3D Pipeline Process: Tips & Tricks

Often-times students ask me what the process is of creating art and getting it in-game. The plethora of tools available for artists to use these days means that there is really no one true answer to that question. Through research of my own and working closely with others, I’ve continually iterated and built on my own workflow and pipeline process to a point at which I’m happy with the results. Below I’ll be sharing with you a quick overview of the process that I use in creating art.

Concept Creation:

Whether you work in Zbrush or in Maya, the early block out stage is extremely important. At this stage in the game art-creation is all about working fast and agile to suss out the overall theme and tone of the character or art-piece.


Through time and continually building up your model you will eventually have a high resolution mesh you are happy with. This process can be time consuming and consists of continually adding-to and taking away from the design and concept of your project. Having good reference separates good art from great art at this stage.


Once you’re happy with the results of your high resolution model it’s time to create a game-res base that the details of your high resolution will be applied to. In this case I’ve used Zbrush’s powerful Zremesher feature to create my low-resolution base mesh.

Layout UV’s and Project Details:

At this point you need your low-res base mesh to have UVs. Using UV Master you’ll want to layout your UVs in easy to paint islands with a good range of density.

Once your UV’s are neatly laid out begin to subdivide and project the details from your high res sculpt onto your low res base mesh.

Exporting & Baking Lightmaps:

Once you have projected your high res details onto your low res base mesh it is time to export out your high and low res meshes as .objs and get them set up in xnormal.

Lightmaps you’ll want to bake out are Normals, AO, Bent normals & PRTpn.

Stacking and Applying your Lightmaps:

Once all of your maps are baked out you’ll want to open up photoshop and overlay+multiply them together to give you a good base starting point for your texture. While you are doing this open up Maya and bring your low res mesh into your scene. Next apply your normal map and set up a render to bake out further lightmap information using area or point light maps in the scene.

Export out the lightmap you’ve created. It should look something like this:

Applying Fills & Gradients/Building your Textures:

Leverage your lighting information as much as possible to build your texture. Use a mixture of gradient maps/selections/fills and some hand-painted details to build it up. Once your happy with the results test the way it looks in scene.

Repeating the Process to Build up your Character:

Using the aforementioned steps continue on accessories for your character or project to give it more depth.


Through my research I have learned that lighting information greatly expedites the texturing process and gives artists a lot of power to create high quality work. Current-gen software places precedence on the sculpt to derive a lot of what we perceive as detail in a piece of 3d art.

Jordan Lang is a Teaching Assistant at VFS Game Design