Art Spotlight: Reliant Regal

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My name is Gareth West (aka se7en23) and I’m a self-taught artist and programmer. My background is in the games industry but I’m currently working as a freelancer, dividing my time up equally between web development, graphic design and 3D modelling.

Why the Reliant Regal?

I originally created this model a few years back for an advertising agency that was developing an ad campaign for a brand of porridge; the concept being that with every spoonful you get to feel “more awesome”. The campaign included a few variations of the same theme for different flavours, and I was tasked with creating a set of assets for each. Overall I think I ended up making nine different models; for this particular flavour that included a scooter, Reliant Regal and monster truck (which I’ve also recently resurrected and can be found here).

As is usually the case with projects like this I was working to a tight deadline so had to cut a few corners to get it done on time. For example, there was little in the way of an interior, and the rear doors were only blocked in – basically anything you weren’t going to see in the final render was omitted. As a result the model felt unfinished so I decided to revisit it and add in the missing details, and make it more reusable.

Research

As with most projects the first thing I did was spend a few hours finding as many reference photos as I could. When working from photos it’s useful to have as many different angles as you can find, as well as close-ups of specific details.

I also try to use blueprints whenever possible as they significantly speed up the process and guarantee accurate form and dimensions. If I can’t find blueprints I will sometimes draw my own in Illustrator. In this case I wasn’t able to find accurate blueprints and the deadline prevented me from creating my own, so I ended up modelling it almost entirely from photo reference, which actually made the process a lot of fun!

In addition to reference photos and blueprints, I also keep a sketchbook handy and will draw most of the parts as I model them. The sketches are usually really rough but I find drawing them helps me to de-construct an object and work out the best way to go about modelling it.

Modelling

In Maya (which is my software of choice for this sort of project), I started off by blocking in the rough overall shape and placing cylinders where the wheels were going to be – a basic setup which acted as a substitute for the missing blueprints.

For this project I used a number of different techniques but I primarily worked with subdivision surfaces, using a combination of crease sets, bevels and edge loops to control my hard edges. I also varied the smooth amounts for different objects based on how much smoothing was actually necessary.

When I model vehicles I tend to start with the wheels because they’re usually the easiest bit, and I find they act as a good reference point for the dimensions of a vehicle’s wheelbase. In this case it was also the only bit that I had accurate measurements for!

I then moved on to the front nose which is probably the car’s most recognisable feature… well, apart from the fact that it’s clearly missing a wheel!

The Reliant Regal is a very blocky car so it was a fairly simple model to make. I was able to split it up into small manageable parts and then weld them together, marrying up my edge loops to maintain a good edge flow. With the entire car merged I then hand sculpted the topology to iron out any imperfections (using a highly glossy material to make any problem areas easier to spot), removed unnecessary loops, and tweaked the final shape so that it matched my reference photos as much as possible.

I then cut out the windows and doors, gave the whole thing some thickness so that I could start blocking in the interior, before finally adding all of the additional details like the handles, headlights, wing mirrors, roof rack, number plates, etc.

UV Unwrap

I then unwrapped the UVs using standard planar projections for the bodywork, and the Unfold and Layout tools (found in Maya’s new UV Toolkit) for the more fiddly bits. Again, thanks to the Reliant Regal’s simple shape this was a fairly straightforward process.

Before laying out the final UVs I decided to group the different material types into their own atlases, so I ended up with separate atlases for the bodywork, chrome parts, plastic parts, etc. This meant I could maximise my texel density for each part, maintain uniform texel sizes between the different materials, and keep everything organised and ready for texturing in Substance Painter.

Exporting

Before exporting I baked the subdivision surfaces using my own custom script which automatically applies the corresponding smoothing amount (and type) to every selected mesh.

I then exported a triangulated and un-triangulated version in FBX format.

Texturing

The texture maps were created using a combination of Photoshop, Illustrator and Substance Painter.

In Substance Painter I used the un-triangulated version (because it’s much easier to work with), and worked through each material one by one. For the more common materials (like chrome and rubber) I was able to use my own preset Smart Materials to speed up the process dramatically. Pretty much the only two new textures I had to create from scratch were the height map for the tyre treads, and this simple dashboard label, both of which I made in Illustrator.

Once I was happy with how it was looking in Substance Painter I exported all of the required texture maps. Usually this will be the colour/diffuse maps, roughness maps, metallic maps, normal maps, AO maps, and alpha maps – but I often export more maps than I need because it’s good to have different options when setting up the materials.

Test Renders

Here are some old test renders I made of the original version. The first is the version we ended up using in the advert. It features a pink and blue paint job that matched the colour scheme of that particular flavour of porridge.

And of course I couldn’t resist making one for Del Boy! Lovely jubbly!

Uploading to Sketchfab

With all of the assets exported and ready to go, I uploaded the final triangulated version of the model to Sketchfab and began setting up the scene.

Before starting on the materials the first thing I usually do is go to the Post Processing Filters tab to add some SSAO (screen space ambient occlusion), then the Lighting tab to choose a neutral HDRI. A neutral lighting setup makes it easier to see changes when editing the material properties.

I then worked my way through each material in the Materials tab, only uploading texture maps as I needed them.

Once I was happy with the materials I went back to the Lighting tab to set up some final lighting. For this scene I used an HDRI in conjunction with a single fill light. I then chose a suitable background colour, and colour graded it using the Tone Mapping and Colour Balance settings in the Post Processing Filters tab. The overall look I was going for was something clean but vintage, which seemed appropriate for this particular era of car.

The Finished Piece

Overall I’m really pleased with the end result, and Sketchfab is the perfect platform to show it off. The process of uploading and configuring your artwork is incredibly simple and the real-time render quality is superb, especially with the new Clear Coat shader and Screen Space Reflections.

Contacting Me

If you have any further questions about my process, or if you’d like to hire me, then please feel free to contact me. You can find me on my website, or you can send me a message via my Sketchfab profile. I’m always on the lookout for new projects that will take me out of my comfort zone!

Finally, a big thank you to Sketchfab for allowing me this opportunity to contribute to their Art Spotlight!

About the author

Gareth West (se7en23)

Freelance 3D Artist


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