In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.
I am Jiovanie, freelance 3d artist. I’ve been in the game industry since 1998 doing all kinds of stuff: characters, environments, vehicles, rigging, animation, tools/scripting, textures, sculpting, etc. I get more enjoyment out of character work than anything else. You can read all about what I’ve done and see some random work on my site at www.jiovanie.com.
Jack was born for an aerial racing game designed with an eye on mobile devices and a need for high performance, even on older devices. The focus on this guy was more on old-school style visuals, so no normal maps or fancy PBR textures, just a simple diffuse map to carry the visuals.
The design for Jack came down to a few key words. Style: Subway Surfer. Look: A Boy with an Attitude. Beyond that there were just a couple descriptive words that included “a hat, big glasses, and sneakers”. It’s absolutely rare for me when designing a character to get it right in the first try, but that happened in this case with Jack. I made one sketch and threw on a bit of color and it hit the spot! Here’s the rough concept for the little punk:
(Please pay no attention to the fact that he has three fingers on his right hand and four on his left!)
Designing the Model
After the first sketch met approval I jumped right into modeling. Getting work done quick is key on some projects, and in those cases it really helps to have an arsenal of previous models to use as a starting point. You can run the risk of homogenizing all your work if you start from the same base every time but the key is to use it as a template, not as gospel. Don’t be afraid to change it dramatically and modify anything that doesn’t feel right. In this case I was pretty lucky to have an alien character that has similar proportions to Jack.
Here you can see the alien source model and the final Jack model. Being designed for a mobile game there had to be quite a bit of optimization. Modeling was done entirely in Modo. The tools and workflow in Modo are a dream to use and really let you focus on shaping your model without all the technical hurdles or tool inconsistencies of other apps.
When texturing models like this, I like to layout my base colors and the forms right on the model in Modo. I really like the paintbrush tool in Modo because when painting with the middle mouse button, I can use it as a paint blender, picking up colors while I paint. It just flows so nice and smooth. When I’m working on more realistic or detailed textures I would take the textures to Photoshop for more intricate work. In the case of Jack I kept it very simple and hand painted it all in Modo, then I used a little environment / ambient occlusion bake to overlay onto that texture a hint of lighting and shading. Below you can see the flat painted texture, and how it looks with the lighting bake applied.
Baking the environment light onto the texture helps define the 3d forms in a game where there won’t be an actual light source. It also helps tie it all together. This is most evident in the shoes. I broke the textures into upper and lower body. When he’s in the airplane the lower body can just be removed and not waste any poly/texture budget. The full character will really only be seen in character select menus.
I used the awesome ACS (Automatic Character Setup) plugin for Modo to rig and animate Jack. While ACS is not as “one-click setup” as the name makes it sound, it is incredibly well designed and easy to use. It’s my go-to for humanoid rigs and is actually so easy to use that I was able to animate in Modo for the first time with little trouble (most of my animation experience up to recently has been in 3ds Max).
Without the luxury of Sketchfab’s just-released (and sure-to-be-awesome) morph-target animation support, I was able to achieve the gum chewing effect simply by rotating his jaw bone. Rotating on all three axes really makes a difference, up and down looked too robotic and lifeless. In addition, I was able to get some very subtle and crucial movement in his ears by weighting them very softly to the jaw bone. This gets them moving as his jaws move without needing rig bones specifically for the ears.
Animation support in Sketchfab is the best thing to happen to online model sharing! I have plenty of models in the standard t-pose, and I’ve seen tons of models in interesting poses, but for characters I find that a “freeze frame” in time just doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to convey that character’s personality.
With Jack and Toni, I wanted to give them a bit of life but I didn’t want to have an extreme animation to distract from what I was trying to show, which were the characters themselves. I’m not really a seasoned animator so I decided to focus more on the character’s personality vs. what their actions might be in a game.
Thank you Sketchfab, for giving me this chance to talk about something I’ve worked on, and for providing us with such an awesome platform for showcasing the models we work so hard on creating.