Less Lethal Games at Dare 2008
Realising Rum Drum..
25th June 2008
Hi there, Josh Z here!
So basically it’s my turn to chat a bit about our whole Dare process and try to inform you all a bit more about my main focal area, 3D character and asset development (sounds important right? Good because it is! .)
So, I should probably start with a brief intro and talk a little about how I fit into the melange of mentalism that is Less Lethal Games. I started learning animation and 3D back in 2000 while I was living in Sydney. I always knew that I wanted to get into the games industry, but never really had the work to backup my applications. To cut a long story short I went back to Uni and took a second degree, this time in Games Design (for those of you that aren’t sure still, Games Design and making Graphics for a game ARE NOT THE SAME THING ;). ) So now I find myself heading up the Art team of Less Lethal Games and the responsibility falls to me to make sure that our visual ideas really happen!
As Art Director, my responsibilities generally fall under the management umbrella because of my experience in all areas of 3D (ever hear the saying Eat, Sleep, Breath Coca Cola? Well swap Coke for 3D and that’s how I roll...) In conjunction with Kalli’s overall team lead, I help organise and prioritize the art production, redefine workflow (offering improved methods to speed things up,) and help bring the other less experienced guys up to speed. All this whilst at the same time making sure we maintain an overall level of quality that will hopefully catch the right eyes ;).
As you know by now Erlend has been in charge of all the main character designs (and what lovely designs they be, arr…) and so in my other role as main character artist, it has fallen to me to bring them out of the 2D realm. The overall progress has now ramped up to a point where I can actually say for the first time in my life, I AM PLEASED with the results! (A load of screenies have been included to introduce you guys to our latest friends.)
To give you a good idea of the time scale involved with bringing a character into the realm of the living I will start by basically outlining the steps involved and hopefully give you a better understanding of how things work!
So, first and most obviously we need good Model-sheets. The importance of these is paramount and will define how smoothly the rest of the process will go in a big way! Once the model-sheet is complete we begin the low-poly modelling process.
Now I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of low poly modelling but I can say without a doubt, this is where the main artistic interpretation involved in the 3D process happens. The process involves building the wireframe mesh of the character (making sure its PERFECT!) translating his design into three dimensions whilst also keeping in mind technical considerations that affect the process later on down the track. I’d like to see Michelangelo sculpt David from a 60x60 square piece of chicken wire ;)
Poly counts on models range a bit, but for this project we are sticking with a healthy last-gen count of around 4000 for any main character (this is to be sure that it will run on most older machines without too much hassle and also to emulate the restrictions we would be facing if this was actually being developed for Wii.) To give you a good picture of what this means I would ask you to consider Shrek. The character model for Shrek or the Donkey would generally weigh in anywhere from 500,000 to 2,000,000 Polys, now consider that admiral anchor (our most detailed character model,) is only 4300 and you start to get an idea of what a game artist has to deal with when creating the models you see.
Ok so low-poly modelling complete, we have a nice grey man with no detail! What to do!? Basically now the process blurs a little, while we have particular processes that have to be followed the order can be blurred a little and the model can go through a few processes at once (if you have a big enough team.) For this though I’ll just continue in a linear fashion ;).
The next piece of the puzzle is what we call UVW unwrapping. This process is a little complex and the reasons for going through it are hardest for non 3D trained people to grasp. The easiest way to describe it is to step across to the world of comics for a second. We all know that comics come in 3 parts, script, drawings, and inking. If you can imagine for a second in between the processes of drawing and inking, you had to translate the pictures into numbers, in order to tell the inker not only how to paint but where to paint you may get some idea of what we do. More simply the process involves flattening out the 3d model we have made and then using this flattened set of outlines as a template upon which we can apply our textures (all the colours, cloth skin etc.) It’s long winded, frustrating and requires a certain degree of autism to get right.
So now unwrapping has happened the model is ready for textures and detail. This happens in two stages but for our work flow it will happen in this order. First the models will be taken to a second 3d package, this one called Mudbox. Mudbox allows us to smooth out, add a large number of polys to our model and then paint on it directly with a pen. It acts like sculpting a ball of clay and with it we can do cool stuff like stencil pictures, details like stitches on the clothing, wrinkles in skin and cloth etc. from this high poly version model we are then able to extract all the detail information in the form of what we call a Normal Map. The normal maps are then later applied to our original low-poly model to give it the extra detail without killing your machine! Once the normal maps have been made we can then paint our texture over them. The reason we do it in this order, is because the normal map does the hard work of creating definition from the details we have already included. It then simply becomes a process of applying the right colours to produce his final texture (or Diffuse Map if you want the real technical term.) This whole stage is what we call Beautifying and hopefully by next week we should have a lot of that finished off and ready to show you ;)!!
These are the main steps involved in getting a character into 3D space and ready to be rigged and animated. I have decided to leave my rundown of all that until next time because it will be nice to have some material to illustrate this even more technical process ;).
On the whole the team’s progress is exponentially growing. I feel that we are not only getting work done, but also doing more work as we continue to feel more confident with the project. Having the mentors come round and generally support our work, has been really helpful and a great confidence booster (we haven’t had any real negative response yet so that’s good!) On top of that, getting the chance to meet other industry professionals and hear them talk about all aspects of the industry has been inspiring to say the least. I feel that this experience is the best opportunity available to students looking to make a real splash in the games industry.
I really hope we do well and right now feel confident that Captain Cannonball will be capturing your votes (and Imaginations) in a few short weeks ;).
Time to sign off! I hope my little schpiel was interesting enough and hope that any aspiring character artists out there get a little clearer picture from it about how the magic of character design and animation really happens ;)
Thanks for reading!
Art Director, Less Lethal Games
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