Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Moving Forward after 'R&D'

Now we have reached the end of our research and development point, I have been reflecting on moving forward with the project, and how we may need to approach things slightly differently with the building phase.

To this point, there has been lots of focus on production pieces and developing the unique IP. I think the first significant shift in my work will come with the more technical aspects such as Mech turnarounds, paintovers and UV textures. We have already started visiting this with the initial assets and WOSD turnaround, but I think a key area we are lacking in is environments that show the game space. Rhys began blocking in Unity and playing around with the camera, so I think the next important stage will be to produce paintovers that give a sense of how the level will look for the player. I have created lots of eye level environment concepts, whereas the player will have more of a birds eye view looking down, meaning rooftops will be a big focus aesthetically.

Another aspect we will need to consider, is creating an efficient pipeline. I will be producing most of if not all of the Mech turnarounds, and painting the textures. This may leave me with some time to model minor assets, but the turnarounds and textures take time, so I will likely be focusing in those areas. Adam is a fast and confident 3D artist, and also has experience efficiently unwrapping UVs. Tim and Rhys also have experience particularly with hard surface models and in Unity from previous projects, so will likely be working on the environments. Tim and Adam are both sharing coding duties. Although these are not strict binding roles, hopefully it should give us some sense of efficient workflow.

Ultimately, I will be happy as long as 90% of my focus is on painting textures and creating concept art, that is considering Adam is happy modelling and texturing for the majority. We did both come into the project with concept art as our key skill, and I do not want to hijack all of the Photoshop aspects moving forward. I feel that now creating an effective pipeline should be our key focus if we hope to create 2 rich playable environments.

Early Texture Test: The Wippet

Recently Adam designed and modelled a wrecked vintage car as an asset for our street level environment:

As you can see, Adam has been considering efficient UV mapping, dropping in a grid texture and trying to achieve nice even squares using planar projections. The resolution of the hood however was inconsistent with the car body. Also, discussing efficiency within the game engine with Matt, it was brought to our attention that instead of having everything everything separate like the car doors, seats etc... it would be much more efficient to have everything on the map. This meant everything needed to be unwrapped before he textures could be painted, a role which I took on while Adam got to work unwrapping the WOSD:

I thoroughly unwrapped most of the elements, although for the smaller assets like the headlights, wheels and engine in the hood, I simply picked a plane that showed the most predominant faces, object selected and planar projected from the camera view. This is quite a small asset, and I didn't want to clutter the UV map with tiny unwrapped assets that the player wont see in detail. Any subtle stretching is either on parts with low detail textures anyway, or out of the general view of the player:

I grabbed some reference for colour and style:

My aim was to create a rusting yet vibrant feel, inspired particularly by the blown out oranges in the top right image:

I created a layer mask that masked out everything external to the UV outlines and worked loosely with a blend of rust phototextures and custom brushes. For the chipped paint effect I added a mask using a particular texture brush to give the illusion the paint has been scraped away. I was originally going to paint out the details, but decided to experiment first with the 'Backwater Gospel' outlined look:

This final image showing the engine in the hood of the Whippet, gives a good example of how a small asset doesn't require intricate detail, so can be simply planar projected and assigned a basic texture.

I have shared the stylised outlined approach to the group, and it was met with fairly positive response, although the final style of the game may still be subject to change.

The Weapon of SASS Destruction Turnaround

Perhaps one of the intricate and considered processes I have been involved with thus far, has been the technical drawings for the protagonist's playable Mech (WOSD). We had a discussion on the style of the Northern Resistance Mechs. Referring back to the Design Specs written by Tim, the Resistance, although embodying an aesthetic military image, actually use re-serviced agricultural Mechs. To this point I had been considering the Mechs more as walking British tanks, and we wanted to go back to a vintage truck approach. We actually began this discussion on 'Skype' where we shared images:

I begin by throwing down some fast loose silhouettes:

It was agreed that the second from the left on the bottom row was the strongest design. One of the most notable features with the new design approach is the large grills and headlamps, something very vintage car inspired. I took the chosen design into Photoshop and made some tweaks. Firstly, with the legs virtually on the sides of the cockpit, the upper body wouldn't be able to move independently, so I raised the body. I also moved the guns to the sides of the cockpit. To speed up the initial design process, I laid down photos on top of the silhouette to achieve fast detail. Bellow shows the stages of the initial WOSD design:

The team felt the fist design was too narrow, so I simply adjusted the scale. Tim also suggested I add a smokestack and lengthen the guns. Secondly, we decided to more the fans to the back of the design, and raise the guns to be more level with the headlights. Finally, we doubled up on the smokestacks and added ammo belts running in to ammo boxes mounted on the Mech's rear. Notice also the Manchester county flag personal to protagonist Rachel Chadwick who is form the city originally, utilising this idea of customisation toward the Mechs. Below is the reference used for the turrets:

With the general design of the WOSD captured, I began creating a technical turnaround, measuring everything to scale using the guides in Photoshop:

One of the quirks of our IP, is the inclusion of male pinup models, an idea thought up by Tim and favoured by the female characters. This allows us to turn gender convention on its head. For Rachel Chadwick's pin-up, I wanted to create something bizarre and with a Northern tinge. So I applied a bearded bitter drinker to a classic Bettie Page pose. I went with the Martini glass burlesque routine, with the Martini glass swapped out for a classic pint pot:

I also replaced the stirrer with a pick axe, as a shout to Northern mining culture. This design was then applied to the final turnaround:

Working on the technical turnaround was a great experience. I have been focused on working fast and loose as of later, but this is a process that just cannot be rushed. I had to tediously make sure everything was lined up to make the modelling further down the pipeline as problem free as possible. Because of this different more intricate approach, I felt this piece could feature in my portfolio to show versatility. For this reason I tried to present it well, including the initial photo thumbnail, the turnarounds and a separate render of the pinup logo. I also overlaid a previous environment piece to add a little bit of noise to the backdrop, making it look less flat and the turnaround pop.

Streamline Locomotives

Linking back to the art deco influence in our Northern game world, in a previous environment piece I rendered a chrome Streamlined Locomotive (train). As we are now beginning to think about scenery assets, I wanted to elaborate on the design:

I feel that these art deco inspired trains contain strong industrial yet elegant forms. They are slick and create little air resistance:

I personally like the first design (top left). I firstly like the colours. The cool green with hot orange oranges and reds cutting through, reminiscent of smelting iron and steel in the industrial north. Also I feel it has one the stronger art deco designs, with chic form lines and strong arcs. I dislike the top right design, despite it being the general favourite of the group. I feel it is too clunky and overly complex, loosing its purpose of being fast and streamline. Instead it feels like a generic steam train. I like the glossy rendered material of the bottom left design, but feel the soft blue finish of the final design isn't vibrant enough for the mood we hope to achieve with our world's aesthetics.

I will likely produce a turnaround for one, perhaps even two of these designs for the team to model.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Bridges and Booze Bombs

We have recently began working on initial designs for game assets. My first task was to produce bridge designs for the canal area. I worked from reference photos taken by Tim:

My concepts:

I actually colour picked from the source photos, and got the really nice pinkish reds, combined with earthy browns and greens to create a vibrant yet slightly grim and war torn feel. I like the first bridge on the left, although if the design were taken further the scale would have to be amended, as judging by the size of the steps, it would too small and narrow for a large Mech to cross. Although, it could simply be a background piece which the player doesn't interact with. The centre piece is perhaps the most practical, as there are no steps which would perhaps look more convincing as the player crosses. I also like the soldier statue, calling back to this notion of the glorification of war.  The final wrecked bridge is also interesting, although I'm quite sure on the scale of the footpath passing beneath. it looks rather narrow, unless again this is merely a scenery asset, and the player passes on the higher road, level with the bridge. At this stage concepts are becoming more technical, and we need to start thinking about their scale in the game engine.

I also produced some early Booze Bomb sketches. These are small kamikaze weapons that charge in first toward to player and detonate on impact. I went for a comical approach, incorporating found scrap like a young girls bicycle and a discarded shopping trolley:

I actually prefer the second and last one across from the left. Instead of being single discarded items of scrap, they are essentially balls of garbage jammed together on flimsy wheels. I particularly like the cartoony top heavy proportions of the last design. I am still liking the comic book outlined style, particularly when it comes to small assets like these. I will definitely be posting a UV texture which incorporates a "Backwater Gospel' approach for the purpose of experimentation.

Brewery Concepts

We have recently been discussion the possible objectives and back story for the story mission. One of the biggest questions we needed to answer was: why are the Marauders in Leeds (as it has now been decided). I had the idea of comical twist, where the player is lead to believe the marauders are developing a secret weapon, where in reality they are brewing ale to fuel their debauchery. This idea was expanded by the team, where the Marauders are using the canals to ship out booze to other clans, booze now being the fuel source which their technology runs on. Booze powered Mechs will surely offer interesting aesthetics. I quickly captured a brewery setting with a photo paintover:

This sort of painting wouldn't really be featured among other more refined concepts, but feels like a behind the scenes development piece. It relies heavily on someone else's photograph found during a google image search. It does however give a little bit of context to the brewery idea, showing a marauder monitoring the booze production. This piece doesn't really show a space that a large mech could operate in however, which is something I tried to do with this next piece:

I used an image taken by Tim as the plate image for this paintover:

Interestingly, Adam suggested that the architecture around the level could have been built originally by 'The Sons Of Iron,' and later sabotaged by the Marauders. He had a blend of victorian buildings with industrial iron features much like the Leeds indoor market:

The theme of the environment I created was that of a make shift brewery/ loading docks. The giant copper hanging object is a huge beer cask. Notice also that I am now moving away from the outline hyper cartoony style, although I will experiment with outlines when it comes to texturing, and the 3D results will likely influence which visual approach we ultimately take.

I also posted my painting to the 'Level-up' group on Facebook. A video blog page where artists can also share their work and critique each other:

I am yet to receive critique, but plan on continuing to use 'Level-up' as a source for external feedback.

Victorian Architecture

Considering how we could make the architecture look more northern, as if belonging to a city like Leeds or Nottingham, we looked at some victorian architecture:

We are looking at tall pointed roofs, fancy wooded trims and hanging pub signs to communicate a northern county town as appose to a tall art deco city (although art deco elements may still feature in the more central areas of the level). I wanted to create something with the theme of old pubs:

Again this environment features Marauder calling cars like the draped torn flags and emblem graffiti. I am particularly please with the interesting and vibrant colours here, achieved by throwing photos down and mixing the saturated colours to create an almost blown out hyper stylised feel. The oranges really make certain elements pop like the doorways and window decoration. I have also introduced the mossy greens to up the cartoon quality to the image.

I feel that the victorian architecture approach is a good direction to take. The environment here is actually starting to look like a stylised scene from the north of England.

Time to think Mech

Our team recently took a visit to the Royal Armouries in Leeds. I took the oppertunity to sketch world war era weaponry, and try and build up some visual vocabulary for our Mechs:

I began with some guns, which I have labeled. As you can see, the RPK at the top has a round magazine, which is interesting aesthetically. I also like the in inverted looking grip on the middle grenade launcher. This is for the purpose of shock absorbance however, which our sturdy Mechs probably wouldn't need (They wouldn't really need any stock/ grip for that matter as the guns would be built in). The AK47, although interesting, is designed solely to be efficient for human use. It has a lot of hardware like switches and grips designed for human hands, which probably wouldn't be required for a mounted turret weapon on one of our machines.

While sketching weapon parts, I had lots of discussions with Rhys who, is very informed when it comes to military hardware. One occurring feature we noticed, was the use of small springs to prevent recoil. This would be a possible requirement for a Mech, although with the weapon being bolted on to the machine, perhaps recoil wouldn't be as big of an issue, if at all. One thing which featured on the heavier weapons, was the use bolts and D-links. This is likely for deployability, another feature which might not be necessary on purpose built war machines, unless they have a changeable weapon system where different elements can be taken off and bolted on. Just a thought. On feature I did like, was the holed out barrel to the left of the 'maxim bolt.' I find the design visually interesting, although again this is a feature that aids recoil. Still, perhaps if the gun was bolted on there would be some need for recoil reduction.

It was useful for me to sketch during the visit. I believe it almost gave me a feel for the forms, and look closely at the small mechanical details of the war weaponry. Also, the ligting conditions where bad for photography, so details would have been lost.

Based on a sketch I did inspired by a helicopter mounted mini gun, I did a quick potential Mech turnaround:

(The original gun. Photo taken by Tim, unfortunately in poor lighting conditions)

Royal Armouries Sketch

One feature we noticed with the mini gun was the way in which it used pipes to efficiently dispose of ammo casings. I also featured a spring loaded stability bar contain springs to dampen recoil. The ammo belt is also dispensed from a duel ammo boxes positioned on either side of the upper body. The machine also runs on a large battery positioned on the rear. Essentially, it is a walking mini gun. I also made notes on how the Mech might move. I thought the knees could bend with organic piping, eliminating the need for modelling intricate components and grouping them together into a sensical hierarchy. This way we could just bind a singly mesh for the lower body at least. I also thought about how the upper body might rotate independently.

Tim brought in a 'Warhammer' model of a walker Mech from the 'Imperial Guard' army:

This lead to some further sketches and discussion:

I moved away from the organic joint and went with a simple pivot joint. We also looked at various ways the upper body could rotate independently to the legs. I wanted to brush up on the rigging process, so I created a simple blocked out model in Maya, using a human leg approach as oppose to the double jointed 'dog leg' design you can see central in the above sketches:

The first thing to consider when applying the humanoid rigging techniques learned in the second year, was how much less joints and controls would a cockpit on legs require. I was originally planning on working very rigid with everything turning on a vertical axis, but it was pointed out that the hip dislocate joint would be essential for a walking animation. The main difficulty experienced was trying to hold the hard surface forms of the mesh, as they were slightly warped and distorted when moved as a result of the weight painting. I did try applying a rigid bind, but this still warped the geometry, creating a really harsh pinching effect around the joints when moved. In the end the smooth bind, although resulting in some subtle warping of the geometry (even after tweaking the weight painting) creates a cartoony semi-organic effect, which still suits our stylised approach. The only tweaks I made with the weight painting was removing some of the lower down joint's influence on the head geometry, which was causing a pulling effect when the head was moved. When trying maintain hard surfaces with the legs, the influence of the joints became chaotic and completely messed up the geometry, so I chose to allow for subtle warping:

Also, using a photo taken by Tim at the canal on the way to the armouries, I create a scale reference image to show the approximate size of the Mechs:

The Mechs are just under the height of three men, and two units across in width.