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Staff Spotlight – Elod Horvath

In this post Environment Artist Elod Horvath tells us about his role and the work that goes into producing high quality assets in SkySaga…

Hello everyone! My name is Elod Horvath and I am an Environment Artist here at Radiant Worlds.
First of all, thanks for taking a peek behind the scenes of the wonderful work that is being done on SkySaga. One of the main reasons I enjoy working here is the fun and very experienced atmosphere, where colleagues actually feel like friends, working together on a common goal. And the occasional free doughnuts might have something to do with it as well… ;¬)

In this article I’d like to give you a glimpse into the production of game props. As Environment Artists, our job is to populate our worlds with basically everything you see (except characters). We create chairs, chimneys, tables, swords, trees, and much more! There are dozens of objects that need to be created to convince the player that the world of SkySaga is alive, and that it existed long before the player first set foot in the world! It gives a sense of history and raises interest towards exploring all the islands, races, adventures and much more.
Our role is connected with other disciplines within the team: whenever a request comes in for a new prop, let’s say in this instance a large Spring Trap, one of our Concept Artists grabs his magical pen and starts drawing designs. Sometimes they produce a couple of versions and with the help of our Art Director we decide which design will make it into the game. Usually this involves a huge art team brawl, but that’s all good!

Spring_Trap_Large

Concept art of Spring Trap.

Concept art is usually 2D, and although in cases like this the possibilities are endless, our concept artists are aware of certain technical limitations we have when it comes to modelling shapes in 3D (such as vertex count and texture resolution based on object size).
After a concept has been approved, the Environment Artists in our shiny armour step in and bring these drawings to life. In this case, I had received an awesome drawing of a pretty big spring trap. This prop is special, because it is not static, it doesn’t just lie on the floor being lazy and doing nothing, it will actually shoot people up into the air, so it will be animated.
The first step I take is to examine the drawing. How big will this object be in the game? What is my vertex budget? Are there any parts of this prop that I only need to model once and then duplicate? Asking questions like this before starting the actual modelling work can save loads of time during production. I always try to ask as many questions as possible about the object, develop a production plan, and try to foresee and eliminate problems that might occur in the latter stages of the work pipeline in order to have a clean, accurate workflow.
We begin modelling in Autodesk Maya, an exceptional piece of 3D software. It has great tools to create any shape that the mind can imagine. I start out by “blocking out” the model. This means that I’m only interested in setting down the main proportions of the object.
Detailing can come later, at the moment I want to achieve the chunky feel of the concept and try to match the sizes of each element to the drawing. Of course, I have a bit of freedom to “break away” from the concept, because at the end of the day the main goal is to create an object that works well in the game.

 

Spring_01

Finished blockout.

Next, I move to a sculpting program, called ZBrush, which allows me to add the details necessary to bring this asset to life. Here, I add wear and tear and other surface features that allow the player to identify the materials used in the object and give it a greater sense of believability.
Speaking of believability, another crucial element to props like this one is animation and sound. I find it helpful to have a quick chat with our animators and sound engineer to understand how the object will behave and sound. Animation plans can influence modelling, so it’s good to know these things in advance!

Spring_02

Unique parts detailed in ZBrush.

Once the detailing is finished, I have a nice coffee and go brag to someone about how many chips and scratches I’ve added to my Spring Trap. After that’s done and I feel much better about myself I move onto the next step, texturing.

Spring_03

Replication areas

Texturing is the process in which we add colour and various other details through applying several layers of properties (called maps, which are basically images) to turn an object that is solid grey into a believable, colourful, shiny asset. The first part of texturing is something called “unwrapping”. Basically, I take the model and cut it into bits so I can flatten it. Imagine a cardboard box that you want to flatten: in order to do that you will need to cut some slices so it will lay flat. That is essentially what I do with my model so I can paint on it.

Unwrapping is crucial, because it can be the difference between a model that has a very crisp and clean look in the game and one that is blurry, noisy and full of unreadable details. We usually have a set resolution for our object based on its size (for example, 512×512 or 1024×1024). This is where duplicating certain parts of the asset can be very handy. If I decide that I will only need to model and texture one spring that means I will have more space for it on my texture sheet than if I had to texture four of. This will result in a higher resolution look (no noisy, blurry textures for me, thank you very much!).
Once the unwrapping is done, I move onto creating four different textures:
– Colour: provides the flat colour information of the object.
– Specular: tells the model where it needs to be shiny. Think of the difference between metal and wood for example.
– Normal map: The normal map is a texture that “fakes” our in-game model to look like it has the details that the high-res model has (chips, wear and tear and so on). Basically this makes a 1,500 polygon mesh look like one that has millions.
– Remap texture: we re-colour all of our assets based on what materials the player used to craft them. This texture tells the model how and where to re-colour based on the crafting materials.

Sometimes we use other textures like emissive (adds glowing parts to a model), but in this case I didn’t need to use one as the object doesn’t have glowing parts.

Colour_01

Colour Map

I create these textures by taking my high-resolution model (with all the wear and tear) and transfer (bake) its details onto my in-game model. After this, I manually texture the asset with the details I have from the bake and also do a fair bit of hand painting here and there.

SkySaga 2016-11-01 15-35-56-2

Asset seen in-game.

One thing that is constantly happening during these steps is communication between various team members. It is important not to take complete ownership of a prop, because I am not creating it for myself, but rather for the requirements of the game. We artists like to get lost in our own, creative world, BUT, when working in a team environment I have to put the game’s needs first and make sure it blends in well with the rest of the contents.
Now, that texturing is finished I can look at getting the asset into the game. Before inserting it into the game database, I take a look at it on a test level. It’s always a good idea to see whether the model, textures, animation and sound are all working as intended. After some small tweaks here and there the object is ready to go into the game and add misery… uhm… I mean fun to our players’ Adventures! I hope this Spring Trap will take their enjoyment to new heights!
One of the main reasons I enjoy working at Radiant Worlds is the fact that we have all these different disciplines which are interconnected. We have programmers, audio engineers, animators, writers, publishers, artists and so on, working together to bring SkySaga to life. This generates a highly collaborative environment, which is so fun and fulfilling to work in.

Jump_01

Fun times!

We put in a lot of care and attention into each and every object you see in the game, so before you break something to bits, before applying that final hit, think of the artist who spent all that time creating it… and then smash it to smithereens!
Thanks for reading!
Elod Horvath

Stay tuned to RadiantWorlds.com for more articles and insights. Thanks for reading!

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