Aleksandr Steshenko “Manimator”
I’m the lead artist and co-founder of Panzar Studio. I was born in Russia in 1966. Masters of Socrealism (Social Realism) were my art teachers and I graduated in the Art School of Painting and Drawing. In 1993, Igraduated from the Architecture Academy as architect of industrial buildings. I’m the member of the architect association “Architecture for Extreme Climatic Regions of Siberia and Canada”. I took part in the Toronto exhibition of industrial projects for garbage-processing and wood-processing plants. In addition, my work was published in a US architect magazine. My work involving graphics from 1991 featured engravings on copper and etchings. I've had three personal exhibitions in Russia, two in the United States, as well as France, Italy and Japan. I also took part at the International Graphic Art Biennale in Seoul and Russia. Now, I live and work in Moscow, Russia. Since the creation Panzar Studio in 1998 -- founded by businessman Vladimir Valkov and myself -- my work primarily had consisted of comics and illustration art, and then to 3D in 2003. Currently, I'm working on “Forged by Chaos” as both concept and texture artist.
Dmitriy Morozov “AriOrH”
I’m the lead animator/CTO and co-owner of Panzar Studio. I’m 26 years old -- live and work in Moscow, Russia. I have been interested in computer graphics since I was 15, mostly due to my desire to create and animate characters. An inner component of the character – biomechanics, was always was my favorite part. In 1999, there did not exist any universities in Russia that taught CG -- so -- I choose the closest course that would help me in my line of work: graphic design. At the Modern Art University, I studied anatomy, drawing, composition and many other courses, which still helps me in some ways even now. Concurrently, I also led my own 5-day course at the RealTime School, the place there I would meet the rest of the team. Initially, a group of us started our own AriOrH studio and mostly worked as freelancers on the in-game cutscenes, but in 2003, we joined our efforts with Panzar Studio, to start work on a higher level project. From the beginning of my career, I had mastered almost all techniques in computer graphics and now my specialization is quite specific. From our studio’s standpoint, I focus on classic animation to better aid in the setup of this animation. My tasks include character technology, animation, physics, mechanics implementation in the game, and custom 3ds Max tools.
Aleksey Moskalenko “AngoolMoa”
I’m the lead 3D artist and also a co-owner of Panzar Studio. I’m 34 years old, live and work in Moscow, Russia. In 2000, I graduated from the Rostov-On-Don Architect University, where my specialty was projection and visualization of public buildings. In 2001, I had completed a RealTime School course and soon after, started my own discipline – character modeling and architectural visualization. A year later, together with Dmitriy Morozov and Anna Arhipova, I founded the AriOrH Studio. As a member of the studio, I took part in characters and environment creation for in-game video clips. In 2003, I accepted an invitation from Aleksandr Steshenko to join the Panzar project. For this project, I modeled high-polygon characters, weapons and armor. Even in the beginning, our Panzar project received significant response – there were plenty offers from famous game development companies, but we decided to give it a try ourselves and gain more experience. The Panzar project was put on hold for three years, years we spent working as freelancers. In 2008, we took the Panzar project from the shelf and blew the dust off of it. The project received its working title – “Forged by Chaos” under the development of Panzar Studio. My main tasks in “Forged by Chaos” are conceptualizing and modeling of game characters.
I’m 30 years old, born and educated in Russia. Currently, I’m the lead modeler and also co-owner of Panzar Studio. After graduation from general education and artistic schools, I enrolled at the Rostov-On-Don State Academy of Architecture and Art. In 2003, I graduated from the Faculty of Decorative and Applied Art and Folk Business, in the division of sculpture and ceramic. At the time, I barely knew computers and couldn't even imagine that a computer would soon became my one and only instrument. In September of 2003, I had moved to Moscow, following an invitation of an old academy friend to work as an artist at AriOrH studio, designing characters and textures. The studio during this period worked freelance on the production of in-game cutscenes. Here, I found Aleksey Moskalenko whom I had already known from the academy. He was a mentor for me and led me to the wonderful world of computer graphics. My desire to know all of the possibilities of graphic design programs was so overwhelming that soon enough, I become pretty fluent in Adobe Photoshop, and receive a permanent position on the team. But all this time I still wanted to put my hands on sculptures abd three-dimensional shapes -- so -- asides from leading a ceramics course in the “Craft school”, I’ve decided to study 3ds Max. Thankfully, my colleagues and good friends (Aleksey Moskalenko and Dmitriy Morozov) were already teaching this at the RealTime School. With their great help, I opened the borderless horizons in the 3ds Max world and I would like to thank them once again for that. After we met Aleksandr Steshenko in 2003, the most exciting aspect of modeling -- high-polygon -- began. At this point in time, the core team was formed and it has remained unchanged..
I'm the producer and founder of Panzar Studio. I was born in Novosibirsk, Russia in 1953. In 1976, I was graduated from Novosibirsk State Electrotechnical University. In 1984, after a post-graduate course, and defending a thesis "Exploration and the Studying of Electro-driving Jack for Optical Image Shift", I became a Doctor of Science. Between 1985-1987, I worked as an instructor at the Novosibirsk branch of Extension Courses University of Electrotechnical Industry Ministry. In 1987, I was promoted to the head of the "Electro-driving, Management Organization and Economics of Electotechnical Plant" department at the same university. I held this post until 1991. From 1991-1996, I was CEO of "Le Vall" firm. In 1995, I opened a private exhibition gallery of the modern art called "Le Vall". The gallery displays modern graphics and art exhibitions from the US, Europe, Japan and Russian artists, and now it is one of the most popular culture centers in Novosibirsk. Also, I'm a patron of foreign artist exhibitions at the Moscow show houses, and help to finance creative art projects by Russian artists. From 1996 to now, I've also been the CEO of "Arhon" company, services include dry-cleaning net and Mercedes-Benz service stations. In 1998, I became the producer and co-founder of Panzar Studio. Our studio specializes in commerce illustration and comics. Since 2003, Panzar Studio made the move to modern 3D technologies, and our team went through major changes with arrival of new 3D-oriented artists. Now, in 2008, the gathered team experience was enough to start a new project entitled "Forged by Chaos".
Salutations, Panzar Studio! A warm welcome to the AREA. The first time I saw your work was back in 2004. Magnificent warriors, heavily armored and detailed in medieval and hellish styles. And now -- four years later, you have announced an upcoming title "Forged by Chaos", a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) to be powered by the same awesome engine that powered Crysis: Crytek's CryEngine2. Huge congratulations to you on this exciting news!
First things first -- who makes up the Panzar Studio team and what is each person's responsibility in the studio?
Panzar Studio is a small company with a highly skilled, knowledgeable staff of 20. Of the full staff, there is a core team of five – Aleksandr, Dmitriy, Aleksey, Anna and myself. The principle governing our work is to produce the highest standard of quality with the latest technology.
I would characterize our small studio as a team of competent specialists, who complete their work in a professional manner.
Each team member accurately knows their tasks and deadlines. We trust in their skill and this creates the spirit of a united team of professionals.
Where is your office situated?
Our office is in the heart of Moscow, Russia.
How did Panzar Studio start?
I suppose, the starting point was in art. Engravings, paintings, exhibitions… Then – commercial illustrations, comics, Internet, and finally, in 2003 – with modern 3D technologies.
Panzar is the result of a merger with the studio AriOrH. Prior to the union that created Panzar Studio, what type of work was each studio independently involved in?
Aleksandr & Dmitriy:
In 1998, the office settled in Saint Petersburg. Many of the specialists working at the time had graduated from the Leningrad Academy of Art, and the Novosibirsk Academy of Architecture.
Two years later, in search of new technology, the office and employees moved to Moscow, where they are now located.
Moscow is a large city with a completely unique rhythm and energy, which inspires new ideas, new people and outlook in the studio’s work. During this period, Panzar worked on illustrations and comics. This was -- and still is -- labor intensive work, which is directly dependent on the skill level of the artist.
AriOrH studio was created in 2001, through the financial support of 1C Company, one of the largest independent Russian software developers and publishers. The basic activity of the studio was the creation of introductory trailers for computer game companies. In addition to the trailers, we completed various additional orders in the area of graphics for computer games. The two leading specialists and founders of the AriOrH studio conducted several different courses in computer graphics in the RealTime School (http://realtime.ru/). The courses in architecture, the creation of characters and their animation attracted professionals from different spheres of business.
What are the definitions of the names Panzar and AriOrH?
Aleksandr & Dmitriy:
Within the framework of the gaming project, the name can be interpreted as PAN – master or host, whilst ZAR means war or warrior. A loose interpretation would be ‘THE GOD OF WAR’. Earlier, the name drew its ancestry from the word panzer – meaning armour or tank. Clearly even in distant 1998, we already knew that we would armour our warriors.
With regards to the name of the studio, AriOrH was the alias of one of the founders and has no specific meaning.
Where did the idea come that the two studios should merge?
Aleksandr & Aleksey:
During a 3ds Max course, I became acquainted with the guys from AriOrH studio. I immediately knew that we would work together. They were so completely in agreement with our vision that all we needed were the funds and a focus. These were key to the new technologies that we had to master.
At the time, we searched for creative inspiration and realized that our knowledge was only one of the keys to great possibilities. We believed Panzar Studio to be the second key, and the idea of unifying the studios became obvious to all.
Before the announcement of the game "Forged by Chaos", you already had a substantial collection of "Warriors of Chaos", dating back from at least 2004. Were you planning on making “Forged by Chaos” since that time? If not, why choose the “Chaos” theme?
There were various objective reasons for the creation of the CHAOS warriors, our first joint project together. By then, I had already been studying fantasy style literature and illustration for a long time, due to my work on comics. The boys from AriOrH taught complex animation and modelling of characters.
At that time no one, not even film studios, had dared to work on complex attributes mounted on 3D characters; the technology was hardly ready for it. At the time, 3D characters on screen were confined to supermen in tights. The creation of such images threw down a specific professional challenge to existing technologies. We considered many utilities and instruments in our search for non-standard solutions.
I personally think that the choice of the CHAOS theme becomes clearer when looked at in this light: We had the tools, the ideas, and creativity ready to use and the work had momentum. That’s not to say that the models of the warriors from 2004 have been directly reflected in “Forged by Chaos”. However, the models are the start along a difficult path, and we can return to these original images as a point of reference during the planning stage of the game.
We had not planned the creation of “Forged by Chaos” in 2004. Immediately after completing several models that gave us an understanding of the level of modern technologies, everyone in the studio was invited to work on another interesting project. During this time, we were able to realize all the complicated concepts in gaming technology. Unfortunately, however, the design resulted in completely private images and the results of this work have remained under seal. It seemed to me that the level of graphics we could achieve with this work were genuinely revolutionary and promising. Now we were forced to catch up on the three years we had spent on this job. Although we had obtained experience, nothing else had changed.
Actually, can you tell us a bit about the concept of Chaos and the Chaos universe? Is this the same Chaos universe that exists in Warhammer? If so, is that where you referenced the characters and their designs from?
I would like to start the answer to this question not with the concept of CHAOS, but with the FANTASY concept and its sources.
It is doubtless that this overall concept and style has its basis in the history of the cultural development of different races and people, and the architecture, art, literature, living conditions, war and peace, attributes and design of weapons and armour of the Middle Ages.
The CHAOS concept has been used in the literature of Fantasy as a kind of stamp of hostility, of “otherness”, with a destructive origin and as the source of all things magical and unknown. Graphically, it is expressed by the external manifestation and stereotypes of mysterious expanses, gods, demons, wizards, wonders and inexplicable phenomena.
Let’s look at Wikipedia's description of CHAOS:
Chaos (derived from the Ancient Greek Χάος, Chaos) typically refers to unpredictability, and is the antithesis of cosmos. The word χάος did not mean "disorder" in classical-period ancient Greece. It meant "the primal emptiness, space".
According to Hesiod's “Theogony” (the origin of the gods), Chaos was the nothingness out of which the first objects of existence appeared, and the deity Tartarus was the third force to manifest in the yawning void of Chaos.
Personally, I understand CHAOS differently. It is the source of all life, like an endless variation of all manifestations, as the mental origin of all things material or ephemeral. Chaos is like a magnetic medium; on the one hand a mass of individual uncoordinated elements and on the other, an idea or will that forces these particles into different structures.
I would illustrate this idea through the eyes of an artist. When approaching work, I place a clean sheet of paper in front of myself. I consider this to be similar to the conditions of CHAOS; in it any version of an image may arise, which then starts to develop into other technologies and media. I seize upon some impulse or mood. At this stage the image is still indistinct and undefined; it may transform significantly. I then add the basic points onto the clean sheet of the future drawing and gradually the image materializes, becomes more detailed, finds its character and reaches the moment -- when suddenly -- it comes alive even though it will not have a direct relationship to the final drawing. Immediately afterwards, I stop drawing and abandon it because no further editions are required. I’ve drawn for several decades and my skill as a graphic artist has grown, but this never changes the fact that the drawings don’t only depend on my skill for their completion; at some stage they start to live a life that is no longer dependent on me. In the subsequent cycles, using computer technology, (modeling, texture mapping, animation) the sketch starts to lose its potential for its earlier form of life but, on the other hand, each iteration then adds its colour, making it all the more alive once again.
I think that this is, in many cases, what singles out the work of our studio.
In regards to the concept of CHAOS in our games, it often utilizes the widespread clichés of the FANTASY industry in order to be completely understandable. However, it has its own peculiarities and differences.
In general, the outline of the concept is as follows: Chaos, which is the start and source of everything, creates Life. Life develops Reason (mind/intelligence/thought). And Reason leads to the materialization of Gods. Gods evolve and, in order to avoid subsequent transformations, destroy Life and become the mental storehouse of Reason – the soul in the world of CHAOS. They create the likeness of a destroyed World, which submits to their laws. In this world, Souls serve Gods; they’re united with them.
Soon enough, we will publish a visual description of the CHAOS world in the “Locations” section of the website. For now I can say that the CHAOS world in general consists of its capital city – NAGRA. NAGRA is a dream city, or even perhaps a ghost-city that consists of the real and surreal. And racial plans are distorted by CHAOS.
Race divisions in a game are pretty common for a fantasy theme – ELVES, DWARVES, ORCS and HUMANS. There are also game class divides along with the worshiping of CHAOS gods – MAGE, TANK, HEALER, and SPECIALIST.
With regards to the universe of WARHAMMER, I think there will be enough desire to develop such an interesting gaming world --without us. The game, in the final account, will have little in common with the games of WARHAMMER.
I don’t think anyone holds a “droit de seigneur” on such a global, cultural phenomenon as FANTASY, especially for the concept of CHAOS.
What software apps do you use for the production of your game?
We’ve moved from using a large quantity of various software applications, and scaled down to using every purchased product to its 100% potential. Our core apps are 3ds Max, Adobe Photoshop CS3, Right Hemisphere Deep UV. If we experience a lack of functionality in them – we create additional applications and tools ourselves. In this manner, we build instruments which provide important functionality that serves to significantly speed up our work.
How long have you been using 3ds Max for your production and what was the decision for choosing it?
We started using 3D Studio Max software in the first versions, when it was the product of Kinetix. Over the years, we have worked together with 3ds Max through all its innovations and changes of leadership. A few years ago, a great stir was created in Russia due to specialists working with the Maya software package, with many saying that it was precisely the flexibility of the working process with Maya software that made it so unique. We were always convinced that with the correct approach to Max, it would be possible to construct a very flexible working process using standard methods. For example, the entire “Warriors of Chaos” project was created without the application of additional modules and knowledge of MXS. Several people from Discreet (at the time) could not believe WHAT we did with the aid of their software. Today, the difference between these two packages is of no importance to us; the role of the specialist is. To us, Max is an instrument or, if you like, a portal for the direct transfer of our ideas into reality. When we cross over to the realization of new tasks, all the working processes at the level of Max proceed very simply and easily! Of course we dream that one day a new 3ds Max will absorb things better than Mudbox and Zbrush has done, and that Reactor will stop searching around for objects :-).
Do you have any proprietary custom tools that were developed while creating assets for the game? If yes, can you share with us what they help to do?
We have now developed a fair number of utilities that help us in our work. Our basic goal when creating tools is to relieve the specialist from mechanical work as much as possible, in order to be able to fully concentrate on the final result. For example, “Inventory Helper” – an instrument developed with the aim of speeding up the creation of different versions of equipment and to remove stages of work from the working process, such as the creation of logic for clothing characters after modeling. As a result, the modeler, with the help of a simple interface, is able to set all clothing logic – which article belongs to which slot, what other article may the character be dressed in, what other article should he take – even during the modeling stage—are examples of what it can do.. Afterwards, the information obtained is stored in a file. Then animators, texture mappers and programmers all use this tool to relieve their work on the characters. In recent years, we have developed a very satisfactory set-up system for characters in standard Max tools. For animators, there are quite specialized tools that can rapidly filter animation keys, pick out or conceal different types and groups of objects, copy and insert poses and store or load animations. Considering that we use skeletons developed in-house, all these functions are very important. As a result, given the simplest logic specialists, it is sufficiently easy to make complex structures and tools suitable for their type of work in Max.
Your game characters are very heavy on geometry and have complex armor. Are you implementing the standard game workflow of low-poly+normal maps? In the animation clips accompanying this interview, the mesh and cloth deformations are so nicely simulated and look like hi-res poly geometry.
Actually, we use standard equipment, for modern technology, to create characters. The models are polygons, since it is necessary to reveal the image at a geometrical level in accordance with the sketch, and because technical limitations require this when working with the game engine. The rest is the skill and work of the sculptors.
Now I would like to talk more about the technical difficulties of creating dynamic characters who are able to change their appearance, armour and weapons. It is a truly technically difficult moment.
First, this is due to the high number of different components in each character. Second, the difficulty of docking these elements together (each element of armour suits any version of the warrior). Third, the clothing work uses different geometry for each of the characters. There is in addition a great quantity of work on textures (normal maps, diffuse colour, specular level).
However the success of the game's mechanism justifies these difficulties.
How do you expect to deal with the high amount of information per character in the game?
We’ve put our utmost effort into optimizing our work process. This includes plans, descriptions of technology and technological processes applied to simple logic and excluding repeated action. All this helps our small team cope with such a large quantity of information. In many cases, Max’s control system is of help. In the future, we would like to master the Vault information exchange and control systems.
Should we be expect to see the same phenomenal quality of detail and realism in "Forged by Chaos" that was experienced in “Crysis” – which also used the CryEngine2 game engine?
CryEngine2 is a powerful and modern instrument. In competent hands it allows one to achieve high quality and detailed graphics. However, in our project realism doesn’t count. We’ve created a fantastical, mythical world in which REALISM, in the general understanding of the term, is not quite what we are looking for. On the other hand, we are interested in stylization, fantastical images, interesting colours, and picturesque images used in the gaming environment. The player should perceive new images and emotions when he/she becomes absorbed into such an atmosphere. We keep boring, grey, dusty reality out of our project.
In regards to the technical and planning solutions of the gaming environment, it is possible to detail the following aspects: It is a living, flowing space, and is zoned with leitmotifs and accents (via the three professional architects working in the studio). This functional zoning of the environment is required for gameplay. The texture of the environment is developed with complicated shaders. Finally, beautiful artistic effects of particles and light are applied.
Can you give us a short synopsis of the game?
“Forged by Chaos” is a multiplayer game with a third person perspective designed for 32 players. You guide your character in the same way as one would in a standard ‘Slasher’ game. The game design is intended for group tactics and contains different types of scenarios; “Siege”, “VIP”, “One against the Darkness” and so on. We will talk about this in more detail when developing the game. The game will employ an RPG element – developing characters. Your character may change its external appearance, upgrade military equipment and weapons depending on your fighting experience. The main difference between “Forged by Chaos” from other fantasy projects is the high level of interaction; the dynamics of the game are typical for FPS multiplayer games, so the gamer wins a fight not only by using the capabilities of the character but also the personal experience of the player. Thus our game can be divided into three formats – Arcade, RPG and FPS multiplayer. The game takes the best from each of the genres. You have the ease of mastery of the gameplay and interface, you have the potential to strive for progress and secure the success of your character and finally we want to make the game a highly dynamic battle, in which you will want to win. Plus we will do what we do best of all – create a highly visual level of character development.
I understand that it is early on, but surely you've brought some of your warriors into the game engine for test. Could you describe to us the workflow from 3ds Max to CryEngine's Sandbox2 Editor?
At the moment everyone is busy on the process of introducing our characters into the future game. As you may be aware, it is still too early to comment but we expect the inserted objects and characters to be excellent! Our newly developed skeletons work in CryEngine and deformations perform without alterations. The process itself is quite standard – sketches, modeling, texture mapping and set-up, export and animation. After everything has been built, the working process becomes all the more simple, just as described.
With regards to editing, Sandbox2 is without competition. It is very easy to create worlds of any visual formulation and scale in it, with any set of gaming rules. One can apply an intuitive approach when working with CryEngine2. If you have experience in working with computer graphics, you can achieve many things yourself without documentation. I think that on the whole, CRYTEK was astonished with what we have squeezed out of its engine :-).
What sort of challenges have you encountered thus far and are there any challenges that you foresee?
So far we haven’t experienced any particular difficulties. However we do expect to meet with complications on all sides, although nothing we won’t be able to solve.
Which platforms will the game be available for - PC, Xbox, PS3, etc.?
The game will be PC-exclusive.
How do you think "Forged by Chaos" will compare to other MMOs -- will it be something similar to "World of Warcraft"?
Actually, there is nothing to compare. “Forged by Chaos” will be a completely different game in a different genre. The only common point with “World of Warcraft” is the fantasy theme itself.
When can we expect to see the game out in the market?
We are planning open beta-testing of the game within 2 years from now – in the middle of 2010.
We are looking forward to the future release of your game and we want to thank you for your time, and wish you success in the launch of "Forged by Chaos". Do Svidania, Panzar Studio!