The 3D Art Process: Armadillo
Today is the beginning of regular dev blog posts, where we will be sharing more about the process of making video games and our development process. To start, we thought it would be great to show the art pipeline, using the example of one of our creatures for Tyto Ecology, the armadillo!
Feature image credit: Flickr user LeppyOne.
The process begins with research into the animal we’re creating. What are its primary characteristics and how can those be communicated in a simple art style? We aren’t making the game style photo-realistic for many reasons, so we need to choose what elements to feature and focus on when we translate an animal into in-game art. A concept artist then creates a work to represent this based on a lot of specific research, often down into finding images of an animal’s feet and ears!
Next, a 3D modeler uses the concept art and reference images to generate a shape out of simple geometry, polygons or “polys” in the game. This is how everything is rendered: a group of shapes the game can register all pieced together! You can think of it as building the shape out of complicated digital legos! The more shapes used, the harder it is for a game to process, so we keep them as simple as possible. Many of our characters are around 1,500 polygons but people can do really complex ones that are 15,000 or many more when building for games made to run on intense hardware like next gen consoles.
They continue to build it out:
And can even add some processes that smooth the shapes to help it look more natural:
They will then also add a detailed layer:
This and the next part can be done simultaneously by different people, but we will start with how to finish making this an armadillo! Next, one of the jobs is to add all the color to the shape. This is called adding a texture. One of the complicated pieces is that first a 3D artist needs to actually map out where on all those shapes the color would actually go, and generate a UV Map (think of it as ‘everywhere the light touches’)!
An artist then paints the texture onto the UV map, which is just a flat 2D image… and can look really creepy. Don’t worry, there are actually tools that lets the artist paint this right onto the 3D object so it’s easier to tell what they are doing!
There is also a really subtle layer called a “normal map” that can be added to look like bumps and texture over the character. For the armadillo, this looks like:
Then when it’s put on the 3D object of the armadillo model, we have an awesome animal modeled and textured!
Now we have an awesome looking armadillo, but it needs to be able to move in the game. Before an animator starts to work, a rigger actually gives it a skeleton and defines everywhere it needs to be able to bend and move… really just like adding a skeleton with its own joints and muscles. Again, we want this to be as simple as required for the level of animations we are doing, as too much detail will be harder for machines to run.
And now, the finishing process, as the animator gives it movements! For us, this again requires a lot of research into videos of animals moving to get it just right, and then we end up with a great set of movement.
Armadillo adorably foraging for food:
We hope you enjoyed this insight into the process for our 3D game artist. Multiple people contributed across making concept art with a 2D artist, to creating the model and texture with a 3D modeler, to someone doing the rig as a technical artist, and an animator adding the movement. It’s a long process, and there are a lot of other techniques that can be used, and even more interesting detail layers and maps, but those will have to wait for another post in the future!