Maciej Górnicki shared his character modeling and texturing workflows for mobile game characters and reviewed MODO's tools.
For me, everything started at the university. I met a colleague who was part of a CG science club. He invited me to their gathering and since then I got hooked by art. I started learning about computer graphics and improving my skills until one day when we got to try Unity Engine which is the point where my game career started. Shortly after that, I decided with my girlfriend that we were going to start making games.
Throughout my career, I worked on many different games for various platforms like PC, Linux, Mac, VR, AR and of course mobile which is nowadays my main focus. Some titles that I worked on are Leisure Suit Larry, Farmville 3, and Zombs Royale.
What Art Directors Do
My main job as an Art Director is to make sure that everyone is moving in the same direction. Besides that, I try to have a high-level view of the project. I focus on user experience, UI, readability and overall feeling of the game. I try to ask questions like: Do our players understand what is on the screen? Is that information readable? Does everything feel that it belongs together? Those are important questions for me and I’m looking for solutions to those. Mobile games are played in different locations and situations, so we want our games to always be fun and exciting.
The most challenging part is to align everyone on the same goals and explain who our players are and what they expect from us.
My personal goal when making games is to make the most exciting entertainment for my target audience, create memorable and fun games for various players. When doing games I try not to divide game development into art and code because the goal is to make great games played by other people.
I always try to work in a smart way. Games are time-consuming projects. If we can cut the number of complications by optimizing some parts of the workflow I often pick that road. Trying to simplify things helps to maintain good scope in the project. That philosophy works especially well in 3D - as game artists, we are masters of trickery. My main tools for modeling are ZBrush for sculpting, 3ds Max for modeling, RizomUV for unwrapping, and Octane Render for offline rendering.
Besides that, I use a few specific techniques to make my models look good. Few of those are beveled edges, weighted normals, baking lighting into textures, pre-rendered sprites and color grading. I think that color grading and pre-rendered sprites make an especially huge difference on mobile compared to other games.
Pre-rendered sprites make everything look good, even the simplest geometry. The advantage is that you can add any effect you would like: color grading, complex materials, complex animations. You just need to be smart with it.
Simple geometry but great looking at proper scale and angle:
Simple animation of pre-rendered sprites in Unity:
Modeling in MODO
I learned 3D modeling in Blender first, then at my first internship job, I started using 3ds Max. I had a silly approach to learning 3ds Max - I just read the whole manual. To this day, I know some features in Max that I haven’t had a chance to use. Then, somewhere in the period when I was intensively learning computer graphics programming I began to optimize my workflow because I wanted to work faster. This is when I found MODO, and it sounded like it had all the advantages and few disadvantages of 3ds Max. From my experience, MODO has a much faster workflow for modeling compared to 3ds Max. Creators of MODO paid more attention to user experience. All immediate functions are quickly available or easily customizable.
MODO is also much faster. The reaction time of the interface is great compared to other 3D programs. As for features I’m especially fond of quad menus and retopology tools.
I customized my MODO to improve my modeling speed. Many of the scripts that I use are from Henning Sanden. I modified my Quad Menus to include custom functions.
I have a total of four quad menus filled with different functions for different scenarios. The first quad menu has misc functionality for mesh cleanup and basic chores. Second and third quad menus are filled with mesh modifiers like:
- Quick Bridge
- Loop Slice
- Perfect Circle
- Duplicate Selected Polys
- Loop Move
- Isolate Selection
The last quad menu has functions to speed up my retopology when doing low poly modeling. The last quad menu is connected to another set of tools that I really like in MODO. Those are tools for retopology. This is part of my workflow that takes a lot of time. Usually, it’s completely manual and whenever I can I use automation. MODO helped me a lot with retopology with a smart set of functions like:
- Topology Pen
- Topology Sketch
Those are huge timesavers.
3ds Max, on the other hand, has a lot of legacy functionality which is good and bad. There is a huge list of useful tools for anyone. All new and exciting tools are usually right away available.
Other than that I try to use the smallest number of extra programs possible to keep everything simple and flexible. There are days when I do programming, shader programming, UI flows, and animation so I don’t want to get my workflows too complex.
Early on, when PBR was entering the game industry I was sure that it can improve the quality of stylized art for me and others. So I started experimenting with stylized physically-based materials. Thanks to Substance Painter those experiments got much easier.
My workflow is simple and looks as follows:
1) First, I block out colors on the model. Very often readability and separation between the background and the character are important in mobile games. This stage helps me to establish a good starting point. I often go a few times between SP and Unity.
Most of this texture is either one-colored materials or drag-and-drop smart materials:
2) Then, depending on the project, I prepare stylized patterns that I will use for different types of materials. Even if it’s stylized I still try to differentiate the type of material with colors and details. I often combine multiple procedural textures in Substance Painter and create something new from them. I especially like using “Divide” blending mode with two different procedural masks.
The video below shows how I approached stylized fur for the Goat model. Easily adjustable by swapping type of procedural fur.
3) The third and last stage is detailing: adding color variations, adding tear and wear (stylized version, simplified and usually one colored). Sometimes, I add baked lighting, G channel from world space normal map or Ambient occlusion with something else than “multiply” blending mode.
Here is texture with final colors and details:
A very important rule that I always try to remember: when doing textures for mobile games (especially stylized) you don’t need that many details and color variations. I always try to remind myself “don’t overdo it, keep it simple”. As an artist, I want to make it as good as possible but sometimes I can end up with a complex texture that has too intricate details.
Substance Painter Advantages
I started using Substance Painter as soon as it got released, and for me, the most important benefits are:
- Asset preview in almost final lighting (we have the ability to change HDRs, LUT, Post Processes). I often lose objectivity when working on models so any help that keeps me on track is important for me.
- A procedural approach to material creation. I can iterate on different versions of textures. I often do a few dirty versions and export them to see what works and what doesn’t.
- The speed compared to older workflows (for example, Photoshop) is so much higher. I can get the first version in under 15 minutes.
- User experience. Working in SP is intuitive and smooth. It has most of the features that you would want from a texture creation tool. That is definitely something that I pay attention to in modern art tools.
Advice for Mobile Game Developers
The number one rule to remember when making art for mobile games is that we are not making that for an employee or for ourselves. Game art is made for players that want to enjoy their games. Another general rule I use is that scale matters. Mobile games are played on smaller screens and you can (and you should) skip a lot of detail work if you are smart. I always try to remember that.
When it comes to modeling, my focus areas are:
- Silhouette. For example, hero assets need to stand out compared to generic items.
- Recognition. Player needs to understand the shape that they see.
Texturing has the following areas that I focus on:
- Readability. Players need to read the difference between ally and enemy.
- Style appeal to the target audience. When targeting casual players our style will be different than when targeting hardcore players.
Maciej Górnicki, Art Director
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev