Art Spotlight: Nature in Teapot

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Hi everyone! My name is Aender Lara, a 25 years old 3D generalist artist from South America. I spent a large part of my time in the 3D world specially creating low poly models for video games.

My background doesn’t include a university education. Although I tried, it ended up not being for me but my love for learning got me to teach myself new software and techniques. I love understanding how things works and after 10 years of teaching myself, I had a comprehensive understanding of 3D and 2D (mainly Photoshop and Illustrator).

Since South America is a scarce in the video game industry, a large part of my professional career wasn’t involved in 3D art. I ended up doing a lot of graphic and web design and learned a lot from these endeavors. 3 years ago, my partner and I decided to leave our stable jobs and embark on a new adventure as digital nomads traveling South America and freelancing all the while. This opened up so many doors for me! I worked for an agency as a graphic designer and also at upwork.com which led me to 3D art for games. It was this year that my last client required 3D videos for kids and really allowed me to develop my skills as an animator. Now that I’ve settled back down into a stable job as a UI/UX deisgner for apps, the whole experience gave me a different perspective.

I didn’t start out with a love for low poly game art. I actually loved the high poly and hyper-realistic renders but never had powerful enough hardware for that. The limitations I had actually got me to explore lowpoly with awesome quality. With this in mind, I focus more on memorable and beautiful concepts before generic realistic game assets. The line between cartoon and realistic is one I like to tow.

Nature In Teapot Process

Nature in Teapot actually came from my actual home and our new roommate’s plants. Here in Uruguay, there is a tendency of use anything as pot for plants which is something I love. This one is on the living room table where I eat and every time I ate, I saw it and said to myself, “I need to model this”, because I loved the shape. One day, I just opened Maya and started the project.

The last 10 years accumulated to this actual workflow:

Maya (Sometimes ZBrush, but not really often):

  • 3D sketch
  • Define Low Models
  • Convert Low models into detailing High ones
  • UV unwrap for the low poly models

xNormal:

  • Project Normals and AO

Photoshop:

  • Paint Albedo
  • Create Metalness and Gloss from Albedo

End:

  • Final Renders

3D Sketch

Actual modeling workflow

This time I didn’t use a 3D model to reference since the object was right in front of me but the a lot of the time, I use one to test out composition, shading, lighting, space, and so on. I really recommend this for everybody specially to practice modeling skills and you can even use a timer to push yourself!

Nature in Teapot inspiration and reference object

Defining Low and High Poly models

I start working on a low poly base and then I start adding the rest of the objects and details even the ones that actually are just going to be for texture projection. The idea is to use this low mesh to create the high ones, which reduces the number of polycount on small areas most of the time.
All of this is in Maya and my favorite tools for all my modeling process are Extrude, Bevel, Insert Edge Loop, Bridge, Extract face and Multi Cut. I have a personal shortcut for almost all these tools.

From the beginning I always try to have a fluidity to the shape which is hard at first but with time and a lot of practice, becomes really easy.

The Teapot was a really easy object to create for me. The real challenge were the leaves. It was my first time modeling nature and I thought about the workflow for a bit.

I modeled the basic shape of the leaf but my main goal was to preserve the main veins of the leaf as the edges on the model because later I will apply bevel to this one and extrude for the rest of the faces. At first, it didn’t look so organic but for this cases is I apply my short knowledge of ZBrush to smooth the surfaces.

Leaf modeling steps

Just importing the mesh to ZBrush and subdividing it, I get a great look really similar to the reference.

Applying subdivisions in ZBrush

From here I have all my models ready I’m I just need unwrap the UV from my final low poly models, for the leaf was really easy because I just use a Plane shape.

Projecting Normals and AO

Preparing teapot file for baking on xNormal

I love this part. From here my life is easier before texturing but my computer chugs away at this point. Taking this into consideration, I always try to work all the bakes in just one process. I did a projection for each side on a plane for the leaf as well.

I do fragment things, meaning sometimes some high poly models will be added onto the low poly base. This gif example I edited on ZBrush, but I did not want the edges from this object on my project. I could have done this in one go in Maya but getting one giant chunk right takes longer sometimes than doing it in separate pieces. Here, I created the teapot handle via two cylinders into ZBrush, some DynaMesh to combine everything and apply some smooth brush. This made the plant creation process a lot faster.

Texturing

I use Photoshop for everything. I really love working on 4k textures and using Substance is a lot for my laptop so for a while Photoshop is my main software for texturing.

My workflow consists in creating folders for each color or sometimes objects and the color group inside the object group. For the teapot, I just used 2 colors, the grey and the brown wood.

Teapot base colors

Inside my groups I always use solid color layers starting with one for the main color and another one with the Baked AO map inverted as a mask and this solid color is similar to the main one but darker. Then between these two layers, I add more solid colors for more details or really subtle textures, for the sake of simplicity. For more detail, I usually use grunge brushes or textures layer mask.

Second leaf solid colors

The little leaf was very easy and put a lot of love and time into it. I regret nothing!

I start my real time check ups here and when the albedo is ready I just define the metalness in plane colors and for the gloss map I duplicate the albedo map and I use a black and white layer over everything. At this point, I usually change the solid colors directly, in other occasions I use brightness and contrast layers to get a better results with a lot of contrast.

For the end I always have a mask with all the UV shapes of my textures. After checking,  I get rid of all the excess and combine all layers into one (Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E) and then I apply one of the Solidify effect from the free Plugin Freebies from Flaming Pear to get a great look in my UVs borders.


Render Time

With Sketchfab I can showcase my art in real time. It’s impressive what you can do on browser and what they can do for my art and there are always more tools coming. I want to test the VR but unfortunately I don’t have the tools yet, but soon 😀

Right now I’m working hard on my Patreon page and Gumroad where you can support my art. You can also find all the source files of my models available for free on Gumroad and you can always ask me about my work, processes, or advice on my Twitter or Facebook because I really love to share about it. I’m also on Tumblr, Artstation or Instagram.

My best wishes for all your projects.

About the author

Aender Lara

Solo Game Dev, 3D artist, storyteller, pancake master, 30% beard and digital nomad.


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  • Arodin says:

    Thanks for sharing your workflow with us, Aender. Really nice end product, it’s amazing what PBR materials can do for realism 🙂

  • Alex Nan says:

    thanks for sharing ! enjoyed reading

  • Javier Concha says:

    Hey! great work there, im so connected with your background im a fellow south american new to this world, hopefully i will do as good as you. May i ask you for some advice ?

    • Awesome, Greetings from Uruguay (Maybe you are here).

      About advice, I think the best I can say for now is constant in this 3 areas: Patient, Learning about your area if interest and Practice a lot of practice.

      Patient specially if you want to work on Game Development as 3D artist in this part of the world, I think as continent we still growing up as game developers but we are walking really fast but, every thing start from small steps and that small step are usually 2D games, is really hard find yet 3D game development but not impossible, here in Uruguay at least I know about 3 studios but is hard to get job with those, they already setting up their teams and their growing yet.

      But my advice to start working on the 3D game art is (if you alredy know studios working hard on this and I just ignore there existence please dont listen to me) freelancing online, I do a lot of freelance job for Game Art using upwork.com and connect.unity.com, and you can start understanding workflows, how everybody works and get some experience.

      😀 Let me know if I answer your question.

      Best wishes.

      – Aender Lara

  • Thaylan Oliscovicz says:

    Lovely work, thank you! Greetings from Brazil.

  • Lullabyby says:

    Thanks for sharing!It helps me a lot.`3`

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