Sketchfab team, to offer me the great opportunity to write a bit about my project and me and to maintain such a great and innovative platform for artists to show off their work.

About the author

Marius Wittig

I am a 3D Student from Germany. I love to try all sorts of things in 3D. Currently working on my Demoreel.


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  • Michael says:

    Beautiful. Reminds one of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The walrus’ shack built to devour the muscles.

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