Creating 3D Environment Props and Objects To Tell A Story
Creating your props and environments to help tell a story is paramount to the feel of your scene. What happened here? Where has this prop been? Who has used it? These are all important questions to ask when you start texturing and laying out your scene. Everything has its own story and getting that story in your project all begins with good reference.
Gathering references can be done in a lot of different ways. I use Google Images, Pinterest and even Ebay to get all the main angles for a prop.
I will even go to Artstation to see if other artists have made something similar. Since I’m no concept artist, I will always look for existing concept art when I’m making an environment. To keep all these images organised, I use PureRef. I’ll mainly be talking about my Chief Vise prop and my Oh Dear - C3PO environment.
A lot of reference for the C3PO scene came straight out of the movies — Phantom Menace and A New Hope —and I found almost everything I wanted on this website.
The main goal of the environment was to recreate the composition and lighting from the painting ‘a cobbler in his workshop’ by David Tenier II. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about where to place everything, but focused on what I would place in the scene and how everything would fit in the story.
Since the Chief vise is quite an old item, all the references I found already had their own wear and tear and own story. This gave me quite a good idea of which spots would need the most grunge and how the texture should look.
Before starting the actual project, I always think about the goal and story it has to tell. This helps decide lighting, mood, and composition of the scene. For C3PO, I wanted to get that same story from the painting in my artwork.
I remembered this one scene from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. C3PO was broken down into parts but later put back together by Chewbacca. This became the main idea for the scene: C3PO repairing himself like the cobbler repairs shoes in his workshop.
To fill the scene, I thought about where he would do this, what would be around him. I couldn’t make the environment on a spaceship because that wouldn't give me the correct mood with all the metallic color. So I thought back to where C3PO originally came from which is Watto’s store.
This store is filled with all kinds of random space junk that would be great to fill the scene with. Thinking back on the project now that the latest Star wars movie was released, Babu Frik's workshop would have also been a nice environment to put him in.
It’s all in the details
After modeling the main shape, I go into Zbrush and start sculpting the biggest scratches, broken corners, and surface textures to break up the silhouette. I don’t focus too much on small detail since I’ll add these in the texture with different masks later. When texturing, a lot of story can be told with very subtle details which might not get picked up by the viewer from certain angles but are nice surprises when looking around.
I mainly put most of these details in the roughness map. This is an easy way to break up the simplest textures by just giving certain spots a different roughness. I further think about what would have happened with the prop, what would the person who used it be thinking. That’s why I added some chalk marks on the side and top of the vice - the creator might be keeping track of how many items he has made and item.
The white chalk also gave a nice contrast on the darker metal color. The references show most of these vices are painted, and while chipped paint can add a lot of story to your prop, I decided not to paint mine since I loved how the rusted metal looked.
Since C3PO has a full metal material body, my main idea was to add story and wear through scratches and dirt in the texture. Something most metal objects have is micro scratches and small imperfections. C3PO is a space droid, I could image he would have quite a lot of these imperfections from all his travels around the galaxy. These tiny microscratches can mostly be seen around highlights in metal.
Next to these imperfections to break up his main goldish color, I also added his silver leg and his red arm. Other story elements in the scene can be found in other props, such as laser blasts on the crates, a leak around the front pipe, some cables running around the scene, the shelf that isn’t 100% straight...these are all subtle small stories that can be discovered and are mainly done with texturing and asset placement.
A good artwork — a prop or an environment — always starts with thinking about what you want to achieve and what story you want to tell. Getting good reference is a great start to get a clear vision on this and can give you the inspiration to achieve your desired look. Your artwork should always have a main story but can also have many different smaller side stories affecting each prop. These are all small things that can bring your artwork to the next level!
Wow, you made it to the end of the article! Great, thanks for reading! You can check out my rookies 2020 entries here and you can also follow me on other social media such as Linkedin, Twitter and Artstation for more artworks.