StandArt: Standards of Artistic Excellence

Take a look at this two-chapter article on how the AMC Romania Team achieves artistic excellence.

Chapter I: The Brief

When our horizons of production pipelines in the gaming industry were still clouded by inexperience, we had a very defining moment.

We’ve been creating 3D art for video games for over 15 years. We believe we’ve evolved quite a lot, and it feels right, comfortable, and safe. But that didn’t come overnight, it’s something we nurtured and evolved over the years. And often, the mistakes we made were the ones that helped guide us on the right path. Admitting mishaps and learning from them is one of the most powerful tools for growth.

So what happened? Well, like we said, we were fairly new at this. A new client had requested our services, and the entire team was so excited! New projects, new assets, new memories! We received some pointers from the client and we began our work. And we mean really started work – spirits were high, the smell of dedication was in the air. The entire Team was thrilled, the artists worked their visual and technical magic. Their hands and their passion shaped an outstanding asset that we were all smitten with. You can imagine how eager we were to show our client how vividly we had brought their vision to life. The asset was sent for feedback and…

Keep Moving Forward

…everything came crashing down. The client hated our asset. Completely and absolutely. No, not because it wasn’t up to their standards. But because it did not match their vision. Why? Because we skipped one of the most important stages of the pipeline – the briefing stage. We assumed we had enough information to understand the client’s wish, but we didn’t, and thus our work was voided.

But if you hit an obstacle in your way, you go over it, right? And over it we went. Though we were upset about the feedback, we gathered the entire team, restarted our minds to focus on the lessons to be learned rather than the negativity, and off we went. After many discussions and deliberations, we knew what we had to do. Strengthen the briefing process, making sure no detail is left behind. We set the standards by which our work and passion were to be guided. Our Standards of Artistic Excellence.

Learning is a State of Mind

Naturally, this StandArt, as we refer to it, grows continuously. Every project we shape adds to our knowledge and improves our Standards. When our artists go off exploring new visual lands, these documents are their maps. They ensure the projects and the assets match the client’s vision. And today we want to share some of those with you.

The master document of our Artistic Standards is structured in 4 main areas:

  • Chapter I – The Brief
  • Chapter II – Shapes & Volumes
  • Chapter III – Textures & Materiality
  • Chapter IV – Artistic License

We began our #StandArt with the Brief, the document that should accurately define the client’s vision and needs so that our artists understand what path to take. It is the result of a collaborative effort between our team and the client. The information it contains ranges from artistic vision (colors, materials, concept art) to technical vision (upload/download procedures, file formats, LOD’s, etc.). It ensures a smooth process and removes uncertainty.

So now you’ve read about our story and the importance of the Brief. What’s next? You can get started on your work by downloading our Brief guide.

Chapter II: Shapes and Volumes

Another chapter, another story. Do you remember the importance of the Moodboard from the previous chapter? This second one, Shapes and Volumes, involves bringing those references to 3D. But what happens when those references are anchored in reality, but the asset is sci-fi or fantasy, or simply something that doesn’t exist? You need to create different shapesdifferent proportions than the ones you know from real life, while still ensuring credibility. Straying from reality means we need to be very careful when modeling an asset, its details, and silhouette. Otherwise, we risk having a very good asset, but an uncanny one, or one that makes no sense.  

And this was something we needed to learn for a sci-fi project that we worked on a long time ago: Entropia Universe. This was very special to us because we got to experience the full production pipeline of a game. We did concept work, level design, assets, in-engine integration. Many of the assets were given affectionate names by the team, and the one we want to tell you about today was nicknamed “The Dreaded Espresso Machine.”

Brief Your Creativity

The artist assigned to the espresso machine, now Senior Environment Artist Rares Tujan, was a year into his career and had previously worked on racing games, recreating realistic objects. Naturally, they were easier to get inspiration for compared to a sci-fi game. For assets or asset parts that do not exist, it’s not a case of just googling the object to see different angles. And sometimes the production has to move quickly, so the concept team doesn’t always have time to create detailed project sketches for every asset.

So he had to be fast, with limited information and experience. He found it difficult to come up with something interesting or worth presenting. “I’ve made so many cool cars, why am I struggling with such a small thing?” he would often wonder.

Patience Leads to Knowledge

He later realized he had two inner obstacles to overcome back then, obstacles that many new 3D artists face. The first was that he was focusing on what he knew, shiny metal, really clean normal maps, optimal geometry. He was only taking into account what he called “his initial limited visual library.” He didn’t have the knowledge base that he does now.

The second shortcoming was that he didn’t have the patience to really understand and give meaning to what he was making. He didn’t stop to properly think about how that object will be used, what it was made of, or how it functioned. That sometimes resulted in creating initial assets that didn’t have a story, that was not interesting to the viewers.

Always Ask Questions

Eventually, he did finish the espresso machine, but it was, in his words, “a mediocre result.” He brought it to the Art Director who wasn’t satisfied at all with the result. The asset did not make a lot of sense. If it’s an espresso machine, then where do you put the coffee? Where’s the water tank? Why are inner parts made of plastic? Plastic melts! And that’s when Rares had one of his first artistic epiphanies. He realized the Art Director was teaching him not how to make the asset, but how to conceptualize it. How to think about the machine, how to draw on real-world knowledge he already had, and how to implement it in a fictional setting, if needed.

That’s why the second chapter of our StandArt, Shapes and Volumes, is so important. We need to respect certain steps for asset production, but we also need to educate our minds to conceptualize things and come up with creative ideas.

Now that you’re ready to take the next step in the game production pipeline, you can download our Shapes & Volumes guide.

Chapter III coming soon! Stay tuned!

AMC Romania Team

Original articles Chapter I and Chapter II on AMC's website

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