In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
Hi Sketchfabbers! My name is Bartek Nowakowski, and I am a Senior Artist at Relic Entertainment. I have been on the Company of Heroes franchise for 7 years, and during this time I have been able to get my hands dirty with all areas of art production from modeling and texturing, to cinematics. Artists at Relic are often required to be able to take an art asset all the way through the pipeline. This includes reference gathering, concept (if required), modeling and texturing, and integration into the engine. So how does the process look for a typical unit? Lets take a look!
Reference and Concept
Because Company of Heroes units, environments and narrative are grounded in history, we all do a lot of research and reference gathering. This not only allows us to build a more authentic experience, but also helps us understand what it is we are building on a more personal level. For the Infantry Section (internally nicknamed Tommy), hundreds of images were gathered. We find that a wide range of images are useful photos of actual equipment are indispensable of course, but also photos of toy models, maquettes, replicas, and even historical reenactment events.
Modeling and Sculpting
We generally use a mixed bag of techniques to create our assets on Company of Heroes. Although we do adhere to industry standards to maintain artistic cohesion between artists, we found that as long as the team was able to reach the desired look, they could use whatever methods they felt most comfortable in. Fundamentally, however, we are a 3Ds Max studio, so the Tommy low-poly mesh started there.
A typical soldier model in company of heroes ranges from 3000-5000 triangles. This includes only the uniform, helmet, and accessories. Weapons, heads, and hands are not included in this limit and have their own requirements. For the head and hands, we have a library of characters we choose from that get randomized at runtime. For the Tommy, we picked one that best suited his character.
For sculpting details, we primarily use ZBrush, with occasional high poly details done in Max. As a Real-Time Strategy game, Company of Heroes requires a certain attention to detail things must read well from default gameplay camera, but also look great when zoomed right in! A lot of tuning goes into the amount of detail that we add to our units in order to find a balance between gameplay importance, and historical accuracy.
To our benefit, because many items of clothing and kit are shared between different soldiers, the artists were able to share parts of their high-res sculpts with each other. Items like boots, canteens, and even whole parts of the main uniform could be shared to maximize efficiency, and, help maintain the same level of quality and style.
Texturing and Materials
As mentioned earlier, artists on Company of Heroes use varying tools to achieve their final results. On The British Forces, many of us were particularly interested in trying out Quixel Suites NDO and DDO. After baking our initial maps from xNormal for the Tommy, I began plugging them into DDO.
DDO is great because you can very quickly block in all your material properties (fabrics, metals, etc) based on your color mask, and then spend the rest of the time tweaking those masks by hand to get more personalized details. DDO automatically creates all your other maps, including gloss and spec, with correct physically based values. This is great if you are using PBR shaders (Physically Based Rendering) like we do in the Essence Engine. After some back and forth between DDO and our in-game viewer, we settled on a final look.
After getting rigged and weighted, the Tommy was ready for some animation! Since we heard that Sketchfab was going to support animation, we definitely wanted to take part in it. Our animation team worked on putting together a seamless looping clip that fit the personality of the Tommy infantry. After exporting to FBX and uploading it to Sketchfab, I used the lighting tools provided in the Sketchfab editor to create the final look you see now.
So thats it! I hope this small glimpse into our art production pipeline has been of some value. Adding our work into Sketchfab has been a breeze and its super rewarding to see our work running in real-time within a browser, and to share it with everyone. If you have any more questions, feel free to give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much Bartek!
It was a real pleasure to take a look behind the scenes at Relic, thanks for taking the time to share this with us!