Utilizing Modo in Stylized Art

Rob Madden, Creative Director at Hyper Luminal Games, talked about his stylized art workflow, Modo advantages and tips.

Introduction

Hey, my name is Rob Madden and I'm the Creative Director at Hyper Luminal Games, an indie game studio in Scotland. I do all sorts of stuff from day to day: speaking with various department leads, managing art tasks, chatting with clients and contractors. But whenever I get a free minute I dive into my favorite part of game dev: 3D modeling. 

I loved games from a very young age but I didn’t know one could have a career in games until I was a teenager. I remember watching a documentary about the production of Halo and seeing job titles like ‘Environment Artist’ and ‘Lighting Artist’ and I was like ‘Oh, no way that’s what these guys do for a job!? That’s awesome!’ As a result, I went to university to study digital art and ended up where I am.

Hyper Luminal Games

Founding Hyper Luminal Games has been the most fun thing I think I’ve ever done. We started out of Abertay University where I met my two business partners and co-founders. We worked on a few university projects together, really clicked and have been partners and friends ever since. We’ve never had any major source of investment so we did it the old-fashioned way: lots of client projects and hard work. We started small and now we’re into our sixth year and up to fifteen full-time employees with a few part-time contractors. We’ve shipped about 40+ titles on all sorts of platforms but our biggest release yet was our first original IP, Big Crown: Showdown, a fast-paced multiplayer brawler that dropped last year for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. 

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Working in Modo

I switched to MODO towards the end of the university after being recommended it by a friend. It really clicked for me quite quickly - there’s just something about the way the tools feel, it is really satisfying to use them. There are rhythm and flow that develop once you get the camera under control and the tools feel very hands-on and direct. You have much control over how you interact with the model. The interface has clearly been built from the ground up for direct modeling and that simplicity makes it very clean. When I saw that there are very few buttons in the MODO interface, it seemed limiting at first. But once you realize that things like Action Centres, Falloffs, Workplanes, etc. can all be used in conjunction with each other, the amount of available options increases exponentially. It’s far less about finding the right button and clicking it and more about combining different states to directly manipulate the model. It’s hard to describe but I find it very intuitive and satisfying.

Working on Stylized Art

Great stylized models start with great stylized concepts! Working out the designs on paper first is really important and we always produce strong concepts to support the modeling phase and make that as streamlined as possible. As for tools, for me, stylization is an aesthetic not limited to a particular tool, so anything can be used to create stylized work, especially an application like MODO.

I’m a huge proponent of understanding fundamentals and this drives our stylized workflows. Having an understanding of good core form, edge flow, surface definition, and shading creates great stylized models. It’s finding clean, clear and defined forms that matters.

I always jump in and start defining the big shapes as early and quickly as possible, trying to get an impression of how the overall form will look before getting bogged down in the details. MODO’s clean interface and direct toolset excel in that regard, they never get in the way. You never feel like you're fighting the interface or get stuck trying to find the right button to click. You’re able to seamlessly manipulate the model, transform it, shape it, control visibility, and generally just concentrate on making great models.

As for custom tools, I don’t use them nearly enough. I think because a lot of our work is stylized and simplified, I tend to stick to the normal toolset provided. There’s so much you can do with it out of the box. I always end up adjusting my interface though and that’s super simple: you can just move stuff around however you need and tailor each viewport for different workflows. 

Topology

For our workflow, optimization starts right at the beginning of the asset construction. Make sure that the fundamentals are there right from the beginning: good form, correct edge flow, and clean topology. We’ll take those assets and create high poly meshes, either with a straight conversion to SubD or into a sculpting package. When you jump back to your low poly though, you still have that clean original mesh that you can work from directly.

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UVs

The next big thing for me is UVs. Do them properly! If your UVs are poorly flattened and arranged then your model will suffer down the line. Take the time to straighten edges and take advantage of the fantastic UV layout tools. The Rectangle tool, in particular, is amazing for hard surface assets: it automatically straightens any grid pattern and is perfect for square and cylindrical islands. I think it’s my favorite tool in MODO!

Working with Camera

I think everyone says this about MODO but do not disable the trackball camera rotation! It might seem strange at first, especially if you’re moving from another 3D package, but it’s a vastly superior way of controlling the camera. You can work with the model from any angle and orientation and once it clicks you’ll never want to go back. 

Rob Madden, Creative Director at Hyper Luminal Games

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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    Utilizing Modo in Stylized Art