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Making a Hand-Painted Diorama in Maya & Photoshop

Harry Stringer ready a breakdown of his new game-ready Forest Diorama made in Maya and Photoshop.


Hello, my identify’s Harry Stringer and I’m a 3D artist at Playside Studios. My interested in games and recreation artwork arose after my faculty trip to the Academy of Interactive Leisure. Again then I already decided what I used to be going to do. After highschool, I went to review at AIE for two years after which shortly after I began working at Playside Studios.

At Playside I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide selection of games for numerous IPs, from youngsters cartoons to massive Hollywood blockbusters and, in fact, our personal titles. Some of my favorites embrace engaged on Lego Batman, Dumb Ways to Die 2 and three, working alongside Ryan McMahon and Perry Zielonka on our own Defend the Bits and working with Jordan Pascal on our latest recreation AR Robotic. I’m at present working on a great upcoming recreation which sadly I can’t disclose on account of being underneath an NDA contract, but anticipate some cool stuff quickly!

I started my work on this scene exactly two months in the past once I might discover some free time. It all started with searching via the stylized concept art on ArtStation the place I got here throughout this concept by Star Academy. The type, composition and shade palette actually magnetized me and I used to be simply compelled to show it into a 3D scene.

If I developed the concept myself I’d pay my attention to composition and shade scheme as these are one of the crucial necessary rules you’d have to nail before including smaller details via modeling and texturing.


My major objective was to maintain the concept nearly as good as attainable to actually hone my accuracy expertise. When engaged on huge titles at Playside, it’s actually essential to ensure your belongings match the art idea given by the shopper. Getting them proper before the first iterations saves a lot of time and retains both events glad. To help with this process, lots of our artists at Playside use PureRef, a program that allows you to overlay your reference pictures on prime of whatever you’re working on.

Earlier than I start making an asset or scene I determine which packages I’m going to make use of and methods I’ll be working with. I break down the idea or reference photographs into smaller parts and take notes of how they all relate to one another. Doing this helps to construct a piece roadmap, and if it’s a greater scene or setting it helps the task to look less scary from the get-go.


As for my workflow for this piece, I modeled all the belongings in Maya and made the texturing in Photoshop. I started with overlaying my idea having a prime of my viewport window on one display and the second viewport with a totally different digital camera on my other display. I started blocking out tough shapes, matching their measurement and position to the concept. Once I created the square floor I instantly realized that the point of view in the original concept was a lot decrease than Maya’s default settings. After enjoying around with the FOV of my digital camera and adjusting it to match the concept I locked its rework attributes so that I couldn’t by accident move it. After I was proud of the overall blockout shapes I began including more details. Making just a private undertaking, I didn’t hassle with the polycount and added as much element because it was needed to duplicate the graceful shapes of the concept.


Each time before I begin texturing one thing I examine if every thing has the identical texel density. This manner I know that my belongings have a constant degree of high quality, in any other case some of them may look over-detailed and out of place. Making positive your belongings have a good texel density is tremendous easy in Maya:

  • Resize one UV shell to the desired density
  • Hit the Get button underneath texel density in the UV toolkit
  • Choose all different UV shells
  • Hit the Set button

They usually all might be scaled accordingly. For extra info on texel density, there’s a nice guide by Leonardo Lezzi.

The scene is damaged up into four texture sheets: the bottom, the props, the chest, and the glowing exclamation mark. The chest might be additionally a part of the prop atlas however since it was the important thing object it made me consider giving it its own texture. In recreation dev, you’ll all the time need your hero asset to be more detailed than its surrounding to draw the player’s attention and focus.

All through my texturing process, I used simply a onerous spherical brush with its opacity set to transfer so it might match a painterly fashion of the concept. This brush, together with alt-clicking to color decide is like my bread and butter in case of hand-painted texturing. It permits me to shortly blend colours and control the sharpness of mixing. Like with modeling, I first begin texturing the most important, most outstanding options as a result of they’re probably the most influential to the piece. Usually, I all the time texture every part in passes. I’d block out the colours for all the belongings and work up detail in passes throughout every part evenly so that each one the belongings have the same high quality throughout the method. This helps me maintain every thing balanced and keep away from focusing on some elements for too lengthy.

Texturing this piece was a lot of enjoyable because I might use broad, sweeping strokes and keep away from doing a lot of cleanup. Hand-painted texturing is probably one among my favourite elements of making recreation artwork, there’s something actually enjoyable about mixing colours and creating sharp details to bring life to my models. To take care of accuracy I might frequently save and verify my work in Maya and examine my work with the idea. This proved to be fairly time-consuming than if I used to be making something from scratch as a result of I needed to constantly examine for errors. Nevertheless, I felt that this was the easiest way to take care of the level of accuracy I desired.


The foliage on the spherical oak tree and bushes felt like probably the most tedious and time-consuming a part of this piece. They include particular person alpha cards positioned on prime of spheres. I UV mapped teams of those planes to their corresponding colour in the concept to save lots of time relatively than making each leaf individually which would have been ridiculously lengthy. I separated the colors into three teams: highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. Each group had 3 variants of colors that I might decide from. Putting the planes and matching them to the idea took a lot time nevertheless it was also one of the simplest ways to fit the idea. If I have been to make timber like this ever again with out following a idea I might procedurally place the alpha playing cards along the sphere meshes utilizing MASH. MASH is a implausible software built into Maya. It’s very helpful in setting creation and it permits you to procedurally place selected objects around a scene or one other object, with plenty of nodes to randomize the values like position, rotation, and scale.

In comparison with the oak tree, pine timber have been much easier to make. They include a few cones with the bottoms reduce using the alpha channel of the feel. The trunks of the pine timber have the identical texture, nevertheless, it’s not immediately noticeable as I turned them in a different way. The rest of the ground crops principally share the same textures too, with variation coming from their measurement and position as an alternative. I additionally needed to add some extra element to the bottom to make it as fascinating as all the opposite belongings in the scene. To do this I created some more alpha cards, just about like for the oak tree with a shade palette matching the ground texture, and placed them the place I felt they have been wanted.


I made a decision to provide this scene flat lighting with no lights coming from the engine. This allowed me to purely give attention to my hand-painting expertise, which I feel like something you’ll be able to all the time enhance.

All of the lighting in this scene was painted in through the texturing course of with cautious consideration of the sunshine path in the idea. Often, the easiest way to strategy that is to always maintain in mind what the lighting setup can be. For instance, serious about the time of day which would affect your colours and the course of the light supply which would affect the situation and angles of your shadows. A neater strategy to strategy this is able to be to mild the meshes in Maya and bake them down into a texture that you should use either as a reference to paint over or as a last texture, relying on what type you’re going for. You might undoubtedly set this scene up in a approach that would use dynamic lighting and nonetheless match the concept. To do this I wouldn’t paint any lighting info into the feel and as an alternative create a custom toon shader which lights the mannequin as precisely to the idea as potential.


It’s all the time necessary to dedicate time to the presentation of your work. It’s typically tempting to take a render, add it and call it a day. Nevertheless, taking a while to present your work in an appealing method really helps to push it that additional mile.

For the render, I just took a screenshot of it in Maya (it was flat-lit and appeared the identical in any software program selection I might use). If this scene was meant for real-time lighting then I might have lit and rendered it in Marmoset Toolbag. Marmoset is my important selection as a result of it’s quick, straightforward to use, and highly effective.

After bringing the render into Photoshop I decided to play with the background. At first, I was reluctant to vary the background shade as a result of it was what I was used to seeing throughout the entire course of. Nevertheless, after getting some feedback from my friends I decided to go together with darkish gray.

Feedbacks are extremely useful and it’s all the time good to have somebody who can take a look at your work with recent eyes. I like to recommend having a tight-knit group of artists to repeatedly decide each other’s artwork. Afterward, I added a slight vignette to border my piece, slightly pushed the distinction and vibrancy to make the colors pop, and finished my work.

I’d wish to thank 80 Degree for giving me a probability to share my process with you. It’s been a pleasure to share my thoughts and workflow on this piece and I hope you possibly can take one thing from it!

Harry Stringer, Artist at Playside Studios

Interview carried out by Kirill Tokarev

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