, by Christina Myrvold and Omercan Cirit

Sand People: The Yorubu Village Desert Scene Tutorial, by POLYCOSM

Christina Myrvold and Omercan Cirit detail the advantages of sculpting in VR in Substance 3D Modeler, for the Yorubu Village desert scene.

  • Interview
  • Workflow

Christina Myrvold and Omercan Cirit are a pair of artists whose educational platform on YouTube, POLYCOSM, showcases the creation of outstanding 3D artwork, in a wide variety of styles, and using a range of software. They were recently kind enough to put together a tutorial breaking down the steps involved in creating this scene, and in particular focusing on their use of Substance 3D Modeler, to sculpt the scene in VR. You can find the tutorial in this very article by scrolling down the page; for ease of reference you can also find them directly on YouTube:

Who are the Creators of POLYCOSM?

Christina: I’m a freelance illustrator and 3D artist mainly working on book covers for individual authors and publishing companies. My work tends to fit into the sci-fi and fantasy genres, and I focus heavily on storytelling in my illustrations. I tend to use a lot of 3D workflows when designing my covers before applying an overpaint in Photoshop.

Omercan and I also run an educational platform on YouTube called POLYCOSM where we combine our strengths to create cool art, such as environments, characters, props, and so on. For this specific project I took care of the 3D side of things, and Omercan the 2D aspect.

Initial concept sketches.

Omercan: I’m a freelance concept artist and illustrator. Most of my work is done for video games and tabletop games, but I’ve also worked in TV/Film production. My role on this project was mostly focused on the initial design stage. I created the concepts and developed the overall visual style for our buildings.


Christina: Personally, I’ve been a fan of video games since I was a kid. MYST and Riven, two games produced by Cyan which came out in 93 and 97, particularly caught my eye and my admiration for games was forever transformed. I loved how real and immersive (well, real to me back then!) they felt, and how fantastical the worlds were. Riven and MYST both had wonderfully creative environments, and they’ve always stuck with me. So, as a love-letter of sorts, we decided to incorporate that influence into this project. We wanted to create an environment that had an air of mystery around it, while telling a compelling story. The games always had an eerie feel to them as the environments always felt inhabited, but you never saw anyone aside from a few FMV inserts of people here and there. That led to a feeling of isolation, like you’re on your own exploring this mystical place. Of course, that was due to the technical limitations of game engines back then (animating people is hard!), and in a similar fashion, we wanted to capture that same feeling in our environment.

Tutorial Part One: Concepting

Omercan: I grew up reading a lot of French, Belgian and Italian comics. Their art styles have been a massive influence on me all my life. Still to this day, I’ll often go back and look at these for inspiration. For this project, I wanted to bring in some influence from French comic artist Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius. I’m a huge fan of his work overall, but for this project I wanted to mainly focus on the very organic-looking buildings he tends to draw. I thought this would create the necessary, slightly alien feeling of these buildings without falling into the trappings of a more conventional, architectural approach. Our aim was to make this village look like it had grown, rather than been built – so it was essential to capture that organic feel.

A back-and-forth approach

Christina: We launched an educational platform on YouTube called POLYCOSM in February 2020 with the intention of talking about how we approach various projects, such as environment concept art, designing and animating a character using mocap, using different plugins in Blender to aid in creative projects, creating a video game prototype level in Unreal Engine, and so on. Although I’m primarily a 2D illustrator in my main profession, I always use 3D as a base for my paintings, and chose to develop those skills further using POLYCOSM as a conduit. Omercan is primarily a 2D concept artist who occasionally dabbles in 3D, but is more interested in the 2D aspect of things, so we decided to combine our skills, and hence our 2D/3D workflow was born.

Breaking down the buildings into shapes.

We always try to mimic a real production pipeline that might happen in a studio as a way to educate our audience on what this back and forth approach might look like. The only difference is that we work with each other more intimately, so the back and forth works more as a collaborative effort than as an A-to-B type of process, which is a more common practice in the industry.

We often start projects as a way to satisfy our creative itches, or as an experiment to try out something new that we’ve never done before, and honestly, we don’t often know where the projects will lead us. There’s something really exciting about treading unknown territory and learning along the way, which is honestly how I’ve taught myself most of what I know. That’s also how I stumbled onto Modeler, which is a completely new way to go about creating 3D models, and has completely reshaped the way I approach creative projects. Ultimately POLYCOSM is just a place where we get to have fun and be creative in an unrestricted way – it’s all about finding workflows and tools that work for you as an individual.

Final renders.

Omercan: Yes, our back-and-forth approach was born out of necessity as much as convenience. I think it came to us sort of naturally to constantly share ideas and work on the project at hand in a very involved manner. It made it easier for us to stay on track and avoid any miscommunications as we developed our idea towards the final asset.

Modeler, and Sculpting in VR

Tutorial Part Two: Modeling

Christina: As mentioned before, I tend to construct 3D scenes in either Blender or Unreal as part of my illustration workflow, and I’m always looking for new tools to help me achieve good results. I’ve occasionally dabbled in 3D sculpting and, although I really liked the medium, I always felt it was missing something; there was a disconnect of sorts. However, when I stumbled onto Medium where I could now sculpt in VR, that completely changed the game for me. I now understood why I couldn’t get into flatscreen 3D sculpting, it just didn’t feel right. And with the advancement of technology and the development of Substance 3D Modeler, I’m happy to say I’ve now found the perfect medium through which to channel my creativity. In the past I’ve often kitbashed 3D models together to create bases for my illustrations, and I still do that sometimes – but nowadays I also frequently create models from scratch in Modeler. Having render engines like Unreal Engine 5 that can easily handle millions of polys has completely transformed my workflow. I often find myself returning to Modeler to sketch out a layout for a book cover, create specific assets like a statue, ship or character, or to add further details to an existing 3D model.

For this specific project Modeler was the primary medium that helped us create the entire village. It’s tricky to get the scale right for landscapes on flat, 2D screens, but when you’re working in VR it feels like you’re inhabiting the space, and it’s a lot easier to create a believable world that way. You can just scale up the world around you and pretend you’re on a platform overlooking the other buildings, or even walk into one of the houses.

Sculpting in VR is also ridiculously fast and has made me realize how limiting using a keyboard and mouse or a tablet can be. Being able to just use both of your hands feels incredibly intuitive and natural – like working with real clay! We might have created this project in another 3D app, I feel – but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fast or enjoyable. Modeler also works incredibly well with the rest of the Substance 3D suite, and I am so excited to see it being developed further and for proper mainstream adoption. Once you’ve tried VR sculpting, it is really hard to go back to traditional flatscreen sculpting.

Tutorial Part Three: Exporting and Texturing

For more information on the creation of Yorubu Village, including how Omercan and Christina continued to work on this scene in Blender and Unreal Engine 5, you can also take a look at the Yorubu Village video on the POLYCOSM YouTube channel.

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