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Adnan Chaumette talked about the way his invents new ways to work with the established tools to speed up game production.
Hi there, Adnan Chaumette here. I am what you would call environment artist with a bunch of technical skills. I grew up in Mauritania and Cameroun where the interest in video games was (and still is) relatively low. How I landed into this industry would probably be too long to explain (mostly because I don’t know that myself) but in short it was just a succession of small events plus my passion for game development that led me to this path.
I’m currently working on a bunch of Maya tools/personal projects and as a monkey of all trades in one of the first indie games of Africa, Meenlah: Quest of the Stolen Spirits.
Meenlah is a third-person adventure game that takes place in a fantasy Africa where masks used to live with humans, until that stability started to be threatened by an unknown enemy.
The game is “in development” by Noohkema Game Studios,which is a relatively small company of 5 creative peoples that work on different tasks to get things done.
Using well-established methods for game content creation might have worked for this project,but its scale required a certain amount of work that couldn’t be done by such a small without having to spend a huge amount of time on each aspect of the game’s environment,and that’s where the idea of making tools came from!
Custom tools and software for specific tasks
The game industry has seen a major upgrade in its production pipeline, giving artists the ability to work more efficiently on tasks that once used to take hours, days or even weeks.
As we’re building the prototype of Meenlah I have started using custom tools and also creating them to make a workflow that can help us in the long run, not only for the prototype but also for the whole game in its development cycle.
The biggest challenge of the prototype was to work on a huge set of organic modular textures, and to do that we have used both Quixel Megascans and Allegorithmic Substance Designer to build a procedural, realistic and non-destructive workflow that can be radically changed anytime during the production.
Megascans is a massive library of high quality tillable surface, 3d scans and vegetation while Substance Designer is a procedural material authoring software that gives you the ability to create very complex materials from scratch.
I used the Megascans library in conjunction with Substance Designer to create a library of texture details that can be propagated within any new or old material. This gave me the power to work on realistic procedural textures in no time.
Balance between high quality and small team size
When working on an indie game, you can often face major issues during production,and sometimes it is due to the balance between the quality you want for the project when compared to the scale of your team. Many projects often try to target AAA quality in their graphics but tend to fail either because the team didn’t have the good tools or was too small… Or both.
At Noohkema Game Studios we are constantly trying out new tools that we can afford and the prototype of the project is structured in a way that allows us to downscale certain tasks if they happen to be taking too much time or if they’re too complicated for the scale of the team or the available resources.
Some projects prefer to do this before the project starts but we just do it twice: before and after the start of the project.
When working on an artistic project like a game you never know what (bad) surprises can rise ahead, which is why we insist on the importance of having flexible game design documents.
An in-depth look at our workflow
Meenlah’s prototype happens in a very detailed environment that requires a huge amount of vegetation, and using Megascans right inside Maya to kit-bash ideas and quickly make them portable to the Unreal Engine 4 was one of my main goals,which led to me work on a relatively small tool that helped me in this task.
The tool (Megascans Maya Library) allows you to browse your downloaded Megascans Atlases in Maya,and importing/scattering the atlases is a one click solution.
I’ve made a set of procedural material graphs that help me to quickly texture a lot of our assets just by plugin in a Normal and Ambient Occlusion map,which were baked in Designer.
As an example, all the rocks of the prototype are made with Zbrush and Substance. We basically sculpt, retopo and unwrap the rocks in Zbrush, then bring them in Substance Designer were we output a Normal + AO, which automatically create all our texture maps for the rock (Albedo, Roughness, Normal).
For objects that required hand-made textures like certains props I try to use a few input textures (Normal, AO, Color Map) inside a master shader and make all the detailing right in there. Some props require more hand control and are textured in Photoshop.
My rule of thumb for making tools or not is primarily the scale of its target. If I want to make say 3-5 rocks for a scene I’m not going to make some crazy tools that automate the process but just open Zbrush and get things done. If on the other hand I have to make 30-50 rocks that need to be very flexible for maximum variation I’ll try to automate the process as much as I can, often by using smart master materials, procedurally generated rocks, custom Maya plugins, etc…
Macro Master: a long-term solution for workflow optimization
While working on the technical aspect of Meenlah in Maya, I had to make a lot of scripts and shortcuts that ranged from very simple to really hard, and it was after weeks of work on these issues and on my tools Quick Pipe and ADN Modeler Tools that I decided to start working on my next public tool Macro Master, which is basically a tool that is just smart enough to make tools and easy enough for your average artist to understand how it works.
The main inspirations behind it are a combination of Modo’s macro system and Maya’s MEL scripting language.
I’ll be sharing more of it on next month, hopefully!
Advice for aspiring artists
As an artist it is important to have a solid understanding of your domain (environment, character, concept, etc…)but having a technical knowledge of how things work in your 3D/2D package is also crucial to understanding how to properly optimize your workflow.
In this day and age we have a lot of simple tools and programming languages that help us dive into the awesome (and scary) world of technical art, so if you have some time to spend go watch some Substance Designer, Mel, Max Creation Graph or Python tutorials, they’ll come in really handy in the future !
Also, and this is somewhat relevant to any field in the CG industry, always try to stay focused, be disciplined and give more time to your family/friends/whatever.