letter

Making Of / 28 November 2021

I wanted to write out my process for the Sketchfab contest, "Collision: Nature & Civilization". For this challenge we were asked to pick a moment in time and tell a story about our complex relationship with nature and technology. The conversation of technology and nature is an important one, especially in recent years. With global warming become an increasingly dire problem, we need to make serious efforts to protect our carbon absorbing natural resources, as well as create infrastructure that encourages both individuals and countries to reduce their carbon footprints and use renewable energy. 


INSPIRATIONS AND MOODBOARDS

I wanted to do something along the veins of Solarpunk, a genre of speculative fiction that envisions how the future might look if humanity succeeds in solving current challenges with an emphasis on sustainability and renewable energy. Some works that fall under this genre include Studio Ghibli's Castle in the Sky and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Disney's Treasure Planet. More recently is this Chobani commercial, which features a futuristic society where technology and nature exist in harmony.

When thinking about sustainability, the color green pops into mind quickly! I like the idea of trees growing in a city, with a golden light. I also wanted to incorporate water into the piece as well, because I lived for years in a city next to the ocean and a river. One of the images on my moodboard that stood out to me was a series of man-made islands with trees growing out of them. Instead of islands, I liked the idea of tiered canals, with water wheels to generate energy between each tier, and boats used as transportation instead of cars.

For the format, I wanted something that would look appealing as both a 3D piece you can view in Sketchfab, as well as its own illustration. I drew inspiration from the artist Cheryl Young and the game Monument Valley! I found some Monument Valley levels that incorporated waterfalls, and it was nice to see how simple and efficient they were made. I also like the game's approach where they tried to make every level look like a framed piece of art. 

I wanted to write a small story to go along with the image. I'm not much of a wordsmith, but I find there is a charming sincerity when it comes to writing letters so I chose that as my format. My first draft of the letter was written from this time period to the future, wishing them clearer skies and fresher air. But I found that it felt too vague and impersonal to make it feel like a story. I changed the direction to someone who recently moved to a new city writing a letter to someone back at home, detailing some of the energy advancements of the city. It's still quite vague in terms of the relationship between the correspondents and their current situation, but I like it when the reader can come up with their own interpretation. The letter had to be edited down after uploading the project to Sketchfab, because there's a character limit haha!


STORY

To my dearest friend,

I miss you terribly and often find myself wishing you were here with me. It's a silly thought. 

It has been some time since I moved to this city and it's been a nice distraction. The solar panels here are just like glass, and it has become fashionable to decorate buildings with solar domes. More and more of them get built every day; soon there will be more solar domes than waterways! The canals here are beautifully maintained, although the waterwheels need to be occasionally checked to make sure nothing gets stuck in them. They're really strict about pollution, since we rely on both the water and the sun for energy here. It's some trouble, but it's nice to keep things well maintained. 

Lots of people pass by because of the boat stop next to us. The people here are so kind and they often smile when they send letters at the office. 

I feel like the air is fresher here. You would have loved it. 

I really do miss you. 


SKETCH

I made a block out model in Blender that had all of the elements I had in mind: a tower, a tiered canal, and water wheels. I then brought the block out into Clip Studio Paint to paint over, adding some details and adjusting the colors. For the colors I wanted to have highly saturated greens, and blue water that had a bit of a green tint. The light is a warm gold! The final image ended up being less cluttered than most Solarpunk art, and more along the lines of Monument Valley in its simplicity. I like the texture of my brushstrokes and aimed to keep that in the final model as much as possible. 

WIPS

Here is the final block out! Some details were changed or adjusted from the sketch, like the shape of the dome, since I continued to make decisions as I modeled. In the sketch I tried to keep the figure at more realistic proportions, but I changed it to something more stylized and cute in the model. I still kept the figure a size that made sense for the whole scene though! He can fit through the doors and the desk is the right height for him as well. The scaffolding was simplified because it was getting distracting and drawing the eye too much. Hopefully now the eye goes directly to the figure first. Because this piece was going to be uploaded to Sketchfab, I also made sure the reverse side of the diorama had some detail, even though it won't be seen at the final angle.

I blocked in the colors, color picking from my sketch. I decided to go with an unlit render and just paint in the light and shadows so the final product will look closer to my sketch. When painting, I used this brush pack to get similar brush strokes to the sketch. 

The final image! I'm pretty happy with how close I got it to my initial sketch and really enjoyed the process of painting in the forms. I'd like to try more projects in this style in the future.

Exporting models from Blender to Procreate

Tutorial / 20 November 2021

This isn't going to be a tutorial so much as some of my observations on importing models into Procreate from Blender and some rules I've discovered that aren't in the documentation. 

Some quick background information about where I'm starting from! I'm a 2D/3D artist with considerable experience with both procreate and most aspects of the 3D pipeline. Some of my thoughts might not be applicable to someone who is new to either 3D or to procreate. The iPad I use is a 1st generation iPad Pro with 2GB of RAM and an Apple Pencil. Some issues that I had are entirely hardware related and can be fixed by just getting a new iPad 😭

Procreate 5.2 introduced 3D painting, which lets users paint directly on imported 3D models! This is incredibly exciting, and I was especially excited for the potential to paint on 3D models on my iPad. I personally find it uncomfortable with painting on my computer tablet and do all of my digital painting on my iPad. 

I was so excited for the 5.2 update that I spent the day before the update preparing some of my old 3d sculpts to be imported! The one I ended up using was this one of a guardian lion, sculpted in Zbrush and hastily retopologized and UV-ed. It wasn't optimized in any way, but it'll do! I was finishing dinner when the update arrived and downloaded it right at the kitchen table. And then I proceeded to paint on the lion model without moving from the table for an hour and a half. Painting in 3D! At the kitchen table! What a dream~

My initial reaction was that the 3D painting feature is AMAZING. It runs so smoothly even on my old iPad, that it made me cry tears of joy. I was immediately comfortable with the navigation and intuitively understood how the lights and texture maps worked. If you have any experience at all with hand painting textures, the transition to procreate is smooth. If you want to learn more about the basic features, Procreate has a very useful handbook that they keep up to date with any new features. They explain the file types that are compatible (.USDZ or .OBJ) and what UVs are. Procreate won't accept models without UVs. 

EDIT: Procreate has added a tutorial on how to import models with larger maps, normals, and AO [HERE]

I've seen tutorials on how to get models from Forger or Nomad Sculpt into Procreate, but I wondered what the steps were for Blender. I chose a different model that had more pieces and multiple UVs to test with and made note of some interesting behaviors. For the most part, the pipeline is pretty simple. Export to .OBJ, upload the files to your iPad via dropbox, airdrop, etc., import files to Procreate.  

(1) Like a lot of 3D programs, Procreate likes Quads and Tris. But it doesn't seem to know what to do with n-gons. It'll literally just make those faces disappear, which is kind of funny. This has an easy solution; just triangulate your mesh before you export! Problem solved!

(2) You can import models that have pieces with different UV sets. I knew Procreate could handle multiple objects with different UV layouts, because some of the sample files have that. Assign the objects different materials before you export, or Procreate will assume they're all using the same texture. 

(3) Related to (2), there is a layer limit in all Procreate files, and the number of layers you can have depends on how powerful your iPad is. As a 1st generation iPad, I have a very pitiful layer limit! I've learned that the layer limit also applies to the number of UV layouts you can have. I organized my scene into 6 different layouts, but that's over my layer limit so procreate brings up an error when I try to import the full scene 😭

(4) If multiple objects share the same UVs, stacking them on top of each other saves on space and time, since you'll only need to paint one and it'll repeat on everything in the stack. Procreate did something interesting when I tried to paint on the birds, which all have the same UVs. It didn't let me paint on any of the birds except one of them. I think it only lets you paint on the object that's on the top of the stack, so to speak. It's not that big of a problem, but it did lead to me spinning the model around a lot, trying to find the right bird to paint on.

There are a few other notes that I made that others have addressed, such as how to get the textures to 4K in procreate, since it defaults to 2K textures. I just wanted to share my thoughts and observations in importing from blender with a variety of different objects. 

Overall I am very impressed with how Procreate handles 3d models. It doesn't seem to have any issue at all when importing large models, as long as they have a UV map and no n-gons. I actually imported a photogrammetry model that was about 700k Tris with no problem at all. Most of the issues that I personally had were hardware limitations on my end not liking the layer limit. That does prevent me from using the 3D painting feature more, but if I ever get a better iPad then I'll be happy to revisit!

Airlean Tales 3D Models

Making Of / 15 November 2021

I was approached by Luna Chai to create a series of 3D models for the series Airlean Tales. The models were made to be imported into CLIP STUDIO PAINT, for use as painting reference for the illustrations. These models include weapons and some extra objects like a mask. I've never created models for CSP before, but I decided to create them with a lower polycount so they would be easy to open in any program. My own experience with CSP is on my iPad, and I know it sometimes struggles with heavy 3D models! So for this project, I focused on creating models that were accurate to the concept art and didn't have a terribly high polycount.

Final project page can be found HERE. Unless otherwise noted, all models were made in Blender. All concept art is by Luna Chai!

Karis's Sword

  • Karis's sword resembles a rapier, but the guard is shaped like a plum blossom and inverted. The knuckle guard is elaborate and wraps around the handle of the sword. It's very pretty!
  • This was the first one I made, so I was figuring out my process at this point. The hardest part was the knuckle guard, because the form is delicate and beautiful, tapers differently across the entire guard, and it wraps around the sword in a way that would be difficult to do with box modeling. I used curves and a curve profile to make it, which allowed me to make it smooth, tapered, and easily editable. 


Azalea's Gun

  • Azalea's Starshooter Gun is based on a rifle, with a colored inner casing and handle, and gold vines that wrap around the trigger guard. I liked how organic the vine detail felt, but I also decided to make sure the actual trigger guard area was straighter so it could do it's job like a real rifle.
  • Like Karis's Sword, the gold vine detail was made by extruding a curve profile along a curve. The vines were easier than the sword guard because the profile is simpler and there's only a little bit of tapering at the very end of the vines. 
  • Initially there was only a side view of the gun, but Luna generously provided me with notes on how the details look from the quarter view. 


Wes' Goggles

  • After two fantastical weapons, Wes's Goggles were comparatively simple! These goggles have large lenses and wreath themed clasps on the sides. 
  • Because it's a symmetrical object, I was able to model half of the goggles and then mirror it to save time. I modeled everything on a flat plane, and then curved it to fit around a head. 


Dragon Whisperer's Mask

  • The Dragon Whisperer's Mask was a fun challenge! It's a hard surface piece with very organic shapes. Not only does the mask conform around a face, but there are details that are conformed around the mask! I worked in Zbrush to make the mask, then I brought it into Blender to retopologize. I'm happy with how neat it came out!
  • ZBrush - I used a generic base mesh for the head, editing the proportions to match the character closer. To make sure the mask fit the head perfectly, I masked out the area the mask would be and extracted it to use it as a rough base to work from. It was challenging to sculpt because it was so thin! At first I had the horns going more to the side, but Luna directed me on the correct rotation. I used ZRemesher to simplify the horns, but I wanted to be picky about the topology of the mask, so I brought that into Blender.
  • Blender - I wanted the mask to be efficient with it's polygon count, so I carefully went in and drew in the new topology with the Shrink Wrap Modifier. I did the same for the raised detail on the mask. My goal was to preserve the curves and hard edges I had with as few polygons as I could. Looking back I probably could have used even less, but I'm happy with how it came out. For the horns, I deleted the edges they didn't need until they only had enough to keep their essential shape. 


Echo's Dagger

  • Echo's Dagger was another object that started it's life as a Zbrush sculpt. This hunting dagger is made of bone and has a wolf head detail on the end. The final head is a lot less detailed than the initial sculpt, but this is by design. The dagger itself is a small detail, so it was more important for the head to have large readable shapes than be highly detailed.
  • Zbrush - The character sheet had another object with a wolf head that I used as a reference since it was more detailed. I had to look up a lot of references on how a wolf head is shaped, as well as some metallic wolf sculptures to see how fur is generally sculpted. 
  • Blender - Like the Dragon Whisperer's mask, I retopologized the head using a Shrink Wrap Modifier. The wolf head was harder to do than the mask because of all of the fur detail! It was challenging to keep the shape accurate while still trying to only use as many polygons as I needed. The rest of the dagger was created in Blender as well.


Halcyon's Glaive

  • After two models that relied on sculpting and retopology, Halcyon's Swansong Glaive was back to the basics! The general shape of the glaive was straightforward, but I asked Luna for clarification on neck area, since the sketch wasn't clear. There is an attached tassel in the concept art that I was told to leave off, since that can be drawn in later (I completely agree, I also enjoy drawing tassels!)
  • A lot of the gold detail areas were modeled as a small piece and then mirrored twice. This saved a lot of time in modeling. A small detail in the neck was created with my old friend, curve modeling. The blade's shape came out very cleanly, I'm quite happy with it!


 Sethis's Sword

  • Sethis's Sword was the last model I made for this project! It looked simple, but had some details that were interesting to interpret, like the hilt. When I was modeling the hilt, I added a few more segments, but it ended up looking like a bunch of bananas! I quickly changed it to something more cool.
  • My only regret was not leaving enough of an allowance between the edge of the blade and the window segments to allow myself room to add a bevel there. I think a small bevel would help catch the light and really frame the window parts of the sword nicely. Alas, when I try to do it now, it messes with the nice straight edge of the sword's blade. 


After making each modeled I zipped them up and sent them to Luna. I've been told that the models work well in Clip Studio Paint! Mission accomplished!

This was a fun project to be a part of, and I enjoyed how beautifully each design was and how they presented different challenges. Luna Chai was a wonderful client who was enthusiastic and provided clear feedback and communication during the whole process. I did underestimated how long it would take for me to make each model, so I'll learn better for next time. I can't wait to see the models used in the Airlean Tales illustrations.