Archive for year 2010

SR3 Character VID’s Demonstration

Saints Row 3 features a highly customizable Player character.  The player may choose their sex, race, body proportions, facial features, hair styles, make-up, and off course what the character wears.  The paperdoll system enforced a series of constraints via templates that were followed by the artists.  This allowed some amount of predictability and in turn the ability to handle different combinations of clothing.

One such feature that helped enable this was the use of VID’s.  The acronym is not important, but I believe it is simply “Volition ID” and was essentially just an index assigned to a face.  We used these grouping to identify regions of the character mesh that could be toggled on/off.  Assets needed to be modeled to make use of these groups, in particular match up with the seams.

To help explain, visually, how this works for the artists I assembled the video below.

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SR3 DX9 Shader to Simple Shader

This post shows a simple script & shader that I wrote to workaround an issue and better visualize the results an artist would see with their asset further down the pipeline in game.  This was by no means an ideal solution and was only a bandaid.

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NOTE: The intended audience of the video was a group of outsourced artists.

The issue:

Our game materials are authored in a proprietary editor that generates multiple shaders for different targets, such as different hardware consoles or optimizations.  One such target is a DX9 shader that is viewable in 3ds Max.  Unfortunately, Max handles normal maps inversely from how our game renderer handles it and the tool did not account for this in the hlsl that it generated.  This meant that it was difficult for the artist to identify and correct normal map seams early in the process (prior to exporting and viewing in game, which many outsourcers did not have the ability to do).

This was a known, long standing problem and existed on the work backlog for one of our employees to address.  Unfortunately it was lower priority than other work yet was still deemed to be something that would get resolved properly and ‘soon’ by the individual. Rather than step on his toes and avoid jumping into, admittedly unfamiliar, c++ territory for the proprietary editor I implemented a quick solution…

The solution:

  • I authored a simple dx9 shader that would properly display our game’s normal map format in the 3ds Max viewport.  This shader was very stripped down to the basics…diffuse map, normal map, and ambient color.
  • I authored a simple maxscript gui to …
    • control toggling between the game shader and this simple diagnostic shader (non destructively using scene states)
    • toggle map and parameters on\off quickly

SR3 Outsourced NPC Feedback…

Here is an example of typical feedback I would provide the vendor.  The format was essentially visual aid with labels that corresponds to an expanded list of text direction.  The reason for this is that the visuals help communicate the text and the text is easily translatable into the native language.

  1. Proportions do not match Zimos B or the Heroic Male Skeleton.  Please correct. Related to proportions, the shoulders need to be higher and slightly wider.
  2. Add the unbuttoned buttons
  3. Indicate the pockets in the fabric.
  4. Crotch should be just visible.
  5. These areas are  short-“furry”
  6. If the boots  can’t work with the skeleton’s pivot points and floor, replace them with normal boots  that do not have platforms.
  7. Pants should hang lower over boots.
  8. Rhinestones should be visible in the sculpt
  9. Rhinestones should be visible in the sculpt

‘nother trip to Shanghai

I’m back from Shanghai, all caught up with work and finally over my jet lag from the 2 week trip. We visited several of the partners that we’re currently working with. Our goals were relatively simple. Primarily we wanted to get some face time with the people who we’ve been communicating with almost solely through email.

Click here for more (and photos)…

SR3 PC Outfit Jobsheet…

Here is an example jobsheet that would be sent to a vendor to create a collection of assets that would make up an outfit that could be worn by a highly customizable male or female player character in combination with out clothing assets.  IIRC, I directed outsourcing for some 60+ outfits and 40+ hair pieces.

Higher level stylistic and technical guides were provided.  Many rules and templates had to be adhered to in order to make everything work.  Even then, our team spent a significant amount of time fixing problem combinations we missed in planning the setup.

My recommendation…avoid customization unless it is critical for your game.  It is very difficult, costly at runtime, and never results in characters that look as good as those that are created unique.  Still, it is fun for the player.

San Diego Trip, THQ Art Council & Comic Con

I’m late on posting this, but I felt I should add a note about my business trip to San Diego.

I serve on the THQ Art Council representing Volition.  The council meets in person every so often and a meeting was held at the THQ San Diego studio just prior to comic con. This was a great opportunity to get together with the other council members and talk shop.  Obviously it would be inappropriate for me to post meeting details here, but I can say that it was very productive and I think THQ is making some great steps.

Click for more…

SR3 NPC Jobsheet…

Here is an example NPC Jobsheet.  IIRC, I directed the outsourcing of a little over 130 non player characters.

Here is the resulting character in 3ds max.  The solid colors are areas set in the game via it’s shader.  Also other artifacts are present in the max viewport that appear correct in the game, such as normal map seams.

Moving On…

My blog has been silent for a while as I’ve been frantically preparing for a major change.  Here’s the news:

  1. I’m stepping down as Studio Art Director at Volition Inc. and am moving into an Art Director role, remotely overseeing outsourcing on a new project. Expand…
  2. My wife and I are moving to Seattle

  3. Here are some pictures of our new house in Monroe, WA
    Expand (photos)…

  4. Here are some pictures of the house we’re selling in Champaign, IL.  2 business days on the market and several offers, 1 pending!
    Expand (photos)…

(art test) – Heist Animatic

I recently took one of our old internal art tests.  I do these from time to time to evaluate the validity of the test in terms of our instruction, time required, usefulness of the result, etc. On a side note, we generally do not administer tests with applicants unless there is a compelling reason to do so.  However, we do use work such as this from ramping up exercises for newhires or employees interested in learning about or moving into a new role.

This test was fun.  It incorporated some PS2 generation art assets from an exploratory project that we never made at Volition.  The characters with simple FK rigs, the rooftop set, and the audio voice clips were provided. For those unfamiliar with animatics, these are used to pace, time, and scope a full cinematic.  From here, motion capture, fx, and other custom work would be scheduled for integration later in the process.

In terms of evaluation (click to expand…):

Instructions: Cinematic Artist Test (click to expand…):

GDC 2010

I just returned from this marathon Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  As always, it is a great event to gain insight into the industry and network.  I find myself getting less and less out of the lectures as the years go by, but the round-tables on the other hand are particularly useful and interesting as you get to pose questions to peers and see how specific items of interest are being handled at other studios.  Speaking of roundtables, Volition dominated these in the visual arts track with 3 out of the 4 being hosted & moderated by Volition employees including Technical Art, Technical Animation, and Studio Art Culture.  Kudos to Jeff Hanna, Tim Borrelli, and Keith Self-Ballard for doing this.  Volition is in between projects, but I expect next year we’ll be able to share some of the great stuff that we’re up to right now.

A few days prior to the conference, THQ held its own summit.  This was excellent.  Representatives for the entire CORE business unit got together to discuss current status, outlook, and initiatives for the upcoming year.  We then split into individual councils.  I helped moderate the Art Council from which we outlined goals and assigned actions items for the members to work on for the next meeting.  Overall the push for quality games and cross studio collaboration is strong.  I’m highly encouraged by this initiative and look forward to its results.  I’d love to post more detail, but I may be getting into confidential information…so its best to leave it a little vague 😛

Update to vMeshProjector post…

I just updated my “vMeshProjector” post with the following samples of the tool in action (sped up 2to3x).

Dog Gun Seat Skull

Review(book): Picture This:How Pictures Work, by Molly Bang

I was introduced to this book some years ago and recently rediscovered it and how great it is. I highly recommend any artist spending the hour or so it takes to read and digest this book.

“Picture This” summarizes much of what we take for granted when we see an interesting image.  The book focuses on how we can harness the elements in a picture to create emotional responses, and why these responses occur.  For trained artists, it offers a simple refresher to concepts of composition, shape language, rhythm, repetition, color, balance, tension, etc. that we are taught in school.  It is refreshing and inspirational to read and contemplate the concepts that Molly builds on through simple shape illustration of Little Red Riding Hood in this book.

Click here for detailed description by Molly….

Author’s website:

Review(Game):Mass Effect 2

I just completed ME2 and thought I’d get into the spirit of a blog and document my thoughts. Overall, I felt the game was decent.  I’d probably throw it into a 80% range.  It had high production quality but failed to really pull me into the narrative, experience, or offer anything new/original.

***Warning: Potential SPOILERS below***

Loved: (click to expand…)

Hated: (click to expand…)

Other comments: (click to expand…)

Site Update – Summoner 2 Environment Concepts

I just stumbled on some old Summoner 2 environment concepts and posted them up. Have a look…

Quick Anatomy Study

Here is an anatomy study that I made over the weekend.  It is based on following the Zack Petroc Human Anatomy DVD published by the Gnomon Workshop.  Like the DVD, I started with a box model created in Maya and then sculpted the rest in ZB3.

The muscle forms are a bit exaggerated and I rushed the hands, feet, and head.  I particularly like the torso area.

This was a fun exercise and I recommend others to give it a spin.

(be sure to click on the image to see the turntable video)

Figure Drawings added…

Check them out here:

Site Updates

I’m still filling up the site with lots of old content.  I’ve updated the following pages:

This site is now live!

I just wanted to briefly commemorate this moment with a post.  Now comes the tedious process of adding content.  Fortunately, I can do much of this from the comfort of my lap, via my MacBook.

Hello world!

Under Construction

Started putting together my new website to document and share work that I’ve done over the years.  I’m excited about the functionality offered, but it may take a while before everything is ready to release.

UPDATE (1/15/10): Well, I ran into a few quirks and limitations here and there.  So, I’m rapidly brushing up on PHP & HTML to customize the site.  It is fairly straightforward, but reading PHP is an eye-sore given how it is interspersed with HTML.  Ugh.  Still after a day or so of reading sites, looking at examples, and trying things out I think I have a grasp on how to do what I’m after…that being “photoblog” capabilities and built in archive/gallery displays on appropriate pages.  <fingers crossed> 🙂

UPDATE (1/17/10): Everything is looking good and ready to go.  Time to start adding content!