Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Character: Modelling

I decided to go with the very first designs. As per usual.

I am quite familiar with Zbrush by now so I thought of making a very simple base mesh. Since I have to retopologize everything afterwards anyway, I will just sculpt pretty much everything.

As we can see, I only built the very basic shape. There are no hands and boots, because I will stick them in later. The boots will be a completely different object so I may as well build them and sculpt separately. The same goes for hands.

I put my designs as an image plane to know what I'm doing.

Having feet and hands cut off was a bit confusing. I kept fiddling with the length of her limbs. It didn't feel right. I forgot I based the initial mesh on a photograph. Which meant the proportions have to be right.  

Face always is the best part. I find it quite relaxing. Always making the same mistake though and sculpting the eyelids before putting the actual eyeballs inside. Later on I have problems with fitting them in.

This is my finished face. I hope her features are correct and people will recognize where she's from. More or less. More like less.

I polypainted it real quickly just to show couple of renders for my presentation. 

Making clothes is... well, a long process. My obsession with detail kicked in. I also had to make sure the folds look naturally and correct.

This is what I had in the beginning. We can clearly see it's wrong. It's like the gravity doesn't even exist. I thought sketching it out a bit would help. Also, reference. I was so eager to finish it quickly and messed it up and had to start again.

So here's something to help me out a little.

I have to remember materials and textures I'm having on my model are a bit different thus they will behave differently. I tried to get as accurate reference as Google would give me.

There, there. This seems better. These folds look like the material wants to fall down and it responds quite nicely to the collision.

Making those braces was quite a pain. I chose to extract them out of the deel. And I just realized I probably should use main body subtool instead.

For a while I considered building the scarf in Max but figured it would give me the same result and probably just prolonged the entire process. I simply inserted the sphere and applied Dyna Mesh.

This is how it currently looks like. Scarf is not finished obviously.

Lower deel will be done in Max as it's just less fiddling.

More to come tomorrow. Hopefully I'll finish most of it.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

FMP: Brief draft

Grimm’s Environment

FMP Technical Specification


My aim is to produce a playable character and environment (with a focus on environment) based on Grimm’s fairy tales and/or their preceding versions.
I want to successfully tell a story by building an environment that would contain elements of original fairy tales circulating around Europe. Although Grimm brothers are my first choice I will reach for other authors such as Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen.
Ideally I will rig, animate and use C++ to script a third person female character and put her inside my environment.

Platform: PS3, PC
Genre: Horror/Survival 

Character Specification:

Diffuse, Normal, Specular
1024 x 1024 px
Diffuse, Normal, Specular
1024 x 1024 px
Diffuse, Normal, Specular (Gloss in alpha), Emmisive
512 x 512 px
Diffuse, Normal, Specular (Gloss in alpha)
512 x 512 px

Environment Specification:
Drawcalls: up to 2000
Engine: Cryengine
Tools and software: 3Ds Max, Zbrush, Xnormal, Knald, Adobe Photoshop

Saturday, 7 December 2013

FMP: Planning

Our final major project is far the most important project we need to do for Game Art course. Although it doesn't start until January, most of us started preparing right after start of the school year. It's good to let the idea develop for some time. Let it grow for a bit. It's like a problem you need to sleep with, sometimes next day will bring new perspective and once a brilliant idea will seem absolutely rubbish in the morning.

I've been baking my idea for a few months now. It wasn't easy at all. Suddenly I didn't even know what I'm interested in. It's this time when you're so self conscious and aware, that you feel like rethinking everything twice.

The only thing I'm really good at is probably day dreaming. I welcome any free time just to lock myself inside my head and come up with stories. You see, I wanted to be a creative writer once. Since I had read so many books why on earth shouldn't I write one? But my stories usually ended up on first chapter because I got bored with them. I realized I'm not really interested in creating stories but living them instead. 

Therefore I chose to build a fairy tale type world for my FMP. It's definitely something I would not get bored of for a long time.

I got back in time to my childhood and found all the stories my mom used to read to me. Although I knew them under different names, mostly because there are so many adaptations. The stories have been circulating among people for centuries. Each country and region has its own version just to give it a different message and suit different audience. I want to go as far back with their originality as possible. I thought about Hans Christian Andersen and his Little Match Girl.

I've heard this story in a semi-original version. It skipped the part where the girl is afraid to go home, when she didn't sell any matches, because her father would beat her up. This is why she chose to spend the night on the street rather than go home and face her father. It was far the saddest story I've heard as a kid although I don't remember caring about it too much. It only hit me recently when I watched Disney/Pixar adaptation. It must have something to do with growing up.

I reached for very classical stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella or Snow White. I even bought a big fat book of Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The edition has annotations alongside every story and now I almost regret ever reading it. I will never look at those tales the same way. Critics have a gift of devastating everything they touch. I understand it's their job, but sometimes I just don't see the point of interpreting fairy tales that are meant for children by a bunch of adults who see world rather differently. The same way writers have to think about million things at once when designing a story. It matters what colour is the girl's cloak; it matters that she played a ball instead of something else. It's all about details. I feel like they encode a message to child subconscious. It's like programming them as a part of their growing up process.

Let's take Red Riding Hood for example. Its origins go back to 10th century France. We are talking about a tale existing and constantly changing for over a millennium. These early variations of the tale differ from the currently known version in several ways. For example, in one of the stories a girl, encountered by a wolf, offers him her clothes, gets into his bed and then is eaten. Sometimes the girl runs away outwitting the wolf. In Grimm's version she and her grandmother are rescued by a huntsman who performs a caesarian section on a wolf. The tale has been seen as a puberty ritual, rebirth and sexual awakening. It also mirrors some elements of Norse myths.

Especially shocking was the interpretation of Snow White as some people see Oedipus complex in it. Basically, a step mother (in some versions a biological mother) tries to get rid of her daughter for she is jealous of how much attention and credit Snow White gets from a magic mirror, which in this case, plays a role of absent father. I suppose I can see that now after it was pointed out. What's shocking is that I didn't expect such an innocent tale changing into something so deep. 

There is a certain variation of Cinderella story (Furrypelts) in which the girl isn't poor at all. She is a princess. Her mother dies and the king, after failing to find a suitable new bride, falls in love and decides to marry his own daughter. The girl then runs away and lives in a puberty but at least as a free woman. After years she meets her prince and he takes her for his wife.

There are many tales that I've never heard of so I suppose there is much to choose from. But instead of actually choosing particular story I thought of connecting all those factors from classic fairy tales and creating a kind of common environment.

I love the thought of building a spooky forest with sunbeams passing through the trees. Although there isn't really much you can do in the forest. I need to break it with something. A second common thing for fairy tales is probably a castle. A forest in the castle? It would be nice to link it with Sleeping Beauty, only twisting the story a little bit, where everyone dies instead of falling asleep and there is a princess coming to rescue the prince. She kisses the skeleton and magically all the muscles and skin begin to grow on on the prince. They get married and live happily ever after. The end.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ubisoft Character Project

Finally, a project I feel more confident about! Our task is to create a female warrior either from India, Africa, China or Japan. This is surely something different and I'm really excited!

Initially I thought of choosing a lady from Africa. She would have a lovely skin tone, bunch of unruly hair and a scary wooden mask on her face. I had a sudden vision of browns, reds and yellows. I imagined a mysterious shaman woman with her face painted. I heard hissing fire and people singing. I saw the dancing. Colours, colours, colours.

Then I found this photograph and changed my mind.

Our brief doesn't say anything about Mongolia, but considering its common history with China as well as their close resemblance, I decided to alter the brief a tiny bit.

I am mostly interested in XIII century history when Mongol Empire was founded and ruled by Genghis Khan.

 Rather than focusing on their ethnic features, for now I should probably make some research on armour.

Most Mongolian armour was of scale and lamellar variety. It was made of hardened leather and iron, lanced together onto a fabric backing, sometimes silk. Mail armour was quite rare, due to its weight and difficulty to repair. Mongol archers demanded the armour to be light enough so that when riding, it didn't interfere with their mobility. It is also possible that the Mongol armour lacked mail and was generally lighter because the nomadic habits of the Mongols were not conducive to the labour, intensive practices and permanent facilities necessary for making mail or large plates. Sometimes arm protection was removed so that a rider could draw their bow. The helmet was made of mostly iron, but leather and other materials were also used.

Although I may append small amount of lamellas to my warrior but I want to keep it light and swift. Not a big fan of heavy armour.
I found this sketch, taken probably from a history textbook, picturing a typical armour for archers.

 Here we have a very simple deel (could be also used as a blanket or tent) with leather belt, a furry hat and traditional Mongolian boots - gutul.

(Apparently in old times it was considered a humiliating punishment if the zangia - a round shaped knot decoration crowning the hat, was torn off.  To tread or step over it is considered to be insult to the owner.)

There is a rather small bow, equally small shield and a saber. Their hairstyle were quite charming but I think I'm going to skip it, considering I couldn't find any evidence of women having her head shaved like this. It must have been reserved for men. Thankfully.

I think I know what I want to do now, so let's do some concepts.

For now I think I like no1 first although my friends prefer the furry hat and cream vs. green colour scheme. I will do more designs before deciding on my final one.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Fiat 126

1.      Research

 Vehicles are not something I'm confident with. I would say I prefer more organic shapes. This is why I decided to partially drop the concept of a shiny hard surface of modern vehicles and literally go towards the organic. And since I'm not a big fan of vehicles I created something I'm most familiar with. A car, that is.
I wanted to make a small vintage car and give it a rusty look. Since the project was really about the shaders, I wanted to make the surface partially reflective by blocking it out in reflective map. The first vehicle that came to my mind was Fiat 126p. It was produced in Poland as a slightly different version of Italian Fiat 126. We call it Maluch (Little One) and until recently I've known it only by this name.  The type of car I was ashamed to get inside as a teenager, because it was considered not cool and you had that feeling as if it's going to fall apart while driving. I wanted to build it in 3D for some time now. As people get older they start to appreciate those embarrassing moments from their past.

There, there, in all its glory. It is quite cheap and works great as a canvas for mechanics.

Or art students.

 It can be transformed into a tank.

A train.

 A flying machine.

A... carriage.


From all of these Google gave me one inspiring image, which I chose for my final idea.

It's a painting by Zdzisław Beksiński. Another great artist from my own country that I didn't know about.
I liked the idea of the veins/webs growing on the vehicle like this. I practiced Zbrush over the summer and it seemed like a great opportunity to sculpt it nicely and quickly. Of course the veins would have a rather matte surface which left me with only a few bits of untouched hard reflective surface.

2.      Modelling and texturing

I didn't really waste much time and got straight to building a base mesh. I got blue prints from the internet and got it going.

Obviously my aim was to make it really organic but in the end it was still a car which was once new, shiny and expensive looking. I had to keep some hard edges. That's why I decided to make two normal maps - one from a high poly using a Turbo Smooth in 3Ds Max, and the other would be my sculpt from Zbrush - then combine them together in Photoshop.

While making a high poly in 3Ds Max was a matter of 15 minutes, sculpting the veins on the top of the surface was very time consuming. I really wanted to stick to the painting as much as I could.

It took me roughly one day to produce a finished sculpture. Although the veins on my reference are much broader I thought to save more untouched space for flat reflection. Also it is less work.

Now that I had both of my high poly meshes ready I thought of using Zremesher to create a completely new low poly model. It would be faster and require but a press of a button. I’ve used this plugin over the summer and although it didn’t do a very good job with retopologizing a human figure, I reckoned it will do better with a regular object. In the end my vehicle was not a complicated one.

I had to put guidelines to specify edge flow.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out quite well. It completely changed the shape of my mesh. I wish for a day when retopologizing would be absolutely automatic. Instead of being lazy I just worked on my base mesh. After all there were just few mistakes requiring attention. After that I was more than ready to bake everything down.

Thanks to this process I started to notice differences in baking programs. In most cases Xnormal seems to be doing a well better job. Even though you can adjust the cage of your bake in 3Ds Max, Xnormal maps are clearer and more detailed. Although there are spots I needed to paint over in Photoshop. Having two normal maps for my disposition gave off better results I suppose. I could cut out bits and pieces from each one and combine them nicely together.

One of the reasons I decided to sculpt a vehicle in Zbrush was less seams on my normal map. Why wouldn’t I do the same with diffuse? I experimented with colours and textures and had it straight on my mesh. Then I just baked the entire thing out again. I got a basic diffuse, normal map, ambient occlusion and cavity map.

I've always been a fan of using hundreds of layers just in case. Although even if it was all named properly and each group had a different colour I still cursed myself for creating so many.

I really don't know why on earth I have never used masks in Photoshop before. Currently I could put a mask on every single layer; this is how great they are. It not only helps you blend things more nicely but also allows you to recover your entire image. It's like magic, only better.
The entire process of texturing was rather long and boring. I kept jumping between PS and 3Ds Max every 3 minutes to see how the changes look on the actual mesh.

It seemed like I had the main body pretty much done. It was time to make the rest.

I’ve been told of this fantastic way of making tires in 3Ds Max. It’s basically dividing a plane into smaller parts, bevelling them up and chamfering the edges. Next you copy it next to each other and weld it together. Then you put Bend modifier and fiddle with the settings so the whole thing wraps up together. It makes me think of the infinite ways of making everything in 3Ds Max if you only have the brains. Which I don’t.
Voila! A wheel fully baked and textured. Only things left to make were side mirrors and some nice but very basic interior. I decided I’m not going to have glass windows at all. If the veins are sneaking inside the vehicle I would have to either have them shattered – bits and pieces sticking out. I really liked the idea to be honest but I also knew I’m running out of texture space and main body is the priority. Also my colleagues kept complaining about alpha channel not working properly with Codemasters shaders.

Here I have my fully modelled and textured Fiat with standard shaders. It’s time to change the graphics mode and make everything shiny and not necessarily beautiful.

3. Shaders

Alright, I missed those shadows in realistic viewport. First thing I needed was blocking out my reflection so it only affects the left side of my mesh. I thought I would use Zbrush again.

Again, I did not get seams and  I had a better understanding of where the reflection should be blocked.

That was pretty much done. I painted the rest in Photoshop.
I love working on little details. I think it’s both an advantage and a disadvantage. I usually need someone to tell me it’s enough.
Looking back at my reference I still needed to put the same kind of veiny surface underneath the vehicle. Since the shaders will not cope with alpha channel I’ll just have to use a standard shader.

Fortunately it took me less time now. I baked it to a regular plane and take those textures into Photoshop to improve diffuse and paint a simple alpha channel.

It turned out the alpha channel decided it will not work, not even as a standard material. I was tired of trying to fit this in. There aren’t even this many settings you can fiddle with and no matter what shader I used it simply will not work. I kept getting strange fringes. The texture keeps flickering on and off when I moved the mesh around. I had to drop that idea. 

I always enjoyed making a skybox. I used my own photographs and blended them together with images from Google.
I planned on making my environment very simple and since it was an open space I had to build an entire sky dome.

Maybe when the lighting is baked it will start looking better.
Cube map is next.

Apart from that all I really needed to do is resolve the small issues around everywhere. For example, side mirrors had unwanted noise on their normal map which obviously affected the reflection.

4. Conclusion
In the end I was pleased with the outcome but expected better from myself. I only know I worked really hard on. Sadly I also know it doesn’t matter when the results are poor.