Game Art Outsource: a Character Creation Cycle

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How to create a 3D character model for a game: a complete cycle

The only game genre that works without characters is puzzles. You don’t need a dramatic story to have fun with 3-in-a-row gameplay. But other game genres simply won’t work without bright character. The players need to have someone to associate with, and the goal of game developers is to provide them with characters they would love.

character art outsource

Character creation is not a simple task like most of us imagine. It requires a full cycle character development from concept art creation to texturing and mapping the model. In this article we will tell you how we create game characters step by step.

Game character creation from concept art to iconic elements

A concept art creation is the most artistic step in this cycle. Concept artists have two ways to create it: to use source material like concept documents or to draw something on their own. We’ve covered it in detail in Why the character’s art matters the most.

The real work begins after the lead art designer approves the concept art. Then the concept artists have to finalize a sketch into a few high-detailed drawings. The goal is to capture iconic elements — the essence of that character. 

character concept art

The iconic elements are some details that told the players who they are looking at. It’s simple: a red cap and a moustache make Mario, a blue fur and running shoes make Sonic. If there is no need for details, for example in a hyper casual genre, the shape and color of a playable character may be considered as an iconic element.

Sketch into 3D model transition

3D modellers use the final concept art to make a 3D model out of it. And if the game isn’t 3D, then the 2D artists draw sprites or pixel art. The 2D art is relatively simple, so let’s focus on 3D models.

The first stage of character 3D modelling is a proxy model. A proxy model is a low detailed model and is needed mainly for the ability to change details fast.

proxy model art

This comes in handy to adjust those iconic details so they would be clearly visible in the actual game.  With a proxy model animators can check out how animation works and looks in game. Also the texture artists can play with textures and colors. In general, a proxy model is a 3D sketch. 

High and low poly character model

After the 3D sketch is done and approved, 3D artists begin to sculpt a high-detailed or high-poly model. A high-poly character model is needed to take into account every small detail and even to create a bunch of small ones. The process is long and tricky and the saddest part is that the high-poly model would never be in the game.

high poly model

What would make it to the game is the low-poly model. The difference between high and low poly models is in the polygons count. Most details of an original model can be seen only by zooming in. The players in the actual game won’t see those details until they trick with the camera.

But the main reason to create a low-poly model is to optimize the performance. A high-poly model may have a few millions of polygons, while a low-poly one would have a hundred of thousands. Literally, we have a choice: to show one highly detailed model or 20 of low-detailed at the same time at 60 FPS. The choice is obvious.

low poly character

“But the low-poly model would look bad!” — you may say. Yes, it would, if it is done without a UV map and baked textures. These techniques are widely used in game development to mask the flaws of low-poly models and make it look better.

UV mapping and texturing a character model

UV map is a 2D projection of a 3D model surface. Imagine a paper cube that is unfolded into a cross-shaped piece. Even the most complex 3D model can be unfolded like the cube, though the result would be more complicated.

uv mapping character

3D modellers get the high poly model unwrapped and save it as an image. That image contains all the light and shadow play of the high poly model and will mimic it once wrapped on low poly one. This process is called a texture baking.

The second part of texture baking is coloring the UV map — adding a texture to it or texturing. A texturing can be done in two ways:

  • by hand — an artist paints the UV map manually and tries to preserve a material details like metallic reflections or stone cracks;
  • by using shaders — the shader artist will program a shader to apply specific texture and add a normal map to make it respond to lightning.

After texturing the 3D model goes to the animation team, but that’s the whole different story. We have an entire article about character animation.

The difficulties with character model creation

The main difficulty is to make a character look realistic. To do so the character artists must know the anatomy of the human body and the most common animals. Why? Because a body moves with a help of muscles, and muscle volume must correspond with character proportions and strength.

Also when it comes to modeling fantastic creatures like dragons, werewolves and four handed mutants the knowledge of anatomy helps to make the model more realistic and believable.

Here are examples of good and bad work with anatomy: Turok (2008) and Resident Evil 5. Chris Redfield in RE5 has big beautiful biceps and Turok has just big arms with enormous triceps. What looks more realistic? Turok, of course, because in reality triceps make 2/3 volume of arm muscles.

game character art

So you can believe in Turok capable of opening a jammed door with his bare hands, because you see that real muscle proportions. And Chris Redfield looks like a guy who spent too much time in a gym than on the shooting range.

Game characters outsource with Kreonit studio

If the character creation seems too complicated, we can help you with it. Contact us and tell what you need: concept art, modelling, sprites or polishing. We will do our best to help your game look good and earn money.

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