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Sci-Fi Weapon Concepting in 3D Coat

Maxim Kuharuk showed how he designed and modeled his sci-fi project Shotgun KEL TEK GSK Hakal in 3D Coat.


Hi! My name is Maxim Kuharuk, I am a freelance Concept Designer from Kyiv. I have been working in CG for more than 3 years. Like many others, when I was a kid, I was keen on science fiction, doodling robots in notebooks and playing video games, and that eventually led me to my future profession. Nowadays, I often do hard-surface design: robots, transport, weapons. 

I love my job and never miss the opportunity to learn something new! While studying at the university, I sculptured, that is why today I spend less time drawing and do more sculpting and modeling. My main sources for studying different software are Gumroad, Gnomon, and Learn Squared. I believe that the learning process is endless, and I still consider myself a student. I stay curious about everything related to design, try to analyze my finished artworks and make the next ones better.

For work, I mainly use 3D Coat nowadays. It is easy to learn, quite intuitive and allows you to do concept art without paying much attention to the technical aspects of the process.

Shotgun KEL TEK "GSK Hakal"

Shotgun Project: The Idea

In this article, I want to share the creation process of my recent Sci-Fi Shotgun KEL TEK GSK Hakal made in 3D Coat. It was made for a small personal cyberpunk project, called Night Shark. The artwork is based on the art of one of my favorite concept artists Alex Figini.

For a brief, I collected a mood board of things that inspire me. I thought of the character who carries this shotgun and imagined him living in the near future, in a densely populated place resembling a modern Asian city, where Art Nouveau architecture is interlaced with green jungles full of tropical plants, and nights glare with dazzling neon lights.

That’s how I came up with the idea of Night Shark, a cyberpunk assassin from a dark sci-fi noir city.

Having in mind the concept of my future design, I got down to sketching, drew many concepts of the main hero and thought the plan of action through. But since this article is about the shotgun, I won’t delve into the character creation any further.

The vision of the gun came to me already at the stage of character sketching. My idea was to make it predatory, powerful, and aggressive. Something that could be a modification of real Kel-Tec firearms. 

With this concept in mind, I started to develop the idea of the gun further in thumbnail sketches. In its design, I was not going to go deep into the far future. Instead, I tried to get a look close to the existing weapon prototypes.

I believe that it's very important to establish your main goal and direction - it will help you to stay focused on your core idea.

Design Process

I always start with quick sketches that help me to define the workflow. In the left part of the picture below, you can see the character with the first version of the gun. I found it interesting to make the gun feel more predatory and add a curved stock and a holographic sight. Doing thumbnails, I played with silhouettes, checked the references and opted for the final version.

Speaking of modeling, I usually start with a simple blockout. If I do it in 3D Coat, I use voxels and such tools as Sphere, Vox Hide, Pose, Cut off, Extrude. To avoid working the right proportions out from scratch, I used the silhouette as alpha and extruded the geometry with the help of the Extrude tool, paying special attention to the high polycount and clean edges. Then, I used Vox Hide to cut the handles, collimator, and other parts. This tool can hide a selected piece of geometry and turn it into a separate element which is very handy. Later, the resolution of each part was increased for additional detalization.

I always go from general to specific parts. First, I play with large volumes, then go to smaller details. That is why at this stage, I try to find a balance between big, medium and small forms as well as between zones of details and visual rest. Then, I observe the design from different angles and fix the necessary parts to fit the chosen design.

When I am happy with general proportions and large forms, I overpaint a screenshot of the model - it helps me to come up with new details and plan the workflow. At this point, the functionality is less important for me than the visual part, however, I still try to make the model believable. 

When the overpaint is ready, I enumerate the parts of the weapon to set the priorities. First, I’ll focus on the most important and complicated parts - zones of interest, then move to the next elements. This approach helps me to avoid spending too much time in one area. Later, I will do a few more overpaints to analyze the current result and fix it if necessary. 

Voxel workflow is pretty close to sculpting and during the work, I focus on the visual result. I finalize the process with sci-fi alphas to improve detalization and make some elements more interesting. By the way, while working on the model I moved from 3D Coat 4.8 to 4.9 - the alphas are greatly improved there. My model is not ideal from the technical point of view, but it's fine - I am more interested in the concept itself. 

During the process, I also pay attention to how the character will interact with the gun. Will it be ergonomic and convenient to use? Will it fit the hand?

Default 3D Coat shaders are good enough for dividing the elements and preview their looks with different materials: rubber, metal, plastic, etc. It helps to settle on the contrast of materials you want to establish, so when you get to the rendering part you already have a color scheme to follow. Still, each material can be adjusted to fit your needs.

Speaking of concept art, if you simply need to illustrate your idea, a screenshot from 3D Coat will be enough. But if you want to show something more complex and thorough, you’ll have to use a third-party renderer.

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Rendering & Post-Processing

For rendering, I use KeyShot. Textures are generated in Material Graph which allows me to avoid UV mapping. When the model was finished, I gave it to the character, chose a few good poses and got down to rendering. I did my best to make the shotgun look unique like a custom piece tailored to suit the character rather than a stock 3D model.

Speaking of the materials, I tried a few patterns on the main part and handles. For metal, plastic, rubber and other common materials, I usually use slightly modified shaders from my previous projects which saves a lot of time. If I do need a new one, I start with standard materials and textures from CGTextures.com. I don't spend that much time on the material setup - ff I work on concept art, I prefer to pay more attention to the contrast between different parts and lighting. Sometimes, I overpaint the render in Photoshop and add new textures for more variety.

I often put new models into my old scenes, because in that case, I don’t need to set up lighting from scratch and I simply adjust the settings to my needs. The overall lighting workflow is familiar to most of you. It is a typical three-point lighting setup which consists of a key, back, and rim lights. 

For this particular model, I used HDRI presets with amazing lighting found on Alex Senechal's Gumroad. This lifehack saves concept artists a lot of time - you can show off the best features of your model with less effort. 

As for post-processing, I usually do an overpaint, add sharpness in Camera Raw and do small color-correction. In the end, I almost always apply Dispersion to smooth the overall look of the render. 

This is all for today guys, hopefully, the article will be of help.

Maxim Kuharuk, Concept Designer

Upgrade Weapon Art skills with CGMA's course Weapons and Props for Games taught by Sean Ian Runnels, a Senior Prop Artist at Turtle Rock Studios.

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