The entire characters pipeline is a complex, multi-discipline process but don’t worry. We’re professionals.
When we talk about our Characters Team it can often sound like we are simply referring to the sculptors and modelers who build the actual characters. The truth is much more complex.
The characters we produce are the result of the combined effort of multiple highly-talented and experienced teams working in tandem to create characters that aren’t just great-looking, but work properly in game and move the way the designers need them to move. The whole process is a careful choreography between the 2D and 3D artists, animators, technical artists, engineers, and the producers who manage the pipeline so that each stage is carefully scheduled.
Since we specialize in both Unity and Unreal Engine 4, we utilize our own libraries of materials and shaders that we have built and collected over the years to make sure our in-game characters have all the materials they need to look great and convincing in game. Wood looks like wood. Steel looks like steel, and skin looks like skin. It sounds pretty basic, but achieving these simple features have taken years to perfect.
The Characters Pipeline
Before we even begin on the 3D portion of the characters pipeline, there is an entire process starting with the 2D Team to arrive at an approved character design. The end result of this process (aside from having an incredibly designed character) is the Ortho. The Ortho is a series of images’ like schematics, that the Character Artists use as reference for size, shape, and detail. In this case we built a Cyber Shark for a PvP game called Depth, which was developed alongside New Zealand programming studio, Digital Confectioners, and an individual game designer named Alex Quick.
The first step in the 3D process is to generate a realistic sculpt using special 3D sculpting software. Our sculpts are a perfect way to visualize the end character: size, proportion, level of detail, etc. The Cyber Shark sculpt will eventually be used for normal maps.
Mesh and Normals Bake
Once a sculpt is finished and approved we generate an in-game mesh with a polygon limit to make sure it runs smoothly in-game . This is what we’ll use for rigging as well. All that detail we generated with the original Cyber Shark sculpt will be turned into normal maps so that the final in-game Cyber Shark is as detailed-looking as the sculpt itself.
The next step in the process is creating the textures. Whether this is realistic, stylized, standard specular, or physically based we have the latest tools for creating high quality texture maps and materials for whatever the project needs. The Cyber Shark we have here went for realistic-looking textures, but still used a standard specular workflow. With the powers combined of the different maps, it creates a more realistic material and believable creature, even when looking at the fantastic nature of the beast.
Rigging and Skinning
At this point the character model is basically done and is passed off to a Technical Artist who can build a rig for the Animators to work with. The rig allows the Animators to have complete control over the character. In the case of the Cyber Shark, details such as the way the jaw pops out from the mouth when it attacks, the way the eyes roll into the back of head and the subtle motion of the gills will all come together for a hyper-realistic Cyber Shark that no one would want to come face-to-face with while diving for treasure.
The finished Cyber Shark is awesome and ready to go in game. In this case, our Cyber Shark needs to swim around and eat divers, as well as get shot by spears, die a big dramatic death, or lurk in the shadows and generally look super-intimidating. SuperGenius handles everything after this point as well including animation, animation integration, VFX, player controls, NPC-driven animation, etc. We own every stage of the pipeline, and we do them all swimmingly well.