“Contact” – NCCA Final Major Project: Photo Based Texturing Workflow & Breakdown

During my Final Major Project, where as part of a 4 person team we produced our two and a half minute short film “Contact”, one of my handful of roles was Lead Texture Artist, where I was responsible for all texturing within the piece, including characters, environments and prop assets. As well as this, prior to texturing beginning, I was also responsible for the overall colour palettes of the project / environments / shots.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

Throughout the process of working on the film, I was also responsible for UVing all assets, which I found greatly helped me in terms of texturing, as I could lay out and plan the UVs for how I wanted to texture them, which cut out a middle man to an extent.

This also meant I could personally optimise texture resolution and UV space between assets, where more important assets could be UVed over multiple tiles, where as very minor assets could be UVed over one tile, or in some cases multiple assets UVed into one tile.

For this project, because we were aiming towards a photo-realistic output, it made sense that the best way to texture the assets was using Photography based texture methods. Primarily, this was done by myself taking photographs of various textures to then later paint onto the model in Mari, using masks and then adjustment layers as needed.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

To do this, I took photographs using either my Canon 550D or a rented Canon 5D, with a flat focal length, flat non-directional lighting, and at a 90° tangent to the surface. As well as this, I also ended up taking reference photos on my phone whenever I was out and found an interesting or helpful texture as a reference or to go back and reshoot properly.

Painting the textures in Mari was on average something that didn’t come up with too many issues, but along the way I found my own little techniques in Mari to help speed up the workflow and preemptively solve issues.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

One main workflow I took up was to create the various texture map passes for the assets, which usually included diffuse, reflection, specular, glossiness and normal maps. The original issue was how to make sure all of these maps aligned with each other, but to solve this I used the following workflow;

I created the main diffuse texture by painting in the textures in Mari’s 3D view, then adjusting or fixing up aspects in the UV space painter. Once this was done, I duplicated over the layers into a new paint channel for each of the light based maps, applied a greyscale converter at the top of the layer tree, and then used Levels adjustments to adjust the contrast levels of each aspect of the map itself.

After this was done, to create the Normal maps I either used the normal map adjustment layer in Mari and fine tweaked with more levels adjustments, or for any more difficult normal maps I exported the diffuse texture and took it into CrazyBump, where I had a quicker, finer workflow to create the maps.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

For any assets which had additional layers needed, e.g. dirt layers, tonal variation, scratches, worn edges or imperfections, I did this by layering additional layers and using various Mari brushes with masks to add them in without being destructive to the underlying texture.

For decals such as labels, printed text or anything similar, I found it easier to go into Photoshop, create the decal in there with it’s alpha baked into the decal (through saving it as an interlaced PNG file), and used this in Mari to stamp into the model where desired.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

The printed cards in the interview room were a clear example of creating the ‘documents’ first in photoshop, stamping them onto the mesh in Mari and then painting over them for dirt and adjustments.

There were times which paint-through texturing wasn’t always the best option, namely the larger surfaces of area such as walls, the probe and the spacesuit, but I will go into that more in my Substance Designer and Shading post.

The significantly different asset in the project, in terms of texturing and shading, came in the form of the creature. Based on our concepts and thoughts for the creature, we wanted it to have a surface which was familiar, but also a stark contrast to a human’s skin – all fleshy and with subsurface scattering. The displacement for the creature mesh was created by my teammate during sculpting, but it came to texturing for diffuse colours and reflective / glossy qualities.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

Because of this, I researched into various surfaces which fit the bill. This ranged from looking at crustaceans and underwater creatures to inanimate natural objects. Overall, based on the final moodboard I created and confirmed with the team, we decided that a red / blue / purple colour palette fitted best, as it was something that can be related to both colours which aren’t usually found on a human body and therefore are innately alien, but at the same time subconsciously this palette is that of a bruise on the body, something which signifies pain and relates to danger.

When I made the textures, I made it in a different process than before. I used a procedural fluid noise and added colour adjustments for the base of the texture, but on top I ended up hand painting in details, such as the colour distortion on the veins and much darker materials on the cracks in the creature.

Please click on the images to see larger versions of them

For the reflection and glossiness maps, I used the same process as before (copying, greyscale and adjusting) but made sure that the extremities and the specific highlights in the design (limbs, cracks and veins) had drastically different properties to the rest of the creature. I also used the noise of the base diffuse texture to match the reflective values, where there were almost waves of more reflective sections on the main torso.

The head was varied again from the main body – due to the shape and design of a floating ‘head’, I decided to go for a dielectric based material, which made sure it would stand out within the piece when pictured with the body, catching light in a much more highlighted way.

A number of assets were excluded from being talked about here. Specifically these were assets which I textured and shaded using Substance Designer and used an entirely different workflow for them. To see my post on this workflow, please click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *