Monday, February 25, 2013

The Crest of Silvermoon - Part 2

The next step in the creation process was to model the Low Poly version of the shield. This model is absolutely crucial and requires maximum care as this is the model that will go into the game. It IS the game asset. It should be very resource friendly and not contain more details than it needs.

The focus with Low Poly models is to capture the silhouette of the High Poly as much as possible and then leave the rest of the details (surface details mostly) to the Normal Map, Color Map etc.

Here is my final LP:

Also, this mesh needs to be composed of triangles only as the game engine always triangulates the imported models. An artist should never leave the triangulation process to a program as undesired errors might occur. You model the LP in the typical quad-polygonal (four sided polygons) fashion and then just add more edges to achieve the triangles.

Here are the textures I have ended up with. I've used Photoshop to heavily paint over the color map I've created in ZBrush. I've added more depth and color change to the various surfaces to really sell the look of something rich and believable.
I've added various gradients here and there to keep the viewer's eye interested in looking at the entire asset. A successful model is not just about its shape, but the surface colors as well. Hand painting is everything here.
Color Map

Normal Map

Specular Map
I desperately needed some professional feedback, so I posted my work to Polycount.

I've learn that I had a big technical issue regarding the texturing phase. In order to paint over a model, I have to unwrap it onto a flat surface. The unwrapping phase is important, because if you do not do it efficiently, you will loose pixel space, hence decreasing quality of the texture itself. It is a very technical matter, but has massive influence on how the art itself is shown at the end.

The feedback also reflected on how the asset looks. I've gotten positive remarks from people who have been in the industry for years. People thought it looked accurate to the concept, which is a huge thing for me, as the number one challenge when creating 3D assets from reference images is to make it match as close as possible. It is so easy to get off track and create something that is just "similar" , instead of something that is just like it. 

I've learn a great deal from this project and even though it's one small asset it provides me with a better insight on what is required to create an entire environmental scene. Going from small to big is always a good approach.

Here is the final outcome, which I will be adding to my portfolio:

As a bonus, I've found out that the look of one's work HEAVILY depends on what monitor it is shown on. Older, less performant models can completely kill off all the small details you have added to the image. Not only that, but the lighting values and the contrast changes drastically as well. I am working on a IPS panel monitor, which is all about very high color accuracy. If I will be presenting my work somewhere I need to make sure that the screens are up to par in quality or it might have a negative effect on my art.

Lesser quality monitor on the right.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Crest of Silvermoon - Part 1

My aim is to practice the "World of Warcraft style" as much as possible. My aim is to get into that kind of sector once I graduate. It is quite a distinct, unique way of producing art. Almost every form, asset, building and detail is an irony of its original self. Details are very chunky and elements like roof tops or foundation blocks are much bigger and curvy than in real life.

Colors and textures are of a cartoony nature, but not too much. The game does not look like a proper cartoon, but it incorporates several details from that style/genre.

Here are some of the WoW artwork I've looked at. I did not want to create a scene as that would have required my concentration to spread out on several elements. Instead, a single asset seemed like a good choice, as I can focus only on it and not be distracted.

Concept art:

I've decided to choose an artwork that requires me to touch as many aspects of 3D as possible and at the same time look really really good :) .
The Crest of Silvermoon was the chosen asset:

Crest of Silvermoon
I've decided not to use any photo source for texturing, rather hand paint everything. The style is all about hand painting and I really need to practice it.
Hand painted textures mean that you build up every detail, colour and shading information through sheer colour painting. In CG, you have the opportunity to take real life photos and overlay them on your models. That suits different styles than the one I am aiming for here. With hand painted textures, you have full control over the color values, the shading information and all the small details.

After I've decided on the technical roadmap, I've started blocking out the main form:

Main blockout

Sculpted + base colors
After the main blockout was finished, I've went ahead and imported the asset into the sculpting program called ZBrush. ZBrush is an essential tool as it takes the modeling from a very accurate and technical stage to one that is way more artistic and loose. When I am blocking out the main form, I'm using my mouse to match the concept as close as possible. Accuracy and layout is key here, but you need to add that unique, self touch to the asset that can separate it from the rest.
In ZBrush I use my Wacom tablet and it feels like I'm drawing. It follows the movement of my arm and it feels as if I`m cutting into the surface myself. Makes modeling more fun, which it should be.

After I've added some scratches, bevels, tear and wear etc. through the sculpting phase, I've went ahead and applied some base colors as well. ZBrush provides painting features as well, so before I go ahead and start painting the final texture in Photoshop, it's good to have an already present guide on how you asset should look.

The model I have created so far is the "High Polygon" version, which is NOT suitable for gameplay. It has way too many polygons and would consume too much computer resource for a game to run at an acceptable frame-rate.
I need to create the, so called, "Low Polygon" version and then bake the details onto that from the High Poly. The details will come from the Normal Map, the Color Map and the Specular Map. Specular Map controls where and how the surfaces reflect light. It's crucial, because there are several types of materials on this model that have different characteristics on how they behave in real life.

To be continued in the NEXT post.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Normal map test and research

Polycount has an amazing collection of tutorials and descriptions in regards to Normal Maps. Their Wiki section helped me understand the very basics, so I have full control over what I do. It takes a lot of practice and I will need to keep producing assets and bump into issues to eventually learn what works for me and what I need to do to achieve specific requirements.

One of the very first tests involved creating a basic, scope-like 3D model. I wanted to achieve the small details through Normal Maps. Areas which are completely flat physically will look like they have small extrusions and details. In these details, you can see light shining in and interacting as you rotate the camera. The surface is flat physically, but the Normal Map tells those surfaces how to look and how to react to light. This saves on resources as you do not need to use high polygon counts. That is why computer games can have models in them which look super-detailed.



The upcomming posts will showcase work that puts me in a "real-life" position to test these theories out. I will look for reference images to create assets to see what issues I bump into and how I can resolve them.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Improving texturing skills in UDK

Albeit, it is a very technical process to learn "Mesh Paint" in UDK, the purpose of it is to provide myself with the possibility to express my artistic imagination even more on the work I create.
Mesh Paint allows one to paint multiple textures over a surface in very distinct and unique manners. For instance, my goal was to be able to paint dust in cracked areas of a wall. That will provide a more believable look and you can stylize anyway you want.

Advanced Mesh Painting in UDK from 3DMotive sets quite an intensive learning curve as there is MUCH to understand about the process. It involves setting up your materials in quite a unique way.

Here are some pictures showing the logical, but craazy node system I've ended up creating and re-creating several times:

With the help of this new tools at my disposal, I have more control over how colors and texture patterns behave/appear on my game levels. Once you practice and research the technical elements enough, it all becomes art again and the tool is just second nature.

Here is a test scene, showing exactly what I am able to achieve with Mesh Paint:

UDK is starting to make more sense now, becoming more familiar and understandable as I peek into the inner workings of various tools. There is still and always be a lot more to learn, but as your capabilities grow, you feel more confident.