I've decided to expand my portfolio with a range of art assets that I can demonstrate in a demo reel to gain a job as a 3d generalist or 3d artist. After thinking about what job role best suits me I believe that this is the best route for me to focus my skills. The project I am undertaking will be extensive but should be the culmination of many skills I already have, giving me a chance to make something I will be very proud of and should ensure that I have plenty of employment opportunities in the future.
To begin with I have decided to make a range of character art assets using photoshop, 3dsmax and zbrush. This will give me a chance to practice my character design skills and develop a character artists portfolio. I will then rig and animate these characters with some game ready loops and export them into the unity game engine.
To design the characters I initially did a range of rough ideas against a t-pose silhouette to experiment with styles and clothes. Then after deciding on what characters I liked, did a more accurate template drawing that I could specify features, which could then be inserted into 3dsmax to create 3d models against a flat plane.
Recycling the old naked male template from the companion cavalry character I scaled and re-proportioned this model against the drawn template to create rough 3d models that I can use in zbrush. My next task will be to practice my sculpting skills and paint the characters in zbrush ready for retopologising.
For the past year I have been busy with my first job in the games industry at Goodgame Studios in Hamburg, Germany. This was an extremely exciting role for me because it was a job where I felt I could use all my knowledge of games development to do the thing that I really loved which is build new characters and get them ready to be put into a game engine. Whilst I consider myself a bit of a generalist and have done many projects before where I design my own characters this was a chance to focus all my effort on some professional art assets given to me by character artists.
The game is called Heroes Realm for Android and iOS which is a free to play hero collection game featuring a number of interesting character types spread over a variety of different battlefields. Your objective is to maintain and upgrade your heroes, improve they're stats and use special powers to defeat hordes of mobs and minions that stand in your path.
As well as developing the vast majority of the characters rigs using the CAT system in 3dsmax, I was also responsible for developing renders of each of the characters to be used in cut scenes as well as the hero icons. I had a large role in the implementation of characters into the game engine and needed to solve technical and organisation issues to streamline the pipeline and set each of the characters up in game.
My demoreel features a range of some of the characters I rigged using a standard range of motions animation to test out the deformation of the limbs and setup some of the more unique weapons and clothes. Whilst I learned a great deal during this job and grew very confident at producing rigs in different styles for many expressionate characters I still felt that I was limited only to 3dsmax. Whilst the pipeline focused on 3dsmax and I could use all the knowledge I'd gathered previously I still felt that I needed to improve my skill set and learn Maya so that I can apply for professional jobs using both pieces of software. This will be my task over the next year as I pad out my showreel and continue Slight Turbulence to increase my employability.
For my next project i've decided to continue work on Slight Turbulence which is a concept idea I started at school several years ago. The characters have already been thoroughly fleshed out so that gives me a good foundation to start from. The intention is to continue to develop my animation skills and experience by creating some game resolution characters that can be quickly produced and let me focus on some quality animations.
The trio of characters i'm going to be working on are called Bunny, Squeak and Claws. As well as some concentrated work on game ready animations I'll also be preparing the characters for an animated short so I will be adding a fair amount of detail to each of them. To save time i've decided to box model them in 3dsmax then hand paint the textures on in photoshop. This will cut out the long process of sculpting, polypainting and retopologising that I usually do in zbrush.
For each of the characters i've already developed front, back and side views so I will be able to quickly transfer the designs to 3dsmax and get modelling straight away. Similar to Pygmy Panic I don't expect to have to spend too long creating the topology and should be able to model each character within a week.
One of the props I will need for the animated short is a stylized airplane that can be seen on the page banner. This should be a fairly simple vehicle to animate and should allow me to focus all my effort on the characters and camera shots.
Rather than having a flat shaded art style like i've done before in the past, i've decided to embellish the characters by hand painting each of them in photoshop. This should bring the characters to life and allow me to develop their personalities and characteristics which will add to the animation.
For the last 2 months i've been rigging the characters ready for animation. This has been a very long and complex task for which I have needed to learn some new techniques and solve many problems to get the characters to work. I wanted to put in loads of detail for this part to bring the characters to life in the most realistic way with all bells and whistles turned on.
I decided to use the standard biped rig for both characters because this is a rig i'm familiar with, it is highly flexible and easy to use. After this project I am considering reusing the characters and rigging them up in maya which is one of the most used animation software in the games industry to expand my skill set and make me more employable.
To rig the cape I have been learning a bit about rope simulation to try and animate this part procedurally to save time. If I had to animate the cape by hand it would take me forever and I could never get it to flow like cloth. By using several chains of bones linked by constraints I will be able to focus on the character animation and bake this part afterwards. I did consider using cloth simulation but thought it would be more relevant to games if I used bones.
For the horse rig I needed to look at references for the anatomy of a horse to get this part right. Because it is a mammal and has all the same bones as a human, the biped can be used to rig this character by simply rotating and scaling the bones into the right position. I also swapped some of the geometry out for more horse like features to make it look more pleasing and match the horse mesh proportions better. Similar to the cape I set up the reins using a chain of bones linked together that will be procedurally generated.
For the rope simulation to interact correctly with the characters I have needed to cut up and position collision boxes that are attached to the individual bones so that reins and cape have something to bounce off of when physics is applied.
What has taken the vast majority of my time to rig has been the face. This is a highly complicated bone rig predominantly set up using position and rotation constraints referencing point helpers. Each shape the face can create is saved out with a list of position and rotation constraints linked to a GUI using reaction manager. The bones and helpers are set up in a hierarchy with a root bone linked to the biped head. Furthermore, I have designed this rig to be scalable, with each bone and helper editable so that it can be skinned to another mesh. Because the animation is saved in the GUI, it can be transferred from one mesh to another by saving out an XML file. I don't plan on testing this out for this project but next time I do an animation project in 3dsmax I will reuse this rig to save time.
The rig can produce many different facial expressions and lip shapes by combining the GUI controls. Aswell as all the main vismemes that Jason Osipa describes in his book Stop Staring, it is also capable of making basic expressions that will I will be incorporating into my animation to give the human more personality. I am also considering finding an appropriate audio clip that can demonstrate this rig more effectively in my showreel.
Finally, I have been testing out lighting in 3dsmax. I want my showreel to really stand out and display my work at a high quality so I am prepared to spend some time rendering out quality lighting after I finish animation. This video demonstrates ambient occlusion using the light tracer, with the character performing some of the test poses I have been using to skin the mesh to the rig.
I now plan to spend the next 2 months animating both characters together in a range of different scenarios. I need to put in the most effort for this part as I am an animator, this is my chief skill and needs to be at a high standard. I expect to finish the project towards the end of May.
This week i've been pushing on with getting the characters uv unwrapped and textured by transfer mapping the materials from zbrush using the middleware package xNormal. Texturing is one of the areas I am not as practised at and haven't done very much of for several years, so this was a chance to refresh my memory and work out the appropriate pipeline to get the poly paint information from zbrush into 3dsmax.
In retrospect, one mistake I realised I made whilst working on the human was that I probably should have consolidated all the separate parts into as few texture maps as possible to save memory and keep things stream lined. Instead what I did is texture each bit individually one by one as I brought them into max. This wasn't so much of an issue to begin with as I only had 5 maps to apply, but when I started to add specular and normal maps I realised that 15 textures was probably a bit to much for one character model. Even though I designed the character to have interchangeable clothing that I can customise later, these would still most likely use a texture atlas to save space so this is something I will need to keep in mind next time I do a similar character.
Luckily because the horse doesn't have many overlapping items of clothing I was able to use a single UV map to texture this model. For quite a few of the meshes I found that after I had unwrapped and exported them I needed to go back into zbrush to rescale the final mesh to the sculpt. Somehow the pivot point had gone astray in zbrush and the meshes were not sitting inside each other anymore, so a few textures are a little bit bodged on and needed some clean up in photoshop to readjust parts.
With the texture maps created they all needed cleaning up in photoshop to remove errors and get the best result when rendered in max. This involved colour correction to make the skin on both the human and horse more natural and the right level of brightness. From xNormal I baked out cavity and ambient occlusion maps to apply in photoshop as extra bits of dirt and grime that made the diffuse stand out a bit more. I also needed to smudge the edges of the maps in certain places where the poly paint hadn't quite transfered properly onto the uvs. This process was mostly iterative, checking the models by rendering in 3dsmax before quickly updating things in photoshop.
The final thing to model and texture were the eyes and mouth for the human which needed to be made from scratch. I have been considering close up shots of the character doing facial expressions and possible some lip sync for my showreel to bring that character to life so this area needed lots of detail to give a realistic result.
Huzzah! That is the halfway point for this project done, I now have the most important assets for my showreel produced with the exception of a sword and spear that will be needed for combat moves. I expect I will use placeholders for them when I get animating and texture them towards the end. For now I need to crack on with rigging!
To start the process of getting the character game ready and suitable for animation I have been retopologising the horse and human to create a low res mesh that can be textured and rigged. This involves drawing verts onto the sculpt to layout the polygons in the best possible shape that matches the original character. It takes a very long time and I have had to make sure that the topology has edge loops around the joints that will allow the mesh to realistically deform for animation.
Here are the two finished meshes for both the horse and human in 3dsmax ready to be textured. In the end the human came to 7000 polys and horse 5000 polys, which are quite high res for a game characters and I may need to consider cutting that down if I end up sticking them in an engine. For my portfolio that doesn't matter as much as I will be focusing on a quality animation result. However I have tried to keep the poly count at a reasonable level as it will slow me down if I have to rig the characters with ridiculous amounts of detail.
Part of the reason why the human is so high res is because I have been producing each of the parts separately to give me more options. The naked character was done first as a base for the clothes in case I decide to do some combat animations that will need enemies to fight. Because they will share the same rig it wont take long to simply reuse the naked version and get a few more different characters to animate.
The naked human took the longest to do because there were many fiddly areas that need lots of resolution for them to be animated. These include the fingers and face which need edge loops that allow for the many complex shapes these parts can create.
I decided to group all the torso clothing into one piece to simplify the mesh in this area. I expect that I will delete a lot of the geometry on the naked human underneath this to reduce any clipping that occurs when the rig deforms.
Working out the topology on the horse was a bit experimental because I have never animated one before and can't quite expect how the mesh will deform. To help me figure out edge flow I took a look at Edward Muybridge's work on animal movement and the way a horse moves. This helped me understand where the main movements would be coming from and how the joints will need to squash and stretch when animated.
I am a bit behind where I wanted to be by this point, mostly because I've been busy with my job over christmas. I do have a lot more time now though and I will be able to pick up the pace a bit. In two weeks time I plan to have both characters UV unwrapped and textured with diffuse, specular and normals. Once the characters are fully complete inside 3dsmax I can start rigging them up and getting them ready for animation.
I have now completed the horse to a level where I think it is ready to be retopologised. This part didn't take as long as the human to do, partly because I didn't have as many complicated clothes to produce and also because there aren't as many fiddly bits like fingers and facial features which need to be just right to prevent them from looking uncanny.
I decided to go for a blackish brown breed of horse called Andravida which originated in the plains of greece and therefore could be one of the breeds used by the companions. I also liked the colour and think it will go well with the human when I get them both into the same scene.
There were very few references for what sort of saddle and straps would be used on the horse so I mostly took inspiration from the film Alexander (2004) when it came to designing this part. I also embellieshed them with items of jewellery based on ancient greek icons and symbols. It is most likely these wont be seen close up but they will provide detail and make it look more interesting.
When modelling the template I made sure I scaled it correctly against the human template so they both match when I export them out of zbrush. I expect I will be able to make minor adjustments when they are together if I need to.
What I am now most concerned with is making sure the lengths of the limbs are correct and everything is proportionate. I dont want to find out later when I start rigging that something is off otherwise I may have to stretch the texture to get it right, better to sort it now.
For the next month my plan is to retopologise both characters and get them into 3dsmax to be UV unwrapped. I will then be able to produce texture maps which will include diffuse, specular and normals that will need to be tweaked in photoshop to get right. Hopefully I will also be able to begin building the rigs though I dont know if I will have enough time to get that far.
Right now though I will review both of the characters and add small things I've noticed I need to change and anything people point out through feedback.
The zbrush sculpt for the Foot Companion is just about done. I've been putting a lot of effort into this to get the naked sculpt as anatomically correct as possible, as well as extracting armour and clothing that needed to be detailed enough to look realistic. I then poly painted everything and experimented with textures to bring the character to life.
Apart from the cloak the entire character was sculpted symmetrically to save time and make it easier to game res later on. Whilst I have been loosely following historical reference I tended to veer towards what looked best rather than making sure everything is historically accurate.
His armour is designed to look like hammered bronze and includes a Muscle Cuirass, which only the most wealthy of nobles would be able to afford, and the Boetian Helmet which was just coming into fashion at the time and was preferred over other helmets like the Phrygian because it offered more protection to the face and shoulders. The horse tail crown is thought to represent a senior cavalry troopers rank.
Since last time i've been improving the anatomy slightly based on feedback, especially around the face which people said looked a bit uncanny. I've also painted in skin tones, first starting with a red base coat and then painting in white and orange colour's to give the fleshy appearance of skin
The face and hair is only semi realistic but i'm not too bothered with vast amounts of detail since the final character will be game resolution. I'm not very happy with the hair because it leaves a harsh line on the forehead but I think this wont matter too much because it is mostly obscured by the helmet.
The next job for this character is to start retopologising which I have found laborious in the past using the standard tools in zbrush. I am considering looking at Topogun which I've heard is better. I will leave that for now however and focus on sculpting the horse which I expect to have done much quicker than the human. I do now have a job to help pay the bills so I wont have as much time to work on this as before, though this will hopefully motivate me to work more in the evenings and should sustain me until the project is completed.
For the past 2 weeks I have been modelling and sculpting the male template with correct proportions and human anatomy for me to start adding clothes and details. Having had previous experience in zbrush doing a character sculpt I decided to create the basemesh in 3dsmax rather than using the z-sphere tool. This was so I could control the key forms better and make sure I had enough resolution and edge loops where I needed them in places like the hands and face which can be tricky to sculpt from scratch in zbrush.
Using the photoshop template I made earlier and some photo reference I blocked out the character, starting with a cube to create the torso and extruding all the limbs from that.
I made sure I had included a lot of the small details like the fingers, ear, nose and toes and get them roughly in the right shape and position to minimise any pain in zbrush so I could focus on sculpting the anatomy on top rather than getting the basic form right.
Here is the final sculpt of the (mostly) anatomically correct human male. Pretty much your standard muscly well built guy but this is what I would imagine from a well trained solider so no need for fancy proportions. I could probably keep going with the anatomy indefinitely to make it 100% realistic but I dont want to be working on it for ever so close enough will do.
Mostly using myself as reference, (probably not quite as toned). The hand was a pain in the arse to do to get all the fingers the right length with nobbly bits so they can bend in the right place. I did forget to put some geometry in between the base of the fingers which has resulted in an ugly crease. Hopefully I can smooth that out in photoshop when I texture map the low res version.
The toes were definitely the hardest part to do because they're so close together and I expect I may have issues normal mapping those which will again need to be smoothed over in photoshop.
The head is a little bit feminine and will need more work though hopefully a bit of stubble will sort that out.
I will most likely continue to tweak a few things because I start poly painting but I need to get a move on with that so I can add clothes. Now that the anatomy is done the hard part is out of the way and I dont have to be quite as accurate with the clothes it should all come together quite fast now. I would like to experiment with several different clothing and armour types to see which one I like the most but I still plan to finish off the first character by november so I will have my work cut out for the next few weeks.
On a side note, i've also grabbed a copy of this book which has loads of really useful historical references of armour and clothes of the companions, as well as descriptions of fighting behaviours and techniques which might come in useful when I start animation.
To design the character I have been developing some concept art over the past few weeks to experiment with different clothing variations and colours to create usable templates of the horse and rider that I will be able to start modelling from. I had intended to do a 3/4 view concept piece but felt this wasn't as necessary to the project because it would provide far more inspiration developing multiple ideas than focusing on one.
Because i'm creating a real world character my concepts are very limited because I need to ensure a level of historical accuracy and make sure that it is authentic. Therefore I have been collecting as many examples of greek armour and clothing as I could from the internet to get a feel for the style of clothing they wore. I have found there are an enormous amount of variations in helmet design and armour though the main reoccurring themes are that greek soldiers mostly wore a corslet chest piece, skirt and loose overalls, an open faced helmet, sandals and a guard for the shins. The best reference for the companions was a sculpture on the Alexander Sarcophagus which showed them carrying a spear and wearing a cloak.
To speed things up and prevent me from having to work out anatomy over and over I decided to create a realistic template of the character, drawn from photo reference. This allowed me to focus on trying out different clothing variations by reusing the same template. These are several different designs from the same period though I think the bottom middle and right are more closely related to the description of the companions so I will most likely develop the character with those in mind.
I've also created a template for the horse for which there were far fewer references. These are several ideas drawn mostly from the film Alexnder the Great (2004). I looked at the different breeds of horse to experiment with colours and how that might fit with the saddle design and rider.
Now I've finished my templates I can start work on the model of the rider. I intend to block the character out in 3dsmax to begin with as I find it far faster to sort out overall proportions using box modelling software. Once I have something i'm happy with I will then move into zbrush, smooth over the anatomy and start adding the clothes. I hope in 1 months time to have completed the first character.
Hi, i'm a recent games animation graduate from Teesside University, this is my personal blog where I'll be keeping track of my projects aimed at improving my skills.