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Weapon Artist Gregor Kopka talked about his experience creating 3d weapons for video games. Learn how perspective and camera angle influences the way you build your guns.
My name is Gregor Kopka and I entered 3D game development via the mod scene at the end of the 90s, when I worked with friends on a Quake III mod called “Navy Seals Covert Operations.” Basically, this was my first time gaining experience in creating game assets for an engine. This included characters and weapons—I had no clue what I was doing! But, my friends and I eventually taught ourselves everything we needed to know, and we made this hard work fun by supporting each other on our way to our bigger goal that almost resulted in the creation of our own company. I kept doing 3D art while I was at university studying Design while also dabbling in movie-related artistic work. The quality of my art back then was universe away from what kids are capable of doing nowadays simply because my only source at the time was expensive books that solely focused on creating spheres in 3ds Max. Today, one can go on YouTube or head over to ArtStation to learn how to cut corners by listening to the experience of others or to get inspired by an enormous selection of awesome 3D art.
After I received my diploma in Design, I began looking for a job and my friend Ben Bauer, who was one of the founders of our Quake III mod, suggested I apply to work at Crytek where he was also working. After applying, I underwent several art tests and got a prop artist job, which allowed me to work on weapons and props in Crysis. Initially, it was a very difficult position! I still had no clue what I was doing, but I learned a great deal of information and developed some practical skills that lead me to earn a new role at Crytek. At that point in my career, I oversaw the creation of all weapons (my speciality) for all Crytek projects from Frankfurt, Germany.
I was always in limbo about being a production artist who also designed his work himself. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to go, especially if you love concepting, but game companies really like production artists with design skills—which is a position that can pay off in the long run. But, if you don’t do a lot of concepting in your free time, you will end up falling behind the best—as is true with most things in life. Currently, I’m improving this part of my skill set while I continue to grow at Nvidia. In the end, it reminds me of my beginnings as a noob 3D game developer which is fine because it makes me feel young again and keeps me hungry to learn more.
If you’d like to grasp a better understanding of my work, feel free to visit my ArtStation!
Guns of DOOM
Producing weapons for Doom was new to me because I was defining my own style at Crytek, creating weapons unto myself. Jumping over to Doom, I had the new challenge of working on a set of iconic designs that gamers and developers cherished in their own ways. The Doom weapons had a style that differed from what I used to do, which was a pseudo-realistic style. Doom guns are much larger in shape while also oozing a sense of bang and brutality.
I came late into the design process and much of the art style was already set. My goal then was to adapt the already existent style, which was set by Jon Lane, our lead concept artist, and Bryan Flynn, another concept artist. I decided to bring my 14 years of experience working with weapons to the company to improve the the overall quality and presentation of weapons within the game. Here and there, I was still able to drop my own marks on some weapons. I was even able to design weapons like the Hellshot in MP —that is when our tight production schedule allowed me some creative downtime. I also worked closely with Bryan Flynn on his weapon concepts to turn them into realities. The process was strung together by plenty of meetings to make sure we remained loyal to the soul of the franchise, which proved to be a major interdepartmental effort. I figured that because all of the employees were happy with our work (they are big Doom fans themselves), then we were doing a solid job on the weapons!
I used to create thumbnails and then go over to 3ds Max to use the viewport cartoon shader to block out different ideas in a quick fashion. Now, I often have a rough idea in my head of the journey I’ll undertake, which is based in shapes or animations. I used to animate quite a bit for short, 3D movies and believe that FPS guns should not only be about shapes but also, and much more importantly, the feeling a player receives when pressing the trigger. I want to experience the bang of gunfire through a well-defined and impactful animation!
I come from a family of engineers and think of my work in a very systematic manner. My first shapes are rough and exist to help me define the animation of a weapon. As soon as I’m happy with the result and I feel the power of the weapon while I’m playing, I then hand the weapon over to animators and designers. Afterwards, I start pimping the shapes of the weapons and run in-game tests. First, I want the mechanical look of any weapon to be believable and powerful. Getting any weapon into a game engine as soon as possible is super important—up until that point, everything feels like one is poking around in the dark and never knowing what one is hitting.
I only use this mechanical design approach with complicated sci-fi weapons. For a standard assault rifle, I proceed like any other artist by defining big, cool shapes and working down to smaller details.
Below are some thumbnails and cartoon shader conceptions:
Perspective and Camera Angle
Yes, after Crysis 3 I wrote an entire document about this so that other developers at Crytek could have a guideline for future projects. Many concept artists have to understand that nobody cares about the side view—it’s all about the stretched FP perspective. As such, I model the gun for the player rather than the outside observer. I often see guns rich in detail and full of awesome shapes but if one places them in the FP camera they don’t work well because all the cool details are awkwardly stretched or not even visible to the player—they are out of sight or a final animation can’t support them.
Again, to make sure that one’s vision becomes reality and not just another neat idea laid out at the beginning of development to never hatch, one has to implement weapons into the engine as early as possible. This ensures the creation of the right camera angle for the game, which requires collaboration with animators and many other departments.
At the end of the day, you might be to blame if the perspective doesn’t work out! It’s mostly a lack of communication between departments that leads to a lackluster and disengaging FP perspective for the player. And the perspective one selects for a game complicates many aspects of that game’s development. As a result, game developers have to consider working with or against mipmapping, texturing, polygon budgeting, and more, making a certain level of previous experience helpful if game developers want to succeed in this aspect of development.
VFX and Animation
I’ve previously touched upon animation so I’ll try to focus on VFX, which is every bit as important. Of course, I can envision what happens along a gun but it’s important that a VFX artist is brought on early enough to make sure my idea is technically possible and in correspondence with the reality of the mesh and tech.
Basically, my ideal process is to work closely with every necessary department at the same time, which also includes game design. And it would be incredible if everyone would make time for face-to-face group meetings in order to keep communication easy and direct. Although I have my own ideas as to where a gun should be placed, I also value letting VFX and animation artists interpret my ideas for themselves. In the end, a good gun is a team effort!
Every game has its tech limits and these artists have the experience and knowledge to understand how to optimize these aspects of a game’s engine. And let’s not forget sound! Further communicate what a gun is all about through excellent sound design, which involves reaching out to a sound designer for your vision as early as possible. It’s such an important aspect of game design that huge titles, like the multiple entries from the Battlefield series, proof sound all the time.
Using 3ds Max & MODO
Yes, the primary tool at ID is Modo but I came into production late and I simply did not have the time to learn that software. Our development schedule required us to work fast and I’m quite fast in 3ds Max. Plus, I had stellar support with scripts from Timothee Yeramian who made some of the coolest internal scripts for 3ds Max to speed up my process—he’ll always have a special place in my heart!
I grew up with 3ds Max and it’s simply second nature for me to use. However, I have begun to drift towards different tools for specific tasks. I shifted my highpoly process completely to Fusion 360. In all honesty, I sometimes feel like I’m cheating because it’s so simple to use, it hits the quality benchmark in every respect, and it has a nondestructive process. I also want to point out that Fusion 360 has a helpful support team who take feedback very seriously.
Our industry has advanced so much that one will no longer be able to impress others simply with clean modeling because there are tools, like Fusion 360, that make this process rather straightforward. Now, industry professionals and passionate hobbyists will have to amaze others with their creative design skills. I hope Fusion 360 spreads throughout the industry—it’s truly incredible for hard surface work.
But don’t get me wrong! With the right scripts, 3ds Max is a powerhouse. Competitors, however, have definitely caught up and in some cases pulled ahead as their tools prove more advantageous in certain instances.
Texturing in 3D Coat
I only used 3D-Coat for texturing since it supports PBR, and I was able to paint directly on the asset and generate procedural materials. Also, I used it for a quick, initial unwrap.
I jumped on it because Efgeni Bischoff was using it for his character art and it looked very powerful. Everybody else used Quixel, which was not my cup of tea. Now, I’ve switched to Substance because it has some new features that I like, but I still feel it’s missing plenty of essential features for my work.
Textured in 3D-Coat:
I have an affinity for movement and believable mechanics because they are strong foundations for design. In short, I don’t like static weapons! Maybe my desire for these types of mechanics stems from working in the industry for so many years and constantly challenging myself in new ways so that the job doesn’t get boring.
What I like most is to the transfer the explosion energy of a bullet along a barrel so that it passes the receiver along the back of the gun right into the brain! I really think like an animator in this sense, and I try to make cool impulses that feel satisfying through the mechanics as well as how they transport the idea of energy. Hopefully, my work stands out through that kind of focus on mechanics.
For some, it might be a weird way to approach a concept because their brains don’t process information and ideas in the same way as mine does. But, it works very well for me, and I’m very happy producing excellent work in such a manner!