Making Modular Models

by Vanessa Trepanier

Have you ever wondered how to make your own Skydome in UDK? Or how to make custom light maps that will really give your level its own, unique touch? Or what about learning a new take on modular building?

There are a few great video tutorial websites out there and today I’m going to be talking about one that I fell in love with a few months ago: 3Dmotive.com. 3Dmotive has a variety of tutorial video packages for free and for sale that can show you new techniques for UDK, 3Ds Max, Photoshop, and eventually Maya. While currently the amount of tutorials available is small, 3Dmotive is actively making new tutorials to share with the 3D community.

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I first heard about 3Dmotive in November 2010 in a texturing class. We had been practicing modular building sets when my teacher mentioned he found a great tutorial with tips on how to do approach sets. I soon discovered that ‘great’ is an understatement; after watching their video on Modular Building, my mind was utterly blown. Before seeing that video I had a far different approach to modular building that sometimes left me with reams of useless reference images and frustration whenever I realized I forgot a certain useful part, or thought of something cooler. It was a little time consuming and while my models looked good in the end, if I had known about any other method to create modular sets, I wouldn’t have wasted my time.

The tutorial that the fine folks at 3Dmotive have created is incredible and I never considered approaching modeling the way they did. It made life easier for me to create assets for projects and even for my own portfolio. Basically, their approach saves time by getting you into the habit of building an atlas ahead of time, rather than just collect reference images you may or may not be using. It also encourages you to go out and start making your own texture library so you can customize your atlases and models.
Let’s say you want to make a basic warehouse. Instead of making a list of all the things you’ll need, finding references, building planes, and modeling individual pieces, all you need to do is find your favourite image for each part of the building: a door, a sign, a cement slab, a brick wall, a broken window.

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If you arrange these properly on a grid in a Photoshop file, all you need to do is create a square in your modeling program of choice that matches the size of your atlas file, apply the atlas to your model as a texture, then start chopping it up.

Now what have you gained from this? A nearly fully assembled, already textured set of assets! After this step, all you need to do is add some detail (extrude window sills, ledges, frames, etc), remap the sides of your individual pieces and you’re done! You’ll have an entire modular set that you can use to create a number of different building styles, already textured for you and ready to go. And even if you don’t use UDK or Max or Maya, the tips in the video can be applied to any program of choice!

So why not go give 3Dmotive.com a look! You might find something helpful like I did.

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