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World of Warcraft Style Texture Painting and Philosophy

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About the Artist:

Hi! My name is Niko and I am a 21-year-old 3D Environment/Prop artist from southern Germany.

From childhood on I have been taking part in all kinds of arts, from traditional sculpting and oils to music creation and dancing, I tried it all. 

About 4 Years ago I have started working more seriously on my digital craft and focus closely on handpainted textures and stylized artwork. A lot of my work can be found on Artstation.

Finding Inspiration

My projects usually start with some really simple thoughts that I then add upon. For this one, it was just “I want to create a set of props for a certain wow culture”. 

After picking the Darkspear-Trolls from World of Warcraft, I tried getting a set of screenshots from their starting-area. 

This helps to figure out the shape language of their culture, and help get a sense of themes important to them.

Finding Inspiration

When picking a pre-defined race from a video game or movie you should always lookout for a few things. I usually have a set of questions that I ask-myself while analyzing them:

  • “What are the materials they use and how do they use them?”
  • “What are recurring shapes you can see in their surroundings?”
  • “What place do they live in? Is it hostile or peaceful”
  • “Do they worship anything or anyone? How to they show it?”

Trolls in World of Warcraft live in a more barren tropical like environment, where they quickly set up stuff after fleeing their home island. They have a lot of Bones, dried out Wood, Palm-leaves and voodoo-ritual objects around them.

For their Architecture, they use a lot of bent wood as building structures, which I tried incorporating into my project too!

Those bent elements are the ones, I talked about. Try learning from the culture of your choice and include those typical elements in your piece!

Gathering References

This has probably been said before but I can’t stress it enough, find reference of the things you wanna create

You can’t possibly know how every tree, creature or piece of architecture you are basing your work on looks like from memory.

World of Warcraft´s style has been evolving in the last 15 years, their style changed and a lot of things with it. That is why I usually don’t like using outdated textures as a reference to materials. 

I mostly used the older troll models for their dark spear shape language and only new ones for materials. 

For setting up a reference sheet I can highly recommend PureRef , it allows you to create gigantic walls of reference and sort them the way you want to.

Creating a Concept

When creating a concept I tend to keep it lose so I don’t get too attached to it. 

Nothing on this is rendered out very far, so I won’t feel bad changing it later. I would say you don’t need a perfectly worked out concept as long as you can see the idea is working out visually and all the parts that need to be modeled are clear. 

Obviously, this can be different depending on what product or project you are working on.

Material Variety

When I painted the concept, I came across a problem that taught me an important lesson. 

I had designed a big chunk brown wood making up 50% of my piece (marked in red). A solid selection of the same material like this is bland, but can easily be fixed! Just use a few other types of materials to break it up and create a more visually appealing piece. 

Everything marked in green wasn’t there before I went back and reworked it.

I think a good rule of thumb is having at least 4-5 different materials in a medium-sized prop to make it work out. 

Especially well it works when you managed to work in shiny and more diffuse ones, also organic and inorganic ones. I marked just a few in color ( on the right) to show that.

Modeling your Prop

When modeling a video game asset, you want to have a keen eye on the amount of polygons the model has. 

In this case, less is more. How many polygons are needed? Well, that can change from object to object, and depends where its going to be used in game.” (I generally shoot between 3-5k. I think that is a good target.)

Is it gonna be all up in front of the player? Maybe spend just a few more. Is it really really small and far away, never to be reached for the player? 

Maybe delete some. For round objects, I put in just enough polygons that the silhouette looks smooth from a medium distance.

For this piece of Wood, I just needed 5 intersections on it to be read as a curve. 

The same goes for the Tooth in the Front and the Back of the Model. Try to save up polygons wherever you can!

Mirroring Individual Parts

This is something I recently learned that increased the quality of my pieces. Whenever possible you should mirror parts on your Model and Overlay them on your UV-Sheet. 

For the Vase (right) you can see I even mirrored it through X and Y-axis to save even more UV-Space. 

My Model as a whole is also pretty much completely mirrored but I can hide that through placing individual objects on and around it.

Why did this up the quality of my pieces? When you mirror an object and its UV, you only have to paint half as much, so you can spend more time working out an area without having to do a second time.

 Impatience is natural and we all fall for it after a while, so concentrating on rendering out one part of the texture while getting twice as much done can be very rewarding and give you that last bit of motivation to push it further.

When it comes to your UV-Layout try avoiding overlapping UV-Island or even Islands that are exactly beside each other (Leave a bit of room for them to breath there).

 Also, try to straighten out a lot of your Individual Islands while staying close to the original shape of the Polygon.

The Ideal UV-Sheet for me is packed, easy to understand and clean.

Enjoy the Article? Join the Patreon community for more content.

Texture Painting

When working in 3DCoat I recommend using an FBX-file for your model and naming every one of your individual objects.

Go to Windows – Popups – Paint objects Now you can individually enable/disable the objects of your scene and concentrate on one without the others floating around them.

 I also do this with objects that have very narrow spaces that are annoying to reach while painting in 3D-space.

All of the Textures on the Model are Handpainted from the ground up, some people tend to use bakes or bash photos onto their UV-Sheets as a base. 

I don’t think there is anything bad about that. Those are just more tools that can or can not be used to get to a result.

Most of the time I start in 3DCoat with a base color on my individual objects. I just use the fill tool for that but you can also straight-up color your UV-Islands in Photoshop if you are not working in 3DCoat

The next step is working in some light with the facial selection in 3DCoat. 

To access that, just select your brush-tool and press “E” and select the little Triangle. 

If you have a bit more time I would recommend doing that in Photoshop though since 3DCoats tool tends to bleed out your edges a bit and we don’t want that 😀

Since my assets will be standing in a very bright-warm and sunny zone, I chose warmer and saturated colors for my faces and more grey and blue-ish for my shadows (That’s where the light from the sky bounces in).

Once that is done we are ready to go into that nice rendering part! Since I now can pretty much recognize all parts of my Cart on the flat UV-Sheet I go over to photoshop.

There is a nice option that allows me to work efficiently in 2D without screwing up too much.

 Press Ctrl + P in 3DCoat and you should be able to work on the UV sheet in Photoshop and every time you save, it updates in 3DCoat so you can check the results.

I recommend everyone using that once in a while so you don’t get surprised by any mistakes you made while painting.

From now on its really just sticking to reference, analyzing already existing assets in wow and taking the time to adjust contrasts and such on your model. 

Try adding nice areas of contrast to each model while keeping some areas that make your eye rest a bit more. Avoid pure blacks and rather work with saturation than value changes. 

World of Warcraft assets often have a good amount of wear and tear on each surface so study your reference closely!

And most importantly, have fun! Don’t get frustrated, stuff like this takes time. I hope you liked my little Breakdown!

If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out!

You can find my work on Artstation and Twitter:

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