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Designing for videogames

By 3dtotal staff

Web: https://develterematthias.wordpress.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 14th April 2017

Matthias Develtere talks vehicles, environments and modeling techniques



Matthias Develtere is a 3D artist currently working for MachineGames in Sweden, with credits including the acclaimed videogame prequel Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.

3dtotal: Hi Matthias, thanks for talking to us! Please introduce yourself with who you are, where you're based, and what you do:
Matthias Develtere: So, my name is Matthias Develtere. I originally come from a very small city in Belgium that nobody's heard of. From the age of 17 I was completely sure I wanted to become an artist. My first thought was to go for concept artist, but I discovered 3D and found it so much interesting to make and design on the fly – by the time I make a 2D design I can have a decent 3D model already. So the decision was quickly made. So yes, I work and live in Sweden now, and work for the amazing talented studio MachineGames. Working for such an amazing company is a dream come true.

A vehicle made and designed for Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
© ZeniMax Media and MachineGames

3dt: What's your creative background and education like?
MD: I went to a small digital entertainment and art school in Belgium, but that was the worst decision ever. They just wanted to rush out artists with as many skills as possible and that's not how it should be. It is much better to focus on one specific area, become an expert it, and learn new stuff later. Of course it's not a bad idea to try out different area's to find your fitting expertise. So I just left and focused myself for six months on nothing else but making video game art.

A vehicle made and designed for Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
© ZeniMax Media and MachineGames

3dt: What inspired you to get into 3D? What inspires you today?
MD: I was inspired by two amazing artists: Laurens Corijn and Tor Frick. Laurens Corijn was my 3D teacher and he had so much love for vehicles that I got interested in them. I became interested in Tor's work just because of the artistic look of it.

The most important thing was not copy or mimic their styles, but come up with my own unique style, and still till this day, this is what inspires me to become a better artist. Coming up with my own style and learning from the best artists in the industry.

An Allied vehicle Matthias made for his sci-fi WW2 universe

An Allied vehicle Matthias made for his sci-fi WW2 universe

3dt: What software do you use for your artwork, and why? Are there any plugins, techniques or underrated tools that you'd recommend?
MD: I use a lot of different softwares. I don't like to be pinned down to only one software package. I don't believe that a software package makes you a better artist – it's all about the artist and how much/how hard you work.

The softwares I use are MODO, 3ds Max, Quixel SUITE, Substance Painter, Photoshop, KeyShot, and more. Before I worked in the industry I only used 3ds Max as a modeling package, but at the office we are using MODO, so I am trying to fit both into my pipeline.

Matthias' first portfolio piece from back in 2013

3dt: Tell us more about your typical 3D workflow.
MD: I don't really have a specific perfect workflow, but it always starts with the same thing: searching for reference four hours and hours, just to make sure I have everything figured out, so that in the middle in the project I don't to go back or remake pieces.

Next to all of this, I am too lazy to make blockouts – not for professional nor free-time projects. Yes, this is a bad thing, but it just doesn't work for me. I see concept art as a sort of blockout, and then you have to make that design better.

To comfort myself I always start working on a really interesting area of a vehicle, a detailed part, and that way I'm pumped to keep working on it and can figure out the style I'm going for. So I start on one specific area of a vehicle and make that one as alpha as possible.

Then I can bring my design over to the team and show them my vision of the vehicle, instead of having to say, "This is just a blockout, just imagine the details being there.” After that I really do a lot in post, for example: removing floating parts, fixing color schemes, adding AO, adding texture information, etc.

A hero asset Matthias made during the production of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood and learned a lot from
© ZeniMax Media and MachineGames

3dt: Vehicle designs are a huge part of your portfolio and something you really enjoy. What makes vehicles especially interesting to you?
MD: I didn't start making vehicles because I liked them or anything, but because I was told it was the hardest thing in the hard-surface field. So I just went for it. When I told people I was working as a 3D artist, they were super enthusiastic until I told them that I was making vehicles! Then I always got the reply, "Oh, just vehicles." So that became my goal: making unique and interesting vehicles.

To me, making vehicles in this breathtaking industry is the best job in the world. I always start with the same thought in mind: This needs to be more than just a vehicle. Every flow and line has to be elegant and done with a lot of care. It might sound silly but I could be tweaking a couple of polygons for hours just to make sure they catch the light in the right way.

Every line, every surface is designed with a purpose, and nothing is done without a reason. If an artist takes a minute to check out my vehicle then I've accomplished my goal.

An Allied vehicle Matthias made for his sci-fi WW2 universe
© ZeniMax Media and MachineGames

3dt: What do you think is the key to creating a strong vehicle?
MD: Personally I see vehicles as storytellers. Just think about it: the main character fills up 20% of the screen, the rest is environment, and it doesn't matter what sort of game you play, there will always be some sort of vehicle in there. But what really comes up a lot is that most games copy the same vehicles all over the game and just give them different color textures, so it doesn't look like you're coming across the same vehicle over and over again.

But vehicles should tell stories as well, just like characters, weapons and environments do. They can be so much more than just path-blockers or pieces of cover. They should give the player an insight into what is happening in the environment. The key to this is making them unique. You want to tell a story with them.

Okay, maybe it's not always easy to find unique ideas, but a good idea is to search for vehicle dioramas. Miniature model hobbyists put a lot of work into making their pieces memorable. Anybody can go to a store and buy a vehicle assembly box, but making it stand out is something different.

The main chapter Matthias worked on during the production of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was Chapter 6
© ZeniMax Media and MachineGames

3dt: You recently worked on Wolfenstein: The Old Blood at MachineGames. Could you tell us more about that experience and what you took away from it?
MD: This was the first professional game I worked on, so it was pretty interesting. I never thought there was so much communication going on between all different departments! For example, if you want to place a box for cover, you have to talk to a scripter, an environment artist, a combat scripter, etc. Making a game is a team event. There's nothing more breathtaking than seeing things grow, from a sketch to a blockout, an architectural pass, a detail pass, a final pass. It's just amazing seeing all these different iterations coming together.

A 3D model Matthias made for this magazine! Check out issues 113 and 114 to see how he made it
© 3dtotal

A 3D model Matthias made for this magazine! Check out issues 113 and 114 to see how he made it
© 3dtotal

What are your goals and plans for the near future? Any new skills you want to learn, or new projects we should watch out for?
MD: In fact, yes, I'm going to put my vehicle work aside and start exploring other areas, like environments. I just don't want to get stuck only doing the things I am comfortable with, so it's time to move on to something completely new. But hey, every environment needs vehicles, rights?

The main chapter Matthias worked on during the production of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was Chapter 6
© ZeniMax Media and MachineGames

3dt: Finally, and most importantly: what do you like to do in your spare time?
MD: Apart from creating digital art, my interests go out to all kinds of technology. I always enjoy reading up on that – you can never learn enough and it can always be handy for later projects. Next to all this, I of course love to make personal work.

3dt: Thank you very much for speaking to 3dtotal!
MD: No problem, thanks a lot for the opportunity! I love working with you guys.

Top tip

If you want to start getting into vehicles, don't rush. Start with understanding flow and elegance. You don't even have to start with SubD models, not at all. Just make some fast studies every day, just car bodies. Aim for 2500 triangles and try to catch the characteristics from that vehicle, because that's something a lot of people miss. Start with this and you it'll get you further than working on a high-poly car for several months. Here's an example of some of my old studies from several years ago.

Here are some vehicles Matthias made back in 2013

Related links

To see more of Matthias's work check out his website
Looking for something different? Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Sculpting Characters in Clay
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