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Below The Surface – Quick Tips For Better Texturing

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Struggling to achieve convincing results when working on textures for organic and hard surface models? Chris Nichols – Lead Texture Painter for Avengers: Infinity War at Digital Domain in Vancouver and the instructor for CGMA’s Texturing For Films/Cinematics class – offers some words of wisdom.


Realistic Texture Work
The line between a flat, unconvincing texture and one that fools the viewer into thinking they’re looking at a real world object can be a fine one. Ultimately, the real secret to success lies both in working with good source materials and taking the time to modify and augment them with all the necessary associated maps that will determine how the textures behave as viewpoint, lighting conditions, reflections and so on all change. “When it comes to creating realistic materials you want to be able to keep your workflow flexible for iterations and also make sure you’re using the best quality references for the surface, whether they’re photographic or surface scans,” explains Chris Nichols. “This will go a long way to quickly setting up a texture workflow for testing quick iterations of a shader and then building on that in a modular fashion.”

Organic Surface Textures
“If you’re creating organic surfaces then a lot more projection work will need to be applied in the texturing software,” says Nichols. “This means that the use of high resolution polarized photography or surface scans is of the highest importance.”
The precision and variation of detail involved with this kind of work inevitably means that it’s not always possible to utilise off-the-shelf imagery. Nicholls therefore advocates a DIY approach for this kind of work: “Often you will not be able to find exactly what you need online or in your texture library so will have to get creative with what you have, using a hand or foot scan for the wrinkles on a face instead of trying to track down face wrinkle scans of the right frequency or scale.”

Hard Surface Textures
When it comes to hard surface modeling, consider the story you’re trying to tell. Is the object in question pristine or worn? How and when was it constructed? What materials were used and why? Every decision will contribute to the overall sense of realism and give viewers an at-a-glance notion of the object’s role in the story being told.
All the usual advice regarding levels of detail, use of layers for easy navigation and modification, and scaling applies, but there are some benefits to hard surface work when compared to organic. “Hard surface texturing is usually a lot easier so long as you are using great variations of tileable textures,” notes Nichols.
While texture artists have a little more leeway with regards the use of tiled textures, it’s vital to ensure that the viewer never notices or sees the joins. “Make sure you don’t show any repetition in the texture, and breakup the surface with paint through stencils of grime, grunge scratches and so on to really get a natural look to the surface.”

Check out Chris Nichols’ “Texturing for Films/Cinematics” course here. Too see the full roster of Environment Art courses we have to offer, click here.

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A World of Inpiration

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Mark Twain famously claimed that ‘all ideas are second-hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources’. Or as Steve Jobs simply noted, ‘creativity
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Growing Believable Environments

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Long gone are the days when rendering limitations forced video game artists to focus almost exclusively on hard surface design. Game environment designers now need to know their deciduous from their evergreens, as a push for ever richer and more believable digital worlds puts a firm focus on visually immersive plant life. Jeremy Huxley, a CG Master Academy Tutor and Senior Environment Artist at award-winning games studio Naughty Dog, offers some sage advice for designers about going green.

“What I always try to do myself and I recommend to students is to start off by gathering a large amount of reference and inspiration and create a large collage of that in Photoshop. Once that’s done you’ll have already started to compartmentalize your ideas, whether you realize it or not. Once you have your collage I recommend going through and creating a simpler and more concise style guide, creating categories such as rocks, plants, trees, architecture and possibly a section with other styles you like. I, for example, always include Kazuo Oga’s matte paintings in my work for inspiration, along with a few other things I find inspiring.

“I would say that the most important thing to keep in mind is how the environment is going to affect the mood of the environment or story beat. The shape, color and density of plants are all very important when creating a scene that is warm and inviting, or chaotic and dangerous.”

“Whenever I have asked my Art Director and mentor Tate Mosesian, he would always tell me to push as far as possible, further than I even anticipated and worry about making it run once we get it where we want it visually. Somehow we always get it running in the end.”

“There are inherent emotions involved with the changing of seasons, I grew up in the mountains in the Pacific Northwest in the United States and the seasons are very well defined there, it is important to exploit these emotions and associations that already exist in most of us. In terms of plant growth I base this on how I want the player to feel, are we in a sparse field, on a summer day, or are we standing in the same field in the middle of winter? These both will feel very differently to the player and most of that emotional change is a learned thing through personal experience and other films or games.”

“We break rules all the time, it really comes down to what the story or emotional beat is that we are concerned with selling. Nothing else matters, we are telling stories and especially in sci-fi or fantasy you can push those really far for your own means, in a more grounded game you can still push things super far as long as it doesn’t actually in the end work against you. Always try crazy things, they work out more often than not, if you try to always stay safe with your work it will get lost in all the other stuff out there.”

Check out Jeremy Huxley’s “Vegetation and Plants for Games” course here. Too see the full roster of Environment Art courses we have to offer, click here.

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