In this latest blog posting we talk to Sebastian Burdon, Creative Director at Urban Digital, who worked on an iPhone game. He decided to explore this market and together “with my friend Albert Latacz, who is a programming guru” Burdon explains “we set up our small app development studio DNA GameLab.” Burdon mentions he decided to look at this media, as many of his clients at Urban Digital expressed an interest in creating content for mobile games and apps, as well as creating marketing materials for new architectural developments.
He then had to rapidly create some 3ds Max scenes for marketing purposes, once the game was complete. This project was for the recently released iPhone game; ‘Little Caveman’ which we shall now explore.
Burdon used 3ds Max for the game itself, which might surprise some people as it is predominately a 2D game. The majority of content were rendered 3d models with a small amount of refinement in Adobe’s Photoshop. This workflow created some highly stylised ‘Caveman’ content. Burdon was able to draw on his extensive experience of using 3ds Max since version R3.
Burdon soon realised that for the prehistoric environments, he would need to create a range of custom-shaped rocks. These included wheels, hearts and even items such as armchair’s. Burdon says “Luckily Alessandro Ardolino created a great script called Rock Generator that would do the trick fast and easy. Even though the script only allows you to create rocks of the generic shape.” Luckily Burdon had a simple workaround for this. “Once the rock is created you can copy its modifiers list onto your custom shaped model to create the rock surface. It works even better when combined with the rock texture or Allegorithmic's ‘Substance material Rock_02.sbsar’ included with 3ds Max 2012.”
Burdon goes onto mention that the script can make rock geometry slightly heavy depending on the number of TurboSmooth iterations. To reduce the number of polygons the Rock Generator script offers automatic low poly mesh generation, with bake-ready UVs . Alternatively it leaves the Turbo Smooth modifier on and doesn't collapse the mesh so you can lower the number of subdivisions.
For the fast turnaround on facial expressions Burdon relied on ”the good old Morpher modifier. I was able to quickly switch between targets and blend them together to get the desired smile for the caveman. I created 7 morph targets to achieve expressions like open and closed mouth smile and frown, open mouth yawn, and confusion/thinking.” For all the animation Burdon manually created the key framed animation and poses.
Once the model is created, he focuses on the lighting setup. “When using mental ray SSS materials, I always try to keep my lighting setup as simple as possible.” He mentions that a Three point lighting setup normally “does the trick, most of the time. Sometimes you might want to make the rim light slightly stronger” This is predominately to get the most out of subsurface scattering (SSS) shaders, and is certainly something that I have relied on in the past.
For all the renderings, Burdon states, that he “used mental ray, with the sun and sky system set up, reinforced with photometric lights. The renders were not supposed to be photorealistic but cartoony with a realistic feel. I wanted to character to look a little like a vinyl toy.” The renders were mostly made as .tiffs for marketing content and .png’s for in game content.
He goes on to say that the setup was “Nothing special. Standard GI presets on medium settings worked absolutely fine. In all the images I went straight away for the beauty pass and did not render separate shadows, reflections etc. I did however render character separate from the background because in most of the cases the ground and sky were photos.” This is something I see more and more with customers, as often we think that we need to render individual passes for shadows, highlights etc, but often our project does not require this. We can sometimes forget about the flexibility that a ‘simple’ render layer workflow offers, as opposed to passes.
When we start to discuss the character rigging in more detail, Burdon mentions that he relied heavily on ‘CAT’ or the Character Animation Toolkit within 3ds Max “In my opinion is the fastest and yet flexible way to quickly rig the character. I quickly refined one of the existing presets (Clown) that matched Little Caveman's body proportions.” From here he could start to refine the animations.
All of the game content was made at 1024x768 pixels, the resolution of the current iPad. Burdon mentions he’s currently converting the game for the HD version.For the physics and collisions, cocos2d and box 2d were used. These are both free engines. For future developments Burdon will be focusing on Unity3d.
Burdon finishes off by saying what he learned on his first iPhone project. “The project was an enjoyable experience and I managed to quickly create quality images. Posing the friendly looking character was both funny and pleasant. If I was to do similar project I would most likely use the same 3ds Max tools, techniques and scripts.”