Sunday, July 1, 2012

General Pre-Production Walkthrough

Whew....Busy month.  Moved literally half-way across the country.  I've racked up some injuries (namely, my teeth actually punching through my lower lip after I collapsed).  By the way, if you have never had blood taken before, just lie there for a few minutes.  I don't care how good you feel - I was doing fine up until the last second then WHAM!  But I'm all settled now; Completely moved in, got my degree in the mail from SCAD, the injury isn't filling my mouth with blood (amazing how hard it is to draw when you're drooling blood on paper).  Lets get June's post up while it's still June somewhere in the world shall we?

As I said last time, we're going to start with step one.  Often times concept art is step one for a project.  Before you start creating, you need to know what you want to create.  So if we know we need a female explorer for the hero to stumble across, someone who could be a potential love interest, then before we fire up a 3d program we need to sit down and sketch a few possibilities.  Now I already have a character in mind for this example: Kalia, a non-canonical apprentice to Kyle Katarn for the Jedi Academy mod Jedi Betrayal.  It gives us a unique opportunity because it's a current mod for a game about 10 years old.  One of the things I've been doing this month is joining various mod teams because it's fun and it's non-paying work experience.  9.9 times out of 10 - they end up dying for this reason of non-payability.  Yet there are alot of them and because they're always starting up, pre-production work is in high demand.  And that pre-production work looks the same for a mod as it does for a well funded game project (artist skill aside).

So what do we know about Kalia?  Well we know we need atleast two models, maybe more for muiltiplayer but lets just focus on the two.  The first one is for when we first meet her: She's an Imperial prisoner on a remote planet, caught exploring ancient ruins of a force tradition.  She needs to come off as a civilian, helpless, relatable (as in a few quirks, some humor, something that makes the player trust her right off the bat).  As such, her clothing should be white, or light colored.  Perhaps earth tones (Afterall, in the original Star Wars trilogy, the good guys wear white for innocence and earth tones while bad guys wear black and are all greyscale).  We also know she is humanoid, likely a Human, Zabrak, Zeltron, or a Miraluka - although we won't deal with the face and race yet because of potential spoilers in the design.  And she's force sensitive, although she isn't aware of it.  I hope you wrote some of those down because that list of what we need is now our bible for designing this character.

First up we have the thumbnails, something the director (or in this case, the overall mod team) can look at and get a first glance impression.  We want to see where they want to go and give them a few options.  Here, you want to show as many options as possible.  Let them mix and match the cloak of #1 with the asymmetric skirt of #9 all on top of #4's design.  That's what they picked by the way, but give them as much options as you can.  I'll get into alien designs and generating silhouettes and more in a later post.

Once we get feedback on that, we take their suggestions and feedback and run with them.  Around this time, we figure out more of the details and provide more for modelers to use in case we need to go straight to the next step.  Because this is made for a modeler, some area like the cloak and hood have been cut away to accurately model what's underneath.
Humanoid characters are more about costume design and picking up on the subtext then trying to design a new creature.  We have some nice sci-fi bits, alot of simplicity, the character is sexy, she's not threatening.  Overall, it looks like an archeologist you would meet who's been imprisoned and needs help.  We'll need to design her Jedi Apprentice clothing next before we finalize facial features and race.

But all that's for characters and armor....What about things like environments?  They're a bit different.  Once again we need to know about the map we want to design.  Is it for a tabletop RPG game?  A 3D video game?

We almost always begin drawing and designing maps from the top view.  It just comes natural to most people when given a blank piece of paper.   Maybe perspective scares them?  Or, more likely, we're just used to seeing maps.

So over to the left we have a map design.  It's a rough draft, like the thumbnails we did.  We marked where the players can and cannot go.  What's where.  We even have a general idea of the lighting.  And after showing it to the director and putting the final touches on it, we get the map to the right.  A nice, lovely, run-down swoop-gang hanger of an RPG map.

Using the floor plans, like the ones above, we can create maps in 3D as well.  And because it's dealing with complex 3D models, some require more thought out blueprints then others.  On the other hand, some require none.  Just adding a scaled figure in an image works just as good as a grid/layout map, and it's faster if the team is used to it.  This is how most modern maps are made, because they use things like static meshes heavily.  Static meshes are groups of polygons that can be used to form structures, crates, wall details, platforms, you name it.  And often, these assets can be scaled in the level editor.  You can also reuse them - so a couple of different walls might only be one square model that's been rotated.  Levels require fewer and fewer BSPs these days to increase performance.

So we move from top-down maps to maps in perspective.  Were we can see the ceiling, walls, and general lighting.  Taking a map like this, we can even paint props over it.  Sometimes you need some smoke and mirrors though when conveying images like this to a team.  For example, sometimes artist don't use a perfectly linear perspective grid.  After all, you need the see things like the ceiling and floor in order to make them, and bending the grid ever so slightly so you can get a better look at them is perfectly acceptable.  Just make sure the team knows or that it looks flat anyway, or you might end up with the player feeling like they're going from fishbowl to fishbowl.

 And with that, I think that will be it for this post!  Be sure to check back later for July's posting.  We're going to get into storytelling for comics and sequential art along with an updated portfolio post!