At the end of every year, usually the last few weeks of November, I sit down to write out my goals for the upcoming year. I’ve been doing this now for a few years and I’ve found it to be quite helpful when framing what a year is going to look like. 2017 was easy to map out (it was structured around Bluepoint) while 2018 has been a bit more of a freelancer’s gamble (structured around teaching and building my own brand up again). 2016’s goals revolved around being re-invigorated to do what I’m doing and the feeling of it being a big year. The past two years and what has been 2018 so far have all had different feels and goals associated with them with one exception: Content Creation.
I’ve been wanting to make my own content and sell it for a while now. First it was Project NONA, a love letter to my grandmother. That was derailed by client work and a project scope that was FAR too big for the time. After that I settled on asset packs. With Unreal having a Marketplace and the Unity Asset Store having existed for years, I figured I could work to gain a passive income through selling assets. Much like project NONA, any pack I conceived seemed to be derailed by client work or poor planning.
The more I think about it, the more I have been planning poorly.
I’ve been working on a version of my recently released Pots and Pans Pack for the past three years or so. At first, it was a full kitchen pack with such a large number of assets it was going to be a pain to finish. I had pots, pans, 4 different kinds of utensils, protein powder…it was far too large. When I went to New York for work in 2016, that killed any momentum that version of the pack had. 2017 saw me not get started on anything as I focused on Shadow of The Colossus. It wasn’t until January of 2018, when I was in a period of little client work, that I was able to re-focus my efforts on my original content. I started working on the pack again this time simplified down to the essentials; pots and pans that would come packaged together along with a spatula and spoon. I was almost derailed again by client work (a client I’m still working with) and my own experimentation.
How can experimentation derail a simple asset pack you may ask? Why, by over complicating the workflow I say! Prior to Unreal 4.19, you had to set up Material Functions and Blending in a somewhat more complicated way. In addition, I was really hooked on the soon dead Paragon. Paragon drove Unreal forward with amazing rendering features and cutting edge workflows. The material workflow (demoed below) is probably a large portion of the basis of the new experimental Material Layering Workflow.
Seriously, this is just an awesome video to watch over and over.
In an attempt to mimic and learn the way that Epic was handling a large library of shared materials, I tried to set up my pots and pans to use a Scorch, Grime, and Scratch mask to drive blending. Each asset would call an Aluminum, Rubber, Plastic, Non Stick, and Paint material and a series of masks would drive the details. I managed to get it somewhat working in the engine too. It was after this initial success that I had to focus more on other efforts and it turned out to be a good thing.
My current client project is a VR game. I want my Pots and Pans Kit to be available to all platforms, including VR. As I’ve been working on this project, I’ve had to keep optimization in mind. As I thought more about my asset pack, I realized that while cool, my workflow would be difficult to make sell-able. With 5 materials being driven by three 4096×4096 masks along with a few normal and roughness maps per each material, these pots and pans wouldn’t be useful in anything but a high end game or visualization project. They’d practically be useless in VR. So I decided to go back and re-work them.
My final asset kit release shares a single material and 4K Texture Set for the entire kit, except for glass which is either the more expensive refraction based material or a simpler dither opacity material. The main pots and pans material DOES retain the ability to change paint color, as well as to enable or disable Scorch, Grime, and Scratch masking. The user has the option to adjust the roughness and color of those three layers. This was a holdover from my previous workflow experiment, and it gives this kit an amazing amount of flexibility. If you need clean pans-it’s right there. Is this a world gone mad? Turn on a few masks and tweak a few colors and you’re done.
It took a while to get this release out. Epic has a fairly smooth process for approval in place, although it can take a few weeks for your asset to get reviewed. Once they see it though, they are quick about giving you feedback and making sure you fix any mistakes regarding the submission.
I did it! I met a goal of mine for 2018. I’m not done though. I have other personal environments in the works and I plan to pack up what I can and release them as kits too.
Everyone has a Store
While I was out at GDC this past year, I attended the Gnomon and ArtStation Party. Besides having a good time finally meeting my buddy Rogelio and meeting his bad ass coworker Brad (dude’s an amazing character artist) and randomly bumping into old Turbine Co-Workers (shout out to Chonny and Anthony) I learned that ArtStation is currently at work on a Marketplace of it’s own. Currently in closed Alpha for a handful of sellers, ArtStation will allow artists to sell any range of art, from prints to 3D models to tutorials and more. You can find out more in the March issue of the ArtStation Magazine. From what I can tell, it’s set up to be as artist friendly in payouts as possible while still being profitable for the site. I definitely want to be on this marketplace when it launches, which served as extra motivation to wrap up my current assets.
Do you know what is live and available to myself and others right now? Sketchfab’s store front.
I’ve been an off and on Sketchfab user for years. Early on the viewer was cool but limited, and it was hard to use proper PBR maps. I had a few test models up there but didn’t do much with them. I checked them out again two years ago and the viewer improved. It was easier for me to upload PBR models and embed the Sketchfab Viewer into various websites like LinkedIn and Polycount. I had a few standalone assets that I shifted between Sketchfab and Marmoset Viewer, and found that Marmoset gave me slightly better visual results. Still, I liked using Sketchfab . In 2016 while I was working in Manhattan I swung by their office. I had met Alban before (good dude) and it was great to reconnect with him and try out Tilt Brush and Sketchfab in VR. It was great!
I still don’t have a ton of models up there, but I’m working on it.
Sketchfab launched their store at the start of 2018, and I didn’t know about it until sometime in February. I didn’t think much of it…but as I went to GDC and saw that ArtStation was getting in on the Marketplace Game, I went back to see how Sketchfab handled their store. It all seemed pretty standard and the Sketchfab Viewer is so good now that it’s easy for me to display my work properly.
So, I uploaded a few more models I had ready from some Work in Progress Environments or older projects and set up my store: sketchfab.com/rose3d/store. Sketchfab has a very easy approval process, and they give you access to a sellers only forum so they can get feedback and constantly improve the store. In addition, they link directly to PayPal which I think is pretty great. When you sell a model, you have money immediately.
You’ll notice my Pots and Pans Kit is A) here B) a bit more money and C) white on Sketchfab. I’m using Sketchfab to sell source assets, FBX files and raw TGA files. Unreal uploads everything in .uasset format. This is great for their specific projects and how assets are transferred, but if you want my assets but don’t use Unreal or Unity, you can grab them from Sketchfab and tweak them yourself for whatever application you’re using.
The White color is that way so it’s easy to define shader color in Unreal, by the way.
So here I am, a content manufacturer (for tax reasons) making content that’s being sold on multiple store fronts. I plan to expand this aspect of my business too. So what am I to do? I have a few ideas.
- Add to or re-work my personal portfolio site to focus more on my asset packs and business and less on my full portfolio. I’ve wanted to use ArtStation as my main portfolio site for a few years now (I always send both links to prospective clients or job opportunities) and with the launches of my assets, it may be worth it to finally make that shift. This means that Rose3D will become more focused on my assets, my blog, and my services.
- Crank out more content in a timely manner. A simple pack shouldn’t take three months to get out, and my current diorama has been in some form of production for a year. If I’m having to continuously provide content, it needs to be a core tenant of my business. This means more time paid to it.
- Leverage the strengths of each platform. I know Unreal very well (from the environment art side) and can craft assets specifically for that platform. I can then take those assets and break them down a bit more for Sketchfab, since it’s strength is the ability to offer full source assets. I’m not sure what ArtStation offers yet, but I know it’s strength is it’s social aspect.
- Learn how to write Ad copy and join Instagram.
- Ok, I don’t really want to join Instagram. I’m happy with Facebook (personal mostly), LinkedIn, and Twitter. But as someone who is in a very visual medium, it might be worth it to look at how Instagram can be used to showcase my work.
- Ad copy is a bit of a joke, but I do need to craft tweets and posts that focus on selling my work.
I’m really excited about selling my own content. I may not see 100% of the revenue, but I’m happy to support the platforms that are making it possible for me to sell work directly to consumers. It serves as strong motivation to keep working on personal art-not just for the fun-but also for the potential it has to improve my business.
PS: In case you missed it, you can purchase my Unreal Pots and Pans Kit here. If you’re interested in browsing what’s currently for sale on my Sketchfab store, it’s sketchfab.com/rose3d/store. Thank you for you patronage!