At the start of a new year, I generally like to look back at what I did last year, and try and publicly state some goals for the next 12 months. This is the first year I can really say that I’ve opened a 3d modeling application for work pretty much every day – what do I have to show for that?
A New Dayjob
Big events first: I got a job at TurboSquid! I’m an Associate Producer, working on gamedev, real-time, and VR/AR projects. I started in September, but I’ve already contributed a great deal to some very neat projects! Most of my time has gone into behind-the-scenes work in prepping assets from our publicly announced partnership with inXile. I’m hoping we’ll be releasing products from that project soon and I’ll be able to talk about specifics.
A big part of my new job is providing research and insight for game engines – TS (TurboSquid) has me working in Unity and Unreal of course, but also in engines like Stingray and Lumberyard, plus one or two others that are of a more niche nature. One of my roles is documentation and artist resources, and I’ve started to contribute to or write some blog posts. Under the hood, TS is working on some very cool stuff that I’m excited and proud to be a part of. I’ll be writing a bit about it in the coming months after a big announce!
I’ve also been hard at work on VR related tasks. I can’t make concrete statements, but I’ve been working in UE4 on a roomscale VR project. On top of that, I also do showcases for visitors in our full roomscale HTC Vive setup and generally research and evangelize the platform. Virtual Reality really is something, and it’s hard to put it down in words. Once my current project goes public, I’ll be doing a full dev post here and really provide my opinions on the current state of VR. I knew I landed a fun job when, on day one, my boss dropped an Oculus CV1 on my desk for work and research!
Due Process: The Work Goes On
Just because I got a new dayjob doesn’t mean I stopped working as a contract artist. If anything, the two provide a certain synergy – I’m a better artist from research I do at TS and I’m a better real-time specialist while actively working as an indie artist.
I maintain a folder on my dropbox that is just for Due Process (DP) work, and those are only images that I’ve taken as ‘work in progress’ for internal use (art review, illustration of a technical point, etc) or external use as promo art for the public. I started looking back at it to try and figure out what I’ve done since January, but I have over 275 images to look at. That’s kind of staggering, really – I produce 3 images every 4 days, or between 5 and 6 a week, and those images are only byproducts taken to reflect work I’ve done on the project.
But fear not, I can’t show all of that off – there’s a lot that we’re ‘saving.’ That said, there has been some of my work that we’ve put out via devlogs and promo videos, so I can expand on that already ‘leaked’ work, which boils down to two main subprojects that encapsulate my 2016 work on DP pretty well, actually.
Early in the year, I got to work on a side project, art for some cybernetic limbs. It wasn’t an absolute ‘need’ for our project, but it was fun to work on, and, fingers crossed, it’ll be implemented in the final game. Ideally, down the road, portions of the body and clothes will be interchangeable on the fly, so my main goal was to separate it in a way that the submeshes could be easily swapped at existing connection points, and that the form factor was as thin as or thinner than the normal limbs in order to fit under existing clothing. I’m a quick modeler (at least in this artstyle) and not much of a concept artist so I started by replacing the arm and leg of our criminal base model with blockout ‘cyber limbs’.
Our art director felt the shapes were too smooth and the attachment points were a little silly, so I gave it another pass, producing more hard edges and a lower poly budget.
The art director liked this model, so I continued on. I unwrapped and did a first pass texture.
I mostly got a pass – the hands needed work, and some of the leg texture was put down for tweaking. That caused me to actually do some paintovers – this is something I almost never do, by the way.
I got some feedback from our art director and the lead character artist on suggestions, and ended up going with something close to the middle one. I gave the textures a PBR metalness shading pass and some hand drawn normals & height maps. It ended up with the model that we promo’d in the art dump!
Arena Environment, aka the Killbox
The other semi public thing I’ve contributed to has been the environment art for our current promo levels, as seen in our most recent public vids:
This environment started mostly as a a set of whitebox assets that the dev side could easily iterate with while still working with assets that fit our established art pipeline and artstyle. It slowly evolved from a few simple textures and boxes to a fully fleshed out space, somewhere between a factory and a police training ground. Initially, I called it an arena tileset, but the dev team calls it the killbox. Here are some nice renders of my asset testing level.
Somehow, I also managed to put aside time this year to work on some side projects.
The sniper rifle I modeled for Fallout 4 is by far the biggest single project I’ve ever released in terms of popularity. At the end of 2016, it was downloaded about 250,000 times and viewed by about 3.6 million people, garnering about 60k endorsements/likes!!! You can read up on the project development here. I think I’ve released the last major update for the FO4 release (which had a long tail – version 1.4 was released in October), unless someone offers to help fix the outstanding bugs still plaguing the mod. I’m still tinkering with the model though – I recently hand calibrated the textures for Unreal Engine’s PBR metalness shader model, and have plans for it down the road!
And Source Ports?
I’ve also released a few ports for source this year, mostly weekend jobs. Purely coincidentally, they’re all ports form MGS4, which is very close to source in age and shader tech. The models are a little dated, but a little work can yield a great result.
I released a DSLR Camera
and the Metal Gear MKII
The MKII was a bit more involved project – I did a full custom skeleton and ragdoll. After working with UE4’s ragdoll and collision mesh systems, sometimes I really miss the simplicity of source’s pipeline. Well, maybe it’s not ‘simple’ – I just know how to do it well enough that it’s simple to me.
Another interesting note is that many of my sci-fi related workshop uploads have surpassed 100k downloads, and I got the ‘Mega Upload’ Garry’s Mod achievement (1k likes on a single upload, the ‘rarest’ gmod achievement) this year – all off of long tail ratings and downloads. It’s interesting to see the performance of these releases over the months and years – there really isn’t a precedent for workshop download performance, and the fact that the growing popularity is directly tied into the performance of an over decade old game is truly fascinating.
I did a few little texture and micro modeling jobs a few weekends this year when I wanted to make sure that I still remembered how to do highpoly baking and modern texture pipelines.
I’ve been trying to step away from the computer more often as well – I picked up photography as a hobby about two years ago, and I try and produce at least a handful of pictures I’m proud of every year. If you’re interested in my photo escapades, I try and keep the better ones on my Flickr. I got a neat Lomography Daguerreotype Achromat art lens – it’s a but of a challenge to shoot, but it’s fun! Here are a couple shots I liked from this year:
In all, 2016 for me was more about using the skills I’ve spent years developing and not so much about expanding upon them. The only project that I really ‘learned’ from was the sniper rifle, and even then, that was more about incremental improvements to my well-established pipeline. I’d say the only new thing that I know now that I didn’t this time last year was how to paint with dDo/3Do, and I feel a little more comfortable with zbrush then I did last year.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t a big year for me. I got a new job leveraging the skills I have spent years teaching myself, and it’s in the industry I’ve wanted to work in for years. I continued to provide solid work for a game that I’m passionate about and I feel will do well when it releases. On top of that, I managed to make and release a homerun of a mod for a game I love to play.
Looking back at this year, I can see that I have been busy, probably to a point that isn’t sustainable long term. Since I started my new job, I’ve been doing freetime 3D projects less. I’m not sure if it has to do with a natural up/down cycle that I’ve been victim to over the years, if it stems from the extra work that comes with moving into a new apartment and real life timesinks, or it could be the fact that since I work a dayjob in gamedev and a nightjob in gamedev the last thing I want to do to relieve stress is more gamedev related projects, even if they are of my own choosing.
So, what does 2017 look like? There’s no doubt – I’m going to be working at TurboSquid. I know projects I’m working on at TS will come to fruition, I hope they make a big splash. At the very least, I’ll be able to talk about them. I’ll likely be able to grow my backend and pipeline skills for 3D at TS – I’m already working constantly with UE4 Blueprint and doing some light dev side work as it is. I’ll probably be cultivating UX, programming, distribution, and project management skills, which allows me to look more at an art production career track.
I’m also hoping Due Process will be released in 2017, although ‘when it’s done’ might have an 8 behind it. I really am committed to seeing it through, and hope it’s a success.
Besides those tasks, I need to do at least some work using modern pipelines. I want to be a better artist, but I can’t do that by sitting on my heels. I’ll need to continue to make 3D models and choose projects that are challenging if I intend to improve my skills. I’ll be digging deeper into zbrush for sure, I want to really dig into Substance Designer as well. I’d like to develop a proficiency with Modo so I’m not so tightly tied into Autodesk products. I enjoy environment art – if I do do more of it, I need some serious portfolio pieces. I just need to keep looking forward and put the most into the time I can spend improving my craft.
Thanks for reading!