Hot the heels of my earlier post about Quixel Mixer, I opened Blender for a bit of a test.

My normal areas of interest revolve around sci-fi stuff, but if I might take a sidebar for a moment…. I had purchased Tailspire from Steam the other day, hoping that it would bring a nice twist to online TTRPG playing. Talespire is a 3D “dungeon” design tool that allows GMs to create dioramas, basically, through which players can drag their digital minis during an online RPG game. After having run games in Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, and Foundry, I wanted to see if this “nu-VTT” style was worth the dreams it was trying to capture. While overall it is headed in the right direction, there were a too many unresolved issues for my liking, one of which is — of course — the inability to add custom content (it is still in early access, after all).

Though I refunded the app (it isn’t currently a good fit for my plans), I got attached to the idea of making assets for such a tool. Since I’m sorta kinda working with D&D, I thought that maybe some ancient decorations might be in order. And so, I set about creating a simple half-column in the Greco-Roman style…ish.

Like I said, super simple, almost embarrassingly so. I had planned on talking about the workflow, but I stupidly applied all the modifiers and saved the master BLEND file without using the save-as append function so all you get is the above image of the “high-poly” version.

This is the first model I’ve made which has a high-poly version, so differentiated because there’s an accompanying “low-poly” version. I wanted to tackle this aspect in part because it’s something I need to know how to do, but also because the high-poly version used a subsurf modifier which jacked up the geometry (142,336 tris, compared to 352 for the low-poly, so…yeah).

I had been recording a video of the proceedings, but I recorded it several times without a viable success and was getting light-headed so I ditched the idea.

There were ulterior motives, as I also wanted to try to use Quixel Mixer for some learning fun. However, in the course of baking the different maps in Blender, the geometries or processes weren’t quite right, and the various maps resulted in a real crappy bake. I suspect that my low-poly model wasn’t sitting right in relation to the high-poly version, so there are various artifacts throughout the images. For some reason, creating a cage for baking wasn’t working right either, further solidifying my belief that something was up with the low-poly edition.

I threw it all into Mixer anyway and applied a “Smart Material” because that’s the quickest way to get a decent result.

I’m actually not mad about that. Even the stupid imperfections in the mapping images kind of fits the motif of “ancient, weathered column”.

Of course, I need to get this all back into Blender, and this is where the issues start. I could use Node Wrangler with Substance Painter and the results were pretty OK; it saved me a lot of grief over having to learn how to, you know, actually texture stuff in Blender by allowing me to mass-import the output of Painter into Blender and wire up all the shader nodes with one key press. In truth, output from Mixer worked pretty well with Node Wrangler, but something was…off…once I got it all set up in Blender.

It’s not terrible, it might just be the lighting I set up in the scene, and it is just the viewport renderer (I forgot how to actually set up a decent render for export), but it doesn’t look anywhere near as good as it did in Mixer.

Anyway, it’s a learning curve. I think first of all I’d like to make an actual good-looking column. The low-poly-from-high-poly mapping didn’t work out quite the way I anticipated, especially around the base which is supposed to be rounded and a lot smoother (can I actually translate that aspect from a high-poly model, or do I have to assume the blockier look because “low-poly”?). I’d also like to finish the concept of mirroring and flipping the bottom half of the column to the top, and possibly adding a “broken” variant for the ruins in your life (in, not of). I’d then like to use that to play around in Mixer. The columns should have a nice, pristine version as well as a ruined, older version.

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