, by Cem Tezcan

CAD Modeling and Substance: Cem Builds a 70s Time Capsule

Recreating Childhood Memories with Solidworks, Modo, and Substance

  • Design
  • Game
  • Interview

That’s me, with my cousin. You probably can tell where my inspiration came from!

I wanted to recreate a typical older relative’s apartment. I have such vivid memories of these places! They’re a bit boring, but if you’re lucky, there’s also the holy grail: a game console, which is essential to entertain the kids.

In my childhood, I remember visiting older family members with my parents. Considering my young age, I always looked for some entertainment to make our long visits more enjoyable. The most fantastic, utopian score would have been computer games with an 8-bit console. A dream come true: an 8-bit console in an old-school house!

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

So, I built the console twice

The gaming console is a central element to this room, and to the culture of the seventies. These gaming systems were all over the world! Of course, Turkey was also caught up in the craze.

At that time, there was the legendary Atari 2600 and many clone versions of this console. Some of them came with built-in game packages, and others were just cheap clones with a different name.

They got very vintage-looking designs with most having wood texture around them. Many of them had brownish colors, and also had brass/copper-like metallic details on buttons or switches.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

I called mine ‘Genius Probe 2000’.

I have a book named The Game Console written by Evan Amos. It contains amazingly detailed photos of famous consoles through the years. What makes it even better as a reference, is the fact that the pictures also show the pieces of the console when it’s taken apart! That book helped me understand the design concepts of these consoles. Also, I watched all 3 seasons of Star Trek: The Original Series to get into the electronics of the late 60s and early 70s…

With Evan’s photos, my reference photos, I began to put together my very own ‘Genius Probe 2000’.

The first version of the console, with SOLIDWORKS

I used SOLIDWORKS, an advanced CAD modeling software tool, to create my imaginary console. It’s also my favorite modeling software. Since its ‘feature tree’ makes the modeling workflow non-destructive, it’s easy to revise and adjust any part of your model to get them to match your references.

It was part imagination, part precision; as SOLIDWORKS is a tool that requires you to work with the constraints of real life, I had to create measurements. So I studied every detail of the reference photos to determine the button positions, cartridge ports, label positions, and so on.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

I define real-world dimensions to create these kinds of devices. This really helps me to establish the correct scale for 3D object.  So I constantly define every detail, indent, shape, button or hole by entering millimetric values.

Once the console model was ready, I defined the material grounds in SOLIDWORKS. Creating material groups through CAD modeling is way easier than grouping them in Polygon mode, because topology is always a disaster after you convert your CAD model into polygons. I converted the CAD data to polygons using Modo, and created UVs. Then, I began the painting process with Substance Painter.

Let’s do it a second time, now with Substance Designer

After completing the CAD model, I decided to make the same device with height maps, using Substance Designer. 

The console shape is a very good practice shape for height map modeling with procedural nodes in Substance Designer. Creating geometry with a height map is a difficult pipeline at first, but it’s worth it, especially for hard-surface objects. It’s a non-destructive workflow, which means it’s great for later adjustments and revisions.

First, I created a simple geometry. I made the simple 3D bottom part, and I left a simple polygon for the height map deformation part. After storing the basic 3D shape, I started to create geometry information in Substance Designer by using procedural nodes. First, I created a height map channel to form the geometry, and then I created a normal map, ambient occlusion, base color, roughness, and metallic channels accordingly. 

When the texture was complete, I applied the height map as a displacement map within Octane Render to form the geometry by adjusting the displacement intensity.

But mostly, it’s fast once you get the trick. This console only took 3 and half hours of work. And at the end I had a textured object, not just a model. 

I love creating geometry with height maps and PBR textures! I talked more about this workflow in this livestream, dedicated to another version of this scene, with a Substance Designer keyboard as the central asset. The keyboard was used for the last Substance Designer release.

You can find more tutorials about the approach in this modeling retro electronics post, and in that one about a SABA Midi Hi-Fi System.

Creating the television and radio

As you can see, both items were covered in wood panels. In the 70s, they weren’t just decorative, however: the wood was a necessary part of the construction, since making wood panel enclosures was cheaper than making injection molds, considering the manufacturing standards of the time.

To create these devices, I modeled them with SOLIDWORKS.

I started modeling the pieces by creating something that looked like the reference images I had gathered so far.

I made up dimensions in millimeters for every device, so in the end I’d have a real-world size on the final object. Once exported into Modo, CAD models end up with bad topology, with a triangular hi-poly form. But you can just create auto-UVs for these models in Substance Painter, and use the Triplanar projection: it makes texturing the objects a lot simpler.

After I finished modeling in SOLIDWORKS, I added simple materials to the faces and groups I made, to create different material sets within Modo. This way it’s easier for me to separate different material types within the CAD model without struggling with polygon selections on every surface.

The TV screen needed to show the video game! So I made a simple fake title screen for an 8-bit game with MultiPaint. Multipaint is freeware software designed to create pixel art for various old school computers with their specific memory and color limitations. I recommend it; it’s endless fun.

In the past, I developed a procedural CRT filter in Substance Designer and made it available free for everyone to use in Substance Painter, as a material or a filter. This CRT filter reads input image and creates a CRT screen with various adjustable parameters, like signal quality, phosphore tiles or scan lines. I used it to add the game image to the TV screen.

For the radio, I followed the same workflow but there was one more detail: a wicker grid on the speaker part of the device. To make it, I used Substance Designer to create the wicker pattern, then I applied that material in Substance Painter on the radio.

Creating a vintage atmosphere

This scene has a late 70s decoration vibe. For many of us in Turkey, that’s what we call a “grandparent decoration”.

To find the exact elements I wanted to integrate in the scene, I checked some Turkish movies from the period, late 70s and early 80s, to see the general decoration and room layout for this kind of living room. This helped me search for some vintage-looking furniture, electronic devices and accessories to complete the room.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

In the late seventies, most electronics were made, at least partly, with wood. TVs, radios, record players… Even the 8-bit console has the same wooden reference.

I also added photos of some touristic areas of Turkey; that was another detail to capture the right mood. And I added a nice photo of construction workers in New York to the frames on the wall. 

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (may he rest in peace) is the founding father of the Turkish Republic. He is a successful field marshal who led us through our Independence War, a revolutionary political leader ; he also served as the first president of modern Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

In Turkey, many people created symbolic memorials in their homes to show their gratitude to Atatürk with framed photos of him. This is still a common tradition on many homes.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

You’d also commonly find cut-crystal vases and ashtrays. Luckily, I’d previously made a procedural material to act like a cut-crystal glass. You just need to apply the material onto geometry via cylindrical projection. It worked out very well on the vase and ashtray models, which I’d created in SOLIDWORKS.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan
Artwork by Cem Tezcan

You may have noticed that there’s an overabundance of lace over furniture and electronics. In the seventies, you’d find that in almost any home in Turkey, and I believe this was also a very popular tradition in Eastern Europe as well. 

These laces were handmade and they were placed basically everywhere. Even on the back of chairs, as you can see in this not-too-recent picture of me:

Of course I put them in the scene:

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

For the laces, I made a simple Substance Designer graph to create normal maps and opacity maps from the image inputs, which are the photos of the laces I found through an online image search.

Accessories were recycled! I used some of my earlier models, like the Beroquick camera, and a Turkiye İş Bankası piggy bank, which is the first bank of the Turkish Republic. This bank was actually founded by Atatürk, and my father served there as a manager for many years. So, these piggy banks are a fond childhood memory. 

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

I have used these models in an older project: A Scene From the 90s. Next to the Beroquick camera and the İş Bank piggy banks, you can see a tin police car, and another piggy bank in the shape of an old car.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan

I approach scene composition by following a basic workflow. I just put some blocks and basic 3D models here and there in my Modo scene, and I tweak and try to make a composition and layout with basic camera angles.

Final Scene Scene in Modo

Once I am happy with the environment layout, I leave those blocks as placeholders and create a list of objects I plan for this scene with those blocks. I model them one by one and progressively replace the placeholders with the actual objects.

For me, the essence of a typical apartment of the 70s, or ‘grandparent apartments’, so to speak, rests in the dark lighting with boring furniture. Natural, peaceful light helps break this dark and slightly gloomy atmosphere.

I tried different types of lighting conditions for this scene, and it took several attempts before I was happy with the balance between stuffy and peaceful.

Artwork by Cem Tezcan
Artwork by Cem Tezcan

Read more