Building a Tracker from Alien Isolation

James Brady talked about his experience building some amazing Alien: Isolation inspired projects.

Aspiring environment artist James Brady talked about his experience building some amazing Alien: Isolation inspired projects. James did some nice images of  trackers and worked on some neat environments. Here’s how he did it.


My name is James Brady, I’am a 24 year old game artist from a small town in Ireland. I currently have a Diploma in Computer Game Design. Despite this I’m primarily self-taught. I am currently working at Creative Assembly as a QA on Total War: Warhammer.


I have also contributed to many small projects, such as, ‘Lifespeed‘ which came out on Nintendo 3D’S in early 2016 and many others which did not see the light of day!. I currently am working with the team who made the STEAM free to play ‘No More Room In Hell‘ on their upcoming sequel.

Alien Isolation Tracker

I started by scrubbing through google images, flickr and pinterest, gathering as much reference material as I could. I also took screenshots of scenes from the alien movies along with Creative Assembly’s Alien Isolation.


The reason for this was to stay as true to the franchisee as I possibly could, gathering as much inspiration  from the original 1979 Alien movie while putting my own homage twist on it. I then collated this into one mood-board/reference board to avoid going back and forth through images and upsetting my over-all workflow. Reference is key for anything you strive to create!.


When building the initial mesh I decided to use Face weighted normals instead of the traditional baking method as the amazing art team on Alien Isolation used this exact modelling method for each of the assets created for this game. Another reason for using this method was also to learn and understand in what situation’s this modelling technique would be useful over the traditional baking method. I used Warren Marshall‘s Face Weighted Normals tutorial which you can access through YouTube, which he initially created for the 3D Package ‘MODO’. I took inspiration from and adapted his method into my own workflow using 3Ds Max. He’s a rad guy!

When I was modelling the asset, I paid great attention to how the Motion tracker looked in the classic movies and how it would of felt, holding it in real life. I tried to capture the over-all weight of the motion tracker while maintaining the rigid 1970’s low fi sci fi box-y appearance. I identified which parts of the motion tracker would be metal and which parts would be plastic along with how each part played a purpose in the over-all functionality. I achieved this by watching the movies, studying how it was turned on, what sounds it made and how it functioned in the Alien World. I also played an copious amount of Alien Isolation which resulted in me weeping at the sight of the Xenomorph.


The Production of Materials

When I approached texturing the motion tracker, I collated a reference board filled with 1970 material examples ranging from old computers, phones to screenshots from the alien movies along with images from the Alien Isolation art book.

Since I created this model using Face Weighted Normals, I unwrapped this model in the best way I could, enabling me able to quickly achieve optimized UV islands to quickly create an colour ID map with as traditionally I would bake  an Normal and AO map from a high poly model. I identified which parts contained glass, metal, plastic and assigned it accordingly to a colour ID map. I then used a software package called Quixel Suite 2 to quickly lay down some sweet materials to automatically get a feel for the over-all look. Using this piece of software also enabled me to quickly achieve a PBR metalness and PBR glossness map which would of been more difficult to create by hand. I then used Photoshop to do a second texture pass, adding the stickers,logos and the main functioning UI for this asset along with dirt, scratches, wear and tear.


Since I was restricted to a set UV space, I used a second UV channel for the stickers/logos and the main functioning UI enabling me to not only optimize the UV space but to also have a greater texture resolution for these sections of the model.  I re-created the main functioning UI in Photoshop along with using an gradient overlay to darken the edges for a more realistic appearance. I then re-used this method for the emissive channel.


Working on Big Projects

From my experience in the Triple AAA industry, there is a-lot more pressure to get things done. Companies usually work in weekly ‘Sprints’ which enables developers to get more done within a smaller time period. This often entails crunch time which involves late night work and fast food. Despite the pressure, I found working in a Triple AAA studio to be highly motivating which gave me the boost to quickly sharpen my skills and learn the companies workflow inside out. There is nothing more cooler than working with like-minded passionate people on a huge scale project. Despite the moments of pressure/stress, its also very very exciting!. I still to this day can not believe I’am working for The Creative Assembly.

james-brady-final1 (1)

When working on a smaller scale project, the over-all workflow is a-lot more relaxed. Release dates can be pushed back and people are generally more relaxed too.

Improving Skills

I think the most crucial part of developing as an artist and improving your skills is to be pro-active. I think its very important to seek guidance and critique from artists within the industry. Not only does this help you develop an eye for detail, it also helps you build friendships with other people in the industry which is crucial to your own success especially as an budding artist. This can be achieved by using artsy forms such as Polycount, Artstation, and Mapcore. There are also facebook groups dedicated to this such as the established ‘Ten Thousand Hours’ group.


I also think its extremely important to specialize. The industry evolves too quickly. Find your niche and get stuck in!. No point being a jack of all trades, master of none. Its crucial that you learn and invest your time into mastering industry standard software. There is no point learning Blender or Gimp as they are irrelevant in this industry. Industry modelling packages range from Autodesk 3Ds Max, Autodesk Maya to Pixalogic Zbrush for sculpting or creating more intricate detail. Texturing software usually depends on the company. 9/10 companies use Substance Designer and Painter along with Quixel Suite, after all, Time is Money and these piece’s of software greatly speed up your over-all workflow.


Last but not least, create something, even if its a small project or homage environment. This shows companies that your ambitious, willing and you want this career more than anything! I think if this industry is something you are truly passionate about and want to achieve an career in, then you need to start focusing your energy and time into making it a reality. For each day wasted is another day gained to someone else and they are one step closer to getting the job you have always dreamed of.

It is very important that you are always practising, honing your skills in an area of speciality that you prefer, even if you have nailed getting that Dream job, you still need to practice otherwise you will fall behind in industry requirement. This is the practice I follow daily, after all, what else should I be doing? Playing outside?


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Comments 1

  • Bogdan Dumitru

    “ There is no point learning Blender”.  This is the saddest thing I read all month.


    Bogdan Dumitru

    ·3 years ago·

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