the emergence of powerful next-generation platforms such as PS2 and X-BOX,
game artists have been given unprecedented power to create realistic manifestations
of their creative vision. No longer do characters, vehicles and other game
objects and environments have to be represented by blocky, low-resolution
geometric parodies of the desired design. Ultra-high poly-counts and adaptive
tessellation of spline-based models allow for highly sophisticated organic
surfaces. Real-time reflection, specular and environment-mapping allow light
and reflection to perfectly describe every subtlety of an object's shape.
We are rapidly approaching the point where sophistication of form won't
be lost in the translation to real-time models. Rather, the lack of subtlety
in how form development is approached will begin to mark the difference
between good design and bad, much as it does in the product and automotive
industries. More than ever before it behooves the designer to truly understand
the three-dimensional nature of the forms he or she is creating, and to
properly communicate to whomever may be executing the design the important
relationships, resolutions and proportions of form that they are instinctively
instilling into their designs.
of this paper is to give designers the ability to think of organic three-dimensional
shapes in a structured way, rather than as abstract "blobby"
form. As well, an understanding of how form affects light and reflection,
and how to apply that knowledge to drawing, will be covered. Armed with
this knowledge, artists should be better equipped to control the forms
in their designs, illustrate them accurately from any number of angles,
and communicate the underlying structure (and thereby a way of approaching
them) to whomever (including themselves) may be tasked with making the
To sum up,
this article could be called: "Making rounded shiny things that look
is for a relatively "advanced" audience, I am not going to get
into the basics of defining volumes or proportion. I am also not going
to deal with simple geometric forms, such as planes, or cubes, or cylinders,
except in terms of how they help us to understand more complex forms.
This article will focus on organic surface: the type of surface that cannot
be easily described mathematically, or drawn readily with rulers and circle
guides. The type of surface that is shaped intuitively by the free flowing
hand and controlled by the eye.
many methods of describing organic form in general terms: simplifying
the shapes to intersecting stretched spheres; starting with primitives
and then 'softening' them into more 'rounded' shapes; stringing together
a series of evenly-spaced two-dimensional cross-sections. The first two
are useful to describe the volume of the form, but lack enough sophistication
to describe the surface. The last is of obvious use, but assumes an intimate
knowledge of the surface in order to generate it in the first place. It
is no coincidence, by the way, that all of these methods have been used
in the past in 3-D modeling. Needless to say, there are many others.
that I prefer to use is to concentrate on the surface. When broken down,
any organic form can be described as a of combination of convex and/or
concave surfaces, either intersecting to form edges, or blended together
through tangential transition surfaces, themselves either convex or concave.
Breaking down a given surface becomes a process of identifying where one
surface ends and the next begins, and then describing the character of
those individual surfaces. And when it comes to describing things, the
first thing you need is a vocabulary.
As a means
of conveying the understanding of form, I will be drawing on some of the
vocabulary that designers, primarily in the automotive industry, have
been using to control and communicate sophisticated organic form for the
past few decades. Car bodies have arguably the most sophisticated surface
development of any man-made object, and present an extreme case of highly
controlled, yet difficult to describe forms. Geometric forms are simple:
they can be described in very precise mechanical terms. Completely natural
forms, such as animals or plants, are more difficult, but allow for natural
imperfections, asymmetricality and irregularity. Manufactured organic
form such as automotive styling, on the other hand, is at once free-form
and rigorously precise.
to communicate design intent between stylists and clay modelers, automotive
designers over the years have developed a language of form and corresponding
terms, much of it borrowed in turn from older disciplines such as cabinetmaking,
sculpture, shipbuilding and coach-building. This short-hand makes it easier
for design teams to communicate succinctly and accurately what a form
is doing, without resorting to vague description in the vein of : "it's
sort-of flat, but not quite, with more of a roundness at the end".
These terms also describe fundamental elements of three-dimensional form,
such that the use of them enables the designer to break complex surfaces
down into controllable elements and intersections.