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We talked to Saman Mahmoudi, who has worked at Moving Picture Company and EA DICE, about the way he approaches character creation. Talented artist talks modeling, texturing, the role of background, importance of lighting and gives valuable tips on becoming a professional.
My name is Saman Mahmoudi and I have been working in the games industry since 2005. I have worked at a few different companies in both the games industry as well as film/commercials ranging from the Moving Picture Company to EA DICE which was the latest. Two of my main passions used to be drawing and playing with clay when I was younger, but when I was about to start university I figured that it would be better to learn to do it digitally so I started applying for digital arts programs. I was lucky enough to study digital art at a few schools but I still had a passion for creating things traditionally so I kept sculpting things with clay (Zbrush was very new to the market at the time). This was until people told me that it would be better if I were to transfer my clay sculpting skills to digital sculpting skills so it would be of more use to the companies I was applying for at the time. I’m more used to digital sculpting nowadays, so I prefer working with Zbrush but clay sculpting still has a place in my heart.
The Warcraft style is right up my alley which is why I’m so fond of creating them. The first characters I made were actually favorites of mine (Garrosh and the warden) so picking them was a no-brainer. I also throw around ideas with my friends on how to go about it. I think this is very important as it would not only be something you were to do at a company but it also gives you other peoples’ perspective on things so you won’t get “snowed in”. My friends are a great help in this regard and they usually give me great feedback so I’m happy to have them.
I usually start off in either Maya or 3DS Max because I find it easier to do so. I do jump forth and back a lot between the 3d software and Zbrush in the beginning though, I call this part the sketching part where I try to get the right shape and look of the model. I use tools like Dynamesh to merge together parts and transpose master to get the right proportions etc. This part is more about getting the right look on things so it doesn’t matter how the high the polycount etc. is unless it starts to become a memory/stability problem for Zbrush.
I start by polypainting the model in Zbrush and I actually do this at the start of the process. After finishing the sculpt and lowpoly I bake a few maps and then merge them all together in Photoshop and then do some further adjustments there. I make sure I have a good lighting setup in whatever program I’m gonna present the art in (Marmoset Toolbag 2 in my case) since it’s gonna affect how I go about creating the texture. You don’t want to create a super dark texture that only works in one lighting setup.
The lighting setup is actually a pretty simple and traditional method I learned in school called the three point lighting setup. I put a key light in the character’s upper side front, another on the other side which is placed lower as a fill light and a back light which is placed begind the art piece, placed slightly on the side to create a fresnel like highlight. The color of these lights vary depending on the location the character is supposed to be in. Objects in the scene can shine too like a glowing blade or fire so I place lights in those objects as well to create more realism.
My backgrounds actually end up being pretty simple nowadays as it’s the character that should be the most important part. I usually start off big with a detailed background but it usually ends up bringing the whole presentation down so I remove a lot of it, haha. In the Garrosh presentation it was a part of him, so to say, so I couldn’t go without it. The warden background is mainly Photoshop work as opposed to the Garrosh background(or diorama) which is entirely made in 3D.
Post your art online for feedback. I always make sure to show my friends(and sometimes post on forums) the WIP process of my art and it helps a lot. Sometimes people on forums will say contradicting things though and in those moments it’s up to you to go with whatever you feel is right. I appreciate constructive criticism and I don’t think it should matter where it comes from, be it from a great experienced artist or a student that has just started learning. Go with whatever you feel sounds right but at least hear them out, it’s very important to be humble.
If they want to work in a studio I would also tell them to go look up the studios in their area and see what kind of art style they’re using and then go from there. If the studios are mainly stylized art studios, make some cool stylized art. If it’s more like Battlefield or Medal of Honor, go for more realistic ones. Artists usually like different kinds of art, some like character art and others prefer environment art etc. Character artist positions are pretty limited though but if that’s where your passion lies then go for it. Passion is what brings most people to this industry but in the end it’s also about being able to have a job that pays the bill so I think it’s good to do other kinds of art until you find whatever fits you the most. Last but not least, try to have fun in whatever you do!