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Unearthing 3D Environment Issues w/ Dr Dipsh*t

As a self-taught & aspiring 3D environment artist there is much I still don’t know, and lots of wisdom to be learned underneath them CG stones. With that said, I (and others like me I’m sure:) would like to get some opinions from those of you who have had some kind of formal training. In particular for me, which of all of the various environment tools out there have you found most handy and user-friendly? I’ve tossed around Bryce & Vue, though they seem somewhat limited when it comes to game environments. Am I looking in the wrong places? And further, to build game environments do you need programming skills? Editors look intimidating, not to mention expensive. Any insight you might have would be super freakin helpful. Thanx!


  • Joshua Stubbles
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    Joshua Stubbles polycounter lvl 19
    Staples might have one, but there is no easy button for art.

    Being self taught myself, I can only suggest the things I did. If you're looking to use editors (smart idea) go with the cheap/free ones that you can use.
    - Torque
    - Hammer
    - Unreal Ed
    - Radiant
    All of these will provide a great building block for understand different engines, and get you familiarized with the techniques involved in building general game environments.

    It never hurts to know some coding or scripting. In most cases, artists these days are loosely considered technical artists. They create their own scripts, shaders and whatever else they may need.
  • Rick Stirling
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    Rick Stirling polycounter lvl 18
    Organic outdoors environments for games? Hills and caves and trees? Try Maya PLE or GMAX for free.

    Grab XSI if you have a few quid.

    You'll want Gimp for textures, or photoshop if you have some pocket money.
  • arrangemonk
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    arrangemonk polycounter lvl 15
    pocket money for photoshop? lol, sounds like a regular income^^
    artweaver is woth a try too, http://www.artweaver.de/index.php?de_version
    and mybe this (its freaky and weird but cool) http://download.mapzoneeditor.com/releases/MaPZone2_2_5_0e.exe
  • Sage
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    Sage polycounter lvl 19
    You have to own the games for their editor to work, so if you want Radiant to work for you with all it's options you need one of the many games it supports so you can test out whatever you decide to make. Grab a copy of a game you admire like say Quake 3 Arena, Unreal 2004, (comes with the editor)and I heard the editor for FEAR was nice to use, but the HL2 (hammer) is nice and you can use a free version of XSI to add content to it. I heard getting characters in there was a pain though. For the free mode tool version of XSI check out Softimage.com.

    Of all these the only one I have tried and able to bring objects into has been md3 files as map objects to my custom cube map. You probably will have to name your material name with the relative path name used when the game is installed.

    in my case as an example
    D:\Graphics\Quake III Arena\baseq3\models\mapobjects\your_objects\texture_name

    that got my md3 object models to load the texture, at least that's how I did it with max a few years ago.

    Check out 3D buzz for video tutorials on game editors like Unreal ed to learn more.

    Everyone else said it all. Oh I really think Bryce sucks, huge waste of money on my part!

    If you have 500 usd buy Zbrush 3 since it gives you the option to make 3d objects, and textures. You can use wings 3D to model and zbrush to normal map.

  • Michael Spiral
    Great! Thanks for all of the feedback. When you opt to teach yourself, its all trial and error, which can be daunting, so I appreciate everyone chipping in.

    You spoke of unreal/torque etc. being free packages. Are they available via the web or must I purchase the corresponding game as Alex had mentioned? I have an interest in unreal, but couldn’t find the engine for download apart from UT. My current computer’s capability to run it is another issue altogether.

    I got into PLE a couple of years ago and was so happy to be making models that I could use in the future when I got my hands on complete or unlimited. Ha! Everything’s in Maya limbo. They didn’t tell me that. Since then I have upgraded and am now using Maya, but wasn’t sure if there is anything more environmental friendly.

    I couldn’t find artweave, is there a link? Also, I’ll try out that link later when I’m home. (cant do it at work ya know) but thanks.

    As I mentioned above, is there any another way of obtaining an engine minus the game? I checked some homepages and still nothing. Here’s a question, all of the talked-about engines correspond to FPS and the like but I have a nerdy, unhealthy passion for the RPGs. Would these engines cross over into other genres well? Anyway thanks for the file path, believe it or not little things like that help tremendously when yous a whipper snapper like me. And I’ll be sure to head over to 3dbuzz soon, so thanks for that as well.

    Any further comments are more than welcome, as this will be an issue of mine for the greater portion of the foreseeable
  • Jay Evans
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    Jay Evans polycounter lvl 18
    I did the same thing once with Maya PLE. You can recover models from PLE by exporting them to Unreal then expoting them from unreal as an .obj
  • Michael Spiral
    So there IS a way after all... Community college teachers suck. I guess I'd better step-up & nab Unreal and git me models back. Thanks for the tip! You officially know more than my 3D animation teacher at Seminole Community smile.gif
  • osman
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    osman polycounter lvl 18
    Michael, if you're talking about unreal engine 2 then you can use it for free,for education and non-commercial work that is.
    There is a runtime demo that comes with the editor that works and you can even run around in your map and stuff.
    So if you want unreal editor here it is :
    Runtime Demo

    If you want unreal editor 4 then you'll have to buy Roboblitz.
    Good luck.
  • Michael Spiral
    Good lookin out, Oz! thanks for the link. i'll give it a go tonight. hopefully my computer will get along w/ it. he's getting old and stubborn.
  • Sage
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    Sage polycounter lvl 19
    Yeah for rpg games it's a similar process, you buy the game you want to mod for and you look for the tools online. From what I have seen you need to buy the game. I think the only exception is roboblitz, but you buy that not the steam version and you get access to the latest version of the unreal ed version. You need the game to test the stuff out and since the games have been out for awhile they are cheaper sometimes than buying something that claims to be a game mapping software thing that cost 50 bucks or more and a lot of times are worse than the say unreal ed or the editor that shipped with Doom 3 or quake 4. The other thing is you get to study what the artist did to get the models to work. Unreal ed is pretty good to learn so getting roboblitz might be the way to go for you. Of course you can try free engines out there. I have worked on one project for the last seven years that is running on ogre. The problem with it is you have to know a bit of programming and be willing to do a lot of work to get things to work. I'm doing work for a programmer and it has been challenging to get work in there because I don't have a direct pipeline in place. I have had to establish most of it so things don't get out hand. Before you buy the game make sure you can export your work to the format the game uses, which can be hard to find at times.
  • Michael Spiral
    Whoa, that a lot to take in. And by that I mean the programming... It frightens me. I guess I can’t be stubborn about it though, seeing as all of those of you who do possess some prog skills have an edge over folks like me:). But it’s good I can use it outside of the realm of FPS.

    Whilst thumbing through landscape editors and the like I came across a sexy looking tool called GROME. If anyone has used this and is willing to shed some light on it I’d like to hear it. The poly’s appear to be through the roof on one hand, but it seems very diverse & user friendly. If you haven’t seen it do go- http://www.quadsoftware.com/index.php?m=section&sec=product&subsec=editor
  • Ryno
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    Ryno polycounter lvl 18
    You shouldn't have to know any programming to do environmental art. It may help at some point, but it is not necessary. However, you do have to know art to do good environmental art. Composition and lighting are very important when it comes to overall level design. Being able to paint realistic textures is also quite important. There's lots of pure art stuff to know, to be honest.

    The software that you use is secondary to your artistic skill. There have been some excellent environmental pieces made with archaic software, and terrible stuff made with cutting edge software.

    Just pick a semi-standard software suite, and run with it. This might be Maya PLE and UnrealEd, or Max and Source. It really doesn't matter. The only program that I would absolutely insist that an environment artist knows would be Photoshop. You absolutely must know this program to be an environment, prop, or level artist.

    As far as the editor and 3d packages go, just practice your art skills while you figure out where the buttons are. Really the art skills are the most important.
  • Sage
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    Sage polycounter lvl 19
    Micheal when I mentioned programming, I was referring to extra stuff you need to do to get your ogre scene to work from scratch. I don't do any programming. I have some scripting skills. When I brought up the free engine stuff up in my previous post I was trying to point out that although they might be free they can have a big draw back.

    I suggest you get a game you want to work with since it would be a bit smoother and has good mod tools. All you want to do is concentrate on the art side of it. I'm not sure if the new XSI mod tool lets you do work for unreal ed or not but there is one for XSI Foundation for example. You don't have to try and learn 10 things at once either, do it in steps. Learn to model and texture, then learn unreal ed for example.

  • Michael Spiral
    Hi Ryno,
    I do know PS crazy-well, though I still cringe when having to make my own tex from scratch. I suppose the best thing for me to do is simply embrace my crappy dell and its many uber limitations. After all, everything I've done up until now has been w/it.

    have you tampered w/TES at all? That i do have, but never bothered to learn it... come to think of it, I don't even know what it is except that it sounds similar to these engines. Man, I should really do my research before I speak.
  • Fordy
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    Fordy polycounter lvl 18
    Hi Michael

    If you go for a game editor, such as the Unreal editor, you really would be better just getting the game (UT2004). That way, you can open the other levels up and see how things were done, it really would be invaluable and you can pick up UT2004 for next to nothing now.
  • Mark Dygert
    /me pulls out the heavy hand (but with love)
    Take this all with a grain of salt. I'm not trying to discourage you but help you make some key choices early on that will greatly help. These are things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out.

    You are about to take a trip across the desert and all you have is a 50 gallon bucket. Choose wisely what you put in the bucket because whatever you put in there will be what sees you thru. When you come to a cross roads in learning, ask yourself is this another rock in my bucket or is this water that will let me go farther. I've had to empty my bucket of rocks more times than I would like to count...

    [ QUOTE ]
    I suppose the best thing for me to do is simply embrace my crappy dell and its many uber limitations.

    [/ QUOTE ] It is a poor craftsman that blames his tools. Many a good piece of game art has been made on sub-par systems. Give an artist 2 rocks and a car battery and they'll figure out how to make art on it. It doesn't take much hardware to make low poly art. Even a 5yr old computer shouldn't have too many problems. If you've been playing recent games like TES then you should be more than fine. Work on the art, and in time when the money is flowing you can build that dream rig that sits in the corner and gathers dust.

    [ QUOTE ]
    I do know PS crazy-well, though I still cringe when having to make my own tex from scratch.

    [/ QUOTE ]It's a whole new world once you stop photochopping your buddies head onto photos of your dogs ass. 90% of what PhotoShop is used for in the industry is digital painting. This is where a firm foundation in traditional art most directly translates to marketable skills. If you are unfamiliar with photoShop in this aspect I fully urge you to take that trip. In most cases it will be your right hand.

    Digital Painting Tutorials:

    With programs like Zbursh3.1 its not so much knowing the technical process any more. But applying what you know artistically to achieve the maximum effect. They are slowly stripping out the technical roadblocks artists traditionally faced. It's getting harder for a non artist to slip into an artists spot based on pure know how. We now call them technical artists and they are still important to keep the wheels greased and getting games out the door BUT they often can not be relayed upon to reach deep into a big bag of artistic skill.

    I wouldn't get hung up on learning an editor just yet, thats kind of putting the cart before the horse.
    1st Art
    2nd 3D apps like Max, Maya, Silo
    3rd Game Editors

    Just knowing how a particular editor works, will not gain you access to an industry job. Most places will have their own pipeline and might not be using the editor you choose to learn. Artistic skill translates and can be channeled into any pipeline a company uses. If you can make convincing game assets that conform to all the rules a company requires it doesn't matter if you took the extra few hours to figure out how to get that asset in game.

    Only knowing the technical side of how one level editor works with hardly any artistic skill will make you a much less attractive candidate. Any monkey can read tutorials and figure out how UnrealEd works, but that doesn't mean he/she can actually pull off stunning content.

    With all that said, I hope it helps, like I said I wish someone would have told me all of that up front. Welcome to polycount it's good to have you hear, now lets get back to makin' art =)

    /me steps off soap box
  • Ryno
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    Ryno polycounter lvl 18
    To go along with what Vig was saying, it is NOT about knowing where the buttons are for a program. It is about being able to use the program to execute a well-defined artistic vision.

    When I say knowing Photoshop, I actually mean being able to paint realistic diffuse, specular, and bump maps, as well as being able to edit together photosource using color correction tools, blur and sharpening, masks, blending modes, and much more to create a specific texture.

    For example, could you create textures such as: Granite tombstone texture with bird doo on the top, moss at the bottom, and engraved text that reads "Beloved Ryno lies here.", and tiling metal grate texture, and a destroyed adobe wall that has been blown through and scorched by cannon fire?

    These would all be typical environment textures, and an environment artist should be able to bang out several of these each day, including diffuse, specular, and normal maps. This is a very typical duty for most environment artists.

    If you're unable to do this, it is most likely a matter of your art skills. On the Photoshop technical side, I can think of several different approaches to getting these done. A good artist with even a basic understanding of Photoshop could pull this off in one way or another. But if you know Photoshop quite well, but are lacking in art knowledge and practice, this could end up being quite a difficult task.

    So, I'd take time and evaluate your own skillset to figure out what you need to work on.
  • Michael Spiral
    Hey, all!
    thanks for the painfully honest feedback. and yes, i do tend to get way ahead of myself. in this case the fretting over learning engines. luckily I do have a bit artistic ability and imagination, so the non artists say:)... www.michaelspiral.com
    feel free to critique to your heart's content.

    but you are right as far as taking steps, so i'm doing just that. it seems a bit tacky, but whatever works, right? i drummed up the necessary steps of how to NOT get ahead of myself (as you mentioned Vig), promptly printed it, and slapped upon the wall right next to my monitor. this way whenever i roll my eyes at the current task at hand i'll soon find myself staring at it. we'll see how it works out.

    speaking of baby steps i went ahead and started knocking out my own tex's and am finding out it's much less a pain in the ass as i previously thought. much less then it is to chop up photos anyway. to test my meddle i began a quick model of a thaumaturge's chamber (i'll post it soon)and am implementing this half & half technique for the texture. this has already brought on a number of issues, namely with the PSD size -so i ask: is a 72res suffice for your average run-of-the-mill interior? i was cranking it up and up to get the details all in there (metalwork/studs etc on furniture) but it quickly became waay too big.
  • ImSlightlyBored
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    ImSlightlyBored polycounter lvl 13
    72 ppi is standard if thats what 72res means? that never changes as its only ever for screen in this circumstance [games] (though i might be wrong with all this HD stuff going on nowadays, though I'm pretty sure they just utilise bigger maps)

    But as for tex size (pixels), do whats necessary and give more space on the map to larger things/crucial things your gonna see more often. I'd always just imply the details if you've not got the space on the map, and if its too small to accurately paint in the details chances are you arent going to see it so much anyway if its been assigned properly (if youve given good sizes depending on the above factors.)

    I'm not fully sure what the question is so sorry if I'm going over things you know.
  • Sage
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    Sage polycounter lvl 19
    I just checked out your site, I like the 2d section it's very nice. If you need so help getting started with the 3d for games check out Poops site, might help you out.

  • Michael Spiral
    thanks for the props sage! i've been to poop once before but i should probably head back now that i have specific issues.

    i'm still working on my 'arcane sanctum' interior and its textures are looking rather lovely. i'm definately learning alot through trial & error, but more importantly i'm finding myself creating my own textures w/ minimal photochopping. i still have a ways to go.

    w/in the next few days i'll be posting some captures/renders and such for feedback so please check back soon. now i have to figure out how to imbed them...
  • Michael Spiral
    here is the door texture to my chamber, made from the image to the right courtesy of cgtextures.com and tweaked quite a bit in PS. any comments are welcome

  • Joseph Silverman
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    Joseph Silverman polycounter lvl 17
    Post up some WIP shots in Pimping and Previews and you'll probably get some better crits on your texturing. smile.gif
  • Michael Spiral
    thanx Sup, i took you up on that and started a thread. here's the link if anyone is interested.

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