INTERVIEW WITH ARNAUD BELLOUR, HIGH-RES PROP MODELLING & TEXTURING

We spoke to 3D artist Arnaud Bellour, who creates incredibly intricate high res props.  See his pipeline and process below.

INTRO

My name is Arnaud Bellour, i am a recent graduate student from ESMA in Montpellier. During my studies I made a short film called “Swiff” with my team, which will be on the internet soon. My education taught me various aspects of the creation of a movie from start to finish, and I found myself drawn to the process of texture creation and look development. After finishing school I created my first demo reel, which was [primarily] a mix between stylized work and realistic work, so I decided to focus on creating a realistic piece for my portfolio. I worked on small asset to focus on details rather than making a huge environment, as I had done in the past.

GATHER REFERENCE

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One project I always wanted to do was a flintlock pistol, and I already have a cheap replica which I bought when I was a kid, so I decided I had to make it (every time I see the replica I said to myself “god, I have to model that”). Obviously, a replica is really good because you have the size, proportions and you can turn it around. However, since it’s a cheap version, I needed to gather reference to portray better details and materials.

To begin my search for reference, I primarily used google and also auction sites. Auction sites worked well as the product is always presented with high res pictures from multiple angles.

I use “pureref” to manage my reference as it’s a really good software and it’s free ! During the entire process I kept pureref open on my screen to ensure my references were available at all times.

MODELING

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After I had substantial references I began modeling in maya. I began with simple shapes just to have good proportions and basic forms. I noticed the handle on the pistol was very simple, so instead of sticking to the original I decided to add a custom butt plate, with an ornamental skull on it. The modeling process for all the ornaments was a bit more tricky. I made the ornament with the native retopo tool of maya called quad draw (which is a simple but very effective tool).

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For the canon, I made all the ornaments flat, and can add volume later (I just used the extrude tool and offset it and bent it later with the non linear deformer in maya).

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*note : this is but one of many possible workflows. In another project where I created an old 8mm camera, I painted a displace mask in Mari and used it in Zbrush with the inflate deformer

For the butt, since every ornament is an independent mesh, I duplicated them and used it directly with lattice deformer, to follow the mesh.

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SCULPTING

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At the sculpting phase I only had the basic shape, with floating ornaments on it, and I exported all my mesh to work on it in zbrush. I subdivided my different parts to about 5 million polys (depending on the shape). Next I used the project tool to project all the ornament details onto the high-res subdivided mesh. This way the ornaments are no longer floating, and everything becomes one piece.  To add ornaments onto the smaller pieces, like the cock, the jaws, the pan and trigger, I use custom alpha with the drag rect function.

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To make the alphas I used a simple workflow. I imported the ornament and used the grabdoc to make an alpha (*note, you must export it otherwise alpha will be lost in the next restart of zbrush)

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Once this is done, I started sculpting damage and wear onto the mesh. The most important thing is to always keep an eye on the reference, and I use the clay brush and the trim smooth border to achieve these details.

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When the sculpting is finished I used the go zbrush plugin to export all mesh to maya in order to unwrap it .

UV

The uv process is very simple and fast. I unwrapped each part with the unfold 3d, except for pipe (I use an old technique, with the legacy unfold, which is easy to find on youtube). I usually use a checker texture to check if there is any deformation. Once the unwrap is done I make my layout by hand, and I use a tool called uvdeluxe, which adds a little panel to the original windows, and adds various other options. An important part is the ratio of the shell. I select a shell copy ratio, and apply it to everything else. Now every uv shell has the same ratio. The next thing I need to decide is how many tiles I’ll need for this assets (pixel ratio). In my case, I used 3 tiles, because of the close up shots I will be rendering later.

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Once that’s done, I send all mesh into zbrush in order to export the different maps. I’ll export displace (height information), normal ( use for a low res version for 3d viewer) and cavity and ambient occlusion map for the texturing.

LIGHTING

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Before texturing the asset, I create the lighting setup with a grey shader to test my displacement map. I usually make a 3 point lighting very basic + an ibl , and will check the lighting again after texturing it later. Since it’s an asset and not a scene, this kind of lighting always works.

TEXTURING

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For the texturing I used Mari.  I start by importing a mid res version of the asset, as this way I can have small details from zbrush on the asset. I also import the cavity and ambient occlusion map while I texture. I start with basic textures for the diffuse and improve them later. For the wood materials I use the tri planar projection. Something important with the wood is the way the grain visible, so I re project the texture I use for tri planar to have an effective look.  Like in the modeling and sculpting process, reference is very useful, and it’s important to look at real life gun construction while texturing.

LOOKDEV

Once it’s done I start making the shader in maya. Generally I rework the texture to fit my needs and for the lighting. For small retake I usually use a remap node to control intensity of any input map of a material, to avoid having to export the map from Mari especially if its small change. To render I used Arnold and the wonderful alshader.  One cool thing is with alsurface you can do almost everything with it, I usually use it to put 2 specular on the material especially when creating metal.

FINISHING

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The final stage is to add some compositing on the still image to reproduce the mimic of an dslr.  I used nuke to make some color adjustment, depth blur, small glow on metal, chromatic aberration and add vignettes.

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For More of Arnaud’s Work, go to his Artstation Page.

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