Imagineer from old school looking for advice/help on Diorama workflow!

(Thor Art) #1

SO first of all, HELLO!! My name is Tom Thordarson…I have worked in the Themed Entertainment Industry for…well…embarrassed to say…35 yrs. Graduated and taught at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design…but before I was graduated, was working as a concept designer and illustrator/sculptor/art Director. If you Google : “Tribute to Tom Thordarson Disney”, or just my name, "Tom Thordarson and add either Disney or the word “Tiki”, you will see a lot of my work. Best known for my creating "Journey to the Center of the Earth Ride " for Disney Seas…and "WaterWorld Stunt Show " for Universal Studios Hollywood… from white sketches paper to production models.
SO as a long time sculptor, mostly for characters and props to use as Art Direction tools, I finally decided 2 years ago to teach myself “Z-Brush”. I crunched every youtube tutorial I could find…and took a class . I have become pretty good at it …for my needs!! HOWEVER…never learned any other 3D programs…maybe a little Sketch -up…but thats it.
Lately, I came across “sketchFab” and LOVED all the 3D Dioramas!!! I have designed many rides for Disney and Universal over the years…and had I had a tool to create these sorts of rotatable, painted, lit and textured “scenes”…my life would have been 1000 times easier!! lol .
I need help. I have no idea what the process/workflow is to create these dioramas I see here. I can sculpt just about anything in z-Brush…save .Obj’s or .STL’s or whatever…but can someone help me with where to find tutorials on the workflow I need to take to produce a simple diorama in 3D like these on SketchFab? Do I need to learn another additional program or two??? If so…so I don’t waste time…which? Are there ones more “time and user friendly” than stuff I would take a year to become proficient at?
Anyway…looking for your generous help!! Funny if I run across any former students of mine on here from the late 90’s/early 2000’s! Oh…I draw really well too…the old school ways!! But now can’t get over how awesome photoshop is for painting and concept drawings!
Best to yah all!!! Looking to hear soon!! ~~Tom Thordarson . (my fun painting work for the Tiki crowd)

(Shaderbytes) #2

wecome to sketchfab. While sketchfab can handle models with heavy poly counts and some artist do just dump un optimized sculpts here … it is not ideal as this is a real time renderer after all. Firstly it takes long to load and secondly on lighter Computers / older phones it is unusable.

So the next step is to look into retopology. ZBrush ( and other software ) have tools to do this automatically. The automated version is way better than unoptimized but for really good artists it is still lacking and requires further manual clean up and editing , especially if the model is to be articulated in some manner. Then edge flow of topology matters.

Anyway just get started with learning about the automated workflow of retopology so you know your models load faster and perform better on more devices. As mentioned there are several programs that can do this automation, here is a page comparing zbrush and 3dcoat automation of retopology :

Next to learn is baking high to low details, normal maps , AO etc. retopology will not preserve very fine sculpted detail. So then you bake these finer details onto maps that the low poly model uses. These should always only be for fine surface type detailing , not larger surface changes , those types of changes should be represented by geometry.

ps. your tiki art reminds me of the game epic mickey , it had a tortuga stage in it , similar style. well not exactly the same obviously but something seems familiar:

You have some great talent , I checked out you site , this is my favourite :slight_smile:

(Thor Art) #3

Thanks!! I am do a lot of models for 3D print. Generally, the only thing I need to do , and it works pretty flawlessly so far for clients, is to take the poly count down to about 350K or so, from a merged well dynameshed model. I use the “Decimation” plug in for that. I just have not used my models for composing into 3D use other than STL’s for printing or some exporting of .obj’s that get stuck into 3D models that architects are generating.

So…will watch the link you sent on the re-topology outside of Dynamesh. Where I fall short is knowing then about taking …say three objects…let’s say in a scene. I sculpt a dog, a doghouse and a wooden planked board. I want the dog sitting in the house, and all that on the wooden plank. It’s a simple “scene”. I could do all that in z-Brush…BUT other than z-Brush painting , I want to be able to lay say a detailed woodgrain on that wooden plank…(plank being simple and low on textures…but appears very detailed due to the texture map I overlay on that sculpt model). Same with the dog… Then I want to have control over things like maybe placing 2-3 light sources on this scene…maybe an ambient “cool moonlight” on the entire scene…with a warm glow of light coming from the doghouse. lol .
So all that would have a logical workflow to get to the result I want. Where do I find SOME tutorials on that? If I can understand even where to learn the process, it will greatly help me in pitching ideas for scenes in rides or other things I do in my art and work.
Glad you like the Tiki Art!! All that is my older non digital…acryic on canvas… lol .

(Shaderbytes) #4

yeah for real time rendering yuo need to read up and learn about normal maps and ao maps roughness/specular maps , metal maps etc… in a nut shell these are all textures. Most are created by baking such details from a high poly mesh(sculpt for example) to a low poly mesh.

Funny you mention a dog , I did one just the other day , its a toy on a real world pinball table :

for the walls of the dog house the geometry is simple , but it uses a normal map… eg :

Not a very obvious result but if you look carefully at the walls up closer , the normal affects how light is interpreted on a surface , so it reacts as if there was actual geometric detailing , look at this area for example :

The highlighting and shadow is not just from a painted diffuse coloring of a crease , it is actually produced by the renderer because of the normal map and so it changes as it should depending on the view angle.

Most 3d painting software has the ability to paint into many aspects of a material , like diffuse , normal , Ambient occlusion and roughness etc…

You can create your own brushes in the programs or get brushes or brush sets from others who sell them. Sometimes you can just buy texture sets for a certain type of material that have all these maps already created for you ( like this dog house wall texture ) I did not have to sculpt the wood and do a high to low bake for this normal map , it already existed.

such maps apply to realtime and offline renderers , normal maps and roughness maps is almost like a have to have for any surface in 3d , except when you dont want any and are willing to go without them ( like my dog itself and the dog house roof in my example ) i only did the walls and it was enough for want i wanted it for

There are many resources online for learning , there is enough free information out there as well as preimium lessons etc. SO I suggest learn about all the various types of maps used in rendering :

Normal map/height maps
Roughness/glossy maps
Cavity maps
Ambient occlusion maps
displacement maps
diffuse maps
alpha maps

is a good start

ps… these maps are not useful for 3d printing , they only apply to digital rendering. #d printing obviously requires actual geometry.

(Shaderbytes) #5

here is a good video showing some awesome dioramas I remember from playing DKCR on the old Wii. The old Wii never had strong rendering hardware but regardless , its the artist and concept that makes it awesome, sure it would have looked even better on better hardware but they still stand out to me as great dioramas to remember. Each on was themed to a world you played in the game itself/

But as you mentioned sketchfab has such great examples and with the inspector tools it is possible to see the topology , the various maps used … that is such a great learning tool. You should definitely use it when you find a great model on sketchfab , well after you learn what all those maps are etc. There will also be some learning of faking things,knowing where the limits are where realtime rendering just cant do as good as a oil painting… like fur or hair or very fine particles like water spray etc…

(Shaderbytes) #6

Im no expert but ive done a few dioramas that are pure imaginations of my own, i did three based on 90’s video games :

here are two of my favourites I did for competitions:

anyway I followed your account look forward to you producing something epic :wink:


Working with artists who made the transition from feature Animation & FX to Diablo-scale online games, the most common required leap of knowledge was in Texturing and Lighting for Real-time. For textures, most real-time Characters & Props need a UV Layout to bake or paint color & surface-detail textures. This process can take many forms and can be accomplished entirely in ZBrush, but I personally think whipping out something like Blender, 3ds, Maya, etc. can help organize your scene, models, materials and textures.

I will make a hard recommendation for checking out Substance Painter for anyone working in real-time. It’s a powerful tool, and some of its features are more flexible and less destructive than painting polys. Here’s a great tutorial/workflow overview of Substance Painter.

I hope that helps and I hope it narrows-down the list of things you need to look up! My only other recommendation is to learn workflows by working backwards: Get an old model (even if it’s just a cube) into Sketchfab, play with lights, post-processing, materials, etc.

See how far above or below your expectations you’re able to execute within Sketchfab while building a narrow(er) list of questions and concepts you want to research. The worst is learning a new process or workflow from beginning to end only to realize you would’ve done A-Z differently if you had known a bit more about what your work would plug into.

Hope that helps! I’ve listed a few examples of my work below, and feel free to Reply/Message if you have any questions. Good luck!

(Thor Art) #8

WOW!!! @shaderbytes Shaderbytes and Countsmackula!! THANK YOU soooooOOooooo much for the overly generous time you took to respond so thoroughly. I cannot express how much I appreciate it. Definitely some stuff to learn here…but now I can attack the whole thing with some sort of direction other than just shooting a gun in the sky …hoping a chicken falls out.
I am going to more carefully read these responses and view links and keywords on the specifics. I really am excited about this. I think one question I have is …let’s say I start wit the recommendation you made @countsmackula . The simple cube uploaded into Sketchfab. I didn’t even understand what SketchFab actially “was”, frankly. I thought it was primarily just a place that 3D models could be uploaded that were already created …and this was a sort of “3D portfolio” blog for the artists…I didn’t catch that SketchFab was like a software or that it could light a model etc. In this case…and pardon the stupid questions. Where on here can I upload say a cube made in z brush…and tinker with the features you mentioned. Will it be clear what file type to upload and a max/preferred polycount? Cus basically…as mentioned…I will be saving a file from z-Brush…either an .obj or whatever is best…and will need to read someplace on this site what the procedure is from there. Again, I greatly appreciate your time…all that responded. I have a project coming up in a few weeks that I would LOVE to be able to apply a few simple things to as a visualization tool.


Hey, no problem!

In terms of file formats, Sketchfab accepts a wide range of proprietary and open-source formats but most importantly, it accepts both FBX and OBJ. For most cases, FBX will be the file open-source file format options that behaves most like a .blend, .ma, .blend file scene, preserving geometry, material assignments, objects and parenting relationships, etc. For a scene with multiple objects and material assignments, FBX is probably the best bet.

One can work entirely out of ZBrush, but you’ll be limited to treating each scene as a single object once you export as OBJ. Sketchfab ultimately accepts a single scene file so the Imported Scene file (FBX, OBJ, etc.) needs to contain all your models/meshes. OBJ also blows away stuff like transforms, pivot points, etc.

Something you might want to try is exporting 2-3 separate OBJs from ZTools, and import them into a new Blender scene. Save your Blender scene, fiddle around with the objects a bit to setup a composition, and export the scene as an FBX, take it into Sketchfab.

I also wouldn’t get too intimidated. The context of a lot of this stuff can be tricky, but ultimately, if you can rock ZBrush, learning a lot of stuff will just take a bit of time and exploring.

(Nomadking) #10

Not much to add that shaderbytes and countsmackula didn’t already cover, but I would definitely add my +1 to the recommendations about getting to know some of the terms (UV, Texture, Shader, Poly, Tri etc etc) so you have a good understanding of what’s happening on screen. This will really help you make informed decisions as you work. And don’t forget to post back when you have more questions, and I’m sure people can point you in the right direction.

Love the portfolio and look forward to seeing more of your work here :slight_smile:

(Thor Art) #11

AWESOME AWESOME work!!! Really love these!!! Exactly what I am talking

(Thor Art) #12

Thanks @nomadking ! Will crunch some youtube tutorials on all spoken above!! Will pop in when I have questions!! Thanks a TON!!! ~~ . Quick question… Other than pasting a link, is there a way to attach pics/screenshots in messages on SF?

(Nomadking) #13

If you mean here on the forums, there should be an attachment button (I think it’s called Upload in this particular forum software) but I’m aware that might require a certain forum trust level before you can use it as a spam prevention thing.

EDIT: Yeah I was right-

Assuming @bartv hasn’t changed the defaults, it’s quite easy to get trust level 1 :slight_smile:

(Shaderbytes) #14

once you have the trust level , most people are not aware you dont even have to use the attach button , you can simply drag the image into the message window and it will immediately start uploading it and attach it :wink:

note : be mindful of where you cursor is in the message window , because this is the place it will insert the image, eg if your cursor is in the middle of some sentence because you were fixing a typo or something… dont drag and drop because the image will be inserted in the middle of that sentence if that make sense. First click to the space below your sentence, like as if you were going to start a new paragraph for example , then drag and drop so the image is placed where you want it to be.