Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sabbatical Postmortem!

It's Christmas Eve and  today is the last day of my sabbatical!  It's been about a year now, and this path to improvement has certainly had its ups and downs.  I'd like to take this opportunity to go over the last year and provide a recap of my experiences.

According to my Introduction Post I wanted to do hand painting and sculpting on a daily basis for the entire year.  Needless to say this didn't happen, but how could I have predicted the crazy winding path I was on for the whole year?

I'm not in the mood to order these events in particular, so I will split them up into a few major categories.

The Good
  • I replaced my entire portfolio with new content.  Before I started my break, I had four pieces which were at that point starting to become rather outdated; and, even at the time, were far below my personal standards.  Here are a few shots of the old crap that has been washed out: 

  • I kept up and learned some more MEL script.  This was a pretty minor aspect of my break, maybe one day out of each month was relating to MEL script just to tweak my work flow in Maya and expand upon ideas.
  • I got a pretty solid grasp on the booming PBR work flow.  I tried my hand at both spec/gloss and metal/rough work flows and I personally prefer the metalness work flow more.  My first project last December was actually an attempt at PBR and while I thought it came out okay at the time, looking back it was pretty bad:

Later on I did another project which explored the metalness/roughness approach to PBR which came out much nicer compared to the caster.  A small shot of that below:

  • It wasn't long after this project that I started getting heavy into Substance Painter which is now my #1 texturing application for PBR textures.  I used it exclusively for my basement project save for a few labels which I needed to pre-position using Photoshop.
  • I did some of the hard surface challenges on Polycount and improved my hard surface modeling a bit.  I was already pretty proficient but focusing on complex shapes helped me understand edge flow and mesh preparation more.
  • I learned some basics of Unreal Editor 4 from the basement project.  I got some help from my friend Blake Bjerke who is a UE4 wizard!
  • I learned a new retopologizing technique involving Transfer Maps in Maya from one of the members who frequents the Polycount Google+ Hangouts.  I don't remember who, so I can't give any props. :/
  • Developed a much faster PBR art pipeline involving Substance Painter.
  • My buddy Christian Gallego showed me how to more quickly bake out color ID maps from Zbrush.  I had been using GUV tiles which is incredibly slow...
  • Through the various projects I had to make the hard decision of scrapping, I learned quite a bit about project management, scope, and how to manage my expectations when it comes to working as part of a team; and how to cut my losses when working with people who aren't pulling their own weight.
  • I spent a majority of time in a small art-related Google+ Hangout with various artists working to improve.  Much like the Polycount Hangouts, I was always working right in front of people who could provide constructive feedback to help me grow.  This was especially evident with my basement project, where I was given quite a bit of feedback at a point where I was satisfied and ready to call it done.

Before Critique

After Critique

  • I'm actually moving to Austin in a month, and my time in the G+ Hangouts benefited me twofold: on top of the feedback and motivational environment, I had bridged a gap between artists here in Phoenix and those in Austin.  It had been a nice networking experience and I'll already have some friends and hopefully a small reputation by the time I get there.
  • I ditched Facebook for Twitter.  Trading one social media for another hardly seems like a good thing, but Twitter is so much more specific to my interests compared to the Facebook feed that is almost entirely nonsense and, from what I've seen in retrospect, is overall just a huge distraction and waste of time.

The Bad
  • Netflix.  It was nice for some background noise but depending on what I was watching, I found myself stopping work completely to look over and watch the show.  I ended up switching to Let's Play videos on YouTube which are much less engaging (at least for me).
  • I fell out of hand painting shortly after my tavern project which was back in March.  Some of my work seemed to take longer than I expected, and I began to feel perpetually behind and felt that if I didn't focus entirely on the project at hand, I wouldn't finish by my deadline; so, I dropped the smaller studies that would take up a few hours of my day and focused them on completing my active projects.

    This ended up coming back around to bite me at the end of my break, where after the basement project in November I wanted to finish out with a hand-painted asset, like an exterior building or something.  Unfortunately, having not practiced hand painting for over six months, I quickly realized that anything I'd do would probably not be up to my standards or compete with the other stuff already in my portfolio.  Maybe after a few months of practice, but certainly not now.
  • A few projects I was on were team projects.  Unfortunately my partners were not able to follow through with their promises, nor did they come forward and tell me this.  This led to some projects dragging on for weeks or even months with little progress on their end while I was preoccupied with knocking out everything on my end.  Originally I had a Skyrim mod planned, and after spending a little under two months working on all the art assets, my partner apparently hadn't been working on anything at all.

    I probably could have checked in more, but generally I expected him to be responsible as he usually is and be self-sufficient.  I couldn't afford the time to learn the Creation Kit so I had to scrap the entire project.  As for using my assets anyway for my portfolio, I decided against it because by the end of my break I expected my quality bar to be much higher and would get cut from my portfolio anyway.

The Ugly

The only ugly part of this break I can think of is the time that was wasted inadvertently being distracted by Netflix, but mostly the Skyrim mod.  That project lasted a whopping 1/6 of my break was wasted because my teammate at the time failed me.

Final Thoughts

With all this retrospect, I am much more aware of how my time is spent and exactly what distracts me from work.

I probably could have done more, but there's no sense pining over it now.

I finished out strong with a nice environment and entirely new portfolio pieces.

This was a much needed break for me to improve my skills.  I got hired into a small startup when I was still in college that was pretty much a mobile outsourcing studio so my time there wasn't challenging my skills at all.  I decided it wasn't a good place for me to be right out of school so I left and started this sabbatical.  Overall I'm super confident in my abilities now and am really looking forward to the opportunities that I will find in Austin!

Merry Christmas!

View my previous completed projects here

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Whoops, I forgot to post updates for a bit!  Here's the thing: I have decided to postpone the gun project for the time being in order to get other things under way.  I've been very busy over the last couple weeks, so not much art to show.  I guess I should have expected as much during the holiday season.

I had always wanted my final project to be hand-painted, but I forgot to consider one thing: I haven't actually practiced my hand painting since the tavern project, so anything I do now would surely be below my standards for a portfolio piece!  That being said, my favorite artistic style has actually always been painterly styles like Wildstar, World of Warcraft, etc. and I'm rather upset that I didn't incorporate more if it into my studies over the year.

So, what I'll mostly be doing for the remainder of my break and up until GDC is hand painted texturing, and a few other small things here and there.  Right now I'm actually refurbishing my mining kit that I finished a few months ago.  I'm getting the materials set up for the new Unity5 shaders.

More to come!

View my previous completed projects here

Friday, November 21, 2014

November 21

It's been slow rolling these past few days.  My attention has been split between two things.  I managed to "finish" the upper region of the rifle but the proportions ended up being wrong on a very complex angled surface so I had to scrap it and start over.  I haven't exactly gotten the new upper piece modeled back out.  I've been sort of building around it since I have the basic shape down.

Unfortunately there's something "off" about my model that I can put my finger on.  It's causing my Picatinny rails to be too narrow.  I think at this stage I'm going to have to just push forward with it, and take it as a lesson.  I don't have time to rework a bunch of major parts just to get the width perfect (maybe if I were using ZBrush...).

The blue parts are more or less done, while the grey parts are what's left.

View my previous completed projects here

Monday, November 17, 2014

November 17

Got the magazine and grip in.  Slow progress over the last couple days but I should still be on par to finish in time.

View my previous completed projects here

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 14

For my first actual gun, this is rather difficult.  Well, not really difficult, as I have a pretty good handle on hard surface I think, but more just tedious.

Here's a wide shot of the stablization brace (stock) connected to the lower portion of the weapon.  I think it might be a bit too wide.  Not a huge deal, but there is one section that I would have to redo if I end up making it more narrow.

Maybe I'll have a light day tomorrow and just work on the clip and other small simple shapes.

View my previous completed projects here

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 12

So here's a little update on the gun I have chosen.  It's obviously not a standard-issue anything, but according to the original Reddit post this thing is an AR-15 rifle modified to be classified as a pistol in order to sidestep certain gun laws.

Here are some basic facts about the gun:

The stock is not actually a stock, but rather an SB15 stabilizing brace.
The upper part is a VLTOR brand.
The lower part is a DDLES brand.
The handguard is also a DDLES.
The grip is a Nill brand.
It uses an Osprey silencer.
From what I could find, the scope seems to be a SPARC brand, red dot sight, with a special mount that gives it extra height.  I couldn't find an exact model.

I got the bracer mostly done but I think I'm going to redo those nine horizontal slats to make them more visible from a distance.  Hopefully the bracer is one of the harder pieces because man was it a pain in the ass to model.

View my previous completed projects here

Monday, November 10, 2014

Project 7 Started!

After a nice week or so off from doing work (I played Transistor, Dungeons, and X-COM), I have recharged my batteries and am ready for my next project.  Here it is:

This is actually for the Monthly Guns and Firearms Challenge November 2014.  I'll be cross-posting here and there.

Alright, time to get at it!

View my previous completed projects here

Friday, October 31, 2014

Project 6 Complete!

Alright, I'm done!  As with any work of art, there is still so much more I could have added, tweaked, and refined.  But I need to continue pushing forward, taking what I've learned in this project and incorporating it into my next one.

You can view the complete showcase of this project at my website, here.

Here's what I got out of this project:

  • I got my feet wet with Unreal Editor 4.  It's leagues more intuitive than UDK.  I still prefer Unity I think, but I can use UE4 to toy around with custom materials.
  • I got a ton of experience with Substance Painter.  I'm pretty sure this software is going to completely replace Photoshop in my pipeline.  I need to try out hand painting with it.  Seems like it would be super easy, but we'll see.
  • Speaking of pipelines, I developed a new one that seems rather quick and streamlined. I recently learned a new trick in Maya that lets me retopologize super fast (not talking about Quad Draw).
  • Super-solid understanding of PBR textures.

Here are some issues I encountered:

  • The metallic surfaces in Substance Painter did not visually match when imported to UE4.  It was probably a mistake on my end somewhere, but it caused a bit of a slowdown in the polish phase when I had to tweak color values to get them to display satisfactorily in UE4.
  • GUV tiling in ZBrush is really iffy.  It took such a long time to do in many cases that I ended up just painting my own material masks in Substance Painter.  I tried doing GUV tiles on decimated meshes but it seemed to crash ZBrush every time.  Perhaps with the 64 bit version soon to release that problem will disappear.
  • I was a bit too timid when it came to jumping into Unreal Editor.  In an attempt to not derail my project by spending too much time learning the software, I modeled the majority of my assets in place inside Maya which led to some more slow-downs later in the project during the polish phase.
  • I was not able to implement some suggestions due to time constraints.  If those slow-downs I mentioned hadn't happened, I could have added a few more things to make it look better.

Now it's time for a break, I'll be back in a week or so to announce my next project!

View my previous completed projects here

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October 30

Today and yesterday has been dedicated to tweaking lights, color, proportions, and whatnot.  Pretty tedious but I guess it's a nice break from modeling & texturing!

Another update:

View my previous completed projects here

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 28

I was going to post this yesterday but the Internet went down for the entire city for about five hours.  So anyway, I'm in my final stages of tweaking and cleanup.  Still messing with lighting and I need to incorporate more ambiance. 

If you have any critiques, now would be the best time to offer them!

[edit]  Here are the changes I have made according to all the great feedback I've received so far:

View my previous completed projects here

Sunday, October 26, 2014

October 26

I'm almost done!  Here's whats left:

  • Texture the Ladder
  • Add label to circuit breaker panel
  • Implement translucent shader for glass/plastic bottles
  • Model a box & put stuff in it
  • Move some assets around
  • General tweaking of texture values as needed
  • Ambient effects
  • Test & bake lighting
  • Beauty shots

View my previous completed projects here

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24

I buckled and had to use Photoshop again for the wood.  Substance Painter doesn't allow me to rotate my materials, so for directional patterns such as wood, I'm pretty much out of luck if my UVs are running in the wrong direction.

UE4 is certainly a treat.  Here's the shambling mess that is my scene file.  Absolutely still WIP in nearly every way.

View my previous completed projects here

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22

Had some issues getting these shelves to read properly.  Pretty tedious but I think I got it.

View my previous completed projects here

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21

Today's slew of textures.  I keep updating the water heater because of feedback.  Looks better and better!

View my previous completed projects here

Monday, October 20, 2014

Project Hub!

After noticing that all my shorter blog post snapshots were getting spammed with the project footers, I figured I should clean things up and just make a single link in my footer to a post where you can find links to all my projects (this post).

Introduction Post.  My initial post when I started my sabbatical.  It explains what I'm doing and why!

Project 1 was probably my largest project.  A hand-painted diffuse-only interior environment.

Project 2 was supposed to be a small Skyrim mod but was cancelled after my teammate could not afford the time to complete his side of things, namely implementation of assets into the Creation Kit.

Project 2.5 - Hard Surface Stuff 

Project 3 was Borderlands fan art.  I modeled a weapon case themed after the Jakobs weapon line.

Project 4 was an asset pack for the Unity Asset Store.  A bunch of mineral deposits.

Project 5 was my first real stab at PBR materials.  A "shadow box" representing all the ribbons and medals I received while serving in the Air Force.

After project 5, I couldn't figure out what to do.  Rather than flounder for days and days, I decided to clear my mind with a mini project that was based on a prop from Futurama.

Project 6 was the Polycount Noob Challenge #3

Sabbatical Postmortem!

October 20

Getting some more props knocked out!  Made some tweaks to the water heater so the dirt buildup isn't so uniform.

View my previous completed projects here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 16

Man, it's been like three weeks!  I've been busy getting everything prepared for a smooth transition into Substance Painter and Unreal Editor.

Here is the final blockout of the scene, save for a few props being moved around and whatnot. I hid some of the support pillars/beams to give a clearer shot of the room.

Flat shaded + Ambient Occlusion

Default Lighting + Ambient Occlusion

I have to re-bake some AO maps here and there, but at this point all models and baked textures are complete.  I'll be posting some textured assets more frequently now.

Introduction Post
Project 1 Complete!
Project 2 Cancelled. Boo!
Project 2.5 - Hard Surface Stuff
Project 3 Complete!
Project 4 Complete!
Project 5 Complete!
Mini Project Complete!
Project 6 WIP