We all love to see concept art, it’s an entertaining look behind the scenes at a finished character or weapon or asset. We get to see what it began as, what has changed, evolved, and been iterated upon. But it’s a huge, and often unsung, part of the creative process in delivering AAA quality assets, characters, and environments.
As 3D art is one of Ringtail Studios’ key focuses and one of our areas of expertise, we decided our next dive into AAA standards had to be this often unseen aspect of the project pipeline, 3D concept art. And to help narrow the focus of this particular article, we’re going to look at some 3D concept art created for sci-fi weapons created by one of our many talented artists.
3D Concept Art Pipeline
The beginning of the 3D concept art pipeline isn’t too dissimilar from the 2D art pipeline. Our artists begin this process with “thumbnails”. You might know this term to refer to small images used as images for YouTube videos. They’re reduced-sized pictures or videos that help viewers or organizers to recognise files. In the process of creating art, thumbnails are small, early sketches that are used to explore and establish early ideas or concepts for the work being created. They’re an excellent place to plan and begin work from.
Our artists use this stage to understand the silhouettes of the weapons and how they might work. It’s important that a level of understanding is created by the artist into how the object or weapon might actually function. These details are key in immersion and quality storytelling.
From there, the artists polish the paint work on the silhouettes to figure out and define the materials for the next stages. From there, the images are exported as a plane into Blender. Blender and Photoshop are the two key tools used in the creation of 3D concept art as they allow seamless work between the 2D and 3D planes. Once in Blender, the artists create a rough 3D model to help display its proportions. Understanding the asset now as a three-dimensional object is key as we’re out of the 2D stage entirely. In this phase of work, artists will work with the materials on the weapon, looking at what works best on a case-by-case basis. Emissive, glossy, matte, these are all considerations for getting the best out of the model.
From here, it’s all about refining that 3D model and getting the best look for 3D concept to really make an impression on the rest of the team or the client. And, in the case of a first-person game, they might even import the 3D model into VR to get a good feel for its proportions to a player and also anticipate animations in the future stages.
References and Inspiration
We’ve discussed before the importance of preparing references as well as repeatedly referred to the importance of good references for the artists. But how do artists prepare great 3D concept art with science fiction weaponry or fantasy armaments.
References always come from real life and modern or historical based games have plenty of direct or adjacent references. Our artists understand that many quality references exist outside the category of the asset being created. For example, in creating these sci-fi pistols and sidearms, our artists used references of power tools! Both in shape and colouring, a variety of common power tools were used instead to inspire the final 3D concept.
But the artists also insist that inspiration can come from anywhere. Observing an animal or architecture, or in this case, industrial equipment!
Taking 3D Concept Art from Good to Great
Making 3D concept art and 3D models is something that almost anyone can do with a little practice. But we wanted to know what really takes a piece of 3D concept art or a 3D model and takes it from good to great.
One of the things that our 3D concept artists emphasised was verisimilitude. Like many fictive creations, the appearance or emulation of it being real and believable were absolutely top of their list. Whether a fictional but real-world based creation or something entirely fanciful and fantastical, it needs to have an ergonomic edge. It needs to make sense; even bizarre alchemical or magical creations still make sense to hold and use. This point of view is also used to ensure that the 3D model will eventually look good from a character’s viewpoint and help with future animation work!
Another aspect to consider is for each piece of 3D concept art to be form fitting. In this way, a more brutal tone or atmosphere can be shown through harsh angles, sharp edges, and aggressive shapes. The weapon of a strong brute should look and seem heavy. And in the same way, the weapon of a sneaky ranger or rogue should look sleek and easy to handle in experienced hands. The key, our artists say, is making the weapon an extension of the player’s power.
The key pleasure in creating 3D concept art for many of our artists is imagining how the piece makes sense in the world it is created for. Thinking about how it might be used by that society and how it came about. And then taking that design and changing it based on what rarity or place it holds in that society. Ultimately, the best 3D art and 3D assets comes from the ones that tell stories. And that is what we at Ringtail Studios do best.