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Raw Crude: Twists And Turns In The Concept Pipeline
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Raw Crude: Twists And Turns In The Concept Pipeline

March 4, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Unfortunately the concept didn't make clear that, being attached to the flexing spine of a fast moving creature, the throwing arms would gyrate wildly in motion, rendering a convincing throw animation almost impossible.

Fixing the fully detailed and textured model to allow for more appropriate animations was (it needs hardly be said) a costly boondoggle that involved throwing away a lot of otherwise good work. It also played havoc with the character's schedule. Of course, there's nothing unique in this little tale. Indeed, that's why it's worth recounting.

The kinds of problems that emerged as the HiveHound passed from concept to game asset are typical of the nasty little surprises that lie in wait for most would-be game characters (Figure 5, below, shows the finished concept piece).

Movement, gameplay, shader interactions -- there are innumerable ways in which a character can confound your plans. The HiveHound's thorough concept phase probably did head off many potential problems before they transpired, but it didn't and couldn't catch them all. It's naive to expect a concept team to magically anticipate every potential gotcha.

The problems are too varied and the expertise necessary to anticipate them belongs to too many people -- animators and riggers, designers, engineers, as well as concept artists and modelers. There is no way to plan it all out on paper.

Figure 5: The end product of the concept stage was compelling. Too bad it wasn't practical.

Light, Sweet, Crude

The only safe way to avoid long and costly detours into untenable concepts is to be absolutely rigorous about not over-committing to any design feature until it has actually passed through the whole process from initial sketch to animated character.

The concept phase shouldn't end when a sketch or model sheet is passed from the concept team to the modelers. It's not a handoff. It's taking the concept development into a new stage with its fundamental goals -- fast iteration and exploration -- intact. Turn the sketch into a 3D proportion study, and the study into a set of test animations, before anybody from concept side to the animation staff starts talking about "polish."

Treat the early models and rigs as tools for refining and proving the concept, not early jumpstarts on the grind of production. Even rapid prototyping can't completely eliminate glitches, but it can help to insure that they are fewer in number and that they are less costly in terms of work wasted and time lost.

Involving modelers, animators, riggers, and designers in the concept phase has broader implications. Expanding the concept effort can be frustrating if it leads to endless meetings or design by committee.

On the other hand, enlisting the expertise of all the different disciplines can also be a huge plus. Not only does it help you anticipate problems, it also democratizes the sense of ownership and creative input that makes great work possible. We started off with the notion that pipelines start with artists, and that's always the most important fact to remember about what we do.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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