Hard Surface Modeling for Films
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Jay Machado

Jay is a Senior Hard Surface Modeler and Texture Painter at Industrial Light and Magic; he has been at ILM for 4 years, and has 6 years of experience as a modeler. His credits include Rogue One, Star Wars: the Force Awakens, and Transformers: Age of Extinction. In addition to his work on feature films, Jay has worked on music videos, commercials, an AAA game, and amusement park rides. He is also exploring physically based rendering, VR, game development, and 3D printing outside of work.


Course Description

This course covers the creation of VFX production assets of an inorganic nature. Lectures will cover creation of form, efficient manipulation of topology, the art of kitbashing, scene organization, texture preparation, light rigging techniques that will aid in the modeling process and final rendering. Students will learn the process of efficiently creating high quality hard surface models from concept to completion and complete exercises that will give them the tools to overcome typical challenges faced by production artists.

Course Format

Course Format: Standard
Duration: 10 Weeks
Lecture Type: Pre-recorded
Assignment: Deadlines each week.
Feedback: Individual Recordings
Q&A: Once a week.

*For classes with less than 6 students feedback may be provided during the live QandA session.

Course Outline


Introduction to Hard Surface Modeling

-Instructor introduction and background
-Discussion of Hard Surface Modeling principles
-Edge flow
-Edge radius and scale
-Mesh resolution: when to go high, when to stay low
-Introduction to the Maya interface as we will be using it
-Scripts and tools we will be using frequently
-Switchcam script and hotkey setup
-CometRename and creating shelf buttons
-SetTexelDensity - brief overview of texel density


Blocking Models

-Setting up image planes in Maya
-Dealing with imperfect perspective in concepts and accepting artistic license
-Using NURBS curves to create guidelines
-Box modeling process
-Using primitives to create basic massing model
-Using curve snapping to align vertices with guide curves
-Using maya lattice and bend deformers
-Naming conventions and heirarchy organization
-Using quick select sets, layers and shaders to organize scene and as a means to select groups of parts


Hard Surface Sculpture and Retopology Workflow

-Importing blocking models into ZBrush
-Using dynamesh to combine primitive shapes together into more complex surfaces
-Hard surface brushes and demo sculpt on car body
-Adding panel lines
-Using decimation master
-Exporting from ZBrush
-Importing sculpts into maya
-Quad-draw workflow in Maya


Large Scale Model Details

-Learning from the past: examining kitbashing techniques of practical modelers
-Modeling greebles using flatbed scans of model kit parts
-Using Maya boolean tools
-Getting UVs onto geometry (this will be covered, but I will refresh and offer a more in depth look)
-UV projection; automatic, cylindrical, planar projection or a combination of all 3
-Maya's Unfold 3D vs. Legacy UV unfolding. When to use one vs the other


Large Scale Model Details Part II and Radial Modeling

-Kitbashing techniques using greeble library parts
-using non specific looking parts to create assemblies
-creating opportunities for pipe and wire connections (covered in a later lesson)
-Radial modeling exercise
-Creating a rim by modeling a fraction of it
-Creating a tire by modeling treads flat and using bend deformers to wrap around tire
-Using measure tools to measure edge lengths
-Creating flat base to model on that matches length of edge around tire
-Modeling one row of tread and using smart duplication
-Bend deformer settings
-Creating a thruster using radial modeling techniques
-Anatomy of a thruster: reality vs. sci-fi
-Using instances duplicated around a fixed point to model thruster details
-Using pivot points to facilitate animation of thrust vectoring
-Integrating these parts into the model


Mechanical Modeling

-Modeling and rigging the pistons
-2 variations: single axis and ball and socket
-Heirarchy setup, Using locators as pivot points to drive the rig
-Aim constraint setup
-Creating mechanisms (I will be demoing single axis on some banding gear and building a motion base with ball and socket pistons)
-Examination of real world examples ie. construction equipment and robotics
-Sketching out desired motion
-Building the basic "skeleton" and animating motion
-Experimenting with piston placement and making adjustments as needed
-Setting up set driven keys
-Integrating these parts into the model


NURBS Curve Tools for Modeling

-Drawing NURBS curves in linear and bicubic modes
-Extruding along curves
-Animation snapshot and tank tread exercise
-Modeling the tread using instances to help design interlocking identical parts
-Creating the shape of our treads using NURBS curve
-Animating along curves and using animation snapshot to create track of treads
-Other pipe modeling techniques
-Creating a library of pipe joints to build pipe networks
-Creating pipes along surfaces by using extrusion, modifying topology and smoothing geometry


UV Tips & Tricks

-A discussion about texel density, what it is and why it is important
-Using the set texel density plugin
-Finding desired texel density
-UV packing
-UV packing techniques in Maya
-UV packing techniques in Modo
-UDIMS; how to organize your model's UVs for multiple texture maps


Lighting and Rendering

-Rendering in Maya using Arnold
-Scene setup and lighting
-Material setup
-Final Gather and Image Based lighting
-Rendering in Keyshot
-Sending Maya scene to keyshot
-Assigning materials
-Simple turntable setup


Hard Surface Modeling Alternatives

-Alternative methods
-Open Subdiv and crease sets in Maya
-Using "rounded corners" in various packages
-Mental Ray
-Modo, where we can bake this information out to normal maps


  • Hard Surface Modeler
  • Prop Modeler
  • Environment Modeler
  • Product Design
  • Automotive Design
  • Architecture