Art Spotlight: R-Type R-9A Arrowhead

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Hi, my name is Alan Yeoh. I’m a games artist who works at King, based in Sweden. I’ve been in the game industry for almost 10 years. I have worked in many disciplines over the years as designer, illustrator, 3D artist, but my main career focus is art direction for games.

I’m presenting this piece of diorama, which is an entry from the Retrogasm competition in 2018, Arrowhead from the original R-Type (1989). I was very excited when I learned about Retrogasm because I can unleash my inner child once again alongside all the great artists who are participating in the competition. I picked the R-Type simply because I have loved mecha and planes since I was young, and it’s a great opportunity because Retrogasm allows non-character entry as well. On top of that, I wanted it to be presented in my favorite anime style at that time, which is around the late 80’s to early 90’s, much like Zeta Gundam, Macross / Robotech and Evangelion.

My first challenge of this mini diorama was the rendering style that I wanted to achieve. To make sure that the shading worked dynamically (like how the anime looks), my reference gathering gave me a vague idea of what I wanted, and what was left was to find a method to apply to the model. This is where I stumbled upon the toon shading tutorial that murilo.kleine made. However, there was a small problem. I do not use Blender, and I wanted to apply a similar method using 3ds Max, and on top of it, I wanted to reduce the complexity of customizing the toon ramp to my taste. So I made a tutorial.

Once I knew how flexible the Sketchfab PBR rendering is, I became confident with the rest of the workflow since they are less depending on tech. Here is my brief on how I created this piece of diorama…

Clean Mesh…

A complete mesh also means getting a clean and accurate mesh. Yes, the mesh will be reflecting the sharp HDRI map, so it has to be as clean as possible with all the triangulation assigned by hand. I always make sure that triangulation on quads is always flowing in a single direction, and avoid ngons at all cost.

UV is fun…

Hand Painted texture means there will be a fair amount of details that will be painted onto the textures, so getting the sufficient texture space is very important. I identify and prioritize parts of UVs based on the focal priorities, and also make sure I never mirror important parts onto which I want to apply unique decals and damages.

Detailing…

Since it is a “remaster” work of the original, highly pixelated ship, I will have to make up a lot of details by myself, so I did some studies on the model kit of the arrowhead. However, I do not like most of the details from the model kit because it is moving away from the original design of the ship, and it does not have the design language that originated in the late 80’s. Another significant flaw of the model kit is the lack of yellow color, which is one of the key colors of the ship. Yes, I am upset at the model kit but adore at it at the same time.

Smudging…

In order to reproduce the look of the old school texture, I need to understand the method artists used back in the day, which is watercolor and airbrush, so it make sense to imitate the same results by using tricks in Substance Painter. The “smudging” of the airbrush usually happened alongside with outlines, so I duplicated my outline layer, and I blurred it as an overlay blending layer to create the same “smudge” effects.

Damages and Weathering…

Usually this is a large part of my texturing process, but in this case, it is a rather small and quick process because of the art style that I have chosen here. In the past, artists had to repaint the damages frame by frame in production, and it is a very painful process, so the damages are usually made in very simple form by using ink scribble strokes, on top of water colored burned marks. Guess what? That is exactly what we want to achieve.

Highlight speculars…

So now we have the base texture done, we can add some highlights by hand. Wondering why do we do this? This is purely my artistic decision to make the texture look more handcrafted. I always believe that if we let the shader handle all the shading in real-time, it will end up uncannily like the look on most 3D CGI anime nowadays where the charm is gone.

Decals…

This is an important element for any sci-fi models, because it shows how an object is an engineering craft with human connection. In this case, I gathered shapes that go well with the theme, and I actually made a ship logo (this part is simply to feed my hunger for working on graphic designs). I just want to show off this ship as the most badass fighter in the battlefield.

Effects…

Effects are important to bring out the dynamic flow of the scene so it is never an afterthought. Muzzle flare, explosion and thrusters are created with the style in mind, which means no soft edges; everything has a clean shape and silhouette, and we use an emission map to make sure it blooms well in post effects.

Shading…

Let’s go back to where we started, the HDRI shading! But I will talk about my thought process of getting the look to match the style here, because you can read the full technical tutorial here.

In order to get the shading that I want, I collected some references to find common shading rules, and I noticed there is a detail that is intriguing. In the past, to make sure the shading flows smoothly through frames, shading boundaries are drawn by artists before the colouring process. In order to replicate the look, a thin line is needed on the toon ramp, and it works out pretty well.

Background…

This is the part where i stop thinking about 3D and focus on replicating the mood of the old school anime background. All stars are hand painted with brushes, and the overall image was tweaked by slight desaturation and a layer of sepia tone. And finally, an anime style title logo was designed.

Post Processing in Sketchfab

Sketchfab is always my favourite 3D viewer because the post processing is versatile, and it is user friendly for people that are experienced in game engines nowadays.

I used grain(animated) noises, vignette and chromatic aberration to simulate an old CRT television, although it would be great to have scanline as an option in the future.

I also used bloom in the way where the specular are over-exposed and shiny to create dramatic sparkling, just like old-school mecha anime.

The last part of the post processing is also the most important part to achieve the retro looking visual. I used ‘filmic’ tonemapping where bright tonal values are capped, and used color balance to push green and red tints into the overall scene.

With this help from Sketchfab post processing, I managed to push the look of the scene to another level, and it turned out looking pretty close to what I had in mind!

About the author

Alan Yeoh

Game artist


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