Tim Bergholz, Senior Weapons Artist at Digital Extremes, gives us five top tips on hard-surface modelling.
1) Annotated References
Extensive reference research is key to creating convincing-looking art and should always mark our first step. Ideally you’ll find a schematic view with all parts of the object named, enabling us to further refine the search to those individual elements. Scan Wikipedia for the right sizes and try finding videos on YouTube to see it in motion. The more you know about your object the better.
Adding floaters usually marks the end of high-poly modelling and enables you to add small details without having to cut or extrude them into your actual high-poly object. Floater geometry gets placed right in front of the high-poly model: these can be details such as bolt heads, screws or engraved text, which would otherwise be a nightmare to model in.
3) Blocking it out
Put the focus on the main shapes and silhouette as you start modelling. Don’t get sidetracked by complicated details, the less polys you add initially, the more flexible you are for defining a robust base version of your object. Once you’re happy with it, continue to further tessellate the geometry and start working on the smaller areas.
4) Edge crease
In order to get the best normal map results it’s good practice to bevel high-poly edges a slight amount higher than one that may appear realistic. If the edge crease is too hard there won’t be enough normal map information on our texture, resulting in a look that’s too sharp. In order to prevent that, you want to make sure that you get enough pixels filled with curvature information.
In order to prevent zigzagging steps on baked maps, it’s of the utmost importance to straighten the UV border edges as much as possible in vertical and horizontal positions. For hard-surface texturing it’s better to have straight-edged UV islands with a slight amount of distortion than the other way around. The normal map will thank you for it!