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How to create promotional images for your item
By DDS
The complete guide to making a simple promotional image for your item in Source Filmmaker
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Introduction
So you have created your item, and you want it to grab people's attention when they browse the Workshop. So how do you do that?
Two words: Source Filmmaker.
Source Filmmaker (SFM) is the tool created and used by Valve for their trailers. It uses the Source Engine, and you can edit everything in real time. Think of it like making videos with Garry's Mod but on a more professional scale. It is free and available for download here.
At first it may seem really hard to work with, but you'll get used to it in no time. If you've never used the SFM before, I recommend you watch the series of official tutorials by Valve on the official SFM YouTube channel, as I won't explain most of the things to you (obviously the point of this guide is to make a poster, not to teach you the basics). You will also not need to learn how to animate, as we're making a still image.
The making of a poster can be broken down in the following way:
  • Positioning the camera and posing your main character(s)
  • Adding props, particles and extra characters
  • Adding your item(s)
  • Lighting
  • Final tweaks, progressive refinement and rendering
  • Final touches and fixes in Photoshop
I'm going to do a breakdown of a simple poster I've made some time ago to show you how it's done!
Positioning camera and characters
The character
When posing your character, you want to make sure your item is being shown as best as possible. if you made a backpack, make your character have his back facing the camera. Your pose also has to tell something about the character: is he happy? Is he sad? Is he being heroic or just standing there as if he pooped in his pants? Spend a lot of time tweaking the pose and the facial expression. Usually anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour is best. Make sure every single detail is perfect.
You should also use HWM models. They look better than the default ones and you have more freedom with facial flexes. Be aware that these models have different rigging than the default ones, so anything that covers limbs and/or parts of the face might mess up.
.png]
The camera
Ah, yes, this is probably the most important thing of all. You want your camera to have an 85mm lens most of the times. This will allow you to play around with perspective but also have a flatter image, though you can use 50mm or 105mm if that's the case.
Another thing to keep in mind is the rule of thirds. You might be wondering what the heck it is, so here's a quote from Wikipedia:

The rule of thirds is a "rule of thumb" or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.

Here's two great tutorials by Jimer Lins and Zachariah Scott which apply to the SFM:

Here's my poster, with an 85mm camera lens. I used to put the characters at the sides of my scene instead of following the rule of thirds, but now I've learned how to avoid it.

.png]
Adding props, particles and extra characters
Using props and characters to add more meaning to the scene
If you want your poster to tell a story, add more elements to it. Did you create an item which makes your character look like a singer? Make him look like one in your poster! Maybe put him on a stage, add a microphone, add a curtain behind your character and put a giant light over his head to fake a spotlight. You can add other characters (possibly from the TF2 universe) if needed.
Using props to create the scene
Sometimes you have the perfect idea but you can't find the perfect map and you don't know how to create one, so this is when scenebuilding comes in handy!
Scenebuilding is when you create the environment out of simple props.
This video by Zachariah Scott will show you how to do so.
If you can't find the right prop, create one!
Adding particles
Adding particles to your scene can emphasize the type of environment your character is in. For example, here I've added some snow particles.
.png]
Adding your item(s)
So you have posed your character and done everything else so far. Now it's time to add your items!
Use TF2's in-game importer and after importing all your files hit the Verify button. Then go to steam/steamapps/common/team fortress 2/tf/workshop and open the .zip file you have created. Open the Game folder and extract "materials" and "models" to steamapps/common/sourcefilmmaker/game/usermod. Next open the VMT files for your model (located in materials/models/workshop/player/items/<class>/<name>) and remove $detailblendmode. This will prevent the model from being invisible.
After that, hit the "reload" button in SFM's model browser and find your model.
To lock your item onto the character, get rid of any IK rigs (if you used any) and drag the character's name in the Animation Set Editor onto the item's name and drag the item's Zero slider.

.png]
Note:
If you're using HWM models and your item is clipping, move its bones around and play with pespective. If that's not possible, paint over the final image or render out an hwm version and a non-hwm version of your poster and mask out the clipping issues in Photoshop.
Lighting
This is the best part of making a poster. Lighting is what can make a poster great, but it can also be very time consuming. If you think the scene is already well lit, add a default light kit by expanding your character's group in the Animation Set Editor and selecting a bone (I'd recommend selecting bip_head for this), then right-clicking on it and selecting "Dag utilities menu" -> "create_lights". Play around a LOT with the position of each light and the various properties. If the scene is too bright, lower the ToneMapScale on the camera. You can also add extra volumetric (right-click the light -> enable volumetrics) and non-volumetric lights to fake explosions and/or light sources outside or inside the scene such as the Sun.

.png]
Final tweaks, progressive refinement and rendering
This is the part where you double check everything before rendering your scene. If there's some things you can't fix or want to add, don't worry. You can fix most of those things in your favorite image editing program. Now it's time to add all the sweet things like Ambient Occlusion and Depth of Field!

Right-click in your viewport and select "Render Settings".
In posters, you won't need motion blur most of the times, so uncheck that. These are my current settings:
.png]Crank up the samples for the Depth of Field to 1024 and play around with the camera settings until you get some nice ambient occlusion. If you want the background to be blurred (camera aperture), right-click on your viewport and select "Display" -> "Show focal plane", and play around with the camera's focal distance and aperture. After that, press F2 (clip editor) and wait until the samples are processed to preview your poster. This might take a while depending on your graphics card.

.png]
When you're happy with the result, go ahead and render it by going to File -> Export -> Poster
Make it a 1920 x 1080 image and save it as PNG for the best quality. If your monitor is smaller than 1080p, save your project and close SFM. Right-click on SFM in your library and select Properties, then Set Launch Options and add the following:
-sfm_guardband 0 -sfm_resolution 1080
Now load up your project again and ignore the warning that pops up (if it does) and render the poster!
Final touches and fixes in Photoshop
Spend some time fixing all the errors and clipping in your poster. You can also add things like motion blur, bloom, extra effects and color correction. Render your scene more than once if you need to fix something (such as masking a default model's hands with HWM ones, which are more detailed). Spend some time on it as this is the final product.
If you have any questions or want to suggest something, comment below!
And don't forget to check out Bapaul's coat: The Inuit Heritage!

If you enjoyed this guide and found it useful, it would be very much appreciated to link this guide here:
http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/suggestserviceproviders/?appid=440
16 Comments
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DesmaX Feb 23, 2014 @ 8:02pm 
That's a great tutorial. Really helped me out
xXxRebelMudkipxXx Dec 20, 2013 @ 10:03am 
This guide was very helpful and Do I know you???
Lucifer05 Dec 19, 2013 @ 11:54pm 
XD
Hello Titty™ Dec 19, 2013 @ 8:13pm 
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Heleazeth Dec 19, 2013 @ 8:08pm 
looks easy enough, good work
The Daftest Punk Dec 19, 2013 @ 6:45pm 
Directions weren't clear enough, got my dick stuck in my toaster.
Gusu Chan Dec 19, 2013 @ 6:37pm 
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HaX [TC] Dec 19, 2013 @ 6:04pm 
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TDOB Dec 19, 2013 @ 1:55pm 
I don't personally intend to make an item anytime soon, but I'll keep this guide handy if anyone I know needs a hand. Well done, man.
Pandazer Dec 18, 2013 @ 7:39pm 
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