Building incredible multiplayer games since 2012.

Building the Medic

Building the Medic

Explaining exactly what I do as a game artist can be a little difficult. Conversations with my family about exactly what I’m doing with my life often go something like this:

Them: “So… you draw the little men right?”

Me: “Yes, that’s the first step, but I also build the 3d models.”

Them: “So you’re an animator?”

Me: “No… I build what the animator animates. Like a puppet.”

Them: “A computer puppet?”

Me: “Yes… it’s like a puppet made from many, infinitesimally thin planes in the computer, and each planar surface has a texture assigned to it, and…”

Them: “Uh huh… But you really just play video games all day right?”

For our second art post, I’m going to break down the steps in taking an idea and turning that into a three dimensional character for World Zombination. It starts with a character description from a designer. The Medic is a pretty straightforward character: a human who supports other survivors by healing them. I start with a few rough sketches to explore different silhouettes and personalities. Is the Medic a serious business World War 2 nurse, a mysterious plague doctor, a badass scalpel-wielding surgeon, a scaredy cat field medic, or a mad scientist?

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The sketches are reviewed, and the EMT designs are the best fit, so I work up some variations on that idea.

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A sketch is chosen, proportions are reined in to fit the established style of World Zombination, and I paint a full color concept for the Medic. The final design channels a bit of Suzie from “The Rugrats” if Suzie had grown up to become an EMT in the zombie apocalypse. The mad scientist hair echoes the shape of the electric bolts that will emanate from her defibrillator paddles.

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Once the concept is finished, I start modeling the base geometry. This geometric mesh is what you see actually running around in 3d games. With base geometry finished, I “unwrap” the 3d surface into 2d space. It’s sort of like extracting sewing patterns out of a piece of clothing. Once the model is unwrapped, I can create 2d images called texture maps. Texture maps are applied to the model to create or modulate different effects like color, form, reflectivity, etc.

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The first and most basic texture map I create is a diffuse map. The diffuse map defines local color on the model. This map makes the Medic’s pants look blue, her shirt white, her hair dark, etc.

The next texture map is a normal map and it’s a little more complicated. Each pixel in a normal map indicates a surface direction. It’s used to create the illusion of much greater depth of form and detail on extremely primitive geometry. Normal maps look quite strange (and mostly blue), but computers know how to interpret them properly. To create a normal map, I first sculpt very high-resolution geometry. Special software then compares the base geometry with the high-res geometry, and renders a normal map. With this normal map applied, the base geometry appears to have much more sophisticated surface detail than it would otherwise.

Next up, the gloss map. A gloss map modulates how reflective/shiny or matte a surface will be. Areas that are painted very dark will make the surface appear matte and very bright areas will make the surface appear shiny or even wet.

The last texture map I create is an ambient occlusion map. Real-time lighting in games can be harsh. An ambient occlusion map helps approximate some of the subtler ways that light behaves in real life by masking darker recesses in the geometry from full illumination.

There are many different texture maps that can be created like reflection maps, bump maps, and sub-surface scattering maps, but most objects you see in games are created from some combination of the 4 textures I’ve described. From Lara Croft to the fruit in Fruit Ninja, 3d objects in games all have a base mesh with texture maps applied to create different effects.

When all the texture maps are applied to the base mesh and some lights are setup to showcase the character, the final result looks like this:

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Hope you enjoyed this look into the artistic process and a peek at our Medic!

Lauren Cason, Artist

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