Modeling overview of 3D concept: 'Battle March'

Chris DiPaola runs through the process used to create his image; Battle March, from a cool initial idea all the way through to post-production, using Maya,
ZBrush and Photoshop...

This began as a passion project with a "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if…" moment. I had this idea stuck in my head for a while and it was really nice to finally get it out and put it all together. One of my biggest focuses was that I wanted to be able to tell a story with this piece and I wanted it to come across as epic. Since I was a kid, I have always been a big fan of monster and sci-fi movies. 2013's Pacific Rim played a big part in my inspiration for this piece. In this article I will go over my general process for modeling a 3D concept. The majority of the work was done in Maya with a handful of the shapes and forms created in ZBrush.


Research and narrative

When working on a concept, I sometimes come up with a narrative to aid in telling a visual story. For this concept, I visualized a war torn city in the not-so-distant future after years of destruction. I wanted the mech designs to have a real bulky/clunky feel to them as if they were 'old tech' that fought the beginning of the war.

With any personal project or production task, no matter how big or how small, I like to do a fair amount of research for what needs to be created. If something doesn't exist, I like to make a point of grounding it in reality and making the unbelievable, believable.

The more complex an asset, the more the research will help you to understand how it works. I find that creating a one page PSD file in Photoshop of my gathered reference helps in order to have everything in front of me all at once before I begin; as opposed to flipping through all the files I have collected. This establishes the groundwork for a
successful project.

Blocking out

Once I feel like I have enough information with what I'm working on it's time to begin the block-out. In this stage I like to keep things as simple as possible in order to get a general understanding of how these shapes feel in 3D space. I use these simple shapes for blocking out silhouette and form.

There is generally some back and forth between my reference and my 3D workspace figuring out design and mechanics, but nothing is final at this point. Throughout my entire process, as a general rule, I like to keep in mind indication of detail, how close your camera will be to your focus, and what needs to read. Figuring out the design, how these things are built, and how they are to work together is all part of the process.

Blocking out some of the initial mech shapes

Blocking out some of the initial mech shapes

Shapes and forms

After I am happy with my blockout, I move on to tightening up some shapes and forms. This doesn't necessarily mean it's time to go crazy with all the fine details. This is where I build upon the base that is set and begin adding more structure.

Some make the mistake of wanting to add all the really cool stuff right away without understanding that without the structure and form, it will not work. Refinement can happen throughout and doesn't have to be confined to just this phase. Generally there will always be changes moving forward in a production or on personal projects like this. Whether it is to add something or change it entirely, the process is always evolving until the concept fulfills the vision that it is meant to capture.

Some WIPS of the mech-creation process

Some WIPS of the mech-creation process

Refining the shapes

When dealing with fairly complex shapes, parts, pieces, and so on. I like to figure out how I can simplify the creation process. I find breaking it down into smaller, more simplistic parts, which make up the complexity of the overall shapes helps to overcome larger tasks. This is particularly helpful with mechanical pieces and things like that. With the robots in my scene I wanted to give them large metal exterior structures but have small parts and pieces of machinery underneath that shows through here and there. For the larger metal exterior, I started with some primitive shapes and refined them until I was happy with their shape. I then extruded faces from my mesh to add to the design.

Some of the shapes for the design where explored in ZBrush using DynaMesh and then retopologized with ZRemesher. They were then exported and further refined in Maya, utilizing polygonal modeling methods.

Showing how the scene is developing

Showing how the scene is developing

The background

I was able to keep most of the background modeling fairly low poly since you will never get that close to it and it is not the main focus in this scene. Spending time adding large amounts of detail to these areas would have gone unnoticed.

Working on the background

Working on the background

Kit-bashing

For the main focus of the scene, it is time to start tightening that up by adding in some fine details while continuing to refine the models. Reusing the same types of shapes in the design translates into a more cohesive feel. Kit-bashing is a huge time saver and was largely used in this project to allow me to move forward quickly.

Kit-bashing helps save time

Kit-bashing helps save time

The final scene

At this stage in the process, my modeling is almost finished. This is the time where I take a step back and check my silhouette, shape, form, and composition. I make any adjustments that are needed to strengthen the overall design. After these final tweaks are made, this portion of the work is done. Hopefully this article has given you insight to some of my working process and will help inspire you to create your own 3D concept.

The final scene

The final scene

Related links

Take a look at Chris DiPaola's website
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