Thursday, 19 December 2013

Character Project : Part 1

So we've been given our last professional brief before we move onto our FMPs.

This brief is to create a female warrior from either India, Africa, China or Japan. She can originate from any point in history up until the present day.

I see this brief as an opportunity to create one of my original FMP pitches, which was a medieval character in full battle gear, focusing on several material types and using a few techniques I researched over summer. Most notable the shells and fins technique used in the “Shadow of the Colossus”, which creates a realistic volume of fur . The only difference between my character FMP and this is that it has to be female and of an Asian ethnicity.

I looked into the Mongols, and really loved there style of light amour of leather pads with metal plates and all the different layers of clothing they use to keep warm – use of  fur, cotton, leather and sheepskin. The Mongolians are famous for their use of archery, so I wanted to include that into the design as well.
Below Is a moodboard I put together to help flesh out some concepts.


Focusing on the armour design and other items from the moodboard I created several designs to give me a stronger idea on what direction I wanted to head in.
I really like the 5th one (bottom right) as it has a strong silhouette with lots of interesting layers and materials.


Next I create an orthographic shot for a basic female figure. This was used to create the base mesh for sculpting. Creating the base mesh was an easy process. It was tricky to make sure it was made up of uniform quads throughout the whole mesh, especially the more complex areas such as the hands and face. For these areas I used the edge extrusion method as this gives me greater control of the edge loops.

I spent a bit longer than usual creating the base mesh, making sure it was anatomical correct and had a good edge flow. As the more accurate and better I make the basemesh now, the quicker it’ll be to sculpt an accurate highpoly and add items such as armour.


Using a handful of references I sculpted the character, as she was an archer in the army she had to be fit, so I sculpted a slightly muscular body. Certain muscles on the back (such as the traps, delts and teres) would be more defined as these are the muscles which work when you pull the string back on a bow.
Even though the only parts of this sculpt which would be visible on the final version was the face and hands I sculpted the entire model. I did this as its more practice (and practice makes perfect!) plus it gives me a better idea of how clothes/armour will sit on her, and how folds in the fabric would flow around her.


Next I will be adding all the other parts to the highpoly, such as the armour and clothes. Check back soon.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Personal Project : Phone box

Last week after the hand in for the vehicle I was wasn't overly happy with the results. So to pick up my spirits I decided to spend the next few days making a small but detailed prop for my portfolio, so I wanted the standards to be very high.

I wanted to create something which would be applicable to the majority of studios out there and to have a bit of character and push my skills, especially my hard surface modelling. Which I found in an old 90s American pay phone, It seemed to fit the bill quite well.

My first step was research. I gathered a handful of references, ranging from destroyed payphones in the dump to brand spanking new ones, along with close up pictures of all the major parts so I had accurate reference to model from. Below shows these references:


I really like the idea of the payphone being from  ‘The Projects’, in places like Baltimore, Detroit etc. Where I can play with graffiti/gang tags and have the phone box destroyed/neglected. If you've seen The Wire then you know exactly what I’m going for.

First things first I made a quick whitebox so I could get a general feel for the proportions and scale. I place a biped with an average height to also get a  better idea of scale. Below shows the white box:

From the white box I produce the highpoly. I tried to have the cleanest mesh I could to avoid any pinching on the model which could affect baking later on. Most of the model was relatively straight forward to model so I didn't come up with any issues. But some parts required a little more attention, such as the holes making up the phone logo and the phone cable.

To produce the telephone logo made up of holes I first creating the housing part, inside and out. I then created a bunch on cylinders in the shape of the phone logo, then using the Boolean method I subtracted the cylinders from the housing mesh, this was done on both sides.

Next was the phone cable, this was a tad long winded.  I created one section of the cable which I then instanced over a distance of about a meter. Then using a spline I created a path of how the cable would twist/look going from the box to the phone. I then used the deform to path modifier on the cable mesh. This took a few times to get right as sometimes the spline wasn't smooth enough which created very jagged movements when the mesh was applied. But after a few tweaks I got it right.


Next up was creating the low poly. This was a straight forward process so I won’t go into it. Modelling the phone cable could have been an issue, but it wasn't. This was because I used the line path from earlier, this allowed me to get the correct shape while playing with the parameters to make the mesh suitable for a low poly version.

Next up was unwrapping. I decided to keep all parts of the phone box texture unique as I wanted unique details which would work when mirrored. Such as graffiti/stickers. The back parts of the pay phone was mirrored as these would not be seen.

I wanted to produce the texture as realistically  as I could. So  I looked at a lot of pictures to analyse materials and interesting parts they have, such as stickers half peeled off but It still leaves that sticky residue, or burn marks on the side of the housing and extra wear and tear around the metal edges. Especially so around the coin slot as when money is inserted into these slots it always scuffs the edges around it. I also used references to help me created realistic spec and gloss maps.

I also got hold of the latest version of marmoset. Which is very easy to use and has a range of parameters to play with to get the absolute best out of your model.

Below are the final Screenshots:

Final model - 1,449 Tris, 1024 D/N/S

Final model - 1,449 Tris, 1024 D/N/S
I got some really good feedback from my peers about tweaking my spec and gloss maps to improve the material readability (which have been tweak in the version shown). But I think I will take it further and tweak it some more. I also want to produce a LOD version, which I will do over the coming weeks.

This project went really well, im very happy with the results, the time frame it took me to produce and learning some extra techniques.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Vehicle Project : Part 2

After finalising my vehicle model I moved onto making the environment. The tri limit for the vehicle was 10,000. But when modelling it I tried to make every triangle count and not needlessly put in more edge loops just because I have more triangles in my budget to play with. This is why I have only used 4,068 tris. I believe adding anything more will not change the silhouette and I would be adding loops for the sake of it

My plan for the environment was a small repair garage/pit stop. The aim for the environment was to keep it simple as to not distract the viewer from the vehicle. The plan for the environment was to have one strong light source. This was in the form of several bright strip lights directly above the vehicle.

For some of the more detailed environment assets I made a highpoly for them to bake down from. These assets where the shutters and the toolbox. The shutters were made very quickly as all I had to do was make one ‘link’ which is made up of chamfered boxes which are then duplicated to create a wall of these links to create the shutters. Below shows the highpoly assets:

Highpoly shutters

The environment was then modelled and textured. The budgets for the environment was 10,000 tris and 1 1024 D/N/S. The scene came to 3, 068 tris as I didn’t need any more. The texture budget was split up into 2 512s for the tiling textures and 2 512s for the unique assets.

Next stage was unwrapping the vehicle. Unwrapping was an easy process, some parts of the model I mirrored to save on texture space, but the more visible parts I didn’t mirror as I want asymmetrical detail across these parts.

Different texel density. More UV space for more visible parts 

Texturing was a simple process. But to create realistic layers of damage I textured the vehicle in a way that a real vehicle is painted.  Like this: base metal > redpaint > whitepaint > decals. This allowed me to mask off individual layers to reveal the layer beneath, creating believable damage/scratches.

I also looked into metal discolouration for the jet engine exhaust. This simple effect of adding a few different colours adds a lot of character to the model.

Diffuse Map

The brief asked us to produce a lightmap for the environment as the shader we were given was limited in the number of lights in the scene and lack dynamic shadows.  I made this by setting up lights in the environment where the actually light models were, rendered out a lightmap which I then applied to the second channel of the environment. This gave me a nice and accurate baked shadow of the vehicle on the floor.

Setting up lights for baking the lightmap

We also had to produce a cubemap for this project. It was one of the most important parts of this project as this technique produces realistic reflections of the local environment on the model.
It was a simple process as well. I set up 6 cameras, facing 6 different directions and placed them where the vehicle will be. From this I took a screenshot from each camera and stitched them together in Photoshop in a certain order.

Setting up cameras for cubemap

Cubemap result

Along with the cubmap we had to create fake HDR. This was done by painting what parts of the cubemap you want visible in the alpha channel. The way I did this was merging all the layers and changing it into greyscale, then tweaking it through curves. Doing this made my lights a bit darker, so I repainted them pure white to get the strongest highlights I could when using the shaders.


After this was all done I could start tweaking all the parameters in the shader to get the most accurate material properties I could.  After I was happy with the results I figured some parts of the model didn’t reflect  the model just came from a race – it still had that highpoly polished surface look. I looked at my spec map and realised that it was too white/little contrast, which gives very little surface variation. I solved this by overlaying a few different photo textures over the body. This small change gave a real nice surface variation, almost like loads of dirt being kicked up settling on the vehicle.

Before and after tweaks to the spec map

Below are the final renders within 3dsmax’s viewport using codemastsers car shader:

Overall I feel like this project came out ok. A lot of decisions i made turned out to be the wrong decisions. I feel like this is the first project in a very long time where im not happy with the results and given a chance I would completely redo the project. 

I think the first major mistake I made was to abandon my original idea of the Caterpillar 797F Dump truck which I had in my head for at least 2 months prior to the project starting. I dropped this decision because the project brief has a great focus on materials and I thought the dump truck didn’t have enough varying materials to show off the Codemaster shaders. So I decided to concept my own vehicle with different material properties.   
I think the vehicle came out relatively well, different material properties can be recognised. But I think the environment and lighting brings down the overall quality of the scene. The lighting within the scene is rather flat, making the environment look very amateurish. My environment idea was to have one bright light source coming from the ceiling which is how actual pit stops look. But this made everything overly bright and washed out. In hindsight I should have had another light source within the scene with some colour from it. Possibly have the shutters open so the sun would be another source of light, this would also give more interesting reflections on the vehicle as well as produce a more interesting light map. 

I think this project has been a major learning experience for me. Learning to use shaders used by actual game studios and all the little tricks they used to fake certain techniques has been great. I will take everything ive learnt from this project and apply to all my future projects. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Vehicle Project : Part 1

After handing in the rooftop project we were giving another brief straight away. This brief is to create a vehicle of our choosing with a basic suitable environment. This brief has a heavy focus on shaders and material properties. Deadline - 29th November (4 week long project)

As this project had more of a focus on materials rather than modelling abilities i decided to go for a vehicle with a simple shape but had a variety of different surface types. 

My base of inspiration was from Star Wars and the Wipeout games, so by merging the two and playing with ideas I came up with a futuristic flying racing bike. 

After my initial idea was set I went out to gather images for a mood board which I then took onto producing several different silhouettes, all while trying to keep the feel of a very angular racing bike. I took my favourite elements from several different silhouettes which I felt had strong features. I then developed these into a final concept. While producing the final concept I kept in mind that the brief was focusing mainly on materials and surface properties so I tried to incorporate several surface types to the concept. These are:

  • Polished painted metal
  • Rough/dirty metal
  •  Leather
  • Glass
  • Lights
Silhouette Designs 

Basic Concept

My next stage was to create a whitebox of the vehicle. I did this so I could get a strong idea of proportion, form and silhouette as the concept can only give me so much of an idea compared to a white box. As I was producing the white box I felt that some bits of the vehicle lack character and made the silhouette rather plain eg. The front 2 ‘prongs’. To overcome this I added some external plating attached to the prongs, this simple step made the silhouette much more interesting.


From the final whitebox I produced the highpoly of the vehicle. Most of the highpoly is made up of chamfered boxes with little surface detail as the vehicle is made for racing so it has a lot of highly polished surfaces to be as aerodynamic as possible. But some smaller details, such as bolts and paneling seams will be added later through Ndo2 as this will be a more efficient way to add these small details. 

One object I did do a full highpoly model was jet engine. While looking at references on ’ jet engine nozzle’ I realised this was too much complex detail to add into the normal map with Ndo2, so I produced it within Max.  It was relatively easy, as it is just one complex panel duplicated around a cylinder.

Jet Engine Highpoly

Another object I wanted more complex detail was the padded leather seat. I made a simple bash mesh which was then imported into ZBrush and sculpted with a hand full of references.

Sculpted Padded Leather Seat 

The next stage after the highpoly was to create the lowpoly. This was done by using the highpoly as a guide to model the lowpoly on. This was a smooth process but I did encounter one problem along the way – a peer pointed out as it was a bike how the rider would sit on it, So I quickly set up a biped into the position. Straight away this made me realise the seat was too wide as the bipeds legs were in a unnatural position which couldn't be held for very long. To rectify this I narrowed the seat which allowed the bipeds legs to be brought in more, which made the vehicle more usable from the viewer’s perspective. I should have checked this while at the white box stage to save on time, but this is now something I will keep in mind for later projects.

Tweaking model for a more comfortable seating position

Check back soon as I should have an update on my texture and materials .

Monday, 4 November 2013

Rooftop Project : Part 2

So after a very solid 4 weeks of work my rooftop was fully completed and handed in on Friday. It’s been a tough 4 weeks, but I've really enjoyed using CryEngine and I believe it was the best engine for the job. Using it has also confirmed that it’s the engine I want to use for my final major project.

I believe my initial idea from the whitebox/concept was carried through to the final stages relatively well. But there were some issues I overcame along the way.

One of the most time consuming problem I had with the project was learning the engine. Even though I used Cry Engine a bit for the group project last year, the main bulk of that task was for another team member, so the rest of us didn't have as much knowledge for the engine. This led to many issues which took up a large amount of time trying to problem solve. Luckily I thought that this might have been the case so I did plan for these issues to crop up, giving myself a buffer of a few days before hand in. Most of it was learning to export models/materials, material set up within cry and lighting.

One part of the brief was to make the level interactive for the player. My original plan was to have the player run up to the switch on the radio tower and turn it on, while doing so lights would turn on and sparks would fly out. But given the time limitations and limited knowledge with the engine it made it very difficult to do so. Another part I would have liked to add was a little town setting around the building, because at the moment the building is just in the center of the desert which kills immersion when you look out from the rooftop. I do have 2 256 maps left which I would like to use for these LOD buildings and particle effects if I am given time to polish the level.

I’m very happy with the quantity and quality of my texture work, every texture was baked from a highpoly model, which was very time consuming but it paid off. One thing I really wanted to get across to the player/user was the building was recently the host of a large fire fight. The floor littered with debris, bullet casing and ammo boxes along with the walls peppered with bullet holes and cracks really sell the situation.
Part of the brief mentioned that the level should catered towards a 3rd person shooter and as we know, one thing all shooters need is cover to hid behind. I tried to make this as context sensitive as possible by having large army crates, sandbags and flipped tables/chairs as potential cover for the player.


Final screens:

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rooftop Project : Part 1

I've entered my 3rd and final year at De Montfort University, and we've already be handed our first professional brief set by Blitz games studio. See the picture below for the actual brief.

We have been allowed to use double the amount of texture space, so 4 1024s rather than 2 1024s. The triangle count of 20,000 stays the same though. Were also allowed to interpret the brief very loosely, So in a sense it just has to be a rooftop in any setting of our choosing.

Most people tend to do roofs of futuristic high-rise buildings I wanted to do something in the other direction. So I’m going for a low rise middle eastern temple/mansion, which has recently been used as a communications outpost for the army.

As this level is based in the middle east, lighting is a strong component which will really sell the level. So the best engine to pick to get the best out of this project for me is Cryengine. An added bonus is that I had a wealth of experience using Cryengine from our group project last year. See Here for blog.

With any project i know time management is the key to efficient workflow. So firsts things first was to make a brief timetable to follow strictly over the next 4 weeks.

The next stage in this process was concepting. So i gather up as many references as possible for a mood board  from there i created some basic drawings and a birds eye view of the floor plan.

From all the references and concepts, i produced a primitive white box so i could get an idea of dimensions, flow and composition. The white box went under several revisions until i was happy with it.

From Oldest to Newest

In my first version i planned to make a large dome in the courtyard, but i later scraped this as i felt it took away the main focal point from the communications tower to the dome. Whereas i wanted the player to always have the tower in view as this was the end goal for the player to get to. I also saw the tower as my ‘hero’ asset so i wanted as much attention on it as i could. Although i did want something in there to give a better sense of the height of the tower. So i made a tower on the corner which has been half destroyed. Having this building would now allow me to place loads of debris around the area, making the level more interesting and selling the point that it was an outpost under attack.

The next reversion i scaled down the rooftops to get slightly more crowded feeling. I also added another set of stairs for the player to climb, this is give a greater sense of height and the feeling of ‘climbing towards to goal’.

Texture planning was the next major step, as i had to sort out what i was going to texture and how much texture space it would get. As well as what texture is going to tile. Below shows how I've split up the 4 1024s.

I split up all my individual assets over the 2 1024s, so i could get as much texel density as possible as these assets are reused a lot throughout the level. All my tiling textures are split between the 6 512s. Then the 8 256s are for decals and alphas,. I decided to do that as alphas are quite intensive, so by keeping the texture as small as possible i would limit the strain on the engine.    

Below is some of the tilling textures present in the level:

Floor Tiles

Wall Concrete
To be as efficient as possible i took a modular approach to some of my assets. So for example the communications tower is a very big piece and it would make no sense to unwrap each individual piece of it. So i decided to make 1 pole, 1 ground connection, 1 pole connection, 3 types of satellites and 1 cable. With all these assets i can create a very large tower in a timely manner. I don't want all the poles to be grey/metal, so to create some variation i plan to use Cryengine to change to diffuse colour of the texture map so i can get orange painted pole in there too.

Military and Communications Assets 
I've approached the windows in a similar approach by creating one window with 2 separate window faux shutters. This is so i can picked between fully closing the shutters, opening one/both or even just not having them.  

Building Assets

Below shows some of the alpha textures i have done.

Plant Pot Bush

Barbed Wire

Next step is importing the assets and level into Cry to get a better feeling for the level. Check back soon.


My name is Dan Hargreaves, a 3rd year student studying Game Art Design at De Montfort University.

I will being using this blog to show my progression of all my 3rd year professional briefs and my final major project.