Friday, 22 June 2012

Let me take you to the candy shop - pt.1

Picking just two summer projects from the list seemed like a pretty daunting task when I first saw the variety we had to choose from. There’s a very wide range of themes there and all of them have the potential to be pretty awesome, but at the same time none of them jumped out at me at first. However, I’ve wanted to model some kind of old fashioned shop for a while, and making a sweet shop seemed a good way to get that out of my system. 

I started with an idea of what I wanted, but pinning that mental image down into a workable concept has proved a challenge. Ideally what I’ve been looking for is a shop that is a perfect match to the one I have in my head, so I can just draw details directly from real life but it hasn’t been that easy. Looking around Leicester city centre has provided my with some reference material, but there’s only one sweet shop I can find and it’s quite far from fitting the bill of what I want my final product to look like. A large proportion of my research so far has therefore been through Google images, which if nothing else lets me quickly skim through different styles of shops, although it’s frustrating finding an image of a shop I like but not being able to see the details.

So while I still haven’t found a shop that’s exactly what I want, I have been able to pick out lots of images with individual elements that I like, and to create a mood board that overall shows a good representation of my” ideal” sweet shop.

I want to try to keep within the given specifications for the project, more as a personal challenge than anything – but also because budgeting my projects in terms of tris is one of the many areas I’ve struggled with. During this year’s projects, I’ve wavered between barely using half of the tri budget, to seriously struggling to finish the model within the limit, as was my biggest problem with the architectural project.

I’d say this was mostly down to still being pretty new at modelling – I had no idea what a given number of tris looked like as anything but a number, and each time I was attempting something completely new. There’s still undoubtedly going to be some trial and error involved, as this is significantly larger than any of the coursework projects, but at least I’m now prepared. 

To try and make it more manageable, I’ve split the project into three main chunks, and given them their own polygon budget: the shop exterior, including two sides of the building, the roof and part of the street, I’m giving 2k-3k tris; the interior and furniture I’m allowing 1k, and the remaining 6k to 7k tris are going towards all the various items to fill the shop with, mostly the jars.

These sections are also somewhat separate design-wise, with the idea that I can just switch between them if I get bored of one. So far that hasn’t exactly been successful; I’ve had to settle on the general plan of the outside of the building first before I can start designing the inside, because the layout of the inside of the shop is heavily dependent on the overall floor plan.

This is the exterior I’ve decided to use. When I was sketching up ideas, I knew it was going to have bay window, but I also really liked the look of the corner window. I couldn’t find any examples of shops that had both, but I think what I came up with is a plausible design that incorporates both. Now I’ve got the overall shape down, I can start looking at the details. I need to find a design for the edges of the windows and door that is consistent, and will work to neatly fill in the gap betweent he different windows and the brickwork.

I’m also trying (and somewhat failing) to resist the urge to start modelling the various small assets – for instance jars of sweets - without any prior preparation such as, well, working out whether I’ll actually need then in the scene. Making meshes is one of the parts I find the most fun, since at that point everything is simple you can quickly see the object taking shape, and with smaller assetsyou spend less time hunting for stray vertexes that have somehow eluded the weld tool.  At least, having given in and modelled a few different shaped jars, I can now estimate just how many jars I’ll be able to having in total, and can adjust the design of the shelving, etc., to make sure the shop doesn’t look too empty.

Partly, I aim to use this project to solidify what I’ve learnt over the year. There’s a few skills and techniques I want to get a better grip on before the start of next year, including quite basic thing like lighting, and rigging, which I ended up flailing around with a bit when they became necessary and I had no idea what I was doing. Baking object is another get think I want to get the hang of, or at the very least have tried. I actually wasn’t aware until recently that using a highpoly model to create a normal map for a lowpoly one was something you could do in Max. I guess I thought it was a ZBrush thing? I don’t think I really thought about at all, but it’s reassuring to know that there are easier ways to produce normal than using hand-painted height maps.

The final, big important thing I want  to work on is keeping my written work up to date. While I’ve mostly kept up with the game production and visual design parts of the course, critical studies, the third side of triangle, has been badly neglected. I find writing difficult, or at least I find writing concisely and meaningfully difficult. It’s something which – as much as I put it off – I know will only improve if I practice, and for that reason, I’m going to make a real effort to blog about this project as it moves along.