Feb 252011

Graphically speaking, video games and getting more and more realistic despite being years behind in technology when compared to film. This is due to the fact that games need to be able to render frames on the fly as games are 100% interactive. Game artists are constantly finding ways to get the best looking effects using very little memory. But I would like to introduce the very basic foundations of building 3D art for video games. I will not be covering any tips, tricks, or next-gen techniques.

Step 1: Geometry

1) Start out with a computer generated generic shape. This can be a cube, sphere, cone, torus, whatever. I chose a cube.
2) You can make extra cuts into the geometry of the cube wherever you want.
3) Different components of the cube and be moved in any direction the user wishes. Here, we pulled out an edge along the X-axis  (left/right direction)
4) Here, we pulled up a “vertex” along the Y-axis (up/down direction)
5) Here, we’ve pulled out an entire quadrangle of the cube, or “face”.

Edges, vertexes (aka vertices), and faces are all components of the geometry that can be scaled, rotated, and moved to turn the overall model into the user’s desired shape.

Step 2) Unwrapping The Model

Think of this as peeling an orange, and then flattening the peels out on a piece of paper. The unwrapped version of the model is typically referred to as the “UV”. The UV acts as a map, determining how whatever is painted into it shows up on the 3D view of the model.

Step 3) Texturing

Geometry is nice and all but nobody would want to play a video game taking place in a world made up of gray blocks. These gray blocks are supposed to represent something, and never what they actually are. So I’m going to turn this cube into a crate.

1) The UV map is exported from the 3D program as a 2D image file.
2) Using an image doctoring program such as Corel Paint or Photoshop, a texture is added to the image, using the UV map as a guide. Textures can be sourced from photographs or hand painted. In this case, I used a mixture of both techniques.
3) Once the texturing process is complete, the texture map is saved in a location on the computer where the 3D file can source from it.
4) This process is repeated for creating other kinds of maps which include:
a) surface bump maps
b) specularity (shininess) maps
c) reflectivity maps
d) shadow maps

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to game art!

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  2 Responses to “How Game Art Is Made: An Intro”

  1. I used to do vertex hacks and graphics hacks for Super Smash Bros Brawl. By modifying vertices, and extracting the images mapped to them and re-painting them, you can create entirely new characters. It’s a really difficult process though. It’s amazing how good graphics have gotten over the past ten years and how they fit all of those high detail graphics on a single disk.

    • Interesting! I’ve never performed these hacks before, lacking the technical know-how. So you are able to extract the model and texture sheets, edit them and re-embed them into the game while preserving the rigging and animation? Games are moving over to blu-ray discs now, which can hold a lot more texture files than the standard DVD. The high detail graphics fitting on a single disc you speak of is a combination of compression for storage right down to pixel-painting every texture, efficient use of UV space for every model (my example in this post is NOT efficiently UV’ed in any sense of the word) and reusing textures wherever possible. What I’ve noticed though is that despite all this, there are a LOT of textures files (and normal/spec/diffuse/mipmap, etc).