I am in the process of migrating posts from my past blogging. Progress has been slower than i had wished. In the meantime i've also been updating my website with newer pieces and working on a few personal projects for myself and friends. I am really liking the workflow of quickly blocking out ideas in Z-Brush / Dynamesh, using Z-remesh to create a decent topology flow and exporting a low poly result to Maya use as the basis of a Sub D surface. The Sub D surface has proven to be quite effective with a low poly game art model that lends itself to high resolution 3d art for use in cinematic pieces or still renders for use with marketing /splash screen etc... Further it can be used in conjunction with Normal maps and or displacement maps for a high level of detail. Utilizing Z-Brush and it's highly organic workflow is ideal for sculpting out ideas quickly. However and especially in terms of animation there is limited to no support there. Utilizing Maya's powerful rigging and animation tools after importing the these z re-meshed models through Sub division surfaces puts a high level of quality and detail back under the artists control while keeping taxing polygon count and processing needs to a minimum.
Basic workflow. Starting with the mighty ZBrush Dyna mesh tool.
Start Dynamesh sphere!
Moving onto blocking out for instance the planes of a humanoid head.
Make with the art and stuff using Dynamesh or your preferred ZBrush workflows that i won't go into here. There are plenty of tutorials on ZBrush already.
Setup your Zremesher guides to set topology (the last tool in your ztool palette). I sometimes also use P;ypaint to set the density level of the low poly output that ZRemesher creates.
Here is the low poly output, 6052 polys down from 950k. I would really want to reduce the poly count even more for importing into Maya and delete the polygroup eyes and make a proper version of theses native in maya.
Here is the reduced .OBJ exported to Maya. I settled on 1840 polys. I will add a few hundred more in here with the eye balls and the addition of a mouth interior, teeth and tongue.
Here we can see that the left half of the head mesh (the characters left) is displayed using Maya's Sub Divisional mesh rendering (this is simply a f3 keyboard shortcut to display any poly mesh as a sub d surface). As you can see Sub D averages the information between vertex and adds a curved edge vs. a straight edge. This is incredibly powerful when working with low poly game models for instance where we need a beauty render. It is also a very efficient way to work with character meshes bound to a animation rig. The scene overhead is greatly reduced compared to running what would take millions of polygons to replicate in terms of smoothness. This is what ZBrush does and eventually ZBrush scenes suffer from the overhead.
I did not mention UV layout but you can use the standard low poly UV tools in Maya or ZBrush for instance.
Anyone remember this in art school? Well if you don't or if you don't know what it is then this technique will surely help you in any form of visual communication you embark on. Ever wondered why a certain piece you work on is not as strong as others you have made? It may be solved by seeing it in it's rawest form.
Notan, can be done by bringing down an image (or more effectively) starting a composition with a simple 2 value range. Solid whites and blacks. Notan is a Japanese art form using light and dark shapes placed in interesting ways that can create an emotional response from the viewer. These areas of light and dark can be abstract in form or they can be literal as those used in animation silhouettes to describe an action as strongly as possible. Notan can be utilized also at it's most basic level to create a strong composition. It can be used to distinguish foreground, mid ground, background in an image and isolate the main focus of a piece from supporting components. It is called the "music" of a painting whereas the theme is the "poetry"of what a piece may say to the viewer. Making use of it effectively can take some practice and like the blues, a lifetime to master. Using it now however, can have an immediate impact on your artwork for a life time.
I'll attempt to demonstrate this where it may make the most sense, in it's visual form.
Let's take a look at a simple character on a ground plane. We have a cowboy looking dude with a guitar. He gazes outward in a rather vacant and open environment (even for a vertical piece like this). Maybe he is on a long journey, overall there is a sense of him being alone. Only a cowboy, his guitar and the open road.
It utilizes the most basic 2 value / black and white treatment. However, we can make use of Notan to strengthen the composition in more interesting ways while at the same time maintain the vacancy of the environment and the loneliness of the character.
In this image, we have built upon the theme by strengthening the composition with more interesting juxtaposition of black and white shapes and how they interact on the page. The added element of the path or road shape is added along with his shadow. However, the vastness and sense of loneliness still exists.
Here is another take on utilization of more shapes and exploring composition. Does it support the theme of the piece? Yes but i think it also modifies it. With the framing and support of the shapes in the upper portion of the composition (cactus) we now bring in an element of the environment closing in on our character. The openness of the original composition has changed. The character is now nicely framed and the directional element that the cactus bring to the piece the appearance that our character has reached a summit and that maybe there is a level of uncertainty or mystery as to what awaits in the distance. Still probably a little more interesting than the last treatment but also a little difference in the message being delivered to the viewer.
Further exploration of shapes can be done at this stage and should be. This is just a very basic example of what a few shapes on a page can provide. These shapes can be moved around and scaled in any number of ways to create stronger and more interesting outcomes. More elements could be added. For instance, cactus, rocks, an armadillo maybe or coyote? One big thing to keep in mind however is the more number of shapes the more difficult and in many times less successful the composition. Certainly for this piece and its theme of aloness, adding more elements could easily work against that goal. It is a general rule that a maximum of 7 shapes is really all you need. This is massing in your Notan. Which is to say, defining the mass shapes that define the composition.
Next week, i will discuss how this basic study of shape, relates to each other and can be used in the next phase of discovery and design by evolving what we have here into 3 or 4 value thumbnail drawings.
a few Words on all these words
I do live and breathe game art, well at least a good 3rd of my day. More importantly when i am not concentrating on my full time job i am pondering all that is art. How does this relate to what we do as commercial artists at work? Process, creativity, advancement, techniques, direction, well being, how can we improve on all of these pieces? The continuing quest for knowledge and merging of art and technology drives me to delve further and improve my skills. Ultimately, reaching out and communicating through art and the art of video games is what drives me to continue on in what can be a highly competitive and stressful field. Art creates an emotional response. Entertainment art and technology. it's a great mixture and i can't think of another place i'd rather be.