, by Danny McGrath

Hard Surfaces Aren’t Hard: Sci-Fi Sculpting in Modeler

3D Artist Danny McGrath breaks down his Sci-Fi Helmet Project

  • Game
  • Interview

My name is Danny McGrath. I’m a self-taught 3D artist from Ireland, living in beautiful Spain. I’m currently working in the 3D printing industry as a digital sculptor creating miniatures and collectibles. 

I’ve been addicted to 3D for around 20 years now. My friend was doing a 3ds Max course and he had a student copy at home. Once I saw that first sphere floating in an infinite 3D world, I was hooked. I’ve always been fascinated with computer graphics, though. I was a child of the 80s so we grew up as the first generation to evolve alongside the machines, so to speak. My best friend’s father worked for Texas Instruments and it was on the TI-99 that I created my first ever computer graphics. The computer had 1k ram. Haha! But my friend was a programming prodigy at 10 years old and we made several games together. Later I would go on to C64, and then my first experience of 3D was a program called ‘3D Construction Kit’ on the Atari ST. It was more like vector 3D, but it was mind-blowing at the time, to have this at home.  

The Modeler Beta

The Modeler beta has been a great experience. The program is evolving at an excellent pace and the Substance 3D team has put a wonderful group of devs together for this exciting program. The artwork coming out of the beta has been a huge inspiration and there is very tight integration between the artists and the devs. This program is going to change a lot of people’s workflows. 

The first try was very intuitive to get going straight away. Lots of power with minimal tools. My initial interest in the tool was for organic modeling. I’d seen demos by Gio Nakpil and Sam Poirier and was blown away by the fidelity of forms they could achieve with the methods they used, so my first beta test creations were organic anatomy fragment studies. I realized that voxels were perfectly suited to this workflow. After that, I tried hard surface and the potential was evident.  

This was also my first true experience creating in VR and I was hooked straight away. The ability to read forms ‘in the round’ is as close as it gets to the real world. The ear sculpt I did below was my first and I became so engrossed in the forms in a way that I’ve never experienced before. It was fascinating to experience this in VR.  

I’ve been truly impressed with the power and potential, considering everything I’ve created so far has been with basic primitives. The devs have done a wonderful job designing the workhorse primitives’ system and this allows for a terrific variety of form creation, despite the seemingly limited toolbox.  

Also, Modeler has a very cleverly designed instance/array/nesting/symmetry system that opens the workflow up to endless creative possibilities. Everything just works so efficiently. It’s amazing to think that it’s still in beta. 

Sci-fi Helmet

The idea for the sci-fi helmet project was inspired by the work of an artist I saw online. The artist was creating cyborg headwear as real-life props. 

The entire project is built using simple primitives – as described above – using the parametric primitive system of Modeler. This allows for a huge variety of shapes without the need for massive pre-built mesh libraries. This is where the power of voxels lies when creating complex hard-surface assets. I completed all the modeling in a day. 

This robotic hand was built in a few hours using the very same process  

As demonstrated in the video, the entire project is built from primitives, and leveraging the power of Modeler’s dynamic parametric primitive shapes.  

While the majority of the parts are angular, there are a few more organically shaped parts. These are achieved with the help of the wonderful Warp Tool(amazing to experience this in VR, coming from traditional flat screen move tools), and custom boolean shapes which use Modeler’s artist-friendly boolean system. 

The asset was unwrapped using auto-UVs and set up in 11 UDIMs/texture sets in Substance 3D Painter

Despite the auto-unwrap, the quality of the textures turned out acceptable to use as a production asset in certain scenarios. Considering you can turn an asset like this around in two days – one day in Modeler/one day in Painter. 

Modeler is an extremely easy program to learn. You can pick it up in an afternoon. The VR controls lend themselves so well to this, and I think it’s a testament to the dev design that they created such a powerful modeling program and compacted it into very limited control inputs. There is also a desktop version (it’s a seamless desktop/VR hybrid program), but I personally work exclusively in VR.

So yes, I would say to just get in there and have fun. The public beta is open and free to try. Whether you’re a 3D DCC veteran or just starting out in 3D, give Modeler a try. I’m sure it will either change a lot of existing workflows for people or give those new to 3D a chance to create without the worry of learning a very complex and intimidating traditional DCC tool. Happy voxeling!! 

I’d just like to give a huge show of admiration to the Substance team. Fantastic work on Modeler, and the beta has been so enjoyable.

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