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How to Build A Mech for Games?

We’ve talked with Tim Bergholz about the techniques he uses in the Epic Mech Tutorial. He also shared a free Toolbag Tutorial on how to make pretty renders.



Hey 80 levelers, I’m Tim, Senior 3D Artist and creator of the ChamferZone tutorials!  I started my 3D Artist career at Crytek, moved to Canada after Crysis 2 shipped and worked at Ubisoft Toronto for five years. Since October 2016 I am proudly working as Weapon Artist on Digital Extreme’s latest game. Being a 3D Artist is not only what I do for a living but also my passion outside of work hours. In my spare time I create comprehensive game art tutorials in which I explain my everyday workflow.

Thank you 80 level for giving me the chance to talk a bit about the philosophy behind ChamferZone tutorials as well as showing you the core pillars of my latest 15 hour strong course: The Ultimate Mech Tutorial!

What is the ChamferZone

The idea of making tutorials was born in 2015, during the work on the recently announced ‘Starlink’ from Ubisoft. Working on a brand new IP from the start usually also means that your portfolio won’t be updated in awhile. Creating tutorials enable me to contribute to my portfolio with fresh content but also teach people that are new to the world of 3D modeling and texturing.

Aside from the tutorials I also sell (3D) weapons under the ChamferZone label which got picked up and are being used by games such as ‘Player Unknowns Battlegrounds’ and many others.

  The golden rule for all tutorials is: No fast forwarding or skipping anything. Every step explained and commented on. I also avoid using too many third party plugins. Keeping it “vanilla” ensures that everyone can follow with the default software and no showstoppers on the way.

The free to watch Ultimate Grenade tutorial was a test for that and the feedback was overwhelming. 300K views on YouTube to date and plenty of other places where it’s being shared or watched are strong motivation to carry on with more tutorials. My favorite section on the ChamferZone homepage are the results where you can see the successes of people from all over the world with the tutorials.

3D modeling and texturing is a very satisfying job but can also be a complex subject.
Like in every craft, one little screw up throughout the process can compromise the end result greatly. That’s why it’s important to adapt a streamlined workflow that guarantees the best outcome. There are a lot of ways to achieve that and different artists will have different approaches and methods to get there. In my comprehensive video tutorials as well as in this article, I’ll show you how I approach my everyday work with the tools and methods that enable me to be fast and efficient.

3Ds MAX 2017 – Modeling & Unwrapping

A lot of the work within the Ultimate Mech Tutorial happens in 3Ds Max. The 2015 version was the first one to introduce the chamfer modifier which, in combination with Smooth Groups and Turbosmooth, enables us to create high poly models in record time. Let’s take a look at some of the important stations throughout the 3Ds Max process of the tutorial.


The mech has a couple of identical pieces such as the feet and its legs. The best way to approach them is to create one element and copy it as an instance. The convenience is that once we put them in place and want to further change them, those changes will automatically be reflected to our other instances. That saves us plenty of work and allows to concentrate the work into one piece only. The same applies to the unwrapping part later on, one unwrapped foot will take care of all six of them (left and right side).

Smoothing group placement

The right placement of smoothing groups is essential for our chamfer modifier to work as intended. By doing so we define which bordering sections get support edges around them. Those edges in combination with the chamfer modifier are what make our later high poly model. Each color here indicates a separate smoothing group.

Adding the chamfer modifier

Time to apply the chamfer modifier which is part of 3Ds Max since version 2015. Make sure to put your settings to “unsmoothed edges” which will place the edge loops around the smoothing groups. The crease and tension slider gives us full control over the hardness amount of our chamfer. Don’t set it too sharp or else our normal map won’t have enough information which is essential for the best looks later in the game.

Turbosmooth – the high poly maker

Subdividing the geometry by adding TurboSmooth on top of the chamfer modifier results in our highpoly model. Thanks to both chamfer and turbosmooth being modifiers we can always toggle them and adjust the looks. That combination is the key for our non destructive high poly modeling workflow and enables us to roll back at any given time if required.

Unwrapping the low poly model

A tidy unwrap compliments all our previous work. For the ideal baking pass on a hard surface object, it is a good practice to keep the UV island borders as straight and aligned as possible. Any distorted borders may otherwise result in visible zigzagging steps on our later texture which we want to avoid at all costs. Keeping things straight also makes it easier to paint in details with one brush stroke later on.

For the perfect baking results, it is essential to apply a separate smoothing group to each UV island at the end of our unwrapping. Fortunately “TexTools” does that work for us and we don’t have to waste time doing it by hand. Hit “Smoothing Groups from UV shells” and you are done. TexTools is a free plugin for 3ds Max, compatible with all the latest versions. Don’t be worried about the weird shading on our low-poly model, the normal map will even that out and make things look as intended.

Before Substance Painter came around, 3D Artists would often “explode” the mesh out into the scene. The reason for that was that otherwise the rays, that project on our meshes during the bake, would intersect with each other. This would result in normal map intersection errors which are ugly to look at.

Nowadays we can keep everything in the same place by simply naming every element with _low and _high for our low and high poly elements. Later on in Substance Painter we bake based on “mesh name” which looks at each piece individually and bakes it as such.

SUBSTANCE PAINTER – PBR Texturing made easy!

Setting up our base materials

After baking all our textures it is now time to get started on the actual material setup. We start by laying out all our different material types that we need for our mech. The “polygon fill” tool enables us to mask these materials to only the regions where we want them to appear. Once we did that initial masking work we can try our all sorts of different looks by simply swapping the painted metal layer.

Painting with Glow

After enabling the Emissive channel under our ‘TextureSet’ Settings we are able to paint in glowing details on to our texture. All that’s left to do is switching on emissiveness on our material and we can start painting in some glowing detail. Sci-fi themed objects such as a Battle Mech are a good fit for it.

Wear and tear through masks and generators

Substance Painter comes with a lot of excellent generators and smart masks that procedurally add wear and tear to our texture. The “MG Leaks” generator can be downloaded from the Substance Share page. Let’s drag a fresh fill layer into our scene, change it to black, make it very glossy and add a black mask to it. The mask will make it disappear until we add that generator onto it. Now we can see oil leakage forming up and control the length and variety and many other parameters until we like it.

Adding metal damage and dirt

Adding metal edge wear is a must have for a war-torn battle mech. MG Metal Edge Wear comes as default with Substance Painter and does an excellent job for it. Additionall, we can drag a few smart materials in the scene such as “Dust”. This generates tiny speckles on our mech and makes it look like it’s seen some field action which is the look we want to sell.

Adding Text and symbols

Substance Painter comes with a ton of procedural alpha symbols which we can apply through the “projection” tool. More complicated shapes such as the lines seen here are best to be painted in, the tools for that make it a very easy task. In one of the most recent updates, they also rolled out the long awaited feature to add text without having to jump to Photoshop for it.

Type your text, define the right size and position and stamp away!

Adding Normal Map Details

Adding additional Normal Map information to our texture not only saves us a ton of time by not having to model it into our high poly but it also makes our texture look much more interesting.

As of the latest Substance Painter version we can now also add procedural Edge Wear around our normal map stamps as well as AO information. Not having to worry about distorted highpoly ‘floater’ bakes is a blessing and makes this one of the most exciting new features to Substance Painter.

Marmoset Toolbag 3 – Portfolio ready renders

Creating stunning looking renders is what sells your portfolio. Marmoset Toolbag 3 is my render engine of choice for this task. You can watch this part as a free video on the ChamferZone YouTube channel:

You can purchase The Ultimate Mech Tutorial for $39.

Tim Bergholz | ChamferZone, Senior Weapons Artist at Digital Extremes

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Comments 1

  • Robert Lamp

    Thank you, for such detailed article. Very useful i think.
    BTW, that article also could help someone, who interested in that niche.


    Robert Lamp

    ·5 years ago·

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