Interview: The Man Who Makes Your Favourite Trains

Written by: TrainSim-James

That’s quite a contentious headline, but for many Train Simulator users it’s true. Class 395, Tornado, ICE 3, ACS-64, ME 146, Class A4, Tom Walters made them all and more besides. We meet the man himself.

A long-time Train Simulator player and a graduate from Teesside University in 3D Games Art, Tom Walters has made built many trains and locomotives in his time as a 3D artist, and is now working on a (still secret) ultra-modern new train. Now a Senior Artist at Dovetail Games, Tom looks back at his time with the software, both as a player and a content creator.

He was working as a media artist for a gaming website when he had his first brush with train simulation: ‘I was there to see EA’s Rail Simulator unveiled to the public at Leipzig back in 2007. In fact I was probably one of the first people outside EA to see it – we snuck into the hall while they were setting up the day before!’ Tom made sure he was there to play Rail Simulator the next day, and purchased a copy upon release.

It wasn’t long before he was building his own locos. ‘Nobody knew how to get stuff into the game but I was building straight from the off. It took me about a year to get a loco into the game, which was the Terrier for the Isle of Wight. I think it’s still out there somewhere.’

The A1 Tornado was a summer project, and preceded Tom’s appointment as a fulltime Junior Artist. 

Like many Rail Simulator players, Tom moved straight on to RailWorks when it launched in 2009. After a summer placement with RailSimulator.com, Tom joined the company fulltime as a Junior Artist. ‘I had already made the GWR Hall as an external contractor, and I made the A1 Tornado during my summer placement before I actually joined the company.’

Tornado was to be the first in a growing list of high-profile locomotives and trains. Some of the highlights include Tornado, Flying Scotsman, the Intercity Class 91, the Class A4 Pacifics, ICE 3, Metronom ME 146, PRR K4, Class 395 Javelin, Class 450 and Amtrak ACS-64. But it’s not all locos and trains – his latest project has been the Shoreliner coaches for the Metro North P32 AC-DM.

Metro North Shoreliners and cab car for the P32 AC-DM are Tom’s most recent project. 

So, in layman’s terms, how do you create a 3D loco model? ‘I tend to start off with a 3D plane, just a simple one poly quad, and go from there. The best way to begin is with the loco or train cross-section – everything on the outside and inside is affected by that so that’s the part to get right first. Then we begin fleshing out the overall shape – it’s at this stage that we can see how things fit together, and if they don’t we know something is wrong before it’s too late to remedy.’ This task takes several weeks to go from a rough shape to a final, detailed model. Then it’s time for mapping. ‘This involves laying out our geometry on a square which will become our texture. We shadow bake our model and this forms a base for the texture. It also serves to ground the model and give the impression everything belongs, rather than being a collection of geometric shapes set on top of one another. Then it’s time for the livery to go on, as well as any required dirt or grime, and the exterior model is done.’ The cab interior is often handled by a different artist while Tom goes on to build another exterior model.

The Class 395 nose was tricky to recreate: in this shot, two 395s occupy Eurostar platforms at London St Pancras. 

What has been Tom’s favourite project? ‘The Class 395 Javelin. I did the whole thing including the cab and passenger view, and it has been featured on TS2014 box art, print and digital adverts for the software, all over. Hitachi were really helpful as well, letting me crawl all over a 395.’ And your biggest challenge? ‘Probably also the Class 395! There are always challenges, but getting the correct shape of the nose on the 395 was tough, in spite of all the research we did. Also on the Class A4, the nose is a surprisingly complex shape and people were very helpfully providing their own photos of the nose, but all from different angles so they all looked different!’

And what is Tom’s current project? ‘A new, super-modern train project – but I can’t say any more at the moment!’

TrainSim-James

One Comment

  • I would love to see Portuguese routes and trains, one day, made by this fantastic artist, but meanwhile, why there are no Spanish and French routes and trains?

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