Hanno is a self-taught artist, specialized in high-end real-time characters. In his eleven years in the industry he acquired refined skill sets in sculpting, modeling, texturing and many more. Some of the most well-known titles he was able to contribute to were Crysis, Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3.
Sze is best known for creating iconic heroine characters for some of the interactive industry’s best-selling titles. Some of her notable creations are: Elena, Chloe and Marlowe for Uncharted 3; Lara Croft for Tomb Raider Underworld; Beatrice for Dante Inferno; Anders and Sebrina for Halo Wars; Twilek and Jedi Consular for Star Wars: The Old Republic; Dark Elf Sorceress for Warhammer: The Age of Reckoning; Emmera, Lyra and Cabalist for Hellgate London ; Keira for The Age of Conan; Viral Carrie and Bowman for Empire Earth; Antonia for Everquest II; Aeon Flux; Female Pedestrian for Prototype. Sze is currently employed as the Character Lead at Naughty Dog, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.
After spending sometime as an FX Artist and modeler for advertising, television, film and games in France, Germany, and Singapore, Christophe Desse is currently working at Naughty Dog in beautiful sunny Santa Monica as a 3D game artist. Christophe started tinkering with 3D back in ’91 and took an autodidactic approach to learning and is now experienced and fluent in most industry standard packages. When he is not building worlds and assets for the PS3 at work, sneezing extremely loud and displaying behavior classified as iconoclastic, Christophe enjoys spending time with his beautiful family and creating cartoony or stylized characters and super charged muscle cars.
Inkyo Lee was born in 1980, and rnrolled in Art Institute of California Los Angeles from 2000, where in 2001, he enlisted in the US army reserve between 2001 to 2007 (miss you my friends.. 137th 2nd platoon). In between this time, Inkyo was also interning at Luxoflux for 2 months during September to October 2005. In 2006, Inkyo joined Naughty Dog as a Technical Artist where he works on things like props, weapons, vehicles, destruction and dynamics. Inkyo always starts his day with a prayer…"I make videogames for living, thank you God.”
Hello Naughty Doggers :-) The wait is now over; the latest installment to the Uncharted series – “Drake’s Deception” – has been released! No doubt you guys are all chilling and basking in the post-release sun :-) Inkyo, Sze, Hanno and Christophe – thanks for taking the time out to talk with us. Just a quick round-table…if each of you can tell us what you do at ND, and what you worked on specifically?
Technical Artist; destruction, cloth, dynamics, props and weapons, marketing, rendering and a lot more
Inkyo: Technical Artist; destruction, dynamics, props and weapons and a lot more
Hanno: Lead Technical Character Artist; Drake, Sully, Cutter
Sze: Lead Character Artist: Marlowe, Elena, Chloe
Christophe, as someone who has been working on the Uncharted series since the beginning, how would you sum up the experience of building the virtual assets in Uncharted 3?
It’s have been an amazing ride, having been on the Environment Team on Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2, and then a Technical Artist on Uncharted 3. I was in the very privileged position to appreciate the artistic and technical quantum leap that we’ve achieved over the three games. It is very hard to look at some levels of Uncharted 3 and believe that those same levels are running on the same hardware as Uncharted 1.
Actually, I dusted off “Uncharted: Drake's Fortune” and popped it into the PS3 last night and it IS incredible just how far the technology and art has been pushed in only a span of 4 years, as evident in U3. In retrospect, how would you compare the production of “Drake’s Fortune” to “Drake’s Deception”?
The production of Uncharted 1, from my humble artistic standpoint was more relaxed and less demanding than either one of the two subsequent games. After the success that came from Uncharted 1 and especially after delivering Uncharted 2, which was awarded <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncharted_2:_Among_Thieves">Game of the Year</a>, we quickly realized that we had set the bar very high for ourselves, and that it would be very hard and demanding to top off...I guess we succeeded again :-)
Sze -- coming from Blur to Naughty Dog, this is your first time working on the Uncharted series. You are famously known for your femme fatale characters, so it is only fitting that you work on the lead female characters in U3. What can you tell us about your work on Elena, Chloe, and Marlowe? Also, Elena looks subtly, but distinctly different in “Drake’s Fortune” when compared to “Drake’s Deception” – the same for Chloe…their facial features are more refined.
For Uncharted 3, one of the most challenging tasks was upgrading both Chloe and Elena. They both have grown older by 4 game years; both display a more loving personality and refined demeanor since the last game. My goal was to make them feel warmer and more mature; their looks being more reflective of the caring and protective side of them.
For Chloe Frazer, I softened her facial feature to give her a more feminine look. Her eyes were brightened up to give her more life; her pupils were enlarged to give a more personable touch. Chloe’s eyebrows are amongst her most distinguishing “trademark” features; it was challenging to control the weight of the brows’ thickness against her dark, olive skin without them looking too masculine.
Elena Fisher’s eyes were made with slightly higher transparency and glossiness to let them show her inner emotions and her feelings for Nate. Her subtle cheek blushes and slightly larger pupils give her a loving appearance, and accentuate her protective nature and her willingness to sacrifice herself in order to protect others.
The biggest technical challenge with Elena was to establish her skin tone and the specularity of her hair in contrast with the other characters. Countless modifications to her skin were made against extreme lighting conditions, in order to find the perfect shader settings and textures balance to support the right look.
Marlowe is an extraordinary and important character in Uncharted 3. The age we see in her face carries facets of extreme and opposing emotions: vengeance, love, hate, greed and slivers of kindness. Behind her piercing eyes, she carries a soul that is wounded and betrayed.
In order to capture her correctly, we made studies of the muscles in the subtle facial expressions of Rosalind Ayres, the actress who played Marlowe, using the footage shot on our motion capture stage while the actors were performing. We then translated key features that we observed, into digital sculpture and texture paintings.
Her eyes were painted in multiple layers in very light, cool colours to build up depth. It is designed to look as though you could see through her soul, only to find infinite depth and coolness behind it. Her hair colour and make-up palette were very pale and light, to contrast her dark leather coat, thereby adding a ghostly look to complement her unique demeanor.
Looking at the close-up of the women’s texture maps, it is noticeable the high quality of skin details. What is your technique for texturing the models and what resolution do you work at?
All the skin textures were painted from scratch to retain color pureness, reduce compression and prevent unwanted lighting information that can be found in photos. I also found it more accurate to paint skin tone onto a new canvas, instead of modifying photographs to fit a stylized model. The textures I worked with were painted in Mudbox and then exported to Photoshop for touch-up. I used several custom brushes for painting blemishes, skin tone coloration and wrinkle lines. Most textures were made at 4096 x 4096 pixels.
Also, when you look back at the hair of Elena from Uncharted 1, it looks more thick and luscious now in U3. How did you make the hair sections?
Mudbox played an important role when it came to making seamless hairline and alpha cards. First, I would paint the hairline on a separate layer on the head model as if she were bald. Then, the hair geometry was imported on top of the head and layers were made for blending the hairline to the hairpiece itself. The transparency/hair alpha was made by turning the painted hair strand to white against a black background. It works really well and I am very happy with the result. This workflow was also used for eyebrow and eyelash placement and design.
From “Drake's Fortune” to “Drake's Deception” – everything from the lighting, environments, characters, and vehicles – it’s almost a world of a difference in the level of detail! Were there changes in the game engine that freed up budget on polygon count limit and texture resolutions of models and scene files?
Character-wise, we did not get too many new features. Contrary to that, we actually cut back a lot when it came to polygons. On top of that, we were able to optimize our assets in general, allowing us to add more details.
Christophe: I guess it came from the fact that we drew upon our experience from the two former games, and that we where able to learn tremendously out of it, especially in the area of optimization.
Furthermore, it shall not be forgotten that our programmers are all at least Level 91 programming wizards, who are not afraid of burning the midnight oil to give us more memory and frame rate. It’s a catch 22… the more resource they give, the more we fill it with art and animations, forcing them back into their dark corner, chanting their incantation to give us a little bit more resource that we would quickly fill again with even more art and animation…ad vitam aeternam.
For each of you, how many assets did you work on for U3?
Too many to count them; from weapons to exploding vehicles and collapsing building, without forgetting cloth billowing and flapping in the wind. Add on top of that add a lot of object and destructions for the in-game cinematics.
Inkyo: Weapons, vehicles, little bit of rigging here and there...
Hanno, as Lead Technical Character Artist, what were a few of the challenges that you ran into while working on Drake and Sully?
Drake was, as expected, a particularly challenging character. As with each game we tried to push him to new limits. By now, he is a pretty established and well-known character in the industry, so we had to pay special attention to not accidentally stray away from his personality. Our fans have particularly sharp eyes when it comes to our character. Unforgiving is an understatement in that regard.
We pretty much redid every aspect of him, with some limitation to his facial topology. Some tighter optimizations and a lot of attention to detail allowed me to squeeze more detail on him without blowing the roof of the memory budget.
I tried to keep it subtle enough that you wouldn’t really notice until you actually start comparing it. Once such a change is strongly noticeable, you’ve clearly changed the character. It’s hard, but I think I did a believable job.
Sully’s model hasn’t been updated since Uncharted 1, so his updates are a bit more visible then Drake’s. He clearly got older.
The time passing by in the story is always very similar to the time between game releases. So naturally everyone has to age a bit. This time, Drake got heavier crowfeet around his eyes and some grey hair at the sides.
Another reason for paying special attention to the ageing process this time around, are for our flashback scenes. We see how Drake and Sully met each other twenty years ago; Drake was still a wise cracking street kid and Sully, the Drake of the 80’s. The flashback scenes were some of the hardest, as they came very late in production. Personally I wish we had more time to polish them. But nevertheless, the first time I actually played that scene, my jaw literally dropped. That’s something that doesn’t happen on your own project.
The look of Drake: everything from his hair, his skin, the clothing and accessories – is really nicely done. What’s your technique for achieving such great texture results?
I take great pride in doing everything by hand as much as possible. Sometimes it’s way faster than using photos, sometimes it’s not. But it certainly maintains the artistic style and creates a feeling of achievement.
For the skin, my favorite technique is to build up layers of pigmentations in Mudbox. I am starting with bigger pigments, then working down to smaller ones, liver spots and eventually veins. All I am doing is littering the face with tons of random spots in the right areas. So the “use Stamp image” and “Randomize” features in correlation with some high “Stamp Spacing” are very welcome helpers. It looks kind of nuts when I’m working on it, but once I blend and color-correct all layers in Photoshop to one harmonizing image, it looks pretty good.
I always work in double the resolution being used, so my work files are usually 2048x¬-4096. The cinematic resolution is about 2048x1024 and the in-game texture measures 512x1024.
Especially when you have to deal with harsh memory limitation, optimizing your UVs is your biggest friend. With properly optimized UVs you can easily get a gain of 100% sharpness in comparison to poorly optimized UV’s. 3ds Max UV tools are my weapon of choice for this task. Especially the Relax tool; its options are very powerful in that regard.
The hair on Drake – this thick hair on his head, his scruffy beard stubble, the eyebrows…how did you create them?
Our Characters are very grounded in general. No fancy space armors or fantasy clothing. This circumstance requires special attention to their hair. Luckily, hair is really easy to do in games… no, wait a second. It’s damn hard to do in games! To create Drake’s beard stubbles and eyebrows, I made use of 3ds Max “Hair and Fur” and baked the results into his texture. This technique gives you a lot of control over the stubbles, while creating spec-, normal-, and diffuse-maps which fit pixel-perfect and are easy to tweak. This also would have allowed us to grow his hair realistically over time. For the sake of actually shipping the game, we sadly ended up not implementing this. The amount of different textures and combinations would have torpedoed our already quite elaborate actor library.
The hair itself in contrast, was completely hand painted. One of our new talents, Michael Knowland, gave me a 5 minute introduction into his workflow; a mind-bogglingly simple, but very effective strokes in Photoshop. That was it, I was hooked! This ended with every artist competing in who could do the best hair. A very fun and inspiring process, to be honest
Out of the 2 year production cycle for the whole game, how long was your own production period for Uncharted 3?
2 years .. around the same time as the 2 others games.. Except that we spent a lot more weekends and late nights at the office this time around.
Hanno: Actual production time was about a year. If you include pre-production, it was about 1 ½.
Christophe, we covered this in our last interview…you use Maya|Max|Mudbox|NEX|Tools3D. Sze, Hanno, Inkyo – are any of you using same apps or other small apps/plugins for your work to boost efficiency?
My philosophy tends more to be use less tools, but know the ones you use really well. For example, I am still using the original Meshtools plugin from 2001 as it keeps verts selected after splitting edges.
For our character workflows, we make less use of in-house tools then the environment guys, for example. My favorite one is our in-house version of Rich Diamant’s Tools3D plugin. Next to that, it fits our workflow like a glove and it is still the most efficient retopology tool for my needs. It allows you to interactively move, slide and smooth one mesh over another. Swift and sleek. It feels like you are sculpting the topology. This should be a standard tool in every 3D package.
How is the interop between all the applications used?
When it comes to creating the assets everyone has the freedom to pick their weapon of choice. Maya and Max are both equally distributed in the team. Usually I start off creating the basic asset in Max, moving on to sculpting, creating the final lowres topology in Maya and Max equally and then do the UV’s in Max. Whatever works best, really.
As our engine converts Maya files into game data, it is mandatory for us to deliver assets in Maya. We also have a shader tool which overwrites parts of Maya’s viewport rendering. This tool allows us to preview and tweak our console specific shaders in Maya and in the game engine at the same time.
Inkyo - how do you go about creating vehicles/weapons assets -- do you work with finalized concept sketches?
The Gaz van was done two years ago at the beginning of the production ...can’t quite remember what I did exactly, but all of my building processes are pretty much the same. If I need to build an armored truck like the Gaz van (or anything else for that matter), I would Google the images of the armored truck. I collect a bunch of photo references first. Then I lay them on my desktop screen and pick out the pictures with interesting shapes and designs. I show them to our lead and when he approves of the photo references, that’s when I start the actual modeling. Finding and combining the right combination of photo references is probably as important as modeling the object itself.
The release of Mudbox 2012 introduced the addition of some new tools. Were any of the updates helpful in your daily work – and if not, are there any tools or features you would like to see as a future update?
I primarily used Mudbox 2011 for Production. I really grew fond of the blending modes very quickly. I would like to see a lighting system which does not tint your textures so harshly. The current one does not work very well for texturing and it is usually easier working with flat lighting activated.
Christophe: We used Mudbox extensively in our department, especially for texture painting and normal map generation. There are a lot of features that were very helpful. If I had to choose one, it would be converting a bump to a normal on the fly, and the seamless painting and sculpting...Yes by the way, I am very well aware that I listed two features :-)
The main advantage for using Mudbox is the very fast turnaround and the real-time feedback that I can get from the Creative Director.
Inkyo: I wasn’t quite fond of Mudbox at first. I didn’t like the results of what I made on my first try. It looked good in Mudbox, but not in-game so I laid off of Mudbox for a while. Then one night, I had to do custom skins for multiplayer weapons. It was 2AM morning and I was very tired. Oh thank you, “Mudbox”...thank you...
What happened was, Christophe had come over to my desk and he started showing me all this cool stuff I could do with Mudbox, and that was exactly what I needed for the multiplayer custom weapon skin. I actually finished everything that was on my plate the very same night. When I came back next morning, Mike Hatfield who is our Lead, was very pleasantly surprised to see that I had managed to do three days of work in only one night …
Some time after that, I asked myself if it was such a clever move, since from then on, it was expected (of me) to have a faster turn around for the remaining custom skins. Thanks Mudbox!! :-)
With Maya and 3ds Max being the primary 3D creation tools, were there any tools that you wouldn’t be able to do without? And what tools, if any, would you have liked to have, to help in your daily work?
I love the Graphite modeling tool in 3ds Max, from poly modeling, sculpting to UV editing. There are so many gems in this tool and it makes technical tasks fun and easy to do. The poly tools make my modeling workflow extremely efficient and smooth. It is intuitive and it allows me to spend more time to focus on the artistic and creative part of the production process.
Hanno: The “Edit Poly” is a great and easy-to-use modeling tool. Combining it with the modifier stack makes it an extremely powerful tool. I found it especially useful when sketching half organic objects, such as holsters or clothing parts. The “shell” modifier for example, allows for a preview of the final volume, the “Symmetry” extends the model to both sides, while additional “Meshsmooth” modifiers keep the preview smooth and even allow for fake beveling of edges.
And lastly… any insider cool stuff we should pause the game to study ;-)?
Some small things to note; we got the wrinkle map blending on the back of the shirt, so that Drake’s shirt throws more natural folds when he runs, jumps and brawls. Also, his hair is finally getting wet.
Cool, thanks for all this inside info! Inkyo, Sze, Hanno and Christophe, I’d like to thank each of you for giving us your time to talk about your work in U3. Also, I’d like to thank Evan Wells, Amy Hennig, Arne Meyer, and Eric Monacelli for helping make this interview happen. For those who have not yet done so, time to go pick yourself up a copy of U3!
Thank you :-)