Bringing a 3D VR Workflow to a 2D Scene

Rafater discusses how VR sculpting a scene in Medium by Adobe boosts his digital painting productivity.

Rafater – aka Rafael Teruel – has established impressive credentials as a 2D artist creating artwork for a wide range of projects including books, games, and apps. More recently, Rafater has adopted 3D tools into his 2D art workflow. He kindly joined us to talk about how Medium by Adobe helps him create digital paintings such as Ruins of Gaufeen.  

Discovering Medium

I came across Medium after watching a live demo presented by Finnian MacManus at Non-Stop Barcelona . What he was doing in Medium seemed like sorcery to me; I talked to him for a while afterwards and that’s when I made the decision to jump into VR creation. Finnian gave me a lot of advice, and I’ll always be grateful for his help.

Medium is a very intuitive tool. It took me one day to learn the basic tools – Draw and Move, basically. You can start sketching in the 3D space using the sphere stamp within just a few minutes – though I’d previously done a lot of 3D sculpting in ZBrush, so maybe the transition was relatively easy for me. And then, of course, you can refine your workflow, and things like that – but in technical terms, working in Medium is super-easy. Using it, I feel free. I don’t have any limits.

Creating Ruins of Gaufeen

When I’m working in VR, I tend to use the same approach I use with my 2D images, sketching things out first. I do some rough line work establishing the structure and main shapes. The only difference in this case is the tool and the 3D environment. In my opinion, Medium is the best software to carry out this kind of approach. I don’t tend to use any references when working with Medium, and I don’t come to the artwork with any particular expectations.

And this was my approach with Ruins of Gaufeen; I started with some rough 3D lines directly in Medium to establish the structure and overall shapes. Then I filled in that structure using several stamps and the move tool, focusing on primary forms. The stamps I used for that came from the Terraform Studios stamp pack – that’s the studio set up by Finnian MacManus, who inspired me to start working in VR to begin with.

After that I kept going with secondary forms and different layers in order to use them as different materials once I render the scene later on. At this stage, I’ll often add small details on certain parts depending on the point of view I plan to use on my final image.

Once I finished my design I exported the model as an .fbx file. With Ruins, I imported the model into Blender, after decimating it so that Blender could handle all the polygons. I chose to take the design into Blender because like this I could set up the materials, and place the camera – I can do things that really set the mood for my piece. In Medium you can add light, but you don’t have raytracing or path tracing, to get that really realistic light.

Actually, in Ruins of Gaufeen, if you look closely you can see that the landmark in the background is simply a duplicate of the scene in the foreground, but rotated . That’s a great thing about Blender – it allows you to do things like that. This can save a lot of time.

So, for Ruins, I added some cameras and lights in Blender, and just started playing around with them. Then I applied textures . I mixed some PBR wall and rock textures with some procedural materials I’d previously made for other projects. Like this, I have a solid base to work on. I added some photo textures – mountains, sky, and so on – in Photoshop, and painted over it. And finally, I added some fog. This gives a better sense of depth in the scene.

At this point the file was ready for the final render. I did several render passes: combined, ambient occlusion, diffuse direct light, color ID, and mist. And the final stage was compositing these render passes and then painting them over in Photoshop.

Why did I switch from a 3D scene to a 2D scene? In part because this allows me to paint in some extra features, like rocks, if necessary. And in part because this allows me to solve some problems more quickly. For example, the 3D scene might have a lot of detail, and you have simplify some parts in order to emphasize the details, and to have more contrast, on your focal point. I also like my pieces to have a more ‘painted’ look; Photoshop allows me to add some brush strokes, things like that. But that’s a personal choice.

Note: for more information on how to create brush strokes with Substance Painter, take a look at our article It’s Not 2D: the Stylized Painting of a Breton Myth.

Creating Ruins of Gaufeen took me seven hours, from start to finish. The Medium stage specifically took me an hour and a half. I recorded the entire process as two videos; both are in this article, as well as on my YouTube page.

There are clear advantages to creating a scene in 3D like this. You don’t have to worry about perspective, lights and shadows. Once the environment is set up, you can easily become the director of your own scene. I have four different lighting setups, and eight different cameras, so once the scene is modelled and all the textures and lights are set up, I can rapidly change things, make another render, and paint over the scene as needed – the whole process is really fast. So, the first image takes a bit longer – Ruins of Gaufeen took me a day, as I mentioned – but then I’d be able to do two or three more paintings like this from different points of view in the same amount of time, if I wanted to. This speed is why I’m using 3D more and more.

On Using Medium

Medium is the most intuitive tool I’ve used so far, and I feel a great degree of freedom when I sculpt in it. I started using it for my professional work a few months ago, and it’s completely changed my way of working. I’m faster now, and I can manage my time more efficiently.

The Move tool in particular is really powerful. Neither Blender nor ZBrush have a tool like this, that provides this level of flexibility. A while back I designed a spaceship in Medium – I started with some simple shapes, and just moved them around to get the final form I wanted.

There are a few features I’d like to see added to the app, which I think could increase productivity. The main feature I’d like to see added to Medium is radial symmetry. The lathe option is great if you want to create continuous brush strokes but I currently find I’m lacking control when creating, for instance, a car wheel or a cylindrical tower.

And it’d be great to be able to play video tutorials within Medium itself. As it is, you have to take the headset off each time you want to watch a tutorial, or else find some other workaround that takes you in and out of the app. It isn’t ideal.

It would also be very useful if we could mask some parts of the mesh either using a brush or using some black and white images as masks.

In my opinion, the Move tool is Medium’s strongest point, but it would be even stronger if you could use any stamp as a shape to move and deform your sculpture.

Meet Rafater

Rafater – known by some as Rafael Teruel – began his career in 2013, working as an artist and art director for Ediciones Babylon in Spain, before freelancing on projects such as Games Workshop’s Warhammer, and card games such as Legend of the Cryptids, published by Mynet, and Hex, by Cryptozoic. He is currently creating artwork for Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering, and teaching part-time at Escola Joso and Universitat la Salle, in Barcelona.

Rafater is one of the founders of the Creatuanary Challenge. As well as publishing the first Creatuanary art book, featuring drawings and artists from all around the world, Rafater has been published in three other art books: Nightmare: Dark Gods, by Norma Editorial; The Line Art Challenge, by Design Studio Press; and EROS: The Sexiest Art of Rafater, by Ediciones Babylon.