Turning a beautiful concept into a 3D model is an exciting process we’re all familiar with.
Although familiar, there are key elements that can easily be missed when knee-deep in development, or that can be frustratingly forgotten about as a consideration in the process. Unsurprisingly, this often leads to disappointing models and disappointed teams.
So, what are the key factors that must be considered in preparation for every modelling project? What things are easily forgotten? Why are they so important? Our Lead 3D Artist, Andres Prados, has kindly answered some questions surrounding common pitfalls he has seen, so that you can leave this blog fully equipped with refreshers and new insight as to best practices.
1. What’s your role at MLC and how did you get into 3D modelling?
I’m Andres Prados, Lead 3D Artist at MLC. I’m in charge of leading 3d projects, organising artists, creating workflows for the different projects that come to MLC, reviewing portfolios and updating our internal asset library.
I started 3D modelling when I was in high school. At that time I was shooting short films with my friends and my smartphone – we were really into Star Wars. I found Video Copilot and fell in love with VFX. With Andrew Kramer’s videos, I learned how to use Adobe After Effects to make the effects of the lightsabres. Later, I used FilmRiot’s YouTube channel to learn Adobe Premiere. When I knew enough about VFX, for one of my short films I wanted to add 3D models. At that time, there wasn’t much information on YouTube, so I decided to study a “3D, Animation and Game Development” degree. When I finished, I realised that what I liked the most was 3D modelling, so I then completed a Masters in “Zbrush Sculpting” in Valencia.
2. What are common mistakes you see game developers make when they’re in the thinking phase for modelling?
One of the common mistakes is the lack of knowledge about texel density and the lack of importance given to it. Texel density is the resolution per pixel of the texture of each model/asset. If each 3D model has a different texel (resolution), each one will have a different quality. Some textures will look sharp and others pixelated, and so it will look like they do not belong to the same scene or game, almost like a kitbash of assets. I always ask our clients which texel density they want us to work with, and if they don’t know, I’m always happy to provide guidance on which texel to use and how it works.
3. What are the core things game developers should consider before starting the modelling process?
Of course, the most important thing is to have concept art or a character/prop design sheet approved by the Lead 3D Artist of the modelling team. Think carefully about how the clothes, or parts of your model, will work with the rig. With characters, there are some clothes that are more complex than others. Depending on the platform where the game is developed, you may have animation and rig problems. For example, a skirt needs a lot of bones to be able to deform with the movement of the legs. If it is for a mobile game, if the character is very low poly and the number of bones is limited, it is very likely that you will see the leg go through the skirt.
4. What makes a perfect game-ready 3D model?
- Definitely a good topology. With characters, good placement of polygon loops helps the surface to deform in animation. With props, as few polygons as possible are needed. However, the silhouette must be kept and texel density established in the GDD respected.
- Use the least amount of textures and materials. Optimization is the key!
- Ensure all meshes are renamed with the correct name and the pivot point is well placed.
5. What’s the general pipeline to get a 3D model ready for a game?
The 3D pipeline can vary depending on the type of prop or asset being made. As a general rule, the pipeline for a prop would start in Blender/Maya with the high poly of the asset. ZBrush is then used to add details like scratches and bumps. Retopology is next, which involves creating a low poly version of the prop and the UVs. After UVs, the information from the high poly to low poly is transferred using the normal maps, ambient occlusion, curvature etc. With all this information, the model is ready to be coloured and textured! The standard programme for this is Adobe Substance Painter.
6. How can game developers spot the best modellers?
A great way to see if a 3D artist is good is to check that they place loops well, optimise (for example adding more polygons in the deformation zones and removing them in non-moving zones), give UVs as much space as possible and are tidy. Above all though, it’s ideal if they have examples in their portfolio that are close to the style you’re looking for. An important note is that there are very good modellers who are not good illuminators, which means the renders in their portfolio may not be doing their work justice! That’s a completely different role.
There we have it! Thanks to Andres for providing his expertise on what to watch out for throughout the concept to modelling process.
If you’re having a hard time finding a 3D artist, you may be able to work with Andres himself or our team of 3D artists. Let us know if you’d like to chat!