Check out this week’s 10 for segment, with artists Forrest Stephan and Omar Aweidah
Here are the times for the various segments they discuss:
0:32 – Drawing inspiration from sci-fi
4:05 – Observing artists and the process through screen capture
5:28 – Finding inspiration for specific tasks
7:45 – Handling negative criticism
10:59 – Customizable character helmets and armor
16:19 – Cryengine’s inverse square light falloff support
17:13 – Building out ship assets in pieces
22:48 – High specular faux-chrome paint job?
27:41 – Asteroids move and rotate in-game
28:16 – Blending textures to avoid patterns at a distance
FS – Greetings Citizens! Welcome to another episode of 10 for the Artists, my name is Forrest Stephan, CG supervisor, to my left is Omar Aweidah, concept artist, and we’d like to thank all the subscribers for making this show possible, and having us as guests.
OA – So, first one is from Gerald Duval:
How much of your inspiration is drawn from existing sci-fi and how much is organic? Could you provide examples of each?
So I guess, when I’m concepting, to try and make something really unique, generally we try to stick away from sci-fi. For example, with weapons I would look more towards different pieces of machinery, maybe drills or power tools or things that aren’t necessarily already considered weapons, maybe even like remote control submarines and all sorts of weird electronics, that way you kind of get a little bit new original shapes and ideas, but then at the same time a lot of the direction calls towards pre-existing sci-fi, for example certain ships from Halo or Firefly or Elysium and all these other things, we’re thinking about this kind of feel for this kind of ship, and it’s a great way to put you in the right direction, but then once you kind of understand that, you start to go deeper and look at a variety of different objects and different references, but really something that’s just completely creative and organic, something that’s like conceptual, it just comes during the design process, it’s not something that necessarily I would look for, or I would try to do. I’d gather reference, I’d do a lot of research, and whatever happens during the creative process, that’s what’s organic. But generally I don’t try to create anything straight automatically.
FS – Cause, when you’re making a ship or a weapon, they’re machines right? So you don’t just make a weapon, you gotta do the research to figure out how would you actually build this, if I was going to, theoretically, build this in real life. So you can investigate on different types of…
OA – No, totally. Like, engineering. Like, you’re a designer, but you’re also semi an engineer. But you have to make cool art. But we don’t necessarily take everything to the fullest level of fully fully functionality, but we try to make it as functional as possible, with the knowledge that we know, and the more weapons you do the more realistic it gets. Ships, the more ships you build the more you create the more you know, this is my route for getting reference and inspiration and all sorts of stuff.
FS – And then we definitely like to keep, there’s different styles to different weapons and different ships which, a lot of the times the parts that we do look at will be from different eras, so maybe one style for one weapon and one ship is more WWII style, and maybe another ship and another weapons is maybe more slick, modern, and chic, and then we look at more modern parts and things that are being created today and that kind of helps define the different styles, so we visit different time periods that we pull our inspirations from.
OA – Totally. And each corporation, so many corporations, so many manufacturers, they each kind of have their own unique style. For example, Apocalypse Arms, they’re like, Detroit biker gang, that would be the design brief. How can we take a Detroit biking community and make them science fiction.
FS – Yeah, exactly.
OA – So…
FS – Yeah, alright. Hopefully that answers that question, for Mr. Duval.
OA – Okay, next question is from Fallun:
FS – That’s a great movie by the way.
OA – Fallen?
FS – Best ending ever.
OA – Never saw it. Way to throw me off track!
FS – I’m sorry, I’m sorry, continue.
OA – Okay. Fallun asks:
Is there any chance of showing those of us who are artistically curious a video of some staged progress shots of an artist working on a concept. Some people enjoy watching how others do it and it can be a new segment for building interest.
FS – So I love when we do that. Or whoever does it. Remember when Dave Hobbins, they recorded him doing a time sketch of one of the ships, and I thought it was like the coolest thing ever. So I would love to see more of that. Even like speed modelling, when we’re kit-bashing parts together and ships together. I think that’d be great.
OA – I haven’t necessarily had any experience doing that, but i would definitely I mean, it’s really common for a lot of artists to record their progress and post it so people can see, but maybe doing it under the SC label, seeing how each artist’s works differently, because each artist is super unique, so everybody has a completely different progress. So, I mean, I’m not opposed. I would love to do that.
FS – And it’s like, the future, so something that would take me two weeks, it’ll only take you five minutes, we could just speed it up a little bit.
OA – You model, you speed it up 17 times, and you say that’s… exactly. Okay!
FS – Yeah, no, I think it’s a great idea.
OA – This one is from Solo:
When you start out to design anything how do you get your inspirations for the task?
FS -0 I tend to, I love watching movies. If a task says to do something very specific, whether it’s an explosion or an effect or a character or an environment, I generally pick my favourite art directed on-screen demonstration of it and then I use that as my inspiration, and then I kind of go from there and I try to make it my own.
OA – Yeah, I do the same thing, and a lot of it is your reference from film, but I think right now, for me, it’s going into a pinterest
FS – I can’t stop.
OA – Where I just keep pinning everything, and then you start going deeper and deeper into weird abstract shapes, you get like, a bolt that’s on the undercarriage of a ferrari, and you’re like, that’s what I need on this thing, and you cycle through that information.
FS – And then you’ll spend 4 hours pinning, and then I’ll follow you, and then i get all your stuff, and then I fall down the rabbit hole, and before you know it it’s the end of the day and we never did our task. We should stop pinteresting.
OA – We just plugged Pinterest so hard, they should give us some gear.
FS – They should.
OA – but yeah, that’s my favourite way. When you’re trying to create a theme or a feel, then you have to look towards life experiences and emotion, that gets a little bit deeper, but a lot of times we do design cold sci-fi assets, like a hard asset, that might not exist in the world, I just need it to function, I just need it to be real. When you’re drawing a picture or a painting then you want to actually get the mood and the colour, but that comes from a whole different thing, a lot of that is the artist’s skill and taste and life experience.
FS – And a good artist can make any nut and bolt look like a composition, right?
OA – For sure.
FS – That’s where the art comes in. You have the engineering and the architecture side, to be an architect and an engineer to create this stuff, but then that falls under the art, and that’s the difference between just something and something that looks amazing.
OA – Yeah, that’s a really good point. Okay! Next, we have Luftwolf:
How do you personally deal with negative criticism when you’re presenting something you’d otherwise be proud of?
FS – Oh, I just brush it off.
OA – You just brush it off?
FS – No big deal. No, well, if there is any negative criticism, it’s always important to figure out where the negative criticism is coming from. You want to make sure that the direction is correct, you want to make sure you’re going the right route and making sure that what you’re delivering is what’s expected, cause sometimes you can create something good, but if it’s not exactly what’s needed, then you will get negative criticism, cause it’s very specific things we need to deliver on. So I kind of re-evaluate the initial steps, which is defining the right references, making sure I understand the task properly, and then go into the direct source for the criticism, and figuring out how to improve to achieve what that person or group of people are actually looking for.
OA – Like the direction.
FS – Yeah, some direction. Or I just delete the email.
OA – Everybody has an opinion right? And then there’s how many people
OA – Everybody has an opinion right? And then there’s how many people commenting on any one thing, thousands of people have… 99% of people love it, there’s still going to be 10 comments that, you’ll see all 10 of them and they’ll crush your soul, but generally most of the negative criticism comes from within the studio, and it’s not necessarily negative criticism, it’s more like, we have a critiquing process, which is what’s working, what’s not working, and that’s with everything you do, and that’s just part of the job. It doesn’t effect me emotionally or make me like not sleep at night…
FS – But honestly usually the hardest critiques are ourselves.
OA – Absolutely.
FS – The person making the art is usually the hardest critiquer, I find. Usually it’s the other people that are telling him it’s, what do I always say, how many artists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? It takes 10, one to screw it in, another 9 to tell him it looks okay, and it’s bright enough. That’s just, you know… Even when it’s done, I’m still critiquing it.
OA – It’s so hard to hear a bunch of artists be like, oh man, this looks so bad I can’t believe I did this, I really screwed up this project, and then posted it, and then all the fans be like this is amazing, this is the greatest thing, and like, you like that?
FS – and you look at it for so long though, sometimes you lose sight because you get caught up and you know all the issues, and you step back, and someone says that looks great, and you’re like… what? I just…
OA – There’s that one wobbly line in the back that no-one ever noticed but you were zoomed in on that area…
FS – No… no… you guys notice it.
OA – Oh yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother beast. Star Citizen fans are… they just pin it, rip it apart…
FS – They want it good.
OA – That kind of caliber won’t shoot that kind of bullet, and you’re just like, augh, I’m just a concept artist I don’t know man, but ah… it looks cool, right? Yeah. It’s not too bad. It’s not like we’re losing sleep at night.
FS – No, I don’t lose sleep at night.
OA – This is from Daimon2
FS – Did we get any questions from Daimon1?
OA – No. That’s… tragic accident.
I’m wondering if there will be customizable character helmets or body armor in the PU? Would it be possible, perhaps in the near future, that we could buy ‘alien’ looking or perhaps some ‘mecha’ looking armor, helmets etc… perhaps each part with their own perks and / or disadvantages?
FS – So. Let me tell you. Boy, is there customization in the PU, because we have spent the last 3 months concentrating on making sure that the characters have a good amount of customization for the pU. And you will absolutely be able to change your helmet, get new helmets, and I don’t know what the limitations are on alien races and stuff, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s going to be a big aspect of the game.
OA – Yeah, and it’s a really large task too. Like, the concept itself is pretty simple, being able to swap in my helmet and stuff, but it’s remarkably difficult
FS – to make everything work, to swap out different areas of the character, to make it always not look weird is the hardest thing.
OA – Cause you give someone full customization, man, I’m going to turn this shirt to bright pink, make my plants bright blue, but there’s a lot of…
FS – What’s wrong with pink? My socks are pink.
OA – Nothing’s wrong with pink, you can have a design to be pink, but then we have to come up with a bunch of limitations too, what you can and cannot… tech limitations, because there’s always a constant give and take. Because if you want this thing, then you get less character on screen, and you want more of this and then you have to take away from certain areas, so what you try to do is you try to find out what’s the best balance of, I want to give you everything you want, but you’re going to have to lose a little bit of something in some area, because there’s only so much memory out there. And I know optimization…
FS – That’s the most difficult thing, is the memory. Obviously the more objects you have that get loaded up into the game takes a certain amount of memory, the amount of textures that are required to take that into the game requires a certain amount of memory, but, we’ve definitely spent a lot of attention to that, and we want to have the biggest PU character experience that you could possibly have with this game, cause like everything else we try to make everything as good as technically possible with the day and age that we’re in. So we do a lot of tricks. We’re starting to pool, what we call pooling, our materials and textures so, we get everything in a library, and then everything is pooling from these libraries, that way we can have hundreds and hundreds of objects instead of being restricted to dozens or only a hundred. So the game can exponentially grow in size over the months and the years, and we should be able to still support it and it should still run.
OA – Yeah, we’re developing the tech, too
FS – Right now. Literally right now we have a programmer upstairs, Hi Oka, that’s helping us write the stuff, and then also we have a great graphics director, Ali Brown, who also has considerably helped us getting this system in place. Does all the hard parts.
OA – And we’re learning it too, so as time goes on in the next few years, we’re going to get better at understanding it, at utilizing it, and at optimizing it, ourselves as artists, just because we’re learning a new tool essentially, so what’s the best way to use this tool. It’s something that’ll just grow over time.
FS – Absolutely, and it’s headed in the right direction so… I”m excited.
OA – I think that when it’s released there’ll be a decent amount of customization, and then obviously through, as the game evolves, it’ll really start to, the Universe will end up populating itself.
FS – And we put a lot of effort to making sure that our objects are almost dynamic in a way, so as we make better textures, as we make better materials , the objects aren’t kind of just baked and static, they also get better over time. So, we don’t plan on the game just, you know, throwing it away in a year. We want to evolve and continue for years to come, so it was very important that the art evolved with the game, and the time, that way when new games come out we still are competitive with the same asset that we made today.
OA – That’s a really good point, how we can always change things, because of the system we’re developing. We can always grow.
FS – Do you get an alien hat? I don’t know. I’ll make you one if you don’t… We’ll make you an alien hat. Or alien head, like a mask. Are there halloween parties in the ‘Verse? What if you were to… how cool would that be, you put on like a Vanduul costume.
OA – Dude
FS – Then you have those little things you put on, the overalls.
OA – I want one at christmas parties.
FS – What Christmas party?
OA – Halloween parties, christmas party
FS – Bad Christmas sweatshirts
OA – All of a sudden the Universe is snowing in the vacuum of space. I love it. Alright, Frank Fusco:
Does CryEngine support inverse square light falloff?
FS – It does. It does support that. It was a requirement for a physically based rendering system. When the system first went in it wasn’t completely implemented, so the writing was a bit weird, so that’s something that they did implement because it is 100% necessary. And even now with our current build, the lighting in CryEngine has still not been completely revamped for the physical system, so while we do have the inverse square lighting now, and Crytek is continually updating that system, to improve the lighting, and it’s not quite there yet but it’s going to be there very soon.
OA – Next one is from Filan Fyretracker.
FS – I love it.
How do you build a ship in this game?
FS – Easy! Not even a problem. Just task it out and then it gets made!
OA – Takes a couple of weeks.
I am curious with all this detail are the ships a one shot thing on the production end or when talking this level of professional work are they built in parts and stuck together and then its the CryEngine that turns them into a singular mesh?
FS – So, that’s obviously a very complicated question, but we can give a very simple explanation I think of how we do it. We use a 3D program and the first thing we do is we block it out, we get it over to Design, they approve it (obviously this is after it’s been concepted) and then we block it out further and make sure that everything’s functional and everything’s working and it’s still meeting all of the design specifications that have been made by our Designers, by Ben, by Chris Roberts, and then we continue the process, get it flyable, get some thrusters on it, make sure that it actually flies okay, and then we, and this is just the blocked body of the ship, and we have the interior and all that stuff, so then we get to the more fine detail, and at that point you export out your ship as a whole, but it doesn’t include the weapons and the components, those get dynamically spawned in the engine. So while somebody’s building the ship, somebody else ‘s building components, somebody else’s building the weapons, and then through XML and scripts it calls the correct weapon and the correct thing at the right time, then we have this entire back end database that knows what the ship is, what needs to go on it, so it knows how to call the script, and then it knows obviously the users and what the users own and what they have, and that stuff gets dynamically, i’ts like magic. Actually, I don’t know how it works. I have no idea how it works.
OA – Lot of time. Lot of time. Space magic.
FS – it’s space magic, yeah.
OA – And then from a design perspective, I mean, it’s really really hard because each ship is based upon a concept. Sometimes it’s just the hull of a ship that gets approved, so you have to figure out all of the spacial volumes inside, and not all of it always works all the time, what areas of the ship are modular, like, where can we re-use assets in ships, but have it true to form.
FS – And that’s something we’ve really been concentrating on, making sure we have our manufacturers and we’re kind of starting to do a great job of getting styles for manufacturers, and then reusing stuff. If you have a weapon rack that’s made by Aegis for example, why can’t it be reused in this Aegis ship and this Aegis ship, so the idea is we’re really starting to nail down the direction of the art, and really starting to get this modular system rolling, so obviously ships take a long time the first time you do it, the second time you do it they get faster, and faster, and faster, and the more kits we make out of these ships, and the more pieces we can piece together, and the more modular framework that we already have built allows us to build these ships much faster and speed up development time, which obviously is always a great thing for us and for you guys.
OA – Cause these ships, they really are a remarkable undertaking. If you even knew how long they actually take from the beginning to the end, because we focus on every minute bit, and also every animation with every button you touch, getting into the ship, how the ship flies, the HUD, we have designers who design everything. Zane upstairs is doing just what you see when you’re flying it, to the point of everything else , there’s so much that goes into it, and how long the concept, getting the concept approved by everybody, being like this is what we want, moving that forward, to this area
FS – I don’t know how we ever get a ship done. We’ve got like, 21 of them.
OA – And some are being redone. Which is a good thing. Because the ships we built early on, as we’ve grown we’ve been like, oh wait here’s a better way to do this. So when we realize that we can give a better product, that’s when we go back, revisit
FS – A better product, and we want to make sure everything’s compatible. So while we were working hard at first, eventually you have to start working smart, and that’s when we started figuring out that there is a lot more modular ways to do it. And also we figured out how to utilize the engine better so we can optimize the ships better, so when a ship loads up it doesn’t take six seconds, it takes a couple milliseconds, so we want to make sure that every ship that’s going into the game has the same level of efficiency, and the same level of quality. So I think there’s a couple ships, the Gladius, the Retaliator, the Merlin, they’ve hit those bars now, and that is our bar, and the techniques and the ways that we’re doing it, so now we’re going back and trying to make sure all the other ships are up to par with those. And that way, if we do have things modular, we can be swapping everything out, right?
OA – Totally.
FS – Cause we really want this flexible universe.
OA – I like what you said, work smarter, not harder.
FS – But some people know what it’s like to build a ship. For those that remember the next great starship, we had tons of teams build ships for us, and when I talked to them when they came and were on the show, they were like, it ‘aint easy. No, no it’s not.
OA – And then they come and build a ship here, and it’s still equally as difficult, even with the support of a team. Cool, should I move on?
FS – Yeah, we’ve got two left or something? This is going to be the top 12 for the artists, cause you guys’ve been so great. You’ve been so quiet that, we’re blowing right through this thing.
OA – should we ad-lib? Do a little song and dance? Okay. I won’t.
FS – I thought…
OA – Eldragon:
Will it be possible we get some kind of high specular faux-chrome paint job (Obviously it won’t actually be reflective). I’m hoping we can get something similar to the look of the polished aluminum fighter craft.
FS – So, that is kind of reflective, but what’s interesting about that reflective surface is, it’s all distorted, it’s wobbly, it’s like looking into one of those magic mirros, one of those fun shop mirros, like it’s a very interesting. Chris Wollack actually did a version of the Cutlass for a screenshot that had that material and it looked awesome. And it kind of has the, you can see the drilled-in bolts into that kind of material, cause it’s kind of like rough varnish that never really was painted, it was just clear-coated
OA – The specular really determines the shape of the object, that’s why cars are essentially just mirrors, and that’s what the curves of the cars, or how the cars show and warp reflection, and that’s what actually makes them beautiful
FS – But polished aluminum, it’s not polished it’s kind of dented, it’s not like a fiberglass, so you get some real interesting reflections in there.
OA – But chrome is a good question though, because chrome is the most reflective, right?
FS – Right, it’s the most reflective.
OA – Right, with that though, we get into, that becomes a thing about art tech and how much it hurts, and how much it adds. We were having difficulty recently with things with very high reflectance, they’re harder to minimize the amount of aliasing. So, you get a lot of alien issues with super reflective materials.
FS – You said alien issues.
OA – Aliasing issues.
FS – But it’s appropriate. It’s Star Citizen.
OA – We have tons of alien issues. But yeah, that kind of tech, when we were doing it, so like… a little small pieces on a guy, it’ll either, you’ll see him far away and it’ll start sizzling, or what if we make it more like a painted, like a military metal, it’s not going to alias, and is that really piece of chrome, is that really adding to it? Probably not. But with a ship..
FS – The shinier it gets, the worse it looks in the engine, sometimes, without proper, with the aliasing that we have in real time, it’s kind of difficult. I have a trivia question. We know what the most reflective material is. What is the least reflective type of surface or object in real life?
OA – Are you asking…
FS – I’m asking you. Do you guys know this question?
OA – The least reflective material? I’d assume a black hole would be the least
FS – A black hole? It’s a thing, you can hold it in your hand.
OA – You can hold it in your hand…
FS – if you’re bad, you get it…
OA – Coal
FS – That’s right.
OA – O…kay. Interesting.
FS – I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m pretty sure it is. I think it is. It is in the game.
OA – Coal is the last reflective?
FS – Pretty sure. Yeah, no, it is.
OA – If you’re wrong, they’re just going to make fun of you. The’re going to be ‘it’s actually this super high-tech polyurethane that doens’t reflect’
FS – No.
OA – It absorbs all light.
FS – In our documentation it says it is. That I wrote.
OA – Okay. Great. I hope it’s right! But a fully chrome ship? I don’t know… I mean
FS – like Ryan Church’s ship in Cosmos?
OA – I don’t know. As a designer, I wouldn’t think that was cool, but…
FS – Did you just say Ryan Church’s ship is ugly? It’s awesome
OA – No, I’m not saying his ship isn’t cool, don’t blame me! I”m playing like GTA or something, and they have that chrome option, and
FS – You have an email in your inbox right now.
OA – Oh, jeeze, I’m fired.
FS – Is this live?
OA – Yeah, but, we could, it’d be a sizzly ship…
FS – I wouldn’t do it.
OA – I wouldn’t do it either. Just for… I guess. You could. But it wouldn’t be the best. There’ll be chrome bits. Okay, last question is Mr. Opraow? Operax?
FS – well it’s definitely not Oprah
OA – I was thinking ah, like French,
FS – Yeah, yeah, Operait.
OA – He’s gonna be like, it’s Operex.
FS – You’re covering your face.
OA – Oh, sorry.
FS – it’s alright, we’ve got a camera over there.
OA – Mr. Opreax says:
Hello, I want to ask if asteroids and objects in space will move and rotate, now the game looks frozen.
FS – The reason they do not currently do this is because it is very heavy on the physics networking code, needs to be a lot of optimization before we can do that. It does work locally. It is a lot of work because it is a lot of objects transforming “matrixs or something”.
FS – Last question, Amontillado:
With the huge range of scale in Star Citizen how do you keep your textures from being recognizable patterns at a distance?
This has been a hot topic lately. While we have ways to make things not recognizable at distances we do a lot of blending between multiple textures so at a distance you can’t really tell, It’s like similar approaches to what games have been using for terran for years. The big challenge is working on the capital ships, the further you get away the harder it is to keep the scale and detail looking correct.
OA – A lot of it isn’t even technical, it’s just design, at this distance you know starcitizen looks like a repeating tile so when you start reaching that range you probably want to break up the ship in some sort of design so it changes material so something distracts it and being clever because you know your limitations. You know it is going to eventually look like it is tiled, there is just no way around it if you are tiling entire ships.
FS – Exactly it is all about being clever, and you LOD to so geometry up close looks different from far away.
OA – What does LOD stand for?
FS – Level of Detail.
OA – Okay.
FS – You thought I was going to say Distance.
OA – No, I thought it was level of display.
FS – Did you really think it was level of display?
OA – No-one ever told me. Everyone just calls them LODs.
Disco Lando – Really? Cause I”m sitting over here and he said LOD, and you were like ‘wonder what that is’ And I was like, Level of Detail, it just makes sense to me.
OA – Well it didn’t make sense to me. I don’t do LOD’s. That’s not my job! Well, it kind of is now, but. We’ll see. Deal with that later.
FS – I know what your next task is.
OA – Concepting?
FS – LOD’s that are a recognizable pattern at a distance.
OA – Thank you all for watching and thank you to subscribers who make this episode possible and thanks to all the backers for making starcitizen possible.
FS – Absolutely, thank you very much.
OA – And forests you do know that coal is NOT the least reflective material, I just remembered NOT via google that silica nanorods.
FS – No way you remembered that and I said natural material, can you cut that in?
OA – Did you say natural material? If you didn’t say natural material…
FS – Oh yeah, we’re recording. What was it again?
OA – silica nanorods
FS – Thanks everybody
OA – woo!