Specialisation: Crystal Ball

As part of my studies at SAE Quantm, I am starting a new specialisation project, named Crystal Ball. The general idea is to create a small scene that has an action that can be seen and understood by a viewer, be it that a car is moving fast, or a fishing boat surrounded by baby seals of unusual size. What limits each scene is the size of what can be seen, where it is as though the viewer is looking through a crystal ball of sorts.

Below are the two examples described.

What exactly am I doing?

So with the examples above, the Fishing Trip is a bit too high a quality (and quantity) for me to do, and the Crossout vehicle is a bit too simple, so I plan to bridge the gap in complexity between the two examples by creating a scene based on this artwork:


Credit goes to Jorge Gonsales

While the scene does have dinosaurs and another vehicle in the background, My finished piece will be focussed on the vehicle in front. Though I will try to add a dinosaur if time allows.

The final scene will use the poses and designs for the characters, and the vehicle itself will be modelled after the 1993 Jeep Wrangler, with the intention of dressing it up as a Jurassic Park vehicle.

How will you do it?

Simple put, I am going to use 2 differing pipelines – One for soft surface/organic models and another for hard surface models. While the two are in fact similar, the main differences come into play when creating the mesh, as it needs to deform. As a result, I am going to effectively re-use a hard surface pipeline i had research a shorter time ago that didnt get used to its full capability thanks to time constraints, and the two pipelines will be presented as one.

Research for this project is going to be less focussed on the pipelines and rather the techniques, tips and tricks that people have found and developed . As I have pre-existing research on the hard surface side of things, though i don’t have as much on soft surface.

Pipeline Structure

1.Research/Create conceptual and Reference materials

As with any project with a visual goal, the first step is to search for reference material and/or create conceptual art. these reference and conceptual material can be just about anything that has elements the project is looking to adapt/use.

While i currently have the awesome digital painting by Jorge Gonsales  ,  I am mostly using it for the scene and placements (Car, driver, passenger and how they are posed). I have a few ideas on how i will change this current scene into something a tad different (As so it makes sense without the dinosaurs in the background).

So what else do I need? what am I looking for?

Simply put, I am currently lacking detailed images of the Car (1993 Jeep Wrangler), and images for what I might base the two characters off of, and finally what weapon will be there.

2. Base/Blockout Mesh

Once an ample amount of reference material has been gathered/created, work can begin in the 3D space, with the goal of creating a basis to move onto both High poly sculpted models and further the model to be used in the final product (be it a video game, film or otherwise)

3. High Poly mesh

Either through modelling and cleanup in 3DsMax or by sculpting, but most likely both. This is where every little detail is added to the model. Dents, tears, creases and crumpling are such items that will be present in the High poly, but will be seen on the used mesh as a normal map.

4. Re-topology

Once the high poly, high detail model is ready, a Low(er) poly model is created around the new silhouette to accommodate normal, ambient occlusion and curvature maps that will be baked from it. There are multiple ways to do this but i will be using the base-mesh as a base and modifying it to fit any changes in shape in the high poly.

5. Unwrapping and Baking

Once the mesh is prepared, it is time to unwrap it. Creating seams and ‘unfolding’ the mesh to allow textures to be drawn, baked or generated to be displayed on the mesh in a 3D space. While simple in concept, Unwrapping a mesh becomes more complex as the mesh becomes more detailed and intricate.

With a UV map (a 1:1 image with the ‘unfolded’ mesh data packed into it) ready, a few maps can be created using the sculpted/High poly model. Within this specific project, I will be creating Normal Maps, Ambient Occlusion Maps, and Curvature Maps.

What these maps do does differ between each, But the idea is consistent – Take Reflection, Lighting and Shading information from a very highly detailed model, and ‘Bake’ that information into a texture using the UV map, so that the Low(er) Poly model can display those details and appear as though it has far more 3D detail than it truly has.

Not only do these maps make a low(er) poly model look far more detailed and overall nicer to look at, they also help PBR textures generate textures around the details these baked maps have, (Almost) regardless of the models topology.

6. Texturing

With Baked maps in tow, it is time to bring the Low poly mesh into Quixel. After choosing textures to generate and the Material ID’s they’ll be set to, the final tweaks to masks of each layer and extra details in the texture, such as text or insignias.

7. Posing

With the Model Textured, it is time to Pose it in the scene. Given what I have to make, there will be 3 Main things to pose – the Jeep, Driver and Gunner. Since the Jeep is a hard surface model and wont be deforming, Manually posing it’s various elements (Such as the steering wheel, the wheels and vehicle stance to infer movement). However, the Two characters will need to be rigged in order to be posed in the scene.

Once the characters are rigged, and the scene is laid out, The project branches into preparations for two different ‘end products’. These being a 3D scene available Online on Sketchfab, and a UE4 turnaround render with configured lighting to fit the scene.

8. Export and Render

8.A) Export for Sketchfab

The simpler of the two tasks, Once the scene is posed, all that remains is to export the scene and upload it to Sketchfab and configure the settings available to make the scene look as best it can online. And with that done, only Once step remains to complete this project.

8.B) Export and Render in Unreal Engine 4

With the now posed models, it is time to export the scene in FBX  and import it into UE4. With it in engine, Lighting and backgrounds are configured to bring out the best in the scene. Turntable and a few ‘beauty shots will be rendered out for use in a showreel.

Tips, Tricks and Techniques

While I will be using techniques and practices I researched in my previous specialisation project (Read them Here) for the Hard Surface models, I looked into practices for deforming Meshes that I previously had not known.


Hippdrome is a website which holds excellent reference for topology and articulation for a human body. While it is more of a reference, I aim to learn from the smaller details it holds, Such as how it lowers the amount of edge loops coming from a hand into the arm it is attached to.

I may not use everything present in this website, but I wish to experiment with techniques i currently use and the topology shown.




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