WORKING WITH MODULAR SETS

Tutorial by Philip Klevestav



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INTRODUCTION

First of all, this tutorial is going through some general ideas and hints rather than go indepth on howto create a specific set of models.
I have tried to make it so general that it could be applied to pretty much any type of set of models you are working on ranging from sci-fi corridors to rock walls.

I have split up the tutorial into sections where I try to give you some ideas on what I think about and avoid when I work with modular units.
You will notice that it is almost always a question of comparing different options depending on which enginge you use, what technical limitations you got and how the set of units will be used among other things.

Do keep in mind that the examples here are extremely basic geometry and texture wise, I did this on purpose to be able to show off different ideas better.



PREPARE YOUR SET

So, first of all start with the absolute first basics: What type of set will you create?
Gather references/concepts or just start experimenting right away in 3D. I tend to do the later one quite often even if I have a pretty strong initial idea in my head first.

There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to usability of modular sets.
However, the one thing that you can almost be certain of is that you will need/want to extend your set after you made the planned out units, and you thought you would be done.
This is why it is very important that you can easily add more units in the same set without having to start all over with those but rather use segments of the finished ones to create all new units.

If we go right to my super ultra basic example here which happens to be a sci-fi wall panel.


I built a very simple highpoly of that part. There's actually nothing added to it, just smooth edges.
I tend to start unwrapping stuff almost a I build them, this is why I also like to add just the absolutely most basic texture details, such as smooth edges and base colors early on.


These are the two shapes I will base the whole set on. It's always important to build on the grid when working with modular units. It's really only the edge parts that need to be on grid, where units connect with each other.
However if you later on discover later on you may need to add units that connect to parts you did not plan for, it's always best if you try and keep most of your stuff on power of 2 grid sizes.

The red shape here is 32x128 units and the yellow 64x128 units large. With these two I can rotate, flip and cut them into several different units.


TEXTURING

As I mentioned earlier I like working on the texture simultaneously as I build the actual geometry. I try and have a similar structure on every texture I create. This is of course highly individual and many may not find this a very good workflow.
But having a setup where I can try various base colors quick is very essential for me. If I wanted to I could just change the white base to yellow and my whole set will be updated instantly.

What I've also found out when working a lot with modular sets is it's hardly ever worth spending a billion hours on a highpoly, but rather work with that in a modular way as well. Meaning I create a first base with just smooth edges/very basic parts, like I showed earlier.
I then add other details in segments as I see I'll need them. Not everything needs to be baked out from a highpoly either. Simple things like square, diagonal and cylindrical shapes can most likely be handmade in photoshop saving you huge amounts of time. This is always a balancing act, sometimes a part is easier to just model in highpoly.








PUT YOUR SET TOGETHER

Here I have created five different units from the two base shapes from the beginning. This set is all symetrical, which is usually not that interesting. However, this alows me to rotate the unit 180 degrees to break tiling. This set is very clean so there is not much noticible tiling anyway.


BREAK UP THE REPETITION

If you are lucky the engine you work with has support for vertex coloring your meshes as well. Vertex colors can be a huge help to save both texture memory and break up repetition.
It is also a great way to quickly try out new shapes ingame where you just boxmap a tiling texture and paint some ambient occlision using vertex colors.


Here vertex colors are applied on a variation of the set I put together.


If you know your set is going to be heavily used throughout a level you may want to add a few addon units that can help spice up your whole set alot. Even simple generic sets can benefit a lot from these kind of addons.
In a set like the example on here you can imagine having a set of various ventilation covers, computers/keyboards of various types or even ripped off panels showing cabeling and other "tech" underneath.
If you have this in mind even from the beginning you can make sure there is some texture space left for such stuff.

Same goes with decals, such as the letters and numbers here. Of course these are also suited very well for dirt and wear. Some engines have really good support for various decals and it may be a very good idea to have a few generic decals you can use over many different sets.


I threw these units in Unreal as well. Throughout working with a set it's very essential to get your stuff ingame as soon as you can. Even just basic shapes should go in.
Try and get some lighting in early on as well, or even better if they are for a level already in development, check your stuff out in that correct environment right from the start.




These are some more examples where I have used various ideas and techniques brought up in this tutorial














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