Create a 3D robot illustration using Blender & Substance Painter

Introduction

LUCH4-B0T was a personal project developed with the aim of learning how to use and feel more comfortable using new software, in this case Blender for modeling and Substance Painter for textures.

In the development of this tutorial I will show the creation process and share all the techniques and tips that helped me to create this illustration.

Choosing the concept

The original concept for this illustration belongs to the talented Elita Elkana. Choosing a good concept is something super important for a project like this, my recommendation would be to look for something that represents a challenge, whereby you’ll need to learn new techniques during its development. You should also love the illustration, taking into account that you will spend a lot of time working on the same scene.

One last tip: If it is your first character, I would advise you to look for a concept that has symmetry, in this way you will only have to model one side of the character.

color robot boy

Original concept by Elita Elkana

Setting up the scene in Blender

The first thing we will do is place a camera in Blender – its options allow us to apply the concept as a background image. This is ideal to do the blocking and follow the shapes of the characters as closely as possible.

Another important aspect is perspective and choosing the ideal lens (focal length). For this concept I decided to use a 200-millimeter lens that is perfect for compressing perspective and following the flat shapes of the illustration.

Adjusting the camera in Blender

The importance of blocking

With the camera positioned we will continue with the blocking. This part of the project must be fast and free since we only need to make sure that the lens and the position of the camera that we chose before is the ideal one, allowing us to represent the volume of the illustration correctly.

Use the basic shapes that blender offers such as cubes and spheres to start shaping the characters. Keep in mind that many times things that work in 2D do not work in the same way when passing them to a 3D environment, so it is your job to see how the shapes interact and give them a real sense of contact and weight.

Blocking process

Modeling

Personally, I recommend using box modeling whenever possible, this type of workflow will allow you to generate forms in a simple way and will facilitate your work later when we do the UVs. Your allies will be cubes and the Subdivision Surface modifier. Keep in mind that the position of the loops in the cube affects the final result of the geometry.

Remember to always have the original illustration as a reference in order to follow the shapes as closely as possible, but still you can take certain liberties to have a better result, with this project an element that changed was the position and shape of the robot's boots to give an example of this type of change.

Modeling process

UVs and texel density

During the process of creating UVs, I recommend using a material with a color grid within Blender. This will allow you to see any errors in a simple way when unfolding, and have the same orientation for the textures.

I used the Texel Density Checker add-on to make sure that all the objects had the same density, separating them into two groups. One for the characters (10.24 px / cm) and the second for the objects that were only part of the stage (5.12 px / cm)

UVs

Export elements for Substance Painter

With all the elements ready, it is time to export – remember that Substance Painter will assign a tileset taking into account the material assigned within Blender. I recommend joining the objects that have the same type of materials (fabrics with fabrics, metals with metals) and the ideal would be to name each material to have everything organized when texturing.

Personally I like to work only with a high-poly mesh, so when I export the FBX I select the option: "apply modifiers".

Options in Blender when exporting

Creating textures in Substance Painter

The first thing we will do is baking. Personally I think it is ideal to work in a 4K resolution since this allows us to better appreciate the changes in the textures.

In this part of the process it is extremely important to see references to create textures that are interesting and feel real, PureRef is perfect to always have these images available.

The materials that come by default in Substance Painter work well as a base, but I recommend using them only as starting points and adding more layers of dirt and wear to have a better result.

Baking in Substance Painter

Export the materials

I use the following list of maps to export the textures to Blender, this list includes the maps of: Base Color, Roughness, Metalness, Normal (OpenGl), and Emissive.

After creating this list, you can save it as a preset for your future projects. In Blender, I recommend using the Node Wrangler add-on to make the application of textures more agile.

Export textures in Substance Painter

Illumination

For the lighting of this project, I sought to create an environment with a warm and comforting feel, that is why I decided to use a simulation of a real sky to achieve that type of light and shadow in the scene.

When modeling the set, I made openings simulating windows that allowed light to enter the scene in a realistic way. In Blender I used the Nishita Sky node that allows you to control the position and angle of the sun to achieve this type of lighting. On top of that, I added a series of Rim Lights around the characters using the black body node to control their temperature.

Nishita Sky Node and Blackbody temperature

Render and post-production

For the final render I used Cycles using 2000 samples to avoid the use of any type of denoise and achieve a finish closer to a real photograph with a little noise and texture. With the render finished I recommend doing a bit of color adjustment within Photoshop using LUTs. I also added a bit of emphasis and vignetting using Multiply and Screen layers.

Cycles samples

Top Tip: Storytelling

One of the elements that I love about this type of work is that we can tell part of the story only with the textures. It seems important to me to imagine how the characters develop in their environment, and based on that to determine where the materials wear the most, where they shine, where they are dirty, take time to think as if you were a child and these 3D models were your toys, in other words, allow yourself to imagine.

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