Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Concept101: Complexity by Design

So at this point, you know that the beginning of Wizard101 wasn't just the wave of a wand. But through a new Concept101 every day through the end of the month, you're learning about the specifics of the concept process, and seeing more new concept art and artists!

A few day's ago on Concept101 (Preceding Darkness and Death), I talked about how and where KingsIsle went looking for artists. I also mentioned art tests, and showed one from Xavier Garcia for Valencia. I toyed with the idea that Valencia might not have always been such a death-filled place, and may change in the future. Yesterday (Red Hair and Painted Shields), I talked about texture mapping and layering, and using 3D models to create game-ready NPCs, enemies, and more. Today, I'm going to talk a little bit more about the 3D process, as it's quite an intricate one.

Not-So-Simple Creation

One of the common programs for KingsIsle animators is Autodesk 3D Max. It's what Isaac Oster, our artist from yesterday, used to create his models. Let's revisit some of those.

There are a couple of things that stick out to me here. First, the female zebra in the middle is much different than the male zebra on the left. This difference that you're seeing is the result of Dynamic Shadowing being turns on and off. This is shadowing on the actual model based a light source that changes with rotation and movement.

What's also interesting is that when you look at the texture map, you can see spots that have been brushed over to make darker, with no regard for the edges. These are permanent shadows that are part of the textures. For example, have you ever ridding a mount that allows your cape to fly really high? It looks like your whole back has been painted with a gradient black. This is because is was designed to always rest backwards, and would therefore have that shadow.

Before and After

Take a look at the two concepts above. Fairly simple in design, but each with its own personality. On the left you have a Watson concept that J. Todd Coleman posted, the right is Harold Argleston from the Wizard101 website (which is surprisingly difficult to obtain given the way it's contained).

When artists create the planes that make up the figure, they form what's called a wireframe. The wireframe can stand alone, or with the textures basic on your viewing mode in 3D Max. You can also turn the wireframe off completely to see the finished product, as with Harold Argleston here.

This artist used the same view for Watson here. Normally, objects like his bag are done separately and added in.

Raster vs. Vector Images

Oftentimes, when creating characters, they'll end up needing to be sized up or down. I can't be sure, but I'd guess that that's what causes the quest signs to become so large or small on some NPCs. You're probably familiar with image file extensions like .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .gif, and even some weird ones for specific programs like .psd and .xcf. However, those are all raster image files. When you get into extensions like .svg, you know you're looking at a vector image.

The difference is pretty simple. Raster images are based on pixels, each filled with one color. When you scale it up, and the one-color pixel begins to fill multiple pixel spaces, you get blur, and the picture is generally unclear. This is fine for online media, as you don't need to view it so large. But, for example, if you're a business that wants to put their logo on a pen and on the side of a building, raster is not your friend.

Instead, you use a vector version. Vector images are just a series of lines and curves rather than pixels filled with color. While your gradient options decrease with vector, you can then size up or down your image as you please, which can work well for in-game pieces that need to be adjusted. Wireframes very likely act like vector images, then the textures become the issue. Those will have to be converted to a vector format for proper resizing. 

When KingsIsle fails to do this, you can see it. And there are still plenty of those grainy, blurry, and pixelated examples in-game, unfortunately.

In the Beginning

Merle Ambrose didn't always look like he did today. This character model of him looks very similar, but the textures on his robe and hat aren't what we're used to seeing. Instead of lightning, we ended up getting the more traditional stars and moons.

I'd love to see his original concept. I recall viewing it somewhere, but I don't remember where. It wasn't anywhere special, I think it might have been a KingsIsle video they published on YouTube or something. But I remember his horn being in the concept. Of course, that was eventually either cut or relocated. His staff sure got nicer for the actual game as well, and became a staple on the website with page titles. I showed it in the introduction picture.

The other image I picked is Greyrose. She must have been played with quite a lot. Her final concept very similar features, with a different colored outfit and slightly varied hat. You have to wonder, then, was this varied from the original concept, or was the original concept different? What's particularly shocking is that she doesn't have any wings, which would have a relatively low polycount and be simple to create alongside the model. Perhaps Greyrose wasn't always going to be a fairy! Interesting!

I picked this one, though, because of the complexity. Normally, facial features can be defined by textures, and don't actually have to be physically created on the model. But, this one had a lot of effort put into it, especially on the hands and face. Take a moment to enlarge that concept and look at just how many planes you can see!

Concept Credits

All of these concepts are created by the KingsIsle art team. Dave Greco is the Lead Concept Artist there, and shares many of his works on his blog, My Electronic Days. You can view it HERE. See more from KingsIsle Entertainment at These character concepts are by character artist Adam Schuman, who worked with the launch team but is no longer a part of KingsIsle. He has more of the classic characters and some of his work for the coloring book website page that you can view HERE.


Stick around for more Concept101 tomorrow, with a new artist, new artwork, and more of the concept process! Thanks for reading and see you in the Spiral!

1 comment:

  1. Todd had declared that Greyrose was originally supposed to be the headmistress, but after testing it, he decided to use Merle... so from these pictures I think Merle was the Storm Teacher, Greyrose HeadMistress, and the Ice and Fire teacher remain unnamed...


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