Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mortal Kombat X: Flying Oni


(The Flying Oni reigns death from above and wonders why Skeletor doesn't call him anymore.)

     Taking concepts to the 3D stage can be fun. It helped improve the ability to sculpt as well as concept for 3D. Netherrealm's Character Artist team is insanely talented and being able to get their feedback was critical. Every sculpt was a step forward and their guidance was a big part of that. Reaching out for constant feedback outside of the usual set of eyes is important. Sometimes someone seeing something out of context is very revealing. The truth of a piece of work can be revealed in a passing statement. Most critiques grow from the initial gut reaction.

(The back view of the sculpt with some snazzy lighting and comping to try and make up for the shortcomings of the sculpt.)

        I was very lucky, I can get bored quickly when working on a task if there isn't something else to juggle alongside of it. Most of the time it is a matter of soldiering through that. However, at Netherrealm it was fun to get sudden shifts in gears from 3D to 2D. There was no getting bored. There were often sudden changes in subject matter and tight deadlines that required quick thinking. Reaching out to awesome artists like Ian Nuad and Jonathon Sabella really helped push the quality of sculpts. 

(Close up shots of the sculpt with quick shifting in values to identify changes in material. When comping a sculpt you realize quickly all the touch up in the world won't save you. This sculpt uffers from a lack of balance between noise and rest. Something to consider for the next one.)

     This sculpt ended up being changed quite a bit after I left. This is probably due to the mistake of  piling on too many busy details. At first it was disappointing, but looking at the final changes it made complete sense. The design seen here calls for some extra work in weighting and rigging. The bone plating on the torso is a tricky area and the segmented jaw requires a specialized rig. All fine, if this were a more of a major player in regards to screen time. The final design simplified the body and face which makes for a shorter pipeline to the engine. Stylistically the darker shade and glowing elements read better in context of the scene. This design had a better chance of survival if I put a little more thought it to potential technical issues that become bigger issues on tightening schedules. Simpler design does not mean less design, in some cases it means smarter more efficient design. The other solution would have been to put in extra hours to rig and weight the creature myself, unfortunately I had to move onto other tasks which also required extra hours.

(Quick turnaround of the full sculpt. A ground element and a little more time on the pose could help improve presentation. At this point this is an old piece and figured time would be better spent on newer pieces currently in development.)

    Dusting this off and reviewing it leads to quite a few cringing faces. The large wings will establish a strong shape, but designing the silhouette so it is equally as strong without wings could have helped. The balance between areas of rest and noise also could use more nuance. Although I am not satisfied with the end result I am satisfied with the step forward it represented. I have a bit of way to go with my sculpting but have way more tools at my disposal. Hoping to finish up some new pieces in the next month or so. I'm coming out of a 6 month hiatus from sculpting so looking forward to firing up that part of the brain. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Creature Concept: As I Lay Trying

(The final concept - "He got them teeth")

      This idea spawned while working out some thumbnail iterations and looking at reference of a bat crawling. There was a weird optical illusion with the way the webbing between the legs folded, making it look like it had a 5th appendage. I decided to take that optical illusion and flesh it out. The evolutionary "logic" behind it would be that what was once a tail, is now a crude foot like appendage used to spring onto larger prey. While on the prey it can jab at it with the exposed bone jutting from the main structure of the appendage. Originally the 5th limb rested under a traditional tail when I realized I could create an evolutionary feature, where what was once a tail evolved into a bulkier appendage.

(Reference sheet used during the early thumbnail stage as well as rendering.)

      The goal early on was the design a creature that was a real pain in the ass for it's environment. Something that was a scavenger and predator with attributes found in real life animals like otters, baboons, hyenas and wolverines. The baboon influence lead to the exposed gums and the otter influence was eventually abandoned. The first direction for a more otter like creature can be seen in an image below.

(The main render with a few additional story notes.)

      At one point when working on this concept I was on my back staring at a static ceiling fan, my arms sprawled out. Working long hours tends to wear down the nerves a bit. Since I'm working from home I did what I do best, angry nap. I fell asleep for 10 minutes and woke up completely out of my mood and knowing what I needed to do. Mood is a big part of working, the technical side is critical but painting with feeling is important. There are a number of ways to brush off discouraging moments and plow ahead. Sometimes stepping away physically and mentally is the best option. When working on site it involved going on a brief walk or in the case of Netherrealm, playing a quick game of NFL Blitz in the arcade room.

(The call out sheet detailing behavior, physical details and even hints at domestication.)

      Music can help, but also acting out the creature and character helps as well. Yes. I will make dumb noises, pose or act out to understand the weighting or demeanor of the subject manner. Especially at home, at a studio I'm not as bold so usually do so more subtly or when no one is around. I may look like an asshole, but I have no problem with that if the concept quality is improved.

 (The uncertainty and grinding of gears is reflected in the thumbnails. They are a bit sloppy but needed to be moved forward with one of the designs. Above are the second batch of thumbnails alongside a quick value exploration of a design that was scrapped.)

     In this case experimenting helped jar me out of a block. When struggling with the anatomy I took out some clay and built a very crude model of the creature. It helped me understand the macro forms and also find the gesture in 3D. The execution wasn't perfect but it definitely pushed in the right direction. If time permits the clay exploration will be revisited as it is quick and profoundly helpful. In the future will utilize this more for anatomy and lighting as well.
     Currently I am finishing a beast of burden concept that was meant to be paired as the prey to this predator/scavenger. A hint of the creature can be seen in the call out sheet above, Hoping to finish that by next week alongside more Mortal Kombat X work. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mortal Kombat X: Mileena's War Camp

      This was a fun project, I was tasked with developing the look of Mileena's traveling war camp. I wanted to introduce traditionally Sci-fi forms or silhouettes into the template of barbarian/older technology. The elements all had to look like they could be easily assembled and disassembled since the camp needed to be easily mobile. So the designs feature a lot of cut lines, ropes and caps that hint at areas of attachment/detachment . That said they couldn't be too clean or clever since we decided the Tarkatan soldiers in this camp would be on the rougher side. The tents and chest can be spotted in story mode from what I have heard. Not sure if the war wagon made it into the game or not, a couple of things were cut or changed.

(The war wagon render with some line work call outs.)

     Again, working with Pav helped push this designs along since I was out of my comfort zone having not done a lot of vehicle work. For the turnaround I utilized a very rough 3D block out to establish a clean perspective so my time can be spent focusing on detail and functional information. I did quick line work over the 3D render then removed it. In the future I need to be smarter about this tool and utilized it for lighting as well.

(Thumbnails for the wagon. After reviewing these the plan was to do two wagons, a large war wagon with a smaller wagon if time permits. Time was a jerk and didn't permit.)

(Some quick sketches and notes on the objects that populate the camp as well as a sketch of the tent interiors.)

     The secondary elements were fun but designs and rendering are hurt from the lack of attention. The first week of development I worked under a long term deadline but that changed. The priority for the environment was bumped up after the first week. The production plan laid out had to change to accommodate the new deadline, which meant the secondary items didn't get as much attention as I would've liked. There is only so much time and room in the budget to justify spending hours on assets that will not be shown front and center.
     Shifting deadlines can be discouraging, but there is a part of me that likes being under the gun. It is a different kind of challenge. It calls for you to really push problem solving skills and the ability to test all that you have learned up until that point.

(Chest for an amulate, protected in Mileena's war camp.)

     There was a exhausting balance required when producing concepts. It is important to try and out due the last concept, however deadlines can make that a difficult task. Often times in order to push beyond my limits and improve each piece, it required many late nights of painting. There are a  lot of tricks and philosophies which gives abilities a bump but I'm quickly learning that mileage is not something you can shortcut.
    Words are done now, pardon any grammar errors. I'm grinding to get the next wave of personal work done so hopefully I can show that soon. OH MY GOD THAT STAR WARS TRAILER!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mortal Kombat X: Demon Goat Horse I of II

    Mortal Kombat X is out and will be digging through some older work. This is the concept sheet for the horse Quan Chi uses to ride into battle. It was done summer of 2014.July I believe. It was labeled the "Demon Goat Horse" by IGN and people seemed to dig it which was exciting. It began as more of an alien design but was eventually reset to be much more horse like. The work on this creature was particularly memorable because of the deadline and the juggling of tasks to get it done in time.

 (Final concept sheet for Quan Chi's Demon Horse.)

     Along side this concept we were developing a couple of snakes for the background of the jungle stage. I was working on these two concepts side by side in the early stages. Having two tasks to bounce between can help keep things fresh and delay any fatigue from staring at the same thing too long. The demon horse went with a design that was closer to "reality", so I decided to try to do the same with the snake. The designs are a bit too simple and looking back at it, I could have done better in pushing design within the constraints.

  (Final concept sheet for jungle snake.)

      The plan was to debut Quan Chi with this horse in a trailer along side a particular event (forget which one as there were many where we would feed the media with content). Meanwhile, there was a jungle snake and drone I was developing. It was a drop everything and focus on the horse kind of deal, as there was only a few weeks to concept, sculpt and texture then pass it off for engine prep (by the awesome 3D artist Jesse Graybeal). I had to let go of drone which was already being developed in the 3D phase. However, I took a risk and promised both the snake and horse done by the deadline.  It was a challenge which required long hours but it was a great learning experience. It got done with the insight and critiques from my awesome co-workers Pav Kovacic, Ian Nuad and Jonathon Sabella. 

(The plan for my subtools in ZBrush. I find that this approach helped speed of the 3D phase immensely. Understanding my sub tools, where to save time and what needs the most attention before even stepping into ZBrush.)

     It came down to the wire and during the final days all I could do was occasionally bother Jesse to see it in engine, or see how the glowey parts look, or how about the skull, is the skull working? Jesse really knocked it out of the park and improved the creature with his shader work and texture clean up. The month was a blur and before we knew it we hit the deadline and delivered. It felt good, even though on the day it was due we found out the Quan Chi debut was switched for a later date.
     It felt like getting the rug pulled out from underneath you but that happens. I was annoyed but the silver lining was the team having more time for polishing and animation. In reality, it was a very small part of a much larger machine that needed react quickly to sudden changes in the road. So keeping the proper perspective is important as there is always more work that needs to be done. 

(The thumbnail sheet for the newly reset task. The original thumbnails were too alien and would have created overly complicated rigging and animation for a creature that didn't play a big enough role to justify the complexity.)

(Snake thumbnails, the original plan was to develop a second one with eithe 2A or 3A, but other things came up and they fell through the cracks.)

     Part II will show the sculpt for the Demon Goat Horse as well as the improvements which were made in engine by Jesse Greybeal. This is the first of a handful of posts so maybe occasionally click on it if you see it on your feed and are bored somewhere. Below is some footage of the horse in game: