Monday, August 29, 2011

UDK or Source?

bear with me in this post folks, I have had a lot of chocolate

As you may have spotted

I'm a pretty entrenched source modder/modeler. I think I only did this because I saw some of the awesome stuff people were making on Interlopers and because I wanted to make models and maps for L4D when it was booming. That and the fact that the SDK was free pretty much tipped my hand.

I have worked with other engines briefly in my earlier days when I was modeling really bad models for really bad games being made by really bad dev teams. One project took me through 3D Game Studio (HORRIBLE), Torque3D (AWESOME) and a few others I forgot about. Recently I have also worked with Wolfire's phoenix engine which was awesome and I plan on using it exclusively if they release it.

This week I decided to try out the UDK after seeing all the pretty screenshots people have managed to get out of it, and after hammer and studiomdl.exe combined forces to send me into an uncontrollable fit of rage. Well folks, god damn. God. Damn. I can't even think of a witty caption to describe just how much more I like UDK. Just to be clear, Hammer hates me and the feeling is mutual. Every time I try to learn how to use hammer, I come out the other side with blood pressure like a hyperbaric chamber and a desire to defenestrate my monitor. We do not get along.

The UDK map editor, however,

Made me want to explore it. I watched some tutorials (which were a: easy to find, b: mostly up to date and c: maintained by the developers of the engine. All features you won't find in valves documentation. And don't VDC me, the VDC is about as understandable as the poo smears of a demented monkey on smack.) and I immediately started to make a map that looked nicer than anything I ever created in source.

I also decided to make a model to see how the blender pipeline would work.

Just to put this in perspective, it took me somewhere between a week and ten days to get my first model into source. Granted I was pretty new to engine modding then, but this model took me about an hour. The learning curve was so slight solid helium would hardly slide down it. The material editor is nothing short of awesome, considering I used to use MapZone for textures and blenders node compositor, the layout was easy to grasp, albeit the node names are kinda wierd.

Drag and drop!

I think it was about the late nineties when drag and drop became the norm for interface accessibility. Source SDK has **no** drag and drop. Everything is imported and exported using backdoor and commandline tools that may or may not break your asset, mod or even themselves if you aren't the dude who programmed them. UDK is just drag-and-drop-a-licious.

So anyway enough gushing, I could hate on source all day, hell I have spent the last two years hating on source, but it won't get me anywhere. In my dream of being an indie art developer, modding has very little chance of turning a profit. Mods were a good stepping stone to help me learn how models need to be made for actual games, but I think I'm ready to kick that rock over and jump in the mud now. I'm moving to UDK, fuck source.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Don't blame it on the boogie.

I tend to get a lot of work done

But not a lot of projects finished. I think this is a pretty common habitual mishap for young artists. The projects I have followed to total completion are usually a product of a few days of hammering away excitedly and having ideas pouring out my ears. I have created a few websites, a few paintings and a lot of models this way. It's a pretty effective workflow because the ideas are all fresh in my mind, the skills are polished up and the time taken is minimal. I can easily smash out a heap of small props, a couple of medium scale projects, or a few highrollers in the space of a few days.

But what about when I can't afford the hard and fast approach?

Sometimes the weekend comes to an end and my mega explodey starburst funtime model of awesomeness didn't quite make it to completion. I go to work and come back to an easel of half finished strokes and a muse that has taken off in her lightspeed warpdrive spaceship in a direction exactly opposite to mine.

What do I do now? This is often the make or break point for budding artists. I've lost the groove and subsequently blamed it on the boogie. I think this is the point that weeds out the successful modellers from the happy ragtime blendernewbies permanents (not that there is anything wrong with blendernewbies, but people should only really be there for two years at the MOST). It's around this stage that my mentality needs to change from fast and hard to slow and steady. I need to re-analyse my creation, externalise my internal criticism and objectify my actions. Yeah that's a lot of flashy catchwords but they're about as succinct as I can be.

Re-analysing my creation

When I started my happy go funbang model of solidified amazing I had ideas bubbling from my eyeballs. Now I'm all out. The ideas may still be there, but they aren't as awesome and achievable anymore. I don't really have a strong direction to work towards. I need to look at my art so far and decide what I want to do with it. Come up with an overall goal for the final product. Sometimes it's monumental. That's fine. I strongly urge everyone to set their goals beyond their skills. Arnie never got massive from lifting comfortable weights.

The point of this step is to create a specific end goal so that I will have a better idea of when my project is complete, as well as how I am progressing in my workflow.

Externalising my Internal Criticism

This is a pretty simple concept, but can be elusive to get right. I see internal criticism as when I notice a colour is too saturated, or a quads' diagonal midline is running the wrong way. External criticism is when I post my work on a forum and get advice and opinions from community members. I find that providing my own external criticism helps to develop a style, since I am re-inferring my own opinion onto my own work.

By looking at my work as if it had been posted on a forum and I am telling Old Matey McForum Member what I think of it, I find lots of potential improvements and catch some prominent mistakes. I like to do this after any significant change, or a significant amount of insignificant changes.

Objectifying my Actions

It's about this point where I realise that I have just committed myself to the equivalent of painting the roof of the sistine chapel with my armpit hairs while blindfolded, concussed and covered in sandflies. But that's ok! Alan Turing never created the computer by studying 10th grade maths! I'm a big fan of setting small achievable goals and that is exactly what I do at this point. I'll look at what my creation is now and what I want it to be, and I'll break it down into steps. Ok so I know I want him to have a wrinkly ass forehead and big dimples, so I need to move some loops around. I know I want that bit to be shiny so I need to make a nice specular map. I'll break it down and down until I have something that I can do right now, and will only take half an hour at the most. The hardest step of any journey is always the first, and it seems that once I have started work, my muse comes a-knockin'. All of a sudden I need to fix this and improve that, which makes this look out of place so I correct the other to fix that and that improves this. And so on.

The point is that if I have a nice easy job to do I'll be more inclined to do it, and once I am wrist deep in a whizpop whoopee smileface sunray batch of liquefied goddamn, it's much easier, and way more fun, to tackle the more complicated problems.

By this stage

It's about 2 in the morning and I have roughly 5 hours till I have to be at work but I don't want to go to bed because my muse is starting to play with her spaceship keys in her pocket and I don't know if she'll be back again. So I crunch and go to work trashed and come home with less inspiration than the night before, then run through these steps and do it all again till my eyes are poking out on stalks and I look like a junkie who has been pilling for weeks.

And that's how I rediscover my groove and apologise to the boogie.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why I'm not posting WIPS

I decided that for this site

I won't be posting up work in progress shots, and only put up finished models. The reason for this is because on all the places I post and all the other sites I have had I have put up WIPs for critique and because I was proud of my meagre accomplishments. It was ok while I was learning because I needed the feedback. I think I have got to a point now that I know enough about the layout of my mesh and the modelling process to be able to effectively critique my own work, and I know enough people that I can talk to individually to get valued feedback.

WIP shots also look very unprofessional and messy. It's a whole lot harder to look at someone else's WIP and see what it could turn into. It just looks like an unfinished model, and it's pretty boring looking at a blog full of unfinished models. I have found recently that WIP shots demotivate me as well. It's like I subconsciously tell myself "well, it's on the net, I don't have to work on it so much now". And that leads to projects dragging out longer than they should.

Besides those good reasons, I'm hoping this blog will have some impressive models on it in the coming months and I don't want to clutter it up with bad WIP shots. No one wants to have to wade through a river of crap to get to a couple of shiny dimes.

That means less models on the blog, but higher quality of entries, which I am very comfortable with.

My affair with loops and poles

Goddamn I love loops and poles

If you don't know what loops and poles are, google for 'loops and poles blenderartists thread'. You are cutting your own arm off if you model without this awesome bit of education.

Loop flow isn't just an organic modelling consideration, I was modelling a gun recently and I had to pay attention to the loop flow of the mesh every step of the way. When baking down high resolution meshes it's vital that you avoid any smoothing artefacts, and knowing about the flow of your mesh and being able to use poles to target and direct the flow is a paramount. If you need a smooth crease in your mesh ie for a wrinkle in a face or a fold in the handgrip of a gun, you put a loop there.

Loops are one of those concepts that just miraculously work every time and make everything better. They're like the midas touch for your meshes. It's like a missingno cheat to get rare candies for your modelling skills. I cannot count the amount of times I have had a particularly problematic area on a mesh and one well placed loop has fixed it. Or the amount of times I have put in a fresh loop only to have the other end of the loop fix up a spot that I wasn't happy with.

Poles make my pole pole up

If you think that sounds gay you need to start using poles. Every mesh needs them. Even a cube. Actually, a cube is all poles. By knowing how to place poles and how to move them around you have the entire world of modelling at your hands. A loop needs a pole to tell it what to do, and if you ever have a bad looking pole that means your mesh is about to fall apart. When I first started learning poles I thought I could get away with a 6 pole here or there, and my meshes fell apart too. Then when I went in to fix it up I found every time that it was the 6 poles fault. Simply by removing that pole my meshes would suddenly work again.

I absolutely love poles and loops. They make organic modelling fun, not arduous, they make my meshes neat and wonderful, not messy and convoluted. If you model anything, even if you just start with a box and sub-d your way down, you absolutely have to get in control of your loops. If poles and loops were two dudes I'd let them spit roast me and it wouldn't be gay. THAT'S how awesome they are.