As I'm making my way back to hard-surface fun after a bit away, I've got a few Qs that come up that, to be blunt, I haven't got any freaking folks to ping for thoughts on, and so---
Basic mesh approaches for hard surface models.
There are a number of ways to solve topology. I'm in a constant struggle to know if I should try for full sub-d, 'higher res' quads but not sub-d, 'frozen' that has a good enough silhouette not to be jaggy, or a hybrid... or? I'm not sure what the next would be, but there probably is one.
A lot of factors these days- what's the intended purpose, is it going into UE or such (ie has to be frozen at some point), and then the issues of renderers. ie with Octane you can't cheat certain window types etc ; you need thickness, but does it have to be backed up by something (think frosted, translucent not transparent), and cutting in shapes for lights etc... again, the subd or not question, or even just solve emissive in the material and save the geometry headache? But if using udim or certain material workflows, those polys would need to be cut and isolated. Hm.
We'd love for all of this to be easier than it is, but more than easy or difficult, feeling out of touch with how some is solved. I can do whatever is needed, but it's sorting out a consistent approach that's got me second-guessing.
For tool/workflow, I'm using an older ver of modo (er, quite old) as I have no desire to give the foundry more money, or autodesk either (225 a mo for Max, etc? ah, no), and Blender's workflows are a joke.
Would love any thoughts on how you sit and think on this, if any/some/all above is necessary at different times.
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On my BSG ships I am using UDIMS and automatic unwrap plugins. Its sorta up to you if you go full subd or not. One advantage is that you can get as close as you want to the model and just turn up subdivs if you need more polys. But on some greebles I just add a chamfer modifier and it gives a similar look, I cant be bothered to add in all the support loops. And it adds a lot more polys than necessary to go full subd. The choice is yours I guess.
Wasnt sure what you meant by the windows and emissive materials.
I think the traditional way, at least for Trek ships around here, is to work in sub-d to get the shape right, then freeze it and do the detailing as regular unsubdivided poly modeling. You could also also try fun stuff like booleans, sculpting or CAD for basic shapes and then clean stuff up when you have the shape down. I'm a big fan of Fuck it, I'll retopo it later personally, but that might just be because Modo has quite good boolean and retopo tools nowadays. How clean it needs to be depends on the end product, like you said. If it renders clean, it's good enough for concept use or the occasional final render. If it bakes clean, it's good enough for real-time. If it's for actual production use, you'll maybe even want the whole thing to be in quads with tripled edges and subdividable in the end.
As far as windows go, that probably depends on your renderer more than anything. Solid emissive works at a distance and not very close up. Actually modeling the interiors will work in most cases but is a lot of work and can get pretty heavy at rendertime, especially if there's some nice glass in there as well. You could also use a parallax interior shader for a very convincing effect, although you may want to fade to a solid color based on distance and from narrow angles. That is, if your renderer supports it.
As far as workflow, try Blender for Artists maybe? That's a slightly more user friendly UI for it. I know a lot of Modo users have made the switch to Blender after 2.8 came out and most have not returned.
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I've got the indie lic of Max going, but working my way back up to mastering that (haven't used since.... 2006?) may be a short bit.
Thanks again and thanks for the thought on hitting up the Discord too.