About the Artist:
Hi, my name is Anton. I’m a 20-year-old architecture student and freelance 3D artist living in Ukraine. My current focus is on 3D concept art and I’m happy to share some of my tips and tricks with you guys.
As a kid I always loved designing cars, inventing something new, making art and playing video games. So I thought that 3D modeling to be the perfect tool to express my ideas, since it’s not as serious as real engineering and allows me to do some crazy things while havinge fun.
Everything I’ve learned about CG I first found on the Internet, which is why Ben and I decided to make this tutorial free for you. We hope you will find it useful and interesting.
Feel free to contact me anytime:
What does the download package contain?
By subscribing to the 3DGladiator Newsletters, you will receive an email with the download link to the Fusion 360 file of the truck, containing all parts.
To open the project, you need to have a copy of Fusion 360 installed on your computer. Fusion 360 is FREE for personal use and can be downloaded on the Autodesk website.
The project files are intended for personal study only. It is not allowed to reuse and publish the project or parts of it, nor is it allowed to use the files for commercial purpose. All rights exclusively belong to Anton Khondoker.
What this is all about
For this project, I wanted to focus on making something visually sexy, with an interesting silhouette, while making it appear realistic and functional. To begin with, I found a picture of an aircraft tug that really inspired me. So I decided to make a concept of a low-profile truck, specifically designed to deliver a battery pack from an electric aircraft to the charging station. Yep, maybe it sounds too sci-fi, but after all it’s about the future and future technologies, so imagination and creativity is totally allowed.
The approach to all of my personal projects consists of:
- getting inspiration
- reference gathering
- setting up materials
- lighting and post-processing
Tools and software used:
For this project my pipeline includes the following steps and tools:
- conception and modeling in Fusion360
- converting and exporting the meshes as OBJs with MoI3D
- assembling all parts in 3ds Max
- building cables and wires in 3ds Max and Marvelous Designer
- quick auto unwrapping of some parts with RizomUV
- creating materials and decals in Photoshop
- lighting and rendering in Corona Renderer
- post-processing using GigaPixel and Photoshop
References are extremely important to me. They are the foundation of all my projects as they are essential for believable results. When I find an interesting image, I usually crop the region of the picture I like the most, so the rest of the image does not distract me.
I prefer high-res references; therefore I use the search-by-size feature on Google images a lot. For technical parts, good material can often also be found on official websites of manufacturers and suppliers of industrial equipment; sometimes even pictures with resolutions up to 6k or 8k. Youtube videos are also great for understanding how things work and how technical parts interact with each other.
For example, for this project I took a couple of screenshots of a garbage truck loader while watching a clip. Besides Youtube, resources like Pinterest, LeManoosh, Flickr, Tumbler are known by everybody.
The goal of this project was to achieve a rough and industrial look, so I mostly collected pictures of heavy machinery. I not only collected references for design and modeling purposes but also for lighting, colors, materials etc. Basically, if there was an aspect that I could find references for, I did so.
Design and modeling
Once I’m finished collecting reference material and I’ve made a decision on style, it’s time for the next step which determines 70% of the final look of the model: blocking out the main shapes in 3D.
I use Fusion 360 for this task. An increasing number of artists have begun implementing this software into their pipelines. To me, Fusion 360 means three things: is simple to use, yet powerful and smart.
Simple but powerful means that anyone can learn to use it within a week and can create complex models with a minimum set of tools.
Smart means that it works as expected. For instance, if you want to delete faces, just move them out of the way or delete them and Fusion 360 will rebuild that part of the model. If you want to align one fillet to another, select an edge and simply enter the fillet mode by hitting the F key on your keyboard. When you then click on an existing fillet, its value will transfer to the presently selected edge. There are so many more little things like this that make working in Fusion straightforward and intuitive.
Fusion 360 gives you a lot of freedom and allows you to focus only on the design part without worrying about the technical aspects of 3d modeling. If you are mainly into poly- modeling, I can guarantee that this program will surprise you!
This is the stage that I really take my time on and where I try my best, as I know it will pay off in the long run. Typically, I’ll have an idea and spend some time trying to visualize it. I do this mental work on my way to university, before bed, during dinner, etc. It may sound strange but it really helps me achieve better results at the end while spending less time actually working on the project. I then usually make 3 to 4 designs and combine the best parts of each one. Sometimes I take a screenshot of the viewport and do some paint-over in Photoshop to quickly fix things I don’t like in my design.
Usually I focus only on the main shape, silhouette and functionality while trying to bring all these things into balance. Additionally, I think about how one could manufacture these parts, I think about material properties, assembly, how parts move and how they could interact with each other. During this conception stage, shape language and proportions are more important than functionality and utility.
For this project I started with main parts such as wheels, engine, cabin and loader. I’ve created only big shapes without any details, smooth surfaces or small elements. I recommend using colors already on this stage for a better readability of your design.
In Fusion I start by making some simple sketches, mostly rectangles, then extrude them and play with the faces. I move and rotate them and use the chamfer function a lot to make the shapes more complex and interesting.
Quick renders in Fusion help to understand how surfaces reflect light, where shadows are and what parts are most recognizable thereby helping communicate your design.
Once the main shapes are established, it’s time to add secondary and medium sized elements to clarify forms. I use the exact same tools and methods as before, but on a higher level, elaborating all components step by step always considering main shapes.
If there are moving parts, it’s a good idea to check if everything interacts properly. In Fusion joints are the perfect tool for this task. They are easy to use and allow you to build a simple rig.
I created components from bodies for all moving parts, ground the base, select points of parts which are moving relative to one another and choose the type of motion. Then I set joint limits.
As soon as I’m happy with all the shapes and forms, I add the smaller, tertiary details. Adding them is fun and I could go on forever, but it’s important not to overdo it. Fusion does not handle huge scenes with complicated meshes and thousands of parts and sketches very well.
For this reason I create a new document for each part, copy and paste said part, and continue detailing it there. When I’m done, I reinsert all parts into the original scene that contains the entire truck again via “insert current design”. This way I’m able to concentrate solely on parts I want to develop further. Whenever I make adjustments in these linked documents, the corresponding parts in the main scene are updated too.
As you can see in the image above, I always try to find balance between areas of visual rest and areas of visual detail – see Neil Blevins blog post from 2012
Since I’m creating a full concept in 3D I need to work fast. Therefore I use my own kitbashes to boolean small details and to add basic parts such as joints, latches, caps, etc. without starting from scratch each time.
I copy and paste the part I want to use for a boolean operation into my project, align it to a surface and cut it using the “combine” function. This way you achieve cool details with fillets in just a few clicks.
When the model consists of many complex pieces, I prefer to export it in several parts. This way it loads faster and with less issues.
In most cases, STL files from Fusion can cause trouble by messing up the shading on curvy surfaces. It also takes quite long to import large STL file to 3ds Max. That’s why I prefer OBJs. But before that, I’m exporting all parts of the model in a surface format from Fusion360 and bring them to MoI3D.
MoI3D is a software similar to Fusion360 that provides you with a set of CAD tools and advanced boolean functions. MoI3D also comes with a unique polygon mesh exporting tool that generates exceptionally clean and crisp N-Gon polygon meshes from NURBS models. This is exactely what we need in this case. Once I have loded the surface model in MoI3D, I turn it into a poly model and export it as an OBJ.
Assembling all parts in 3ds Max
After peparing all parts this way, it’s time to assemble the truck in 3ds Max. I imported all parts, organize them in groups and placed the model in the center of scene.
For the cables, I wanted to wrap them in wrinkly rubber isolation. The easiest way to do this is to draw some splines in 3ds Max, add thickness to them and export them as an OBJs. In Marvelous Designer, import the cables as avatars, draw a few rectangular patterns, place them on top of the cables, hit simulate and adjust the sewing.
If you repeat these steps a couple of times you will end up with nicely wrapped cables. Last but not least, you can change the fabric settings to achieve the desired look. Now the model is ready for texturing and rendering!
The Corona Renderer
I’ve discovered and started using Corona Renderer at the very beginning of my CG journey. I was so impressed by its speed, simplicity and power. It allows me to focus only on the artistic parts like lighting, materials and composition and it helps me to achieve physically realistic result in a few simple steps.
Today, diverse renderes are able to deliver great results in no time, but I stick with Corona Renderer as I’m familiar with the settings and it perfectly fits my needs. Maybe I’m also too lazy to learn new render tool 🙂
Before we take a look on how to set the scene up for rendering, let’s create some materials for our truck.
Texturing is one of my favorite steps. What I really like about it is that textures allow to tell a story. Unfortunately, I sometimes don’t have time for complex texturing, so I use procedural maps in Corona to set up materials.
First, I introduce environment lighting with a CoronaBitmap that contains a HDRI, preferably a cloudy scenery. Then I continue with simple materials such as paint metals, plastics, rubber, etc. Basically, these are just plain CoronaMtl’s with a color in the diffuse channel, white reflections and different glossiness values for each type of material. For metals I use a ComplexFresnel map in reflection slot and set the IOR to 999. When I’m satisfied with overall look, I start detailing the materials by adding imperfections like dirt, scratches, decals etc.
For decals I simply use an auto-grided plane with a texture in the opacity channel and position it on the surface by adjusting the local pivot point.
For dirt, dust and scretches around the edges, I use CoronaAO with textures in AO Distance slot. This allows me to add dirt and dust in cavities within seconds and all without UVs. This methode can be combined with triplanar maps.
For the layering, I usually start with a clear base layer, followed by a layer of rust, dust, and leaked oil. I also reuse the same material by copying it, adjusting the amount of wear and tear and then apply it to different parts of the model.
Lighting is a key factor for a solid presentation of your model. Great lighting can enhance a bad or ordinary concept and bad lighting can ruin an amazing design, despite the realistic materials and textures.
Two of my favourite features that blew my mind in Corona are LightMix and Interactive Render – both are a godsend! They allow you to place lights in the scene and tweak them to perfection while the image is still rendering. I can’t count the hours these tools have already saved me.
At this stage I use Corona’s InteractiveRender with a locked camera for rendering. I split the viewport layout in two and set one viewport to perspective mode, so I can rotate and pan in it while making adjustments on the light setup.
Corona keeps rendering from the camera perspective in the other viewport. I also make sure LightMix is enabled. It’s an absolute killer feature as it allows you to reposition the lights during rendering and provides immediate feedback. This makes lighting the scene so much easier!
There is nothing special about the final light setup. I started with rim/side light first to highlight the silhouette and curvature of the model. Then I’ve added two rectangular lights with a radial gradient texture in the texture map channel and start tweaking the numbers.
I add a fill light to throw light on whole model. This one also slightly brightens up parts that were into total darkness so far.
The next lights are the most important ones: key lights. I use small, bright lights to highlight details and to create points of interest. It’s all about rotating and moving them around to create nice reflections.
So, by just changing the lights’ colors you can achieve a completely different mood and impression of the image. And if you change the intensity of lights, you can come up with even more varieties and more dramatic sceneries.
Image Post Processing
I usually try to make all post-processing work in the Corona frame buffer using LUTs, curves, bloom and glare in combination with other features of the Corona’s VFB. This means that I save an almost finished image right from 3ds Max. The only thing that’s missing is some contrast that can be boosted in Photoshop later on. This entire process is a real time saver.
Sometimes I also save the beauty and reflection pass as a PNG file. In most cases the quality is good enough for my standard, so I don’t need to export all passes in as EXR. I open the beauty pass in Photoshop and place the reflection pass with the screen blending mode on top of it. Then I draw a mask for the reflection pass to address only selected reflections and make them stronger and brighter. Sometimes I save passes of each light from LightMix and change the mode to screen blending to make them brighter only on certain areas of the image.
Next I use Camera Raw Filters. My favorite tools here are the clarity and HSV adjustments. In order to add more contrast to the image I use the Bleach Bypass and Tonal Contrast filters that are available in the Color Efex Pro plugin for Photoshop. It really makes the details pop out. To speed up the workflow, I’ve saved a few presets for different scenarios.
For the final adjustments, I add a noise layer for a more cinematic look and finalize it with chromatic aberration created with the ArionFX plugin, also available for Photoshop.
For me it’s very important to step away from the image a day or two and then take a look again, because sometimes I go too far with post-processing. If that’s the case, I overlay the post-processed renders with the raw renders to lower the effect. Now I’m finally done and it’s time to post the piece on Artstation!
I’m obsessed with concept design, especially in 3D. Finishing this project was an incredible personal achievement for me. It was so fun and interesting to make and I have learned many new tricks and workarounds. Also, it was my first project where I’ve used only Fusion 360 for conception and modeling. I can already tell that it’s my favorite tool for this purpose.
And of course I want to thank Ben for giving me the opportunity to create this breakdown and make it available for you. If you as a reader have made it to the end of this breakdown, you can be proud of yourself. I have a little extra for you guys, so don’t forget to check out the short bonus chapter below. I thank you for your time and patience.
All the best,
How to turn a Fusion 360 model into a game-ready mesh
In this short bonus chapter you will learn how to quickly make game-ready assets with auto-generated topology and an auto-generated UVs using Fusion 360 and MoI3D.
For demonstration purpose, I will only use one part of the truck as an example, but it works the same way on more complex models with many parts too. The process looks like this:
- First, create a base model in Fusion 360 WITHOUT small details or fillets. Focus only on primary forms that define the silhouette.
- Export the mesh as a surface model (SAT, STEP or IGES) under file/export in Fusion.
- Open the surface model in MoI3D and export it as OBJ. This brings up the MoI3D mesh exporter window where you can set your values. By doing so, you are turning the surface model in a lowres poly basemesh.
- Back in Fusion you can now continue working on the model you have previously exported and add all kind of details. Pay attention to the silhouette and keep it consistent! You don’t want to make changes that affect it in a way so that it’s not matching with the version that you have already exported before.
- Save the highres mesh again as a surface model and open it in MoI3D. Look out for how the surface is represented. If the highres model consists of many small details, Fusion sometimes saves it with holes around fillets. If that’s the case, try exporting it in a different file format. This usually solves the problem. (try IGES, STEP and SAT files again)
- Next, also turn the highres model into a poly mesh with the MoI3D mesh exporter tool and save it as a OBJ or FBX file. This time, make sure to keep all the details.
If you are dealing with simple models like this, you can skip the next two steps because MoI3D automatically creates UVs by turning the edges of the CAD model into UV seams. All you have to do is to relax the shells and pack them with an appropriate texel density.
Some extra work is needed if your model is very complex and consists of lots of rounded surface. Then you have to add or delete some seams manually.
- So, in case auto-generated UVs from MoI3D are useless, I recommend using RizomUV for quick unwrapping of the lowpoly model. I use the auto-seams option a lot, together with auto-select sharp edges and auto-select box. For organic shapes I recommend using the mosaic type.
- For map baking, you now need to create smoothing groups from the UV shells. I use the TexTools script for this job.
- The only step that’s left now is to use both, the exported highres and lowres OBJs to bake maps with the tool of your choice (xNormal, Substance Painter, Marmoset Toolbag…) and start texturing.
For the highpoly model, you can also create small fillets by using the Polish and Polish By Features tool in ZBrush.