Author Topic: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind  (Read 7228 times)

Offline x4000

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The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« on: February 04, 2011, 10:28:27 PM »
Original: http://christophermpark.blogspot.com/2011/02/art-pipeline-for-valley-without-wind.html

This was originally posted in a comment thread over at Gamers With Jobs, but I've been meaning to talk about the art pipeline for A Valley Without Wind for a while over here, too.  So here we go!

For those curious on how I'm doing the art, it's a pretty huge pipeline:


- Characters and similar are rendered in Poser Pro 2010 at high  resolution and then cartoonized in post-processing using Photoshop CS5  and a number of custom filters by Topaz Labs.

- Objects are rendered in a variety of programs, or in some cases are  using photo textures as in many games, and then are run through filters  by Topaz Labs, Nik Software, and Filter Forge, all through  Photoshop again.

- Specifically, most of the work on actual object sculpting and  painting is being done using Mudbox 2011.  I did most of the art for  Light of the Spire using ZBrush 4.0 (and the rest in the GroBoto 3 betas),  which was great for the style of the spire ships, but for AVWW I'm only  using ZBrush for the ZSphere rapid design tools, with the resulting  frames being exported to Mudbox for final sculpting and painting in  Mudbox.

- In terms of the plants and skies, as well as a few other things  like clouds and some of the ground textures, I'm using Vue 9 Complete to do all  that.  I did a lot of work back in the day in Vue 6 Infinite, and before that in  Carrara 6, Bryce 5, 4, and 2, so Vue is a natural progression of that  for me and quite a favorite.

- To set up infinitely tilable textures, I'm using a really cool  piece of software called imagesynth 2.  That, plus the heal brush in  Photoshop, really let me get some interesting effects.  That's how I'm  able to make the really complex skies from Vue tile seamlessly, and  things of that nature.

- I've also taken several hundred photographs already for custom  textures, and those all get processed pretty heavily in Photoshop using  Topaz, Nik, and Filter Forge.  A lot of times, in order to get those  looking at all right I have to make several passes at them through the  various Photoshop plugins, then tile it in imagesynth, then do more work  in Photoshop, then have another go at it in imagesynth.

- There's also a lot of  hand-editing to a lot of the images, using the heal brush or just  regular brushes via my Wacom Intuos4 (small) tablet.  The last Wacom tablet I had was  from 9 years ago and was terrible, but I've been finding my new one  absolutely indispensable and a dream to work with.  Lets me do all sorts  of things digitally that I could only ever do on paper in the past.

Finding an aesthetic with the right amount of detail to look  painterly for the background without looking too cluttered was quite a  challenge, and finding the right look that would look cartoony without  being too "young" was another big challenge.

I keep all the original models and model rendering exports as source  material, which makes it easy to go back and re-tile or re-filter them  as needed. That's been really helpful, because I've gone through six or  seven major revisions to the art to find a style that could be  consistent for different kinds of objects at different sizes.  For the  office buildings, and buildings in general, I'm still working on that.

For the rest of the components in the scenes, I've finally got a look  that has made folks go "wow" when they see the game in motion at full  resolution.  In the video and screenshots the trees are seeded a lot  thicker than they normally would be (in most cases except really deep  woods, I suppose), mostly to mask the fact that the rest of the space is  kind of empty at the moment.  Normally that space would be filled with  interesting plants and rock formations, buildings, caves, monsters,  rifts in the earth, and so on.  So there's an overabundance of trees,  which can be kind of overwhelming at times -- actually in the final game  I plan to use that to my advantage in a few really deep woods,  jungle-like sort of areas; but I wouldn't call that representative of  the whole game.

There's actually a little bit of distortion on the outer edges of  some of the graphics that I'm not in love with.  To some extent it looks  a little artsy, but it's also a lot rougher compared to the smooth,  painterly inner lines.  That's an artifact of the Topaz filters not  being allowed (for whatever reason) to blend across transparent pixels.   I intend to write them about that, and if that's something they can  resolve then it should be an easy fix and I can re-filter the art that's  presently in place (I keep macros in Photoshop for all the various  common operations, and then hand-edit after).  If that isn't feasible  for them to do anything with for some reason, or if it will take too  long, then I'm contemplating just edting those by hand.  That would be  rather time consuming, though, and I'd rather not have to spend quite  that long on post-processing every last image.  We'll see.

To me that's a fairly minor niggle, though, and only applies to some  of the images.  For the buildings, that's my next big challenge, but I  anticipate having something awesome-looking next week.  There are some  perspective tricks that a lot of SNES games use that I think I can do  using newer software in a higher resolution, to get something really  exciting.  It's always tricky with 3D prerendered into 2D, because the  smaller it is rendered, the worse it looks -- something that looks  amazing in Vue or Mudbox at full scale looks pretty lame when it's  shrunk down to even 128x128.

The trick, therefore, is to keep the overall shape, shadows, color  and such from the original renderings, and then simplify those down into  a more broad, cartoony style so that it looks great when reduced.  I'm  particularly proud of how well the character and plants look with those  techniques, that was quite a challenge to get right.  The character, of  course, needs another 5 frames added to his running animation, so I'll  have to render those in Poser, post-process them using my macros in  Photoshop, shrink them down, and add them to the list of in-game frames.   It's nice that at least I won't have to re-render the existing frames  to do that, thanks to having all the original documents.

To see the art in question, please see the full-res screenshots on our  site.  Enjoy!
« Last Edit: February 04, 2011, 10:31:00 PM by x4000 »
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Offline Spikey00

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2011, 12:33:22 AM »
My mind was overflown by that huge list of software.
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Offline HitmanN

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2011, 09:25:14 AM »
The artist in me shudders a bit that the art is mainly a pile of brushes and automatic filters, rather than hand-made, but I know you guys don't have a ton of time or manpower to do stuff by hand, so I'm not particularly complaining. Wishing good luck though, and I'm keeping on eye on this project. ;)

Objects do cast shadows eventually though, right? That'd be the best and easiest way of adding depth, I think.

And yes, fixing that problem with the transparent edges on the trees is quite needed. They do look a bit like magazine clippings right now. ^^;

The character, of  course, needs another 5 frames added to his running animation

Perhaps add a bit more weight to his steps. Every step brings the upper body down ever so slightly as well. Gravity'n all that.

The last Wacom tablet I had was  from 9 years ago and was terrible, but I've been finding my new one  absolutely indispensable and a dream to work with.  Lets me do all sorts  of things digitally that I could only ever do on paper in the past.

I think this is the first time I hear someone say a Wacom tablet has been terrible. Then again, that was 9 years ago. I got my first Wacom around the same time, and it wasn't quite as great as the other Wacom tablets I got later on. Still, Wacom is the only tablet brand that I've seen deliver quality for the price. Well, the pens wear out quite easily, at least in my hands, but aside from that... ;)

Offline x4000

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2011, 11:31:57 AM »
No plans to have shadows, aside from on objects within the sprites for shading. Rather like a snes game in that respect.

The Wacom tablet was a light blue entry level piece of trash. It bears no resemblance to my new one. :)

As for the "pile of filters," bear in mind that a huge amount of hand modeling, sculpting, painting, design, etc has to go into the mods before we ever hit the filter stage. The filters add a final painterly veneer, like the sharada do in a game like borderlands. But since we're not creating those in trapdoor 3d, we can have both more complex original 3d as well as much more sophisticated filters. That's all it is.
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Offline getter77

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2011, 11:58:23 AM »
An interesting read while also being relatively amusing to me in that I had found links for the likes of Filter Forge and Imagesynth 2 for my assorted links for (Indie) devs topic over on another forum in the past month or so.   Heh, half surprised considering the order in my own bookmarks that you didn't have the likes of MapZone or some of the other relevant/crazy things out of Allegorithmic in the mix.  http://www.mapzoneeditor.com/?PAGE=FEATURES   :P

I still need to get more use out of my Wacom Intuos4S Tablet---blasted lack of creative spark while trying to wrangle an engine/programming apparatus to fixate on~  ;)
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Offline RCIX

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2011, 03:02:38 PM »
And yes, fixing that problem with the transparent edges on the trees is quite needed. They do look a bit like magazine clippings right now. ^^;
Maybe this is the source of my issues with the art style :)

Very interesting read, thanks for posting it!
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Offline HitmanN

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2011, 05:13:26 PM »
No plans to have shadows, aside from on objects within the sprites for shading. Rather like a snes game in that respect.

I would strongly recommend reconsidering that. You could simply just paint an object black, or even have a dark black mask/blender over the normal version, then just twist it to whatever angle you want, and it'd be a fine shadow if pasted to the background, behind interactable objects. Not particularly realistic, but very little work for quite a bit of depth.

Oh, btw, you've probably noticed already, but the edges of some of the images are a bit weird, I'm guessing because the filtered content is so close to the image edge, and the filter goofs it up (like many filters do with edges).

Example attached. See the leaves on the sides, and bottom end of the tree's trunk. The content outside the selection is very flat, or lacks detail. would probably be best to have plenty of empty space around the images before applying the filters 'n whatnot.

Offline x4000

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2011, 10:08:56 PM »
getter -- thanks for the link to the MapZone tool!  That's not one I've heard of.  I'm not doing procedural textures at the moment, but I might have to check that out at some point. :)

HitmanN -- Yep, that's part of what I was talking about, with the edge borders.  Found a new way to handle this after hours of trying different things today.  Result is attached, I think it's pretty great.

In terms of the shadows, there's just no way.  If I did what you describe, that would work for single-image cases (trees, etc), but it would literally double the amount of RAM and the GPU load.  In terms of things that are made up of compound images, like buildings, it gets even crazier in terms of the GPU hit, though not the number of images required.  If we find we later have an excess of RAM and/or GPU processing power at some point, then maybe I'll reconsider -- it wouldn't be any harder to add this later in the project than earlier, after all.  But I strongly doubt that will be the case, I intend to use up that RAM with a ton of content, not with shadows.

We'll see -- things change, and there's a fair chance I might wind up eating my words on that.  But for now that's how I feel, at any rate. ;)
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Offline BobTheJanitor

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2011, 12:26:18 AM »
What's that look like on a black background, or in game? On white it's kind of impossible to see if it's really fixed the extra light pixels around the edge.  ;)

Offline x4000

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2011, 12:29:12 AM »
It looks good, but I'll post a screenshot soon. :)
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Offline HitmanN

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2011, 08:42:36 AM »
Now the whole tree has feint outlines all around it. Here's a sample, zoomed in, and i also fiddled around with contrast to make it more visible. It may not look like much in the original version, but once you get some of those gamers who prefer their monitor colors to be a little off standards, stuff like that can be really visible all over the place. ^_^;

Should be pretty easy to just erase the excess of it by hand though.

Offline x4000

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2011, 11:10:10 AM »
Check out the screenshots in te over thread. That border helps it blend better with the surrounding stuff.
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Offline HitmanN

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2011, 02:17:32 PM »
I find that to be a problem. Blending everything together just makes it hard to recognize different things from each other when everything becomes a blurry soup. :/ It's hard to say what is tree and what is grass. It becomes hard to grasp the perspective.

That's just my opinion though. Since you're considering skipping the shadows, I think you really should consider other means of defining the perspective, rather that flattening everything together. It's fine and dandy visually, but once you die because that monster you thought was a tree, or to be farther away than what the perspective implies, you'll be cursing out loud. :-X Being able to see where an object ends, where it's 'base' is, etc, is very important gameplay -wise.

If you'll allow the constructive critique. ;) I'm just a bit worried about everything becoming too messy to get a grasp of when the action breaks out.

Offline Teal_Blue

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2011, 07:33:18 PM »
I removed a post i had made earlier, I was a bit 'mouthy' and shouldn't have said anything.
I get a little defensive sometimes, haha, sorry. I will try to keep that in place.

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Offline eRe4s3r

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Re: The Art Pipeline For A Valley Without Wind
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2011, 08:51:02 PM »
I find that to be a problem. Blending everything together just makes it hard to recognize different things from each other when everything becomes a blurry soup. :/ It's hard to say what is tree and what is grass. It becomes hard to grasp the perspective.

That's just my opinion though. Since you're considering skipping the shadows, I think you really should consider other means of defining the perspective, rather that flattening everything together. It's fine and dandy visually, but once you die because that monster you thought was a tree, or to be farther away than what the perspective implies, you'll be cursing out loud. Being able to see where an object ends, where it's 'base' is, etc, is very important gameplay-wise.

If you'll allow the constructive critique. ;) I'm just a bit worried about everything becoming too messy to get a grasp of when the action breaks out.

Heh it took me a sweet time to get to post here (too?) ;P, but i too think that with the very "dense" flora, lack of shadow and current art style this .. mhh, what kind of camera viewpoint is it. (i guess 2D Parallel - its certainly not isometric or birds eye...) kind of view is a very.. well lets say "odd" choice. The problem i see with this viewpoint is that you can't tell the "depth" (in terms of closer or farther away from the ground) of things when its too densely packed or too loosely packed.

I assume this is why HitmanN had wondered about shadows as well, without shadows we don't have a "reference" as to where in relation to the ground an object is and how its situated. The current viewpoint makes this problem worse of course because its mimicking a sort of 2D Side scroller style where its already incredible hard to see where (in terms of depth) an object is.

Taking the trees for example - if there'd be no grass around, just a single tree, without a shadow it could just as well lay flat on the ground or stand like a tree high up. We can't tell. HitmanN's post finally made me realize what i wanted to actually say. ;D

To be honest, this is a very unfair post (as adding shadows isn't gonna be easy now) so x4000 you are free to ignore it (and please don't be angry ;p) - But I'd still say its gonna need shadows - at least basic blob shadows (varying sizes radial gradients) so you can tell its "connected" to the ground - and where..

Well, i am not saying the game wouldn't work the way its now as one can only judge that when its all done - so take my opinion here as you wish ;)
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