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3D Artist Thomas Butters from Facepunch Studios

After having a short break, we are back with our series of interviews with 3d Games Artists from around the globe. This time we had a chat with Tom, about inspiration, workflow and much more.

Who or what inspired you to get into 3D art?

I think, in retrospect, the stories in games that I engaged with growing up like Final Fantasy 7 and others like it inspired me the most. I didn’t really know what area of video game development I wanted to be in to begin with, but stories felt important to me and I sort of fell into the 3D art side of game dev. Nevertheless, making 3d assets is a big part of storytelling in games. I found I was able to express myself and my love for story through 3D art. What solidified this was playing games like Uncharted; the attention to detail – the relatability and familiarity in the scenery really blew me away. Couldn’t imagine doing anything else. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I primarily work on the game Rust for PC. A survival game that has a lot of handmade, impromptu styled art. Currently the stuff i’m working on is a bit hush-hush for the sake of the community we have (we like making surprises!) but in my spare time i’m making some old ‘forgotten’ weapons that really intrigue me like the Early MPL Walther 9mm Machine Gun. I’m also planning to, hopefully, create a tutorial series on post-apocalyptic weapons, as I get asked about techniques concerning that frequently. 

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

Haha, this is quite difficult. But I think the best part of my job is the team I’m part of. I’m enabled to work on stuff that I enjoy (which just so happens to be post-apocalyptic art!) and we help each other out – always trying to do our best. The worst parts? Often I have to work late and occasionally weekends, which I guess is quite normal in the games industry but the harshness of this (especially with a family) is softened by the fact that I love what I do. Yeah, so it’s difficult to pinpoint something singular and say, “i wish i didn’t have to do that” because I enjoy what I’m doing.

How your typical workflow looks like and which tools and software do you prefer to use?

My workflow typically depends on what the asset is and thus the software I use is dependent on this factor. I’ve been using 3ds max for my modelling for the past 7 or so years but have recently in the last year transitioned to using Blender and the available addons like Hardops and Boxcutter, which are absolutely amazing. For a typical piece of artwork for Rust (that is worn down, broken and haphazardly held together) my workflow and software usage looks like the following: Blockout/base/high res mesh in Blender -> if needed I will simulate tape and cloth wraps in Marvelous Designer to get the realistic folds (it’s fast and results are typically better than sculpting tape and wraps in zbrush) but this could also be done in Blender now -> I’ll create further details in Zbrush if particular parts are especially worn down metal or if it’s something like wood that would need details sculpting. Then after all the high resolution details are created, i’ll create the low poly mesh from the high poly in either Blender or in Topogun.

Then it’s time to unwrap the low poly mesh to get it ready for baking down all those details. I uv unwrap in blender and then i’ll export the newly uv unwrapped low poly model (remembering to triangulate my mesh beforehand, which is crucial to do as game engines will automatically triangulate the mesh which could result in dodgy shading if not done before the bake). I use Marmoset Toolbag to bake all my textures. I’ve been using the new version (Toolbag 4) and it is lightning fast at baking a bunch of different textures at 4k resolution which is needed for the texturing process.


I author all my textures through Substance Painter, using those baked textures as inputs for a base to work from. After this it’s into Unity and I set up the asset so it’s ready for implementation. 

What key piece of advice would you offer to a 3D artist aspiring to work in the games industry?

Okay, i have some somewhat controversial advice here that i think is important but firstly; make what you love. If you like making guns, make them and keep making them. If you like making characters do the same. If there’s any niche aspects to any category of 3d art you like, go for it. Go all in and make what you love and that which inspires you.That and join an art community like Polycount or Artstation; get feedback and take it in and learn from it and others.

Now for the controversial part. Don’t rely on your grades to get you the job you’re after. Rely on the quality of your artwork. This is my key piece of advice for students aspiring to work in the games industry. The reason being is two-fold. I achieved a 1st at university but I couldn’t get a job for over a year after graduating. I applied everywhere. Literally all around the world for positions and I was rejected. And it was because the quality of my work, despite what my grades may have said just wasn’t good enough. This follows onto my second point. I remember speaking to a fellow artist in the 3rd and final year at uni and we were discussing progress of our own art – she explained to me that she felt she wasn’t at the same level  because the tutors hadn’t taught her the things and techniques I was using… And my point is that you can’t rely on others to make your art better. You got to put the effort in. You have to put the grind in each day and work at it. Develop your art outside of university, collaborate with others on a joint project and make something. Make what you love and persist in practice. 

Oh, and there’s often a paradox in the games industry when just starting out and that is the junior art position paradox, whereby the position is pretty low down in the company but they require something strange like 3 years of experience. You’re not going to have that straight out of uni. Grades don’t reflect that experience but your artwork will and what you have made with others. I seemingly caught my break after I collaborated on a Kickstarter project called Kung Fu Superstar as a character artist. I worked for free but the rest is history. 

What’s your favourite game and why?

Now that’s probably the hardest question here haha. Recently though, probably Death Stranding because it’s so chill and yet the story, whilst being incredibly difficult to describe to my uninterested wife, is really engaging. And the environment artwork is incredible to look at! 

Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?

I really enjoy photography, so i try to do that when i can. That and spending time with my wife and kids. 

I would like to thank Thomas as well Facepunch Studios for this great interview. Don’t forget to check FacePunch’s site as well Tom’s Artstation for more hard surface goodness:

https://www.artstation.com/art_of_pilgrim

https://facepunch.com/

Games Art Tutor for the MA at Escape Studios. I have been teaching new creative talent for the past 10+ years, working worldwide at places including Alpha Channel and the University of Hertfordshire. I've also wrote numerous published books about Unreal Engine including; UDK Basics, Level Design and Documentation and UDK Games scenarios integration as well creating game assets for the next generation consoles such as the racing game ‘Pacer’.

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