Spear me the details

I was going to make a joke about a dull spear, but I didn’t see the point…

Next, I was assigned to do spears. These were my favourite to model! There was a bit of conversation with what type of spear to model at first with the research team. It was decided to go with fishing spears since there wasn’t much evidence of other types of spears for Huron- Wendat precontract times. The reference images used for modelling are given below.

Two bases for the fishing spear were created based on the two designs in these reference images. The first shows a fishing spear made with bone hooks on opposite sides with a sharp dagger like bone spear head in the middle. The hooks would prevent the fish from wriggling around and escaping once speared. The second design also prevented fish from getting away by having a detachable arrowhead connected to the spear shaft with a rope. The bone fish spear head designs seemed to overlap in all four reference images, so I made versions for each type of base spear with different spear heads.

(I found the fish trap design in the first reference image, especially fascinating because it is very common to catch fish in shallow waters with such a contraption in villages of Bangladesh, where I’m from, which is completely on the other side of the world!  Little FYI!)

Like the arrow, this model had a few components to it. So, each component was blocked out separately in Maya and then transferred to Zbrush for detailing. I made sure that I made two versions of each spear head, one with a hole for the rope version of the spear and one without for the hook version of the spear.

Once in Zbrush I had quite a bit of fun texturing the spear heads. Since they were made of bone, I tried to achieve a more organic look that also showed decay or damage over time. Bone can be polished till it is smooth, but it is also porous and being a fishing spear, I took the liberty to imagine water damage over time. Also constantly spearing an animal with scales and bone is bound to create damage on another object made of bone.  

I used this image for modelling reference in addition to the other reference images. The first is not related to Huron-Wendat but it did give me some reference to bone texture. The second image although taken from the Royal BC museum learning portal website, does not mention where the tools are from, by whom or when.

Image 1: https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/infinityofnations/patagonia/142274.html Image 2: https://learning.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/pathways/can-you-dig-it/deercannonbonetools-2/

I used a couple of brushes to achieve this porous organic degrading effect. A combination of different alphas (Alpha 16, 20 and 31) on the standard brush/flat brush created that porous effect. I did have to use either a spray or the drag dot function to control the degree of porousness on different spots. The ‘dragdot’ function was especially useful when using the noise brush because the degradation could be place on specific spots.

For the spear with hooks, I tried to tie the bind around it like it would have been tied. First the sharp spear head would be bound around the bamboo or wooden shaft. The hooks would be bound on top of that, making a little pyramid of binds.

Double bind on Spear with hooks

The rope finally for the rope style spears was taken from my ‘bow’ earlier and manipulated to make it look free flowing and organic.  Variations were made by using a different spear head for each spear model. A few are shared below. They were made with a lot of spear-it! 😀

Longhouse Bark ‘Skin’

With some parts of the main structure finished, I’ve started to look at creating the exterior ‘skin’ of the longhouse, which is made of overlapping sheets of bark.

The approach here is to scatter small planes all over the surface of the structure, each one representing a single bark sheet. Here’s a first pass with flat sheets:

This isn’t a bad start, but the direction of the sheets isn’t following a good pattern; Houdini doesn’t know to keep them all oriented as straight up-and-down as possible. I’ll need to customize that behaviour to get a more authentic result:

This is good! Next, I curve the sheets so that they follow the structure better and feel more organic.

It’s also important to tuck the tops of the sheets in a little farther than the bottoms; this enables the overlapping pattern which would have been crucial to making the ‘skin’ rainproof:

This is looking very promising. The most obvious limitation here is that the scattering doesn’t do a good job of producing neat, clean borders. I decided I’d have to add some more precise placement of sheets to create those clean borders where necessary: around the doors, around chimney holes, and all along the ground.

I started with the ground, which I figured would be the easiest. A mostly-even ring of extra bark sheets was added right at the base of the structure:

I’m happy with how this looks; I’ll have to apply similar techniques around the various openings.

Moving forward, I will also add a bit more variety/unevenness to the sheets. Right now they are all exactly the same size and shape; a bit of procedural variety is the key to producing a result that feels natural and believable.

Let’s have a look with some colour and lighting, just to help distinguish the sheets better. Here is a series of views showing the internal structure, the bark skin, and then the outer framework:


Over the past few weeks I continued to work on the objects assigned to me. I finished up the rough models of my Mortar & Pestle, the Stone Beads, the Scraper and the Awls. I spent the past two weeks working out the details of my objects. I focused mainly on the texturing at this point. I attempted to give the Mortar & Pestle a wooden grain and added some minor dents and scratches to the surfaces. I did the same for the handle of the Scraper. I tried to get a more chiseled look on my Scraper as the previous versions seemed almost soft. I achieved this by using Trim Adaptive in Zbrush I also added to smaller scrapes and grooves to my stone textures, I also attempted to get a a more fibrous/porous bone look in my awls as they were made from animal bones. After completing these steps I moved on to the retopology portion of this assignment and retopologized and UV’d my models accordingly.


The bow was a fun piece to model. Included below is my reference image for the bow and my model beside it.

For the string though, it was a bit difficult to see the details of how the bow string was tied, so I used an image from this website – https://www.cowanauctions.com/lot/plains-sinew-backed-bow-plus-arrows-3963843

Hovering over the images of the bow enabled me to see an enlarged version of the bow end, and I ended up basing my model on it.  

I blocked out the bow in Maya and brought it in Zbrush for detailing. Similar to the arrow binds, I brought in a simple cylinder for the bow string from Maya into Zbrush and turned it into a dynamesh. Then I used the Dam standard brush to sculpt the details of the string. The ties were cylinders made in Maya, then brought into Zbrush, zremeshed to a higher resolution and inflated to fit the bow.

I made the following variations by tweaking the shape of the bow and moving around the ties that were used to either strengthen the bow, or to add comfort while holding the bow. This website also provided some modelling reference-http://misterios-historia.blogspot.com/2017/09/


My first assignment for the longhouse project were the arrows. These were the reference images I had at first. They were a good reference on how an atlatl worked so I got started.

I soon realized that although they were a good reference on how an atlatl worked but they didn’t have much details on how the arrow itself was designed so I based it on this image below.

Components of an Atlatl and its arrow

 I found online from this website – https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/ceremonial/images/hafted-about.html

As the name suggests, this website documented a bit about weapons used during in prehistoric Texas. It was interesting to learn from there that the Atlatls and their darts, were mainly used in prehistoric Texas almost 10,000 years before the bow and arrow replaced them!

Both reference images here and casual browsing online seemed to suggest that arrows were made of bamboo or reed, because of the segmented ridges on the arrows. Ties were made with animal parts like sinews and fish glue was added on top. I blocked everything out in Maya, making everything separate at first, such as the arrow, the fore shaft and the dart shaft. The binding was done similar to what Kris showed in his video, except I did not ‘wrap’ the cylinders around the arrow. It kept getting distorted. I found better luck simply scaling each to fit as closely as possible, using the ‘grab’ sculpting tool in Maya to again wrap it as closely as possible. After duplicating each cylinder multiple times, they were merged into a single multi wrap bind and taken into Zbrush. Once in Zbrush they were adjusted around the arrow with the ‘move’ brush and ‘inflated’ to tighten it.

I found a free sample of a wood brush on art station  by Fredo Gutierrez from here -(https://www.artstation.com/artwork/xrmBY) which I used to give the grain of the bamboo and multiple other wood objects I later made. Cheers for sharing!

As for the arrowhead or ‘chert’, using the tri- dynamic or flat brush and alternating with a circular and

Authentic arrow heads with scale

textured alpha created the texture of stone chipping. An excellent source of stone heads with real size reference was provided by the research team which allowed me to make a few arrowhead variations. These were used for the Bow arrow. This arrowhead image reference was taken from the publication by Christian Gates St-Pierre, “Iroquoians in the St. Lawrence River Valley before European Contact”.  (Layout 1 (ontarioarchaeology.org))

Maya 2017 Update 3: Xgen – Convert to Polygons for Games

Most of the arrow was assembled, now came the most difficult part of modelling the feather. Apparently eagle feathers were used for arrows but that would be relevant during texturing. At first I thought I could use Xgen to model the feathers to make it look realistic. After much ado I realized my mistake –  how would I export the object? So I proceeded to look for a video to change the Xgen hair to polygons. I found this video online which changed Xgen hair to polygons for games. It was a good modelling reference and the link is here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAnErRkvaKQ3

Feather made with an alpha texture on a plane

Although it works well for hair it didn’t really work for the feather. There were just too many polygons. Later on Kris Showed us how to make a feather in photoshop using simple alpha textures on a plane. I made one version which didn’t look that great and when exported as an object the transparency of the alpha showed up as black instead.

I tried modelling the feather in Maya which looked fine till I exported it into Zbrush, and then it wouldn’t display all of it. I’m assuming it had something to do with the normals and having polygons with more than 5 sides, created when I extruded the surface in Maya.

Finally I decided to just model a simple extruded plane in Zbrush to give it the feathery texture using a Dam standard brush. I then trimmed the edges using a Trim curve brush. These would probably better take to the intended textures. Below are the atlatl and bow arrow. Variations were made by bending the shafts and altering the cuts in the feather.

Atlatl Arrow
Bow Arrow
Eagle Feather for Arrow

Internal Structure of Longhouse

As promised, here’s an update which now includes the main parts of the longhouse’s internal structure. Long poles are lashed together to make a frame, to which are attached separate supports for hanging items and for supporting low platforms for storage or sleeping.

As shown before, Houdini’s proceduralism allows me to define the layout of the structure and its components while allowing for variation in many of its properties, including number of internal sections, height, and so on. This effect of changing ‘number of sections’ is particularly clear now:

So far I’m not doing anything to position the poles precisely relative to one another. So we have some pieces which intersect others, and small gaps between others. I’m going to leave these for now; once the model is more complete we’ll be able to gauge whether these issues need to be addressed or not.

Here’s a screenshot to show the structure a bit more clearly:

Procedural Longhouse

Leaving the palisade aside for the moment, I’ve turned my attention to the longhouse itself.

We will need several of these, and there will need to be some variation between the structures. The research shows that they tend to follow a common plan, with some variation–especially the number of ‘sections’ within one structure, allowing different numbers of residents/families to live in each longhouse.

All these things make the longhouse models good candidates for Houdini’s procedural approach.

I’m starting with the basic exterior structure, creating the pattern of the longest upright poles that support and shape the building. I’m including controls that will allow us to specify the number of internal sections, and tweak things like the exact height, the width of the doorway, and so on.

Here’s a video showing a comparison of the previous project’s longhouse (in blue), its frame, and my procedural frame so far:

Next I’ll start adding the horizontal supports and some internal structure.


Sketch to determine what full pipe would look like

Modelling Process in Maya

I created a variety of smoking pipes based off of a 3D scan and references from this paper https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7843&context=etd

Smoking Pipes were made in a variety of shapes and sizes with different patterns and decorations carved into them. I chose to make four different shapes of pipe bowls with fairly simple carved detail.


I reworked an Awl this past week and I finished up 3 variations of my Pestle. I had started the Awl a number of weeks ago and I forgot to upload it at the time. The majority of my work this week was spent on recreating the Pestles and just doing some general review of the models which I had previously created. I learned that the people who fashioned these artifacts let nothing go to waste. Animals provided sustenance and pelts. The meat was consumed and the skins and hides became robes, blankets and clothing and shelter. The bones and antlers were fashioned into weapons, tools and other objects such as ornaments. The Awl which I recreated would have been made from a larger bone and used to punch holes into buckskins or other similar materials.

Grinding Block and Variations

This trio of grinding blocks was inspired by the grinding blocks featured on this website:

I gave them each a slightly different silhouette, but they are similar because they serve the same purpose. They each have a slightly different rock, which would have been used to grind the substances onto the rock.

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