Model a Mars Ranger with Modo

Ubisoft’s Matthew O takes you through the steps to make his Mars Ranger and how to de­sign for com­pe­ti­tions

3D Artist - - CONTENTS -

with this ar­ti­cle we will cover some of the tech­niques used in the cre­ation of the mars ranger. dur­ing the process, time was a ma­jor lim­i­ta­tion and so it was very im­por­tant that the work­flow was trimmed down wher­ever pos­si­ble in or­der to cre­ate a great de­sign in an ef­fi­cient man­ner. we will look at some of the work­flow en­hance­ments and short­cuts used within modo to al­low more time for the de­sign por­tion of the project as well as pro­vide some gen­eral tips that might help you in the fu­ture with your de­sign work.

the ranger was built as part of the hp mars home Planet mod­el­ling com­pe­ti­tion so it needed to not only im­press de­sign­ers but also en­gi­neers. we will dis­cuss how this af­fected the de­sign process later in the ar­ti­cle.

01Why join a com­pe­ti­tion? i love tak­ing part in com­pe­ti­tions, it drives me to fin­ish a piece within a shorter time frame than i nor­mally would. it also en­forces a set of re­stric­tions upon me if i hope to do well and i like to see this as a great op­por­tu­nity to push my­self. in this case i chose to en­ter three weeks be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion ended. i have some ex­pe­ri­ence of par­tic­i­pat­ing in a few com­pe­ti­tions and even host en­vi­ron­ment art chal­lenges for artstation so i felt that de­spite the short time frame, it was still an achiev­able project.

one of the big­gest pieces of ad­vice i give is to try and cut down on as much man­ual work as pos­si­ble in or­der to free up that time to it­er­ate on your de­sign.

02Restric­tions and de­sign lim­i­ta­tions in this case it was made very clear in the brief that i’d be judged by a group of ex­perts, from cre­atives to en­gi­neers and also by the com­mu­nity. this meant that in or­der to do well i needed to cre­ate a de­sign that not only had cre­ative ap­peal but i also had to en­sure that my model was grounded in re­al­ity in or­der to meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of the en­gi­neers. or­di­nar­ily, i try do this any­way as it makes the de­sign more re­lat­able but it meant i re­ally needed to try and ex­plain ev­ery shape if i was go­ing to con­vince the judges.

03Do your re­search mars is a hos­tile place, with ex­treme tem­per­a­tures, high lev­els of ra­di­a­tion, huge sand­storms and al­most no sur­face re­sources. the kind of ve­hi­cle re­quired to sup­port a small group of peo­ple on its sur­face would need to be ver­sa­tile, heavy duty and able to pro­vide for its crew. i fig­ured all of these kinds of tech­nol­ogy or equip­ment were al­ready in de­vel­op­ment in some way so if i could find the im­por­tant com­po­nents and al­low them to in­form my de­sign then it’d help to add be­liev­abil­ity to the fi­nal de­sign.

04Gather good ref­er­ences once i had a list of re­quire­ments i de­cided to build a big board of ref­er­ences, this in­cluded im­ages of the kind of tech re­quired for the ve­hi­cle but also ve­hi­cles that i wanted to use as in­spi­ra­tion for my de­sign.

these ranged from con­cepts, to toys and screen­shots from movies. i al­ways use these to help in­form my de­sign when­ever i’m get­ting a lit­tle cre­ative block and the real world ref­er­ence helps to bring some re­al­ism.

05Re­fine your work­flow Per­son­ally, i find that it is ex­tremely im­por­tant to op­ti­mise my work­flow. i like to try and cut out as much un­nec­es­sary work as pos­si­ble in or­der to avoid fa­tigue. i find it harder and harder to ob­jec­tively look at my de­sign the longer i look at it, so, in or­der to pro­duce the best de­sign, i need to make sure i’m work­ing quickly enough and that i en­joy the process.

06Modo’s Round Edge Shader one of the slow­est parts of mod­el­ling for me is need­ing to add sup­port loops to all hard edges in or­der for the mesh to be sub­di­vided. most of these are just to give nice bevels and some­times they can be very time con­sum­ing to add to com­plex shapes. i avoid do­ing this all to­gether by us­ing the round edge shader in modo. this makes all con­cave and con­vex edges up to an an­gle that i de­fine to look rounded, it can give re­ally nice re­sults and is ob­vi­ously far faster than sup­port loops. this also al­lows me to al­ways it­er­ate on the bevel sizes and over­all shapes of the de­sign.

in or­der to pro­duce the best de­sign, i need to make sure i’m work­ing quickly enough and that i en­joy the process

07UV work and ma­te­ri­als typ­i­cally when i work with this kind of as­set i avoid man­u­ally Uv­ing any of the model un­less i re­ally can’t get good re­sults with­out it. i pre­fer to tri-pla­nar project my tex­tures onto the model and scale them based on how they look in the ren­der. this saves me a huge amount of time as Uv­ing is a slow process but more im­por­tantly it means i can set up ma­te­ri­als very early in the process and keep mod­el­ling with­out need­ing to fix UVS.

this gives me the op­por­tu­nity to not only it­er­ate on the tex­tures in Quixel but to also to con­trol the way they are be­ing used in modo’s ma­te­rial ed­i­tor.

08Tex­ture cre­ation with DDO For this kind of hard sur­face de­sign work i re­ally like to use Quixel’s ddo to gen­er­ate tileable tex­tures.

the pro­gram utilises scans and masks that can be com­bined in more than enough ways to cre­ate nice fab­rics, plas­tics, met­als and what­ever other ma­te­ri­als i typ­i­cally need for my piece, and quickly. this is very im­por­tant to me as typ­i­cally when i spend time build­ing a ma­te­rial man­u­ally us­ing the likes of sub­stance de­signer or even through sculpt­ing meth­ods it can take any­where from a few hours to a few days and this isn’t some­thing i can af­ford to be spend­ing time on if i only have three weeks.

09Tex­ture lay­er­ing in Modo i spend a good amount of time lay­er­ing up tex­tures in modo to make my ma­te­ri­als looks con­vinc­ing and in­ter­est­ing, i want all of this work to not rely on UVS and to not be im­pacted by my con­stantly-chang­ing de­sign. this works very sim­i­larly to Pho­to­shop, in that i might have my paint job look­ing pretty good but want to blend in some ex­tra in­for­ma­tion to my bump or rough­ness, for ex­am­ple, in or­der to break up the over­all ma­te­rial. this re­ally helps to add some gen­eral ma­te­rial vari­a­tion in a quick man­ner.

10Pro­ce­du­ral tex­ture blend­ing when work­ing in modo on a de­sign i like to avoid spend­ing time on paint­ing in edge da­m­age or grunge for ex­am­ple. there­fore i tend to use lots of blend­ing that is based on tex­tures i’ve gen­er­ated in ddo as well as some pro­ce­dural ef­fects. a good ex­am­ple of this is us­ing a generic metal paint job, blend­ing out to a bare metal us­ing pro­ce­dural con­vex­ity that is be­ing gen­er­ated by modo and then run­ning a tex­ture through that ef­fect to break it up and make it look like da­m­age.

11Block out the ini­tial de­sign dur­ing the block­out process the most im­por­tant thing for me is to hit a re­al­is­tic sense of scale with a re­ally in­ter­est­ing sil­hou­ette, con­stantly scal­ing and mov­ing wheels or the whole cock­pit, for ex­am­ple, un­til i find some­thing i like. once i am happy i will show the de­sign to oth­ers to get their feed­back.

12Use feed­back in your de­sign after get­ting their re­ac­tions i will im­ple­ment the feed­back i agree with. it can also be valu­able to show this kind of work to peo­ple who aren’t pro­fes­sional artists as their feed­back doesn’t tend to fac­tor in pro­duc­tion dif­fi­culty and can be far more blunt. as you can see, my block­out changed a lot based upon el­e­ments i grew to dis­like and the feed­back i was re­ceiv­ing from friends. Feed­back can lead to the de­vel­op­ment of re­ally cool new ideas, like air­less tyres and bet­ter treads. after the first week and a half i ba­si­cally locked this de­sign down so that i could move on to de­tail­ing the ve­hi­cle and get­ting it ready to sub­mit.

after get­ting their re­ac­tions i will im­ple­ment the feed­back i agree with. it can also be valu­able to show this kind of work to peo­ple who aren’t pro­fes­sional artists as their feed­back doesn’t tend to fac­tor in pro­duc­tion dif­fi­culty


Model the de­tails once my block­out is feel­ing solid then i move on to mod­el­ling in the de­tails, this is im­por­tant in or­der to make the ve­hi­cle feel be­liev­able and to give ev­ery­thing a sense of scale. it’s also an ex­tremely pow­er­ful way of adding an over­all com­po­si­tion to the de­sign and con­trol­ling where the viewer looks.


Light the Ranger i use im­age-based light­ing reg­u­larly in my per­sonal work as i feel it gives re­ally nice re­sults with very lit­tle time and ef­fort, once i’ve cho­sen my hdri map i’ll ro­tate it to fit the in­di­vid­ual cam­era an­gles i’ve cho­sen.

i can also in­crease and de­crease con­trast and over­all power through modo un­til i’m happy that it gives me a solid base for my ren­ders.


Add key lights when i’m happy with my light­ing sce­nario i will of­ten add lights just to pick out key de­tails. this ve­hi­cle is go­ing to spend most of its life out in the mar­tian desert so i didn’t want the ex­tra light­ing to look too syn­thetic; it had to be pretty sub­tle. in this case i added some low power point lights above the tyres to in­crease their sense of vol­ume as well as adding spot­lights to the mod­elled lights around the cab.

this helped to bed them into the de­sign, their ef­fect is sub­tle in the fi­nal im­ages but it helps to pick out some of the shapes around them, such as hand grips.


Com­pos­ite your ren­ders once i’ve ren­dered out my ve­hi­cle i ren­der an am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion pass to give my­self ex­tra in­for­ma­tion.

First, i sharpen my base im­age by a small amount, then i’ll mul­ti­ply my ao by roughly 50% de­pend­ing on how strong i would like it to look. to bring back some con­trast i will over­lay the ao on an­other layer at roughly 15% and fi­nally, i du­pli­cate the base ren­der, high pass fil­ter that and then i’ll set the layer to hard light at roughly 5% in or­der to pick out some of the finer de­tails.


Present the fi­nal de­sign once i have my dif­fer­ent cam­era an­gles com­pos­ited, i like to make my pre­sen­ta­tion im­ages nice and clean.

i typ­i­cally use a dark flat grey back­ground so that it doesn’t dis­tract from the piece, i will also add a vi­gnette to the whole im­age to bring the viewer’s eye back to the cen­tre of the im­age.


Show the ve­hi­cle on Mars For the fi­nal shot i wanted to make a sin­gle im­age that’d help to sell the fan­tasy, i think it’s much eas­ier to ap­pre­ci­ate the over­all need for the ve­hi­cle with an ac­tion shot. For this i used a few dif­fer­ent free-to-use shots of mars from nasa’s mars rover and edited them to­gether un­til i liked the over­all com­po­si­tion of the back­ground, i needed to colour grade this and the ve­hi­cle sep­a­rately un­til i felt they felt like they were in the same en­vi­ron­ment.


Add some at­mo­spher­ics there are mul­ti­ple lay­ers of dust and smoke al­phas over­laid to give the sense of a dry, arid at­mos­phere around the ve­hi­cle and i in­creased the power of these lights to give the ap­pear­ance that the light beams are vol­u­met­ric and full of dust.


Ground the ve­hi­cle lastly i over­laid lay­ers of sand and dust onto the ve­hi­cle and thick­ened it up in crevices to make it look like it’d been out ex­plor­ing for some time and to re­ally make the ve­hi­cle look like it’s in the scene. to achieve this re­sult i used a com­bi­na­tion of Pho­to­shop and pro­ce­dural masks gen­er­ated in modo, this also felt like the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to in­ject a lit­tle hu­mour and add the ‘Clean me’ to the wind­screen.

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