Modo Shading and Texturing Fundamentals


    This week, my very first tutorial series, "Modo Shading and Texturing Fundamentals" was released, and I'm excited more than ever to share my discoveries in shading/texturing with the rest of the world!  The course is published by Pluralsight, and if you're subscribed to the website, it also includes quizzes, project files, and everything you need to follow along.

In this course, MODO Shading and Texturing Fundamentals, you’ll learn how to combine shading theory with practical application while learning how to use MODO at the same time.
 Check out the Course Introduction Video!

Check out the Course Introduction Video!


So, if you're interested in texturing/shading, be sure to check out the course if you get the chance.  I go over a lot of cool stuff, and I'm curious to hear what you think!


Tips & Tricks - Metal Corrosion & Weathering


      When you get the chance, take a good look at the metals you see around you in everyday life.  Chances are, there is probably some indication of weathering.  Some of these elements could include things like discoloration, oxidation, mineral deposits, galvanization, or a host of other things.  At any rate, what's true about the metals you see is that there is story behind everything.  So whenever you're shading or texturing something, that's something you really need to to think about.  Sometimes it can be temping to just roll with a cranked spec weight and call it good, but in reality, it's pretty rare to find pure, untarnished metals in everyday life, and not adjusting anything else usually leaves things looking pretty boring.  Often times what our eyes actually see is protective paint, oxidation, mineral/dirt deposits, or galvanized coating over metals.  So that's why I made this blog.  Let's start off by taking a look at corrosion/weathering in the real world.


    So what does this mean for us as 3D artists?  Well, that means that what we see in the real world is usually an interesting mixture between the shiny, specular metal and other more diffused components caused by corrosion.  And... that also makes things a bit more complicated.  Once you introduce these elements of corrosion, you have to deal with a more complex utilization of diffuse weight, spec weight, bump, etc.  Lets take a look at this picture for a minute to serve as an example to what we're talking about here...


A picture I took walking to work one day

    I like this picture because it shows a few different things.  First of all, if you compare the pipe on the outside to the piping in the middle to the protective ring against the wall, each element features very different kinds of weathering patterns.  This could be due to, perhaps, certain pieces being changed out at different times, but I think the main driving factor behind all this is that these are just fundamentally separate materials that react differently to the environment.  The heavily rusted pipe on the left is almost entirely rusted out with only a few traces of the shiny, specular metal breaking through the layer of rust.  The piping in the middle features an interesting pattern where weathering happens both on top of the protective black coat as mineral deposits and also as small patches of rust that break through the protective coating and expose the metal underneath.   For the ring, you'll notice a spotted rust pattern along with what seems to be a super thin, semi-transparent film of rust that tints the specular reflections into a golden hue.  There's a lot you could say about these pieces, but in general, it just goes to show that the specific metal and how it has been treated makes a pretty significant difference in the way it ages.  Now lets take a look at how we can conceptualize this in 3D...


This is basically how I think of it in my head...

    First thing you need to do is figure out what you're trying to do.  I know that sounds redundant, but I think a lot of people skip this step.  If you don't conceptualize it, you won't know where to go and will probably just end up wasting a lot of time fiddling around with different ideas that may or may not really work.  Now don't get me wrong here, I think that fiddling around with different ideas may work well for some projects, but even then, it's also not a bad idea to start off with something specific, and then branch off from there.  At any rate, notice a few things about this thought process.  For one, I'm conceptualizing everything into layers.  That's because texturing in 3D works by layering things on top of one another like this, and it's also easier to break down something complex when you think of it in layers.  Next, I'm starting to think about the specific channels I'm going to be working with ahead of time.  I try to associate things like surface relief to the elements that cause them.  So, rather than placing my bump/normal in the base metal, I'll modify it when I get to the heavy rust.  So now lets get more specific.  Lets ignore the light rust for now and take a look at everything you need to represent the heavy rust sitting on top of the base metal...



These are the bitmaps you would need to fully represent the heavy rust sitting on top of the base metal

    So now you might see why it's really temping to just throw on the base metal with a few sliders and call it a day.  The fact is, creating all of these bitmaps can take time, and it's not really easy to get all this information correct in one shot.  If you don't get one of those maps correct in the first try, there's probably going to be a lot of back-and-fourth between fixing stuff and getting things right, and that takes time... sometimes a lot of time.   Plus, this is only one layer of grunge.  In this scenario, we're not accounting for the lighter rust, any other sort of weathering, or ways of blending multiple layers together.  In short, this is when things can start getting pretty complicated.  Or... in the very least, feel complicated.  Think back to the first layered diagram I drew out.  This is why it's really important to think about the elements you want to make ahead of time.  When things start feeling really complicated, you can just think back to the basic plan of one layer sitting on top of the next.  As long as you keep that layered material concept in mind, you'll be able to figure out what to do next if you get stuck.  As far as software and workflows go, I think talking about that can be an entire blog or three within itself.  There's probably 50 different ways you can go about making these bitmaps these days with pros and cons to each approach.  But, in short, I believe substance designer/painter is the best out there right now when it comes to managing heavy amounts of complexity while maintaining a fast workflow when it comes down to it (And by the way, I'm not sponsored by allegorithmic).

    So there you have it!  Next time you're looking at metals, try thinking about some of this stuff as you're shading/texturing.  Aged metals can be really fun to shade, and applying a bit of thought behind the weathering process can really take things to the next level if you haven't incorporated these elements yet.  Also, be sure to keep an eye out for a tutorial series that I made called, "Modo Texturing and Shading Fundamentals" at  Even if you're not totally interested in learning Modo, I go over a lot of texturing/shading theory and methodology.


Till next time, thanks for stopping by!


-  Tyler


To the New 3D Artist


      I've noticed that starting 3D is overwhelming for most people.  I mean, these menus have menus!  There are probably 25 different programs you hear people saying that you should use.  Terms are confusing... and you probably feel like you just entered the front seat of a jet plane trying to press whatever combination of buttons that gets you some glorious render of what you dreamed up in your head.  The first time I started Maya, I thought to myself, "How the hell am I going to do this?"  But, just like anything else that's challenging in life, you just need to make one little victory stack on top of the next until you get somewhere.

Holy Buttons!

    The point is, it's not just you.  Everybody goes through this feeling at some point, and the bottom line is that making 3D is complicated.  I mean, there's a good reason why the video games and films you see have a small army of people that work on it.  So, whether 3D is a hobby or a career for you,  there's a few things you ought to admit to yourself.  I learned this stuff as I was growing into a 3D artist, and I think it could help you as well.


Tip #1 - Have a Specific Goal or Direction that You're Aiming For


    I like video games.  I like film.  I like cartoons.  I like cool swirly graphics that do crazy flips as it flies through a Pepsi bottle.  To be honest with you, I think all of this 3D stuff is super-cool and badass!  Problem is... I don't have time to do everything... On top of that, if you don't have something specific that you're aiming for, you're going to get lost in a forest of menus along the way.  So... find your target.   Write it down.  Be specific.  Pick something that you can achieve in the next couple weeks.  Now, I'll be honest here, for a lot of things in my life I'm not really a list guy.  But when it comes to 3D, you need to do this.  I remember having these really cool lights that strung up in my room at one point.  I liked the idea and believed that I could do it, so I set my first goal in 3D to make a string of oriental ball lights.  And this is what my first render looks like:


My very first render!  Rendered with the all-mighty Maya Hardware 2.0 (I think)

    Remember, it doesn't have to be anything fancy.  Just start with something that's simple.


Tip #2:  Break Your Projects Into Little Pieces


    I really wish there was a magic button that just creates what I see in my head.  That hasn't really been invented yet, (unless you count the "make ocean" button in Houdini) so I'm guessing that you need to figure out another way to make what you envision.  And this piece of advice, by the way, applies to any art project you do.  Break it down into little pieces.  Claude Monet didn't paint his impressionist masterpieces with one brush stroke.  Yet, for some reason, I think a lot of artists put themselves under this pressure.  You want to model a gorgeous, Gothic cathedral?  Great!  Start with a cube.  Add some loops.  Extrude some faces until you start getting the over-all shape.  Take it one little step at a time.  Looking at that tiny cube in your viewport might have you feeling, "Wow, nice 'Cathedral,' I pretty much suck at 3D," but in reality, everyone starts with simple components and then takes it from there.  There's nothing magical about it... it's just taking things one step at a time and diving into the unknown. 

    Allow me to give an example... let's take my first render above and break it down into little pieces.  Mentally, it looks something like this:


Just break it down

    Now, yes, I know... all of this seems pretty obvious... and simple.  Kind of like a soccer coach telling you that you need to kick the ball in order to score a goal.  But when you face all the complexities, bugs, scary user manuals, and everything else that makes you want to pack your bags running, you need to remind yourself of this constantly.


Tip #3:  Tutorials, Demos, Blogs, etc...


    What if someone came up to you and asked, "Hey, you know everything about 3D right?"  My guess that you'll either say "Nahhh not really" or something sarcastic like, "Oh yeah, I just figured everything out yesterday."  Deep down, you know that, of course, you don't know everything about 3D. (The exception could be if you're Ed Catmull... he probably did know everything about 3D at one point).  So why is it that so many 3D artists, new or old, don't watch tutorials?  Let me put it this way, if you're not watching tutorials, checking out the latest demos, or doing anything to gather more information about the subject, your actions are basically saying this:   "I know everything I need to know about 3D , and there's no point in me trying to grow anymore."   So here's my advice:  Always search for what you don't already know.  And if you think that you already know everything that you need at this point, then cut the ego because it's holding you back.  

    Even if are complacent with the skills you have for your job, (or whatever bag of tricks you've figured out for yourself), that doesn't mean you've reached your full potential.  Plus, you also risk being antiquated by those who are humble enough to continually seek more knowledge.  So, if you're a new 3D artist, search for new knowledge every day, and don't ever stop.  Think about your skills in 3D like a tiny little plant right now.  Tutorials are your water.  This is probably one of the most important things you can do to achieve your goals and enjoy every stage of being an artist along the way.


Tip #4:  Dive Into the Deep End!


    Consider something exciting for a second:  You are most likely your worst critic!  Why is that exciting?  Well, that also means that you have more potential than you actually realize.  Have this impossible idea of a project in your head?  Want to learn this application even though it isn't currently supported by your studio?  Want to learn how to code but never went to school for it?  Just do it.  You can't fail in the long-run so long as you learn, and I've found that every time I placed myself into a situation that I thought was impossible, I somehow figured it out and grew stronger than I thought was possible.  So go ahead, take "risks" and grow even faster.  



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Thanks for stopping by!

- Tyler


The Tavern


I think the tavern is one of my favorite projects.  Things started off by finding the concept from a great illustrator by the name of Brandon Starr.  I sent Brandon an e-mail asking about the image, and he kindly agreed to allowing me to use the image as the basis for the project.


Definitely make sure to check out his work at when you get the chance.  He has some great stuff.

From this point, I started the modeling process.  This was my first time using Modo for a large project, so it posed a unique challenge.  I found Modo to be really intuitive to use, however, so being new to it didn't seem to hold me back.  I started things out by trying to get the correct proportions along the walls.  This wasn't terribly difficult after a few tries, but I eventually had to change up the rocks.  This is the earliest screen capture I could find.



One interesting challenge I was faced with was ropes.  Modeling ropes always seems to be somewhat of a hassle, but after some research on youtube, I found a good trick from youtuber "gidkideon." Essentially what happens is that you draw out a 4-sided cylinder, triangulate it, use the diagonal patterns along the cylinder to create separate curves, set the rendering attribute to render curves as geo, and then bake the render geometry cache to generate curves.  It sounds sort of complicated at first, but it's not too bad once you try it out a couple times.  If you're interested, check out the link to the video here:



Modeling done!  I really wanted the modeling to show imperfections in the overall design of the building.  I really liked the cartoony expressiveness of the concept, so I tried to capture that in the forms as well.



After modeling, I moved on to texturing everything.  For most of the tavern I used a combination of Mari and my texture library of photos.  So yeah, most of this hand-painted.  I think the lanterns were the most challenging for me.  They feature a mixture of refractive, specular, and diffuse weights because of all the grime that's on there.  So, keeping track of what those ought to be was fairly difficult at the time.  In addition to hand texturing these parts, I also started experimenting with Modo's procedural texturing workflows on the window.



Next up was lighting!  And wow, this was really fun.  The thing I love about lighting is how it really starts to pull everything together.  For the lighting, I made heavy usage of gobos to break up the light hitting each area.  It just gave everything this really rich complexity.  Also, I found that listening to epic Morrowind music really helped put me in the zone.  I thought of my scene as existing in two parts:  The front of the house and the back.  For the front, I tried to make my main focal point the sign and door.  The light textures against the darker wood naturally allowed the contrast to help it stick out above everything else, but eventually I added a little more light to direct the eye in that spot.  I also thought of breaking things down into three zones to capture depth.  The front sign/door, the side window, and the porch.  When I was lighting, I tried to allow for alternating zones of light and dark to create more depth.  You can also see this happening with the chimneys actually.  In the back, I decided to place the brightest light around the base of the chimney.  I thought about doing the top windows, but I decided to leave them feeling a bit more ominous and mysterious instead.



For the ground foliage I decided to use a mixture between a hair system and instancing individual plants.  The hair system gave me the benefits of a faster render while the individual plants gave me the benefit of breaking up the landscape with a variety of plants and giving everything a bit more of a wild feel.  For the instanced plants, I decided to scatter a point cloud across the ground plane that I sculpted.  From each point, one of 10 plant varieties would be randomly pulled onto each point with a weighted percentage that allowed me to make certain plant varieties more likely to spawn over others.  In addition to spawning these plants, I also included randomization to the scale, rotation, and transform offset from the point within specified ranges.  After a lot of tweaking and balancing between how much I wanted the hair system vs. instancing, I got a full, complex, and efficient foliage system out of it.



Finally, for the moss, I decided to use a fur system attached to cards.  I could control the exact shape of everything by modeling out the cards the way I liked it, and then I simply just changed the render attributes on the card to hide during render so that the only thing left was the moss!



And there you have it!  That's the tavern.