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Sci-Fi Rifle in Maya & Substance Painter

Lennard Claussen shared his workflow, useful plug-ins and settings setups for creating futuristic-looking weapons. The modeling part was made in Maya, rendering using V-Ray.

Lennard Claussen shared his workflow, useful plug-ins and settings setups for creating futuristic-looking weapons. The modeling part was made in Maya, rendering – in V-Ray.


Hi, my name is Lennard, I’m a 22-year-old 3D artist from Germany. I’ve been working in this field for about three years both fulltime and on a freelance basis.

Art has always somehow surrounded me. My mum and her boyfriend are quite into decor and restoration and my dad is pretty good at landscape painting. I also remember myself drawing every day back in my childhood as I’ve always wanted to create new things.

I studied Game Art & 3D Animation at the SAE Institute in Hamburg, Germany and I was lucky to find a job right after graduation.

I think my love for sci-fi also comes from my childhood. My dad had the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS. Every time I came over we spent time watching movies. In my opinion, sci-fi provides a lot of freedom in terms of imagination, since it’s all about the future where no one has ever been or knows what it looks like.

Sci-Fi Rifle

I wouldn’t say that I’m a designer. Most of the stuff I do at the moment is mashups of existing 3D models, kitbash models and various concepts. I’m still trying to develop my sense of design and find the right style for myself. My main inspiration comes from the Maschinen Krieger universe and the Wolfenstein franchise. I love the mix of big chunky pieces with small details. My mind needs complicated and intersecting shapes. I really like it when the shapes look a bit strange and super heavy, overlapped with plenty of bits and pieces.  Matthias Develtere and Tor Frick are my main inspiration for that. Their sense of shape language, color, and style is pure awesomeness.

Modeling Workflow

First of all, I open PureRef and gather references, concepts, etc. I create areas of different image aspects so I have a clear image in my mind. I open Maya along with all of my other tools and then I’m ready to go.

My modeling workflow is all about speed and shading. I don’t care about topology and clean geometry since I’m only creating images for my portfolio. Creating clean subdiv geometry takes a very long time and, anyway, will not make a noticeable difference in rendered images.

I also use a lot of scripts, plugins, and macros. Some of them were created by other artists, but most of them by a good friend of mine. He’s quite into scripting. For example, my marking menus and shelves are customized. I removed every tool I didn’t use and replaced it with a script or macro. For the simple actions like snapping the pivot to certain places, snapping in different steps, optimizing caps and weighting normals, I use hotkeys.

I start blocking out primary shapes to get a feel of proportions and silhouette. Once I’m happy with the look, I start to bool the shapes together either with Hard Mesh or one of my boolean tools. I do the same thing with the secondary and tertiary shapes. Hard Mesh and the other boolean tools I use are nondestructive, so I can change everything later on.

I also frequently use selection sets to save component selections for changing the bevels. For cables and pipes, I use a plugin called Wire.

The final modeling step is to create rivets, screws and other details. For placing them, I use a script which constrains my details to the target surface. If I need a lot of rivets, I can press duplicate and the rivets will be copied around the surface. Since the meshes are constrained, the connection will still work after cleaning the history.

My UVs are usually quite cluttered. I create automatic mappings for everything except for cables and pipes. Since I’m using tri planar projection for my textures, UV cuts don’t matter. To get a good texture resolution I create 10-20 UDIMs, depending on how big the asset is. If I need better mappings for certain things, I use a script which automatically creates a mapping, cuts the edges and gets everything unfolded.

At the end I make sure everything is frozen, the normals are correct and the history is deleted.

When I create something, I do care about the functionality to a certain degree. But for me personally, the shape language and proportions are more important. If something looks sophisticated, it will work for the eye most of the time. Most of the weapons in games and movies are not realistic at all. I always make sure that the main shapes are as big as possible, then I like to cover those shapes with multiple layers of details and create interesting transitions between the main shapes and the smaller parts. I think in terms of finding the right balance, little things are always more important. If there is too much information, the eye is quickly overwhelmed. Bigger areas with fewer details make the overall shape more readable and give the eye some time to analyze everything. Smaller areas with more detail attract attention and make the asset look interesting.

Texturing Workflow

I often use Modo as a starting point, since its material stack is extremely similar to the Photoshop layer stack. It’s super fast and easy for creating different iterations of a material.

Once I’m happy with the look I bake the masks out, so I can use them in Substance Painter. My material stack in Substance Painter is pretty simple:

  • a folder for the base material
  • a folder for edge wear and scratches
  • a folder for damages
  • a folder for surface and occlusion rust
  • a folder for surface and occlusion dirt
  • a folder for really dark occlusion and occlusion dust

On top of everything, there’s a thin layer of surface dust. These layers most of the time work out of the box, so I only have to slightly adjust roughness depending on the look I want to achieve. In some cases, I have to remove dirt in occlusion areas as I use pretty high occlusion settings for my generators.

The most important thing is definitely the color palette. If you use too many colors, the asset will look too sugary. I also don’t use more than three main colors and a always try to use complementary ones or at least find a good combination. Adobe Сolor is good to find a perfect one.

Another important point to consider is that every mask needs to use tri planar projection since the UVs are quite bad. A few generators like rust fx can’t use tri planar projection, so I have to manually remove the seams with a brush or use Photoshop’s patch tool in the final rendering. For details like rust leaking, oil and decals I use Substance Painter’s projection tool.

The final step is to export the textures. I use the Vray export preset with a resolution of 4k for every texture set. The preset also works well in Iray for Maya.


My render setup is pretty simple. The shader only uses simple texture inputs. I use a dome light with HDRI lighting and a background with a slight gradient.

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I always set the camera viewpoint to 15, the white point to 6000 and at the end, I like to play with exposure.

I create render passes for shadows and reflection and use Photoshop to tweak saturation, contrast, color balance, shadows, and highlights. That’s basically it.

Useful Tips

I’ve usually got two tips for making the life of an aspiring artist a bit easier or at least helping with a daily struggle.

There is the saying in basketball “always end quarters in a positive way”. It means, if a team is a lot of points behind and the motivation is low, it’s important to produce good plays before the quarter ends. The team will gain more self-awareness in the break and start the next quarter in a more efficient and confident manner. In terms of art, it’s better to stop on a high point of motivation, than on a low point. The next day you will be more motivated to work on your project again.

Another thing which works for me is “control what you can control and don’t lose sleep over the things that are not within your power”. It doesn’t help if you constantly think about how can you be a super good artist, earn a lot of money, get your dream job, get thousands of followers or whatever. Invest time in education, learn everything you can and slowly build up your skills. Once you got a high-income skill and there is a need for your skill on the market, business opportunities will find you.

Lennard Claussen, Hard Surface Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 7

  • Eastman

    I hope Hard Mesh is worth it. The licensing process is by far the worst I have come across in well over a decade (and I've purchased some obscure Russian software packages in my time). Website says the license will be delivered in a few hours, but no it won't, you first have install Hard Mesh and open Maya first, then open a .ma file and copy the MAC address, but no not that MAC address, the other one, then mail it to the developers and wait for it to be hand processed. It's a terrible way to do things, and I just hope the plugin itself is not such a horrid mess :D



    ·5 years ago·
  • Antoine

    Man thanks a lot for sharing your workflow tips and tricks !
    From an other aspiring 3d weapon artist.



    ·5 years ago·
  • Claussen Lennard

    About 12 days a 8 hours maybe :)


    Claussen Lennard

    ·5 years ago·
  • Claussen Lennard

    Unfortunately, the script isn't published, but there’s something coming up at the end of the year. :)


    Claussen Lennard

    ·5 years ago·
  • Nuno Filipe Moura

    can you name the unwrap uv script pls?


    Nuno Filipe Moura

    ·5 years ago·
  • Claussen Lennard

    Hard Mesh: http://www.hard-mesh.com
    Wire: https://apps.autodesk.com/MAYA/en/Detail/Index?id=1022738209492453537&appLang=en&os=Win64
    Material Manager: https://gumroad.com/l/MaterialManager

    Unfortunately, the rest is personal stuff, but there's something coming up at the end of the year. :)


    Claussen Lennard

    ·5 years ago·
  • Denys Temirgalin

    How long did it take you to make this work?


    Denys Temirgalin

    ·5 years ago·

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