Toolbag

Animating a Stylized Breakfast Scene in Marmoset Toolbag with Aender Lara

Interview conducted by Mira Karouta

We had the pleasure of talking to Aender Lara about presenting tasty breakfast scenes in Toolbag 3. Aender discusses the importance of visual aesthetics and gives some insight on how he modeled, animated and set up the shaders for his breakfast scene.

Who is Aender Lara and what does he do?

I am a 3D Artist, solo Game Developer, and digital nomad and I can cook excellent vegan pancakes.

In the last 10 years, I have worked as a graphic, web, social networks and UX/UI designer. 3D art and games are my passion and I really love to create and constantly learn about them.

What’s your ideal breakfast spread?

Dear lord! Pancakes, toast, jam, cheese, butter and fruit all over the table with a spectacular latte.

Waffles or pancakes?

Waffles have too many corners. But I really think the holes are great at preserving the integrity of the toppings. But for now, I prefer pancakes.

What came first, the chicken or the scrambled egg?

I’m pretty sure it was the pan.

Does hot sauce belong on breakfast food?

It’s not my thing but I cannot judge anyone’s breakfast preference. Maybe somewhere an excellent breakfast with hot sauce is waiting to be tasted.

When we were working on the baker we thought about using bacon for the icon and introducing bacon-themed puns into our marketing material. In the end, we went with bread. How does this make you feel on an emotional level?

You can ask my girlfriend (awesome human companion, fantastic children book illustrator and master pie maker) about my reaction. I cried next to her the first time I saw it. It was the perfect pun, and I love puns and baking real bread. So it was just a beautiful, emotional and personal experience for me.

What was your inspiration behind creating this tasty work of art?

It began with the intention of creating a really fluffy, bouncy pancake. Things expanded after that, like “maybe toppings” and next came the plate because it was needed. And before I realized it, I had a table. Thank God I stopped. I almost created a room and kitchen for it.

Could you give us a brief breakdown of your favorite asset on the table?

I think it is the Italian coffee maker (Moka Pot). It was the last object I created. I really wanted it there because I have a similar one that actually travelled with me through 6 countries during 2 years as a digital nomad and survived every breakfast.

During the process, I decided that I wanted to use as few materials as possible to have better control of the scene given the number of assets, for that I decided that I would create a single material for multiple objects that possibly had a close relationship, this would make the task of editing textures simple and would reduce the amount of shaders in scene to 5 for 21 objects.

How did you make the pancakes look so fluffy?

Scale and love. Actually, it’s a little hard get a perfect combination. But I also took inspiration from the pancakes created with rice cookers. I did not taste one yet, but they look really spongy and soft, nobody can hate that shape.

How did you animate the breakfast beauties?

This is the only complex animation I’ve created so far. Usually, I just create turntable animations or small camera movements to show my art, but I decided to go further with this one.

I know some of the tools for 3D animation in Maya and learned a few tricks in the last few years. But I like to think my actual principles for animating the pancakes came from working with motion graphics in After Effects (yes, the fancy 2D transition application for infographic videos). A couple of years ago, I had a lot of jobs for this line of work and I learned the basics from Youtube. Now, I use the same principles in Maya. After all, the tools are almost the same.

Featured art by Jama Jurabaev

Basically, every object has a fluffy reaction no matter if it looks like glass, metal or wood. Also, I had a vision of classic toon characters serving the table.

Could you tell us a bit about your honey shader?

The honey shader looked great and the process for creating it was the result of something I learned a couple of years ago.The honey is composed of a refraction shader applied to the glass jar and the mesh for the honey liquid doesn’t have the exact shape of the container. For best results, the liquid must be a little bigger than the inside of the container.

Presentation seems to be one of your strongest suits. What advice do you have to other artists on creating robust presentation?

It’s necessary to study how to constantly improve your portfolio and find a perfect social network strategy for your work, just like you do with your art every day. This will be the cover of your book, so makes sure it is impressive.

A really good way to improve your portfolio is to look at other artists. But above all, watch how they manage their social networks and how they communicate with their audience. Think of what artist you want to be and project yourself there.

Also, I love doing unconventional presentations for my art. I look at photographers, 2D artists, food porn presentation and how others sell their work and maybe I can create something cool from that. I recently launched a reel, which is something that is apparently really unconventional for a modeler who does not make animations. There are people who say don’t waste your time with that. Instead, I asked my brother for a song (which I love) and based my decisions for the presentation around it. I spent a month collecting all the sequences and re-rendering everything to work with it. It was amazing and people really loved it. So never stop trying to present your work in unconventional ways. If you do it well, it will delight anyone.

These days, I’m leaning a lot from talks by Seth Godin and Simon Sinek. Perhaps a friend tried showing you these talks in the last 10 years but you never found them relevant. Well, this year I realized that even though they don’t talk specifically about video games, they do talk about how to sell a product and how to understand the market. If we extrapolate that knowledge, our art will reach more people.

In a nutshell, create awesome art and impressive presentations. Maybe with an unconventional twist. These days, I cannot upload anything without showing a turntable gif. It’s amazing. It’s just a looped image that it doesn’t need a play button and it shows every side of my 3D work on any device really quickly. If you’re looking to promote your work on social networks, I think Instagram and Twitter are really essential today.

You seem to excel with visual aesthetics, do you have any for creating appealing presentations?

Learning photography skills is essential for understanding overall composition. Because I’ve never worked with food, I studied how professionals do it. For this piece in particular, I studied a lot of compositions of real breakfast on Pinterest and Instagram. Everybody loves those photographs, they are too gorgeous to be real. And with that, I’ll try to create the same feeling. This is also one of the reasons why I created the table; to help the composition. I saw some pictures with an overhead perspective and decided I wanted the same for my pancakes. It was at that point that I started working on all the tableware.

Besides putting together the best three dimensional breakfast the internet has seen, what else do you like to create?

Indie games. I really love creating my own games. For my 3D modeling, I like creating good ideas, my small obsessions or make great pictures. I don’t think I have a decided theme. Sometimes I create regular objects, regular objects with rockets (I love flying things), food or weird tech. But maybe tomorrow I’ll start working on characters because I found an idea I like. I never know what comes next.

We’ve noticed you’re living the dream and created a pancake game entitled “Pancake Tuesday”. What’s the objective of this delicious looking game?

The goal was to celebrate Pancake Day every day of the year.

It was born as an 8 hour game dev project to celebrate Pancake Day 2018, the idea expanded and is now a little project I update every month with new items and more fun ideas.

Also it fulfilled a dream I had 5 years ago when I decided to start creating video games that will be on the App Store. I’m really proud of that and I’ll be working everyday to create the best yummy experiences.

You seem to be very generous with sharing your knowledge. Where can we learn more about your process?

I’ll be using Patreon as a hub for my art, blog and dev blog. You don’t really need to support me to receive awesome things like scene models and timelapse videos of my process. You can read about my work and ask me anything by following my Patreon account, subscribing to my newsletter or following me on my social network pages. I really like sharing my work so everybody can learn and grow.


You can get a taste of Aender’s work on Artstation and learn how to assemble your own breakfast beauties using Toolbag.

 

Telling Stories Through Character Art with Natalia P Gutiérrez

Interview conducted by Mira Karouta

Natalia P Gutiérrez is a phenomenal, narrative-driven character artist who weaves wonderfully intricate stories with her characters. We’ve had the utmost pleasure of talking to Natalia about how she approaches storytelling and her process for setting up the Toolbag 3 scene for “The Mother”, her winning entry for Artstation’s character art division of the ‘Beneath The Waves’ challenge.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in character art?

When I finished high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study or dedicate myself to. At that time, I used to mainly do 2D art, but video games intrigued me. I decided to study two one-year courses, each covering the basics of modeling, texturing, animation, etc. When I finished those I still hadn’t a clear idea of what I wanted to do, so I started sculpting characters at home. I used to play a lot of Dota 2 and saw they had a workshop on Steam where people could upload personal creations to be reviewed by Valve. If they were good enough, they would be included and sold ingame. I wanted to try my luck so I started sculpting sets of armor and characters, and I haven’t stopped doing character art ever since.

How do you approach storytelling as a character artist?

I think the most important thing is to recreate the character as faithfully as possible, not only physically but also their emotions and temper. If it’s an existing concept, a character artist should ask themselves many questions while using the character’s background as base. Where they’re from, what do they do, what’s their story, has something happened to them in the past, if so, how does that reflect on the character now? The more you get to know the character in your mind, the better you can represent it on 3D.

Art is a form of communication, so you’re trying to communicate a story with a character, and it will be successful if the audience can understand what you’re trying to portray. Apart from understanding the character from the inside, you’ll have to make use of strong anatomy foundations. Even if the character is a monster or stylized, having a solid knowledge of anatomy is a must so that you can deform or adapt it later.

Where do you draw your influences from?

My favourite style is realism, so artists like Adam Skutt or Frank Tzeng, among others. I also love dark fantasy and the traditional art of Forest Rogers. My main influence is reality itself, of course. The things I learn and observe that I later apply to my art.

Why did you choose Toolbag to present your work?

I probably first heard of it when I was doing art for Dota 2, since most of the workshop artists used it to make their presentations. It looked easy and intuitive to use and, above all, the best way to quickly visualize and test changes in real-time. It’s what I value the most about it; the ability to test models and textures on different lightning environments, quickly seeing if they work, and tweaking them accordingly.

How have you been coping with all the fame and glory since you’ve won Artstation’s Beneath the Waves challenge?

It’s been hard. I had to retire to a castle high in the mountains guarded by two dragons in order to get my peace back.

Could you give us a breakdown on your lighting and material setup for your piece, The Mother?

Sure! I’ve included some images showing my material settings and lighting setup.

Materials

For the body materials (body and shell), I just imported and set up my textures from Painter. I followed the metal/roughness workflow. I also added a bit of red scatter depth to both materials and translucency controlled by a translucency map.

For the bubbles, I created a new material using the ‘Glass Simple’ preset that comes with Toolbag. I changed the secondary reflections to ‘Newton’s Rings’, tweaked the strength a bit, and switched the Transparency mode to ‘Refraction’, setting the ‘index of Refraction’ slider completely to the left.

It was a matter of experimenting since I didn’t want scientifically accurate bubbles, only bubbles that looked artistically nice. The same case applied for the Iridescence. I experimented a lot until I got a result that I liked, achieved with a transparent material (Transparency mode is set to ‘Add’) with a purplish Albedo color.

Lighting

Regarding the lights, there is a total of 14 omni lights in my scene. I started by selecting one of the sky presets and significantly reducing the intensity of the light.

I then started placing omni lights by hand. My first step is adding the main omni light that will be on the focal point of the character, and then start building the rest around it. In this case, it was the upper middle part of her since it was a beauty shot.

I always try to achieve dramatic lighting. Lighting that won’t look flat with shadows that will help give the character better readability. In this step, I placed my omni light at the top. The character is slightly posed, so that helped create shadows and you can see her volumes much better. I also tweaked the size of every omni light so that the shadows are softer.

Instead of having one individual light as a fill or rim light, I create multiple smaller ones to help accentuate different areas of the character. Once they are all active together, I find the lighting to be much richer. Sometimes the omni lights can be really small, made just to accentuate a tiny area of the model, and that’s why I have a larger number of them.

The next step was creating rim lights. Rim lights help make the silhouette of the character pop. This was an underwater themed model, so all my lights have a blue or purplish tone. I have multiple rim lights as well, but they all concentrate on the upper middle left side of the model which was the area I wanted to bring the most attention to.

The fill lights were next. Fill lights are subtle lights that help illuminate darker areas so that no detail is lost.

These lights by themselves look flat and uninteresting, but when combined with the others, they really help bring out details that would be covered in shadow otherwise. These can be more or less subtle depending on the effect you want to achieve.

Here is a final shot of all the lights combined.

 

How do you plan and execute animations for your characters?

All my character’s animations are executed by Juan Cervilla. I just tell him my ideas and he does all the magic!

We asked Juan about his process and collaboration with Natalia. Here’s what he had to say.

Juan: First, I start building the rig for the character, using anatomy references for better joint positioning or to place them in the best spot. I usually do a first pass and a skinning test to see if the base rig is working the way I like. Then I proceed with the second pass which involves tweaking and polishing the rig. Since I work with the rig as a reference, I only really spot issues when I start animating. So it’s a bit of back and forth in the beginning, making tweaks in the original rig file while animating to refine the skinning.

Before jumping into animation, I always ask the artist (Natalia) how she thinks the character moves and we look at references to find the best way to bring them to life. We research locomotion, behavior and sometimes I also film myself for reference. Then I create a lot of different poses and try to find the perfect one for the character and show them to the character artist for feedback.

Once we are in the animation stage, I grab the references and start animating the character with a blocking pass, keeping the animation at just the main keys to see if the overall motion is solid and works the way we want. Then I start breaking down the animation with a couple of passes. When we are in a good stage, I start the refining phase, working on the root motion first until we have a good feeling. I move into the spine and then the limbs. After some tweaks, I finish with the facial animation (if applicable) and all the extra layers like clothes, tails, accessories. Now that we have our character animated, I finish my part with the import/export process into Toolbag.

What’s your advice for staying motivated when working on a personal piece?

If you’re struggling to finish a piece, my advice would first be to let it rest. Sometimes, we really pressure and force ourselves to continue working on a piece because we think that if we can’t make it work, it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. Even for someone with this mentality, it might seem like the wrong thing to do (although it’s actually the obvious step to take). It’s better to let it rest for a while and return to it with fresh eyes.

My second advice would be that, if stuck, try to concentrate on a single element at a time. If it’s a character with lots of components, try to focus on a single element, even if it’s simple. In fact it’s better if it’s simple: a leather bag, a gauntlet, even the handle of a sword. Focus on that, leave the rest, investigate it and try to represent it the best way you can. Don’t see being stuck as a problem, but as an opportunity to focus on other elements and learn in detail how they work.


Check out more of Natalia’s work on Artstation and learn how Toolbag 3 can help you create stories for your characters.

Free Update: Toolbag 3.04

We’re thrilled to announce the release of Marmoset Toolbag 3.04, a free update for all Toolbag 3 users. 3.04 brings a number of exciting new features and enhancements to both Toolbag and Viewer. New baker outputs and workflow improvements, animation support for Viewer, and improved shadows headline the release.

Download the installer from the Toolbag 3 product page, or by launching Toolbag 3 and clicking on the auto-update prompt. See the full change log on the Toolbag History section.

Baker Updates

Interface and Workflow Improvements

New Baker Interface

The baker UI has been updated with a focus on functionality. We’ve added a map configurator to customize which maps types are active. You can define the default maps (and their settings), as well as save and load presets for different projects. We’ve also added a master tangent space setting, a custom pixel padding size option and user definable map suffixes.

New Map Outputs



Toolbag 3.04 bakes all the maps, so you can do all the things! Here’s a list of the new map types:

  • Thickness
  • Concavity
  • Convexity
  • Bent Normals
  • Bent Normals (Object)
  • Complete Lighting
  • Diffuse Lighting
  • Specular Lighting
  • Albedo (Metalness)
  • Metalness
  • Roughness
  • UV ID
  • Group ID
  • Object ID
  • Wireframe
  • Alpha
  • Emissive
  • Transparency

Texture Set Support

Texture Set Support

Featured art by Charles Metze III.

Multiple texture/material sets are now supported. You can easily bake assets with more than one UV layout in a single Baker object. For instance, a character with a texture set for the body and clothes or a gun with additional sets for the attachments.

Texture sets work by reading the materials assigned to the low poly mesh(es). For each unique material, a new set of images will be baked. Resolution can be controlled per set as well.

Image Quality Improvements

A dithering option has been added for the Ambient Occlusion output, which reduces banding by a considerable amount. AO bakes look better with fewer rays now, which means faster bakes with similar or better quality in most cases when dithering is enabled.


Curvature maps have been updated with a new Normalize setting (which is enabled by default). The Normalize setting maximizes the value range, which makes curvature maps work better with applications such as Substance Painter.

Bake Normal Mapped Material from High to Low
Normal map detail from the high poly material now transfers to the baked normal map output. This can be useful if you’ve added additional high frequency detail to your high poly material or if you’re baking from one low poly mesh to another.


Shiny New Viewer Features


Viewer has received a facelift, sporting a host of new features. Headlining the additions is animation support. Now you can bring your artwork to life with the magic of motion. We’ve also added support for refractive materials, shadowed fog, and the shadow catcher object. Rounding out the update are reduced file sizes, high DPI support, and a high-resolution thumbnail option.

Stand Alone Viewer Application

Viewer Stand Alone Application

Featured art by Baj Singh.

In addition to the new features, we’ve developed an application for viewing .mview files. Now reviewing local content is much easier for you and your client. Simply double click an .mview file to launch the stand alone viewer. The new Viewer app is included with the Toolbag 3.04 installer, and can be downloaded independently as well and works on Mac and Windows.


Improved Shadows

Volumetric Fog

Add atmosphere to your scene with our updated fog effect. Direct lights now cast shadows through fog, creating a volumetric effect that adds depth and realism to your renders.

Cascaded Shadow Maps


Directional lights now have the option to use Cascaded Shadow Maps, which prioritize shadow detail for areas near to the camera. CSM is especially useful for environments and larger scenes.

Ludicrous Shadow Resolution

Ludicrous Shadow Resolution

If you’re looking for less pixelation, a new extra-high resolution shadow option can be found in the render settings. This setting can reduce performance significantly, so it’s best used in relatively simple scenes or by those who have high-end GPUs.

Better Shadow Quality

Reduced Shadow Acne

Shadow acne artifacts have been significantly reduced, and shadow coverage is improved as well.


Optimized Animations

Featured art by Peter Vechkasov.

Along with animation support in Viewer, we’ve improved and optimized the animation system. Animated meshes are now stored directly in the .tbscene file and animation performance is significantly improved in some cases. We’ve added support for the 2018 version of the FBX format as well, which means better compatibility with the latest 3D apps.


Speedy Viewport Mode

Featured art by Juan Manuel Cervilla and Natalia P. Gutiérrez.

We’ve added a new mode to the viewport which temporarily disables advanced rendering features to make navigating in Toolbag easier. Say goodbye to juggling render settings while you work, simply click the rocket ship icon to blast your frame rate to the moon! Speedy mode doesn’t affect the render settings for captured images, which means you can enable it for maximum responsiveness while rendering out high quality images with GPU hungry effects like Global Illumination, Local Reflections and Depth Of Field.


Image Quality Improvements

Smooth Depth of Field Transitions


We’ve updated the DOF effect. Now the transition from in to out of focus is smooth. The DOF shown in the viewport matches the rendered DOF much more accurately now as well, which means no more trial and error to get your DOF looking right. The new DOF can look slightly different in existing scenes, so you may need to adjust your settings.

Beautiful Bloom

Featured art by Jose Lázaro.

The bloom effect has gotten some love as well. We’ve improved the quality greatly when using size values over 0.05.


Try Today

Artwork by Blair Armitage

Featured art by Blair Armitage.

Give the latest and greatest version of Toolbag a spin by downloading the free 30-day trial. If you’ve previously had a trial but it ran out, good news! We’ve reset all trials, so download the installer and give it a go.

Toolbag Artist Highlight | Ep. 181

Enjoy a new set of real-time artwork rendered in Toolbag.

  1. Georgian Avasilcutei crafted a sublime render of his character, Vi.
  2. Jaco Herbst forged a fantastic football girl.
  3. Vlad Costin created a creepy post apocalyptic style rat for Warhammer Total War.
  4. Victor-Emmanuel Pancrazi developed a stylized character based on a concept by Max Kostenko.

Thanks for checking out the latest featured artwork rendered in Toolbag. Stay tuned for more next week.

Environment Design with Toolbag

Anthony Trujillo was kind to give a breakdown of his award-winning stylized environment. Great look at the sculpting, texturing and the beautiful lighting setup.

Introduction

Hello! My name is Anthony Trujillo and I am a 3D environment artist from Los Angeles, CA. I graduated from the Art Institute in Santa Monica in 2009. My passion for 3D art began in college and I have loved creating props and worlds ever since. One of my first jobs was at WayForward Technologies and I helped work on DuckTales: Remastered, which was awesome, as the original was very special to me. I’m currently at WhiteMoon Dreams where we just released StarBlood Arena on PSVR.

Pre-production


My main goal with the ArtStation Civilizations: Lost and Found challenge was to actually finish. I didn’t want be overly ambitious and not finish on time, so I focused on finding a relatively small scene that I knew I could finish with the polish that it needed. I decided on this awesome concept by Lena Doronina.

Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm were my main inspirations going into this challenge. I would always be referencing the Blizzard style throughout the process.

Blockout


For my blockouts, I like to get my models in engine as soon as possible so I can start setting up basic lighting and find some nice camera angles. This helps me visualize the scene better and I can start adjusting scale and proportions. As you can see, my initial scale of my scene was off. The shrine prop was too small on the platform.

Modeling and Sculpting


My main goal with modeling was to keep everything chunky and to try to avoid any straight lines. This meant tapering everything I could. I do a lot of the modeling in 3ds Max. Once the models are ready to Zbrush, I use the “double turbosmooth” method or Sub-D it to get a really clean, smooth model to sculpt on. Once in ZBrush, I apply an inflate 1 to the whole model, then a polish from the Deformation tab. I learned this from Michael “Orb” Vicente’s talk at a ZBrush summit–it helps smooth any sharp edges and keeps things chunky. From there, I use Trim Dynamic, Orb_Cracks, a slash brush, and clay tubes to add detail.

For the floor and the front plate, where it has an intricate flower pattern, I use another one of Orb’s techniques found here. I created the 2D design in Photoshop and convert it into an alpha to use in ZBrush. This method usually works really well.

The biggest challenge for me was trying to keep everything chunky and to really push the silhouettes.

Grass


The grass is fairly simple. I am not using any normal map for it. I start by painting two grass clumps in black and white, then add a gradient map adjustment layer to get my colors. In the alpha, I have the grass fade to transparent as it meets the floor to make the transition not so harsh.

Texturing


My texturing method for stylized work is very heavily influenced by Fanny Vergne‘s technique, which I first saw a couple of years ago in Vertex Magazine. I rely on my bake maps to get a really good base that I can then take into 3d coat and polish off. I use Knald or Marmoset 3 as my choice in Baker, and bake a Object space normal, Curvature, and AO. Sometimes I use a Heightmap depending on how much depth my sculpt has. Here is an example of my workflow. A lot of it comes down to playing with blending modes and opacity per asset.

Marmoset Toolbag

I have been a really big fan of Toolbag since it first came out; I love how user-friendly it is. When I saw Toolbag 3 had added Fog and Global Illumination, I wanted to use this challenge to test them out. One of my favorite features of Toolbag is being able to load in PSDs that auto update when I make changes. This makes for really quick experimenting and iterations.

For the lighting, I picked a random sky and set it to a really low brightness, just so everything wasn’t pitch black. I started adding spot and fill lights. I knew I wanted to have the god rays coming through the ceiling, but when I started the project I wasn’t sure how I would achieve them in Toolbag. My first thought was to have planes with alpha to fake the god rays. But after adding fog to the scene, I found it kind of just turned my spot lights into god rays, as well as adding some great atmosphere. This worked great for the camera angles I was using. The only problem I had with this method was when all the lights started overlapping in certain views. The result was an extremely blown-out light source. Another problem I had was that you could see the rays were cone-shaped. I solved this by duplicating the spotlights and staggering them further upward from the beam to force it to stay thicker.

Overall, I am really happy with this project. I wanted to create a beautiful scene with great shapes while keeping it simple. I tried to remember to always be checking my silhouettes, not overdoing the textures, and keep everything chunky.

Thanks!

Anthony Trujillo, 3d Environment Artist at WhiteMoon Dreams.

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev for 80.lv.

Toolbag Artist Highlight | Ep. 180

Check out a new collection of 3D renders in this week’s Highlight!

  1. Andrew Ariza created a powerful render of a character, Mwezi.
  2. Andy Nelson constructed a stellar Pentax K1000.
  3. Daniel Thiger‘s material exploration continues with a super slimy parasitic growth infection.
  4. Karina Bastos crafted a fan art piece of Brigitte Lindholm from Overwatch.

Thanks for checking out the latest featured artwork rendered in Toolbag. Stay tuned for more next week.