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Design an asteroid mining vessel with 3D-Coat and ZBrush

By Andrii Mykhailov


“Metro: Exodus” vehicle artist Andrii Mykhailov takes us through the ZBrush and 3D-Coat workflow for us asteroid mining vessel…

In this tutorial I’ll briefly explain the process of creating my “Asteroid mining vessel” concept render. I’ll show the basic steps from initial form to final result. I don’t use any unique approaches or software. Everything is pretty standard. This pipeline is just one of many used by concept artists but is more 3D oriented so it requires advanced knowledge of a few 3D packages.

Step 1: Basic form in 3D-Coat

I started making this ship first in 3D-Coat. I wanted to try all the voxel tools so I needed some models to practice. I didn’t gather many references, but I was inspired mostly by some grain harvesters and some soviet anti-air equipment. Most of the forms were built using Vox Hide, Cut off, Move and Pose tools.

Final form made with voxels in 3D-Coat

Step 2: Retopo in ZBrush

After I exported the OBJ from 3D-Coat I got about 34 million polys. Now I needed to clean it up it somehow. I used Decimation Master from ZBrush to lower it to about 300,000 polys. The ship is made mostly of flat planes, so poly count reduced drastically without losing important details. Now the model was ready for Maya.

Mesh after Decimation Master

Step 3: Detailing in Maya

Now I added small details in Maya. I wanted to add some mechanisms to quite a few boring zones. For this I used two kitbash sets which I enjoyed a lot. First from Andrew Averkin and second from Andrew Hodgson.

Kitbash parts added some zones of interest

Step 4: UV in Maya

I always try to make maximum details before render, so I’ll spend less time in post-production. So here I decided to make some surface textures in Substance Painter. But Painter needs proper UV. Auto UV and Layout in Maya 2018 became super fast. So simply UV > Auto UV did a decent job even for such dirty geometry. Then I simply packed everything into eight UDIMs using Layout in Maya.

Rough UV, more than enough for concept purposes

Step 5: Texturing in Substance Painter

At this step I simply import unwrapped models in FBX into Painter. It splits model by 9 UDIMs. Now I use some simple smart materials as base for my materials. For example I used ‘Tank Painted’ for the main yellow paint. Added some wear, changed dirt and so on. Then I instanced it thorough all UDIMs and painted masks. Also I added small details like bolts and panels using Jonas Ronegard’s alphas.

Quick texturing in Substance Painter using smart materials and instances

Step 6: Making freight ship

Before rendering I decided to add some large freight ships which should collect mined ore. It should work as a nice background. I made it using all the previous steps. So I started with simple modeling in Maya, added kitbash parts, auto UV and textured in Substance Painter.

Added background freight ship by repeating previous steps

Step 7: Setting up scene and shaders

Now I duplicated every mirrored part and copied sections for the background ship. I set 2-3 camera positions I liked and saved them as bookmarks. I also assigned shaders. Since I use Redshift I assigned the default redshift material for both ships. It supports PBR textures and UDIMS. Using UDIM is pretty basic. You just add the UDIM name mask to texture path.

Maya scene with gray material

Step 8: Final render in Redshift

Time to render. I added one direct sunlight as overall fill light. To add more focus on the main ship I placed a spotlight right above it, slightly outside the frame. I also added small headlights to the ship. I also used quite dense atmosphere to show all the dust around the ship.

Final render before post processing

Step 9: Post processing in Photoshop

I rendered everything in EXR and dropped in Photoshop. First I changed framing a bit to move focus more to the ship. Pushed back atmosphere to add dark contrasts. Placed some extra wear to the ship using some textures from my collection. Still didn’t looked alive enough so I added astronaut with vacuum cleaner. Then placed asteroids background from NASA site. Headlights looked boring so I used blue lens flare which contrasted nicely with yellow spaceship.

Before and after Photoshop

Top tip 1: Don’t overdo your model

If you’re doing a model for a concept and you plan to texture you don’t need to model every tiny detail. Save your time and add the rest in normal maps. Things like rivets, bolts, vents and so on can be easily added using alphas.

Initial model and model with added height details using alphas
Ashif Ali
Ashif Ali
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