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Book Excerpt: 3D Game Textures: Create Professional Game Art Using Photoshop
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Book Excerpt: 3D Game Textures: Create Professional Game Art Using Photoshop

June 22, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

[This feature is an excerpt from 3D Game Textures: Create Professional Game Art Using Photoshop (ISBN 0-240807-68-5) published by Focal Press February 2006. An official description from the book's press release follows:

"Learn how to create stunning, professional-quality game textures from an award-winning industry expert. This book is your one-stop-shop to learn everything you'll need to know about texturing game worlds, from the research that goes into creating a world to tips, tricks and tools of the trade. Learn how to create everything from bullet holes and flames to windows and walls in tutorials that walk you through the process of developing textures (game art) for the most common game settings--from modern urban to fantasy--based on professional concept art.

Most importantly, you'll learn how to think like a game artist. Each tutorial begins with the instructions you'll most likely be given on the job, then walks you through the research and planning phase to the process of building textures for the scene at hand. You'll learn not only what goes into building a game world, but you'll also come away with a complete, professional portfolio to help land your dream job."]

A Basic (Game) Art Education

Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.
Roman author, orator, and politician (106 BC–43 BC)


The basis of computer art is art itself, so before we dive into any technical issues we must first discuss the most basic but important aspects of visual art. While teaching you traditional fine art skills is beyond the scope of this book, it is critical to have an understanding of some basic aspects of visual art in order to create game textures. Fortunately, these basic aspects of art are fairly easy to present in book form. By studying these basics of art, you will learn to see the world as an artist does, understand what you see, and then be more able to create a texture set for a game world.

The basic aspects of visual art we will focus on are

  • Shape and form
  • Light and shadow
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Perspective

Learning to observe the basic visual aspects of the world around you is a strong beginning in the process of seeing the world like an artist, communicating with other artists, and creating great game textures. Technology is, of course, critical to the larger picture of game textures, but the actual basics of art is where great textures begin. Too often would-be game artists are thrown into a discussion on tiling, or even game engine technology, when what are most important for the creation of game textures are the ability to understand what you are seeing in the real world and the ability to recreate it in the computer. Often a texture artist is required to break a scene down to its core materials and build a texture set based on those materials, so learning this ability is essential. While you don’t need to have an advanced degree in art to create great textures, let’s face it: almost anyone can learn what buttons to push in Photoshop, but the person who understands and skillfully applies the basics of art can make a texture that stands out above the rest.

There are many types of art and aspects of visual art that you should further explore in order to develop as a game artist. Some of the things you can study and/or practice are

  • Figure drawing
  • Still-life drawing
  • Photography
  • Painting (oil, water color, etc.)
  • Lighting (for film, still photography, the stage, or CG)
  • Color theory and application
  • Sculpture
  • Drafting and architectural rendering
  • Anatomy
  • Set design

It is even worth the time to study other areas of interest beyond art such as the sciences, particularly the behavior of the physical world. Light, for example, is becoming processed more and more in real time and not painted into the texture to the extent it was just a few years ago. The more you understand and are able to reproduce effects such as reflection, refraction, blowing smoke, etc., the more success you will find as a game artist. We presently have emerging technologies that reproduce the real world to a much greater extent than ever before, but it still takes an artist to create the input and adjust the output for these effects to look their best. The areas of study that will help you when dealing with real-world behaviors are endless. You can start by simply observing the world. How water drips or flows, the variations of light and shadow on different surfaces at different times of the day, how does a tree grow from the ground; straight like a young pine or flared at the base like an old oak—you will soon be staring at the cracks in the pavement and photographing the side of a dumpster while the world stares at you. An excellent book for this type activity is Digital Texturing & Painting by Owen Demers. You can also take tours of museums, architectural tours, nature walks; join a photography club; join a figure drawing class… there is no end to the classes, clubs, disciplines, and other situations you can expose yourself to that will open up your mind to new inspirations and teach you new tools and techniques for texture creation. And, of course, playing games, watching movies, and reading graphic novels are the food of the game artist.

Chapter Overview

  • Shape (2D) and Form (3D)
  • Light and Shadow
  • Texture: tactile vs. visual
  • Color
  • Perspective

While there are many elements of traditional art, we will narrow our focus to those elements that are most pertinent to texture creation. We will start with shape and form.

Shape and Form

A shape (height and width) is simply a two-dimensional (flat) outline of a form. A circle, square, rectangle, and triangle are all examples of shape. Shape is what we first use to draw a picture with before we understand such concepts as light, shadow, and depth. As children we draw what we see in a crude way. Look at the drawings of very young children and you will see that they are almost always composed of pure basic shapes: triangle roof, square door, circle sun. Even as adults, when we understand shadows and perspective, we have trouble drawing what we see before us and instead rely on a whole series of mental notes and assumptions as to what we think we are seeing. There are exercises to help develop the ability to draw what we actually see. Most notably the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain offers many such exercises. And one of the most famous of these involves the drawing of a human face from a photo. After you have done this, you then turn the photo upside down and draw it again. The upside-down results are often far better than the right-side up, first try. This is due to the fact that once you turn the image upside down your brain is no longer able to make any mental assumptions about what you think you are seeing; you can only see what’s really there. Your brain hasn’t yet developed a set of rules and assumptions about the uncommon sight of an upside-down human face. One of the first skills you can practice as an artist is trying to see the shapes that make up the objects that surround you. Figure 1-1 has some examples of this ranging from the simple to the complex. This is a very important skill to acquire. As a texture artist you will often need to see an object’s fundamental shape amidst all the clutter and confusion in a scene so you can create the 2D art that goes over the 3D objects of the world.


Figure 1-1: Here are some examples of shapes that compose everyday objects. These shapes range from simple to complex.


Form is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and includes simple objects like spheres, cubes, and pyramids. See Figure 1-2 for examples and visual comparisons. You will see later that as a texture artist you are creating art on flat shapes (essentially squares and rectangles) that are later placed on the surfaces of forms. An example can be seen in Figure 1-3 as a cube is turned into a crate (a common prop in many computer games). When a shape is cut into a base material in Photoshop and some highlights and shadows are added, the illusion of form is created. A texture can be created rather quickly using this method. See Figure 1-4 for a very simple example of a space door created using an image of rust, some basic shapes, and some standard Photoshop Layer Effects.


Figure 1-2: Here are examples of shapes and forms. Notice how it is shadow that turns a circle into a sphere.


Figure 1-3: A game texture is basically a 2D image applied, or mapped, to a 3D shape to add visual detail. In this example a cube is turned into a crate using texture. And a more complex 3D shape makes a more interesting crate while using the same 2D image.


Figure 1-4: Here is an example of how shapes can be cut into an image and using some simple layer effects can then be turned into a texture in Photoshop.


Of course, mapping those textures to more complex shapes like weapons, vehicles, and characters gets more difficult, and the textures themselves reflect this complexity. Although paradoxically, as the speed, quality, and the complexity of game technology increase, artists are actually producing more simplified textures in some cases. The complexity comes in the understanding and implementation of the technology. Don’t worry; you will gradually be introduced to this complexity until it culminates with the sections on Shader Technology.

As in the above section, you can also practice looking for the forms that make up the objects around you. In Figure 1-5 you can see some examples of this.


Figure 1-5: Here are some examples of the forms that make up the objects around you.

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