Technical Devblog 37 – 3D modeling for Floatlands

3D modeling for Floatlands


A little insight into 3D modeling for Floatlands.

We decided to go with a polygonal look. This means the models don’t use smooth shading or textures and this gives the game a specific visual style. As my main tool for creating assets I use Blender, since it’s supported by Unity. It has great tools for modeling, rigging and animation, and I am personally very familiar and experienced with it.


For most hard surface models I just model them freely with all sorts of modifiers. I optimize them later or just retopologise them when I’m satisfied with the shape. I make different material submeshes, that can later be individually changed in Unity. Then I add all sorts of chips and scratches with either boolean modifier or knife tool. I also add detail like rivets and various “damage patches”. For simpler object I just model the mesh directly.

3D modeling for Floatlands foundation lowpoly floatlands
Foundation model with planks out of order.
3D modeling for Floatlands repair kit lowpoly floatlands
Simple repair kit model

When I make organic models I usually start by sculpting them with dynamic topology. (Using a graphic tablet helps with this step.) After that I have to reduce the insane sculpt polygon count to something reasonable that the game can be manage. If I’m working on solid objects like rocks I often use decimate modifier, because it usually looks more chaotic than a manual retopology. If I’m working on more smooth organic models like animal characters I do a manual retopology, especially if I plan to rig and animate them later, because I need more control over placement of edges that I plan to deform later with a skeleton rig.

3d modeling for Floatlands rhino organic model floatlands
step 1: Dynamic topology sculpt
3d modeling for Floatlands rhino lowpoly floatlands
step 2: Manual retopology of the rhino

For character and creature rigs the first thing I do is research some anatomy. By doing that I know where I need to place the bones and joints, and how they move. I try to keep the amount of bones down, to keep it simple and optimised for the game. I then make IK (inverse kinematic) control handles that make animation easier. It feels more like controlling a marionette than just positioning individual bones on the timeline. I then bind it to a character or creature mesh and do some test animations. With that I see where the rig breaks and fix it up and add some limitations (how far the joints can bend). Then I finely weigt-paint the character’s mesh, to make the deformations of the mesh with the bone look as good as possible.

3D modeling for Floatlands rhino bones lowpoly floatlands
step 3: Testing the rig with bones and IK control handles

We make animations by posing the character on a timeline with the animation rig, defining what pose the character is in at which time. Some animations have to be able to loop (walking, running, idling…) and have to blend one into another well.

desert biome wildlife rhino taunt Floatlands
Rhino taunt animation


After I had received a concept sketch I started making quick proxy models of all moving parts. I tested how they fit and move together, then I continued the work with detailed models. I checked how the doors and landing gear open up and make sure there is minimal cliping (object going one through another).

3d modeling for Floatlands airship concept lowpoly floatlands
Airship sketch
3D modeling for Floatlands airship model floatlands
Overall oustide shape

When we set the overall outside shape, I started modeling detailed parts of the ship more or less by the proxy and concept sketch, building the ship model part by part. Programmer will later have access to the moving parts. He will handle them, so he can rotate the individual parts to open the doors, run the propelers and steer the engines.

3D modeling for Floatlands moving parts shape floatlands
Moving parts & the overall outside shape

Once I was satisfied with overall shape of all the parts, I added different materials and details that made the ship look worn, damaged and patched up again. I added rivets and the occasional patch of sheet metal as patchwork over damage.

3D modeling for Floatlands airship finished lowpoly floatlands
Finished model

After I finished the overall model, I took on the LOD models (level of detail) which will replace the detailed model when the ship is further away from the player. That way we’ll save resources and keep the game running as smooth as possible even with more objects in the scene.

3D modeling for Floatlands airship lod2 lowpoly floatlands
LOD 2 model
3D modeling for Floatlands airship lod3 lowpoly floatlands
LOD 3 model

The ship also needs collider models for all the parts. These are simplified models of the objects that we will use for Unity’s physics engine, instead of the detailed models.

3D modeling for Floatlands collider airship parts floatlands
Collider main part
3D modeling for Floatlands airship lod3 lowpoly floatlands
LOD 3 model

To anyone who strives towards making 3D content

The best way to learn 3D is by doing and trying. A good way to start is by following tutorials on whichever part you want and try doing it yourself. Luckily there are tons of tutorials available on almost every subject. Every time you get stuck, first try to solve it yourself. But always remember that there is probably someone on the internet who already encountered the same problem. Therefore you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

3D art is a skill that takes practice like all other skills. No one is good right from the start, so don’t be afraid to mess up, that is just part of the learning process. Sometimes it’s better to just throw away or scrap a piece you’re working on and start over. Just consider it a lesson on what not to do or what to avoid.

Learning everything is near impossible, that’s why large studios have very specialized roles (modeler, texturer, rigger, animator…), but these are usually masters of their field. You can learn to understand most steps without completely mastering all the nuances or try a bit of all and then specialize and master one.

“Jack of all trades, master of none is oftentimes better than master of one.”

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