How to design sci-fi weapons

Now that the main design is fleshed out, it’s time to start adding the extra bevels, seams, nuts and bolts. 11. 09. 15. 10. Colour and composition
Solve composition problems by flipping you canvasAt this point it’s good to start adding colour to the design and see how it affects the composition. Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to design some of the weapons for the Mass Effect franchise. Focus on creating an interesting silhouette from a range of views. Leaving areas empty helps balance out all the detailed parts of the weapon. Spec and requirements  
First sightsBefore starting the design it’s important to gather all necessary information about the gun from the game’s designers, such as the type of weapon it is (assault rifle, shotgun, compact pistol and so on), where the hands need to be, or the maximum allowable size of the gun. Instead, I apply the rule of thirds by placing detail elements a third of the distance from a specific part of the weapon. This is where the weapon starts to come to life. It’s important to design from all perspectives, especially from the player’s view, because this is what you would see the most in-game. No shading or colour – just a light, medium and dark tone. Design from all angles
Think in three-dimensional space, and design from all angles. In general, the goal is to be as original as possible. This adds a level of vibrancy to the weapon. It could be the sniper rifle that can hit a target with pinpoint accuracy, or it could be the shotgun that rips an enemy to shreds. The more shiny the material, the more concentrated the highlight should be, and the more spread out the highlight, the more matt the finish will look. All these points are important to keep in mind, and serve as the boundaries to work within when concepting the weapon. This process requires the most time and focus, but all the hard work painting those small bolts and thin seams pays off in the end. When I play shooters, there’s nothing like the feeling of acquiring the perfect weapon to take down your enemy. Composition is key
Apply the rule of thirds to keep designs interesting.Unless the weapon’s design requires a series of repeating shapes, I try not to space out details evenly across the weapon, which tends to create a boring design. 03. I’ll also apply a mask on the texture and paint in where the scratches should be. At this stage I’m concerned purely with the shape of the design and the relationship between the different tones. I’ll paint with an airbrush when I want to indicate soft, curved surfaces. Considering assigning a hotkey for this. Here, the repeating chrome parts from the Quarian architecture served as a strong theme to implement in the shotgun. Are there moving parts when the gun fires? Playing around with the sliders enables me to control how dark or light I want the shading to be. Players want to feel bad-ass when using the gun, so naturally the gun should look bad-ass, too. This works vertically, horizontally and diagonally. You can sell what type of material it is by playing around with the level of diffuse and specularity. Although I’ve only shown the profile view in the majority of my weapon concepts, a lot of work has been done to design the weapons from every aspect. Cool-looking weapons can come in all shapes and sizes, but some themes remain consistent. It’s interesting how a slight colour shift from a dark tone to a light tone can totally change the weapon’s design and flow. Add highlights to give it that shiny quality. For sharp corners and edges I’ll use a thin, simple Round brush to paint in those white highlights. The Rule of Thirds, composition and creating unique silhouettes are just some principles to keep in mind when trying to create a successful design. The glowing stripes also make a weapon feel sci-fi. Start with thumbnails
I start off by doing simple thumbnails in greyscale with just a simple Round brush at 100 per cent Opacity. For example, the black rubber handle now looks different from the grey metallic body of the gun. Studying real-world weapons gives you a better understanding of how guns should function. In this workshop, I’ll describe some of these principles a little further, as well as offering some of my own tricks that I’ve picked up over the years. I usually like to use one dominant colour along with one or two accent colours. 02. Add detail
Add extra bevels, seams, nuts and bolts – the “fun stuff”This is the fun stuff. Shading for volume
Controlling the dark and the lightI’ll usually have a Hue/ Saturation adjustment layer and a Brightness/Contrast layer placed on top of all my other layers. Add futuristic logos and decals  
Setting off a weapon with logos, numbers and stripesThe Mass Effect style usually involves adding logos, numbers and stripes throughout the weapon. Research for made-up weapons gives you an idea of how far others have pushed their designs. Adding too many colours tends to end up with them competing with each other, while adding a neutral tone complements the main colour nicely. 07. The focus is on silhouettes and the big broader shapes. Find a theme
Continue an existing theme or create you ownSometime you’ll find opportunities to continue an existing theme for a design. This is where I would paint in my shading and shadows on a layer mask with a simple airbrush. 14. I like to add a scratch texture to give it a banged-up feel. I try to continue lines and seams to maintain the clean, streamlined feel. Add textures  
Differentiate weapon parts by adding different texturesTextures give the weapon an added level of detail and help differentiate parts that may have appeared the same before. Indicate materials, different views, pieces to be animated and whatever areas need more clarification. Each alien race has their own specific styles and it was important that we showed that in the weapons.

Updated: 07.11.2014 — 22:16