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Michel Lanoie (LinkedIn) is a well-known artist, who’s currently working on the upcoming game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. He created a lot of beautiful personal projects in 3DS Max, building hard-surface environments with incredible amount of details. In our interview Michel talks about the use of color, creation of awesome assets for games and finding beauty in cluttered environments.
Besides the fact that I played video games in my childhood and that I was fascinated by them, I desperately wanted to know how they were made. I had to learn its secrets. I realized that the possibilities were endless with 3D art. I did traditional art before but I always felt that I could do something more.
That is how I got to ask 3D training books for Christmas. My parents were happily surprised because they saw the potential and so they were very supportive. The very first 3D software I learned was Bryce and from that I switched to 3ds Max.
My dream has always been to work in this field. I started my career at Ubisoft, on Splinter Cell: Conviction. Then I went to Eidos where I worked on Deus Ex: Human Revolution + Missing Link. Since then I have been working hard on the sequel.
The Symphony of Visual Noise
I love cluttered environments and sci-fi, I enjoy to pay meticulous attention to detail and to be able to tell a story in my scenes.
So I usually start by creating a basic concept of my idea and then I search for reference pictures. The actual 3D starts with a basic block out of my scene. Proportions are important because everything else will be built on top of that. My next step is to try different camera angles from which I can have an interesting point of view. This is crucial as I concentrate all the details in a single shot.
Layers in 3DS Max are awesome, I would not live without them. This way I can have large scenes and work on specific areas without having the whole scene displayed.
I do a basic modeling pass on the whole scene, then I like to fully work zone by zone, independently. I usually do some lighting between those working zones so it gives a mood from which it tells me where I need to put more details. It also helps me to tweak materials accordingly, even if the lighting is not final. Finally, I polish and tweak everything as a whole.
Creating Believable Materials
Many studios use physically based rendering. It became a trend in real time rendering lately. But as you know it’s not a good technology that makes a good artist, so here are some principles that can be applied on any tech.
I always try to bring contrast between materials, so the eye gets attracted to different points of views of your choosing. In addition, contrast between materials brings credibility to your shading. Let’s say you created a good looking metal, to truly make it believable it needs to be compared to others types of surfaces, in this case matt surfaces like concrete, wood or plastic. Therefore, your metal will stand out way more.
If you have cluttered scenes, a good trick is to keep the texture noise and grunge levels to a minimum, so the image does not get too messy. You can also give the textures a desaturated look, all while maintaining a more saturated color relationship between key elements, and so at least it will be a controlled mess.
Creating Assets for Games VS Static Scenes
In a game it is pretty hard to have what I call the perfect triangle. Quality, quantity and diversity. You can’t have all of them at once at the highest level, you must choose which one of them you want most and do sacrifices on the others. It always comes to that.
We usually have to sacrifice on vertex count, draw calls, material complexity and of course post-processes. You also need LODs on mostly everything to help the rendering but they have a high cost in time and memory. Memory became less of a problem on this console’s generation, but we compensate by producing more content using bigger files, so it pretty much comes to the same thing.
Also, there is all that technical work that must be done by game artists. By that I mean collisions, lods, dimension rules, cover nodes, navmesh, modules, streaming, normals, uvs, material sounds, memory usage, occluders, overdraw, optimisation, there is just so much to consider for everything to work nicely.
At least with real-time rendering you get what you see. In some way it’s fast to produce stuff, but then again you have all of that technical work behind it.
Stylization VS Realism
We human beings have what is called an imagination. Better to us it in my opinion as the potential of creation is limitless. Realistic rendering isn’t easy, far from it, I just find it redundant. I like to create stylized images with groovy atmospheres, so the viewer can enjoy your work and comprehend it on different levels from which it won’t be the same for everyone. To make other people dream to be in that scene, movie or game, even for just a moment, it is something wonderful to achieve as a creator. But in the end, you still need some realism and credibilityso people can still make connections with what they know.
The Power of 3DS Max
I love 3DS Max, we get along very nicely. Maya seems like the best alternative, I personally prefer Max for modeling and I like its UI. Maya might be better for animation and many studios use it. I just hope that they won’t merge 3ds Max and Maya together. Both pieces of software have their pros and cons, merging them would just not work, as they are different and can be used for different purposes.