September 25, 2018

What is Game Art & Animation?

Co-written by Game Art and Animation Jorge Portillo and Digital Media Maven Lauren Fach

Game Art and Animation (GAA) is a creative field in video game development. Without character art, would you feel as connected to a character? Without a realistic game world, what would pull a player into a game for hours and hours?

Game art maps out a vision of how games will look, move and feel. Game artists make everything you see in a game world.

At UAT, students with a passion for game art learn to create and animate environments, characters, textures, props and collision objects utilizing 2D and 3D platforms by industry-experienced faculty.

Below you’ll find a glossary of terms used in Game Art and Animation classes at UAT and a list of programs students learn and use proficiently. Thanks to Game Art and Animation Professor Jorge Portillo for his expertise compiling this content.

Game Art & Animation – Glossary of Terms

Environment Artist (3D) – The role of an environment artist is to create the overall beauty of game worlds. These worlds can be supported within several art styles (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Realistic) and can employ both interior and exterior environments.

UAT Alumni Blake Bjerke works as an Environmental Artist at Cyan Games.

UAT Alumni Blake Bjerke works as an Environmental Artist at Cyan Games on games like Obduction

It’s important to note that environment artist create a plethora of content that range from organic assets, props, ruins, walls, architecture, etc. One of the many challenges they face is transforming the conceptual design of the environment to a full-blown world that’s interactive.

Seeing that environments take a copious amount of time to develop, 3D artists are trained to create assets that can strategically be reused. This is called “modular construction” so you commonly see walls, ruins, trees and architecture reused in game worlds. All these assets are strategically assembled in engine and aid in creating the challenges and adventures for players such as mazes (puzzle solving) and jumping on platforms (platforming).

Environment artists also have the ability to play with automated tools that are built inside the game engine. Some of these tools can create endless landscapes and be supported through an almost breathable ecosystem.

What is Game Art and Animation?

UAT Game Art Alumni Blake Bjerke – Environment Art

Environment Artist – Pipeline and Roles:
• Environment Concept Artist – Creates digital illustrations of landscapes and interiors (the idea person)
• Environment Artist – Takes the pre-production materials (concept art) and begins to model and assemble the world. Depending on the studio, some environmental artists are instructed to model environment assets, unwrap, texture and integrate in engine.

Environment Artist – Software Proficiency:
• Photoshop – Concept Art and Texturing
• Substance Painter – Texturing
• 3Ds Max – Modeling/Unwrap
• Mays – Modeling/Unwrap
• Zbrush – High Poly Modeling/Sculpting
• SpeedTree

Environment Artist – Engine Knowledge:
• Unreal 4
• Unity
• Proprietary (AAA)

Character Artist (3D) – The role of a character artist is to create believable and enjoyable characters that players can use or interact with inside the game worlds. Character artists have a plethora of knowledge in anatomy and muscle flow. This comes in handy during the 3D modeling process. They start to create subdivisions and edge loops to flow with the anatomy of the character.

Character artist - what is game art and animation?

3D Character Developments created by student Matthew DuBois, created for UAT Game studios game “World of Martz”

Edge Loops are a continuous ring of polygons that follow a specific path around a model. (In this case muscle/anatomy) It usually tends to emulate realistic anatomy proportions. Subdivision modeling is used to create scalable detail and help with the rendering quality of the model. Character Artists are also tasked to understand High Poly Sculpting software (zBrush or Mudbox). This is where the artist can manually sculpt extreme detail on the model such as muscle, veins, scars, etc. Once the artist has finished their high poly sculpt, they will take it into a texturing process called “baking” where the detail is essentially baked into a 2D texture then later mapped onto the 3D model. This process helps display extreme detail without effecting the model’s poly count.

Character art - what is game art and animation?

Character Artist – Pipeline and Roles:
• Character Concept Artist – Creates digital illustrations of character. Must develop full turnaround poses of character (front, side, back, top and 3/4). Also creates facial expressions and dynamic poses.
• Character Artist – Takes concepts (turnaround poses) and begins to model applying both techniques (subdivision and edge looping). Once base mesh has been developed, they will move into high poly sculpting, create detail, bake out the model and apply back to original mesh.

Character Artist – Software Proficiency:
• Photoshop – Concept Art and Texturing
• Substance Painter – Texturing
• 3Ds Max – Modeling/Unwrap
• Mays – Modeling/Unwrap
• Zbrush – High Poly Modeling/Sculpting

Prop Artist (3D) – The role of a prop artist is to create the supporting content that goes into an environment and/or game world. Most common props will be crates, barrels, and gates.

A more advanced prop artist will develop weapons and artillery. Prop artists work closely with concept artists to get an idea of how props/weapons function. Most props display some level of functionality, so a artist must model out each component separately to deliver effective movement and functionality.

Substance painter contest entry by student Jake Turocy

Substance Painter Contest entry by student Jake Turocy

Prop Artist – Pipeline and Roles:
• Prop Concept Artist – Creates digital illustrations of props/weapons. Develops full turnaround illustrations and supports it with blueprints/schematics. This allows for the breakdown and assembly of the prop/weapon.
• Prop Artist – Will utilize the conceptual designs and schematics to model out the props. Once model is completed they will unwrap the models and texture them. (depending on the studio)

Prop Artist – Software Proficiency:
• Photoshop – Concept Art and Texturing
• Substance Painter – Texturing
• 3Ds Max – Modeling/Unwrap
• Mays – Modeling/Unwrap
• Zbrush – High Poly Modeling/Sculpting

Rigging (3D) – The role of 3D rigger is to develop a custom skeleton system that helps animate characters, complex props and vehicles. This skill is commonly known as a “technical art.” A 3D character rigger will create an entire skeletal system that is tailored around the anatomy of the character. Once the skeleton is complete, they will assign animation controllers and constraints to help the character move. Next they will bind the bones to the mesh and paint its skin weights for more accuracy in mesh movement.

Rigging – Software Proficiency:
• 3Ds Max – Rigging, Skinning, Weight Painting
• Maya- Rigging, Skinning, Weight Painting

3D Modeling – Developing a representation of an object in three dimensions (3D)

Hard Surface Modeling – As described in more detail above, hard surface modeling speaks to props and environment models. One of the major areas to understand in modeling for game environments is “modular construction.” This is when a 3D environment artist creates several pieces (walls, floors, celling, ruins, platforms) and reuses them in a creative/strategic way to create worlds. (See image below)

Hard surface modeling

Hard surface modeling

Texturing – Defining high detail on a 3D model using textures that you can create from images or from painting

Organic Modeling – Mentioned above, organic modeling speaks to plants, creatures and characters. Anything that has a curved surface is considered an organic model. The goal to effective organic modeling is understanding proper “edge looping”. This is where a continuous ring of polygons follows a specific path around a model. It usually tends to emulate realistic anatomy proportions. (See image below)

Organic modeling

Organic modeling

Motion Capture (mocap) – helps artists understand how items and people actually move, helping them animate easier and more accurately. MoCap is widely used in game development. It creates realistic and controllable movements for characters. It lives mostly in sport simulations and heavy combat gaming.

See the video below that allowed UAT Game Art students to transform ballerinas into students’ game characters in celebration of the Ballet Arizona Scholarship.

Programs used in UAT’s Game Art degree:

  • 3Ds Max – Modeling, Rigging, Animation
  • Maya – Modeling, Rigging, Animation
  • zBrush – High Poly Modeling/Sculpting
  • Photoshop – Texturing
  • Substance Painter – Texturing
  • Unreal
  • Unity

The work of a game artist means the overall beauty of the game, the look and feel, according to GAA Professor Jorge Portillo.

Famous game artists that students are inspired by:
Feng Zhu – Concept Artist
Frank Tzeng – Character Artist (Naughty Dog)
Chris Robinson – Art Director (Blizzard)

“Game art has helped me unleash a new sense of creativity that I did not know I possessed. It allows me to let my ideas and dreams come to life in a way that I never knew I could do,” – Shelby Epley, Game Art student. “Many of us look up to our professors such at Matt Marquit, Jorge Portillo, and Lynn Understiller.”

“In Game Art, I’ve learned that dedication and attention to detail are huge keys to success.” – said Game Art and Animation student Justin Cooper.

“A painter allows you to view realistic and imaginative words, a game artist allows you to explore those worlds by putting you in them. They create high levels of engagement through challenges, adventures and endless exploration,” said Professor Jorge Portillo.

Some amazing UAT Game Artist alumni:
Dima Goryainov – Concept Artist at Bungie
Dennis Porter – Texture Artist at Certain Affinity Game Studio
Blake Bjerke – Environmental Artist at Cyan Games

UAT Digital Media Alumni Dima Goryainov creates assets for Destiny 2 at Bungie.

UAT Digital Media Alumni Dima Goryainov creates game assets for Destiny 2 at Bungie

Find out how to land a job in AAA games. UAT Alumni Blake Bjerke, Environmental Artist at Cyan Games, offers valuable advice on breaking into the industry.

Because Game Art is a competitive industry, alumni Dennis Porter describes working his dream job as AAA Texture Artist at Certain Affinity and how he mastered his skill sets working at indie studios.

To learn more about pursuing an education in Game Art and Animation, please visit the UAT website.

 

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