Dev Dispatch #05: Designing the Assassin Guardian

By Elijah Sparshott, 3D Character Artist

Hello fellow cat lovers! Elijah here, 3D Character Artist for Nyan Heroes. Our Art Lead Emman took you through how we designed the Genesis Guardians at a high level in a previous post. Today, we’re going to be going a bit deeper into the Deathmark Assassin Guardian. We’ll be going over some techniques, as well as a step-by-step layout of our workflow for creating this specific Guardian.

There are a lot of design elements that artists focus on in order to create believable characters. Visual language is something that may not be fluent to most, but it is still a universal form of communication that invokes feeling to artists and viewers.

The first thing I’d like to talk about is shape language:

Simple shapes are easier on the eyes and the most primitive shapes are easily distinguishable. Using these shapes as a base form without diverting far off is how we make our characters simpler to gaze upon. It also makes it so much easier to build. These shapes may be rudimentary in the beginning, but we can make them far more complex just by focusing on a few key techniques.

There are a number of ways we can manipulate simple shapes. First, we need to decide if the shape is Organic or Hardsurface. Hardsurface shapes tend to have crisp edges and visible plane changes, while organic shapes are looser and have far less visible edges.

Notice how the lower right cube still represents a cube, but has the properties of an organic shape? The spectrum between these two shapes exists almost infinitely. These properties are key for delivering the overall “feel” of the character since you can have both really soft and really hard edges.

For this Guardian mech, we leaned toward Hardsurface shapes by defining all the main forms with primitive objects. At this stage, we block in all the mechanical anatomy with simple geometry in Maya, while also blocking in colors to get a primitive sketch mock-up of the final look we are going for. This is also where a lot of the design and mechanical problem solving will take place.

The final look is decided by the concept art team and approved by the Leads.

For colors, we use the 80/20 rule. 80% of the character uses one color/value, while having a secondary color consume the other 20%. This is similar to the basic shapes we used in the sense that we are sticking to a more simple color palette.

Once the block-in phase is approved, we can move to creating a polished high-poly version of the character. This stage is key. A clean and likeful high-poly model is the most important step for creating a game-resolution character, as it will be used to build the low-poly model and textures.

Here we take the primitive block out model into Zbrush and begin using dynamic subdivision and box modeling techniques to create secondary details (details within the primary forms) while attempting to build a nice-looking silhouette overall. This phase is typically worked through in passes as new details can be organized in so many ways. We want to ensure bevels are similar throughout the whole model, while also using the 80/20 rule for secondary and tertiary details like having some detail dense areas, and some open space areas for visual relief. The key focus here is likeness!

Let’s also talk about some of the problem solving we encounter during this process. Since our mechs will be moving in-game and will have lots of mobility options, we need to focus on joint articulation. It’s important to think about how an assassin moves and the poses they take on. Sneaking requires a low-profile silhouette calling for extreme knee bends and squat positions:

Here we are testing the joints to make sure that all the larger primary forms retain their shapes and don’t present any visual clipping. The joint locations need to make sense when it comes to rigging time. This applies to knee bends, ankle bends, toe bends, etc.

Once the high-poly model and solving the joints are complete, it’s time to start prepping it for baking, texturing, and ultimately, importing it into the game engine. This process involves creating a lower resolution (lower poly count) model of the high-poly, giving it UVs (coordinates that determine the location of pixels on a model from a texture) and creating all the texture maps used to give the final look.

We bake all our texture maps in substance painter by loading in the low-poly model and importing the high-poly model to project the details back, while retaining a low-poly count.

We now finally move into texturing! We take all baked maps from the baking process and use them to balance out the materials through procedural texture generation in substance painter. Again, we use the same 80/20 rule to balance out any additional details with 80% being the main/neutral color and 20% being the accent colors. We also focus on material break up, wear and tear, decals, scratches, roughness balance, and color balance.

In parallel, our technical artists rig the model by building a skeleton inside of it and binding the model to that skeleton. Then we’re able to create controls that our animators will be able to use to bring the character to life!

Selen Atiker, our talented animator, tested this rig with a variety of poses, focusing on key assassin-like strike positions.

The Deathmark Assassin was the first guardian mech to be built and created a pipeline that makes future Guardian mechs far easier to move through. I hope this write up was as fun to read as it was to write!

Until next time, Cheers!

Elijah Sparshott

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