Wednesday 20 March 2013

From Rags To Britches

by Rich Sanders, Art Direction

For the past few weeks I’ve been reworking one of our oldest assets, the goblins. These devious antagonists were created almost two years ago during which the art style of Folk Tale has evolved, leaving the goblins stylistically out of step with the rest of the game’s aesthetics. With the Kickstarter campaign fast approaching, our main objective was to keep production time down by giving them a rockin new paint job and reusing a lot of the existing model geometry.

Ermahgerd What’s Wrong

To start the process I needed to identify why these models felt inconsistent. It was obvious that our texturing skills had drastically improved since we first started on the project, but the villagers are old as balls too and they still fit in. One of the most noticeable issues to me was their eyes. The problem was partly stylistic and partly due to Folk Tale’s scope two years ago. In any case, they had this weird “You sure got a purdy mouth” kind of expression.

The skin and clothing texture also needed stylistic changes. It consisted of mostly large forms that described the character’s muscles and features predominantly with an overhead RTS style camera in mind, but it wasn’t holding up in cut scenes or first person camera mode where the camera can get much closer. Smaller details would need to be added to focal areas like the face in order to look good up close. Through trial and error we found that our characters looked better with a more incandescent shader to hide the nasty little dark areas low polygon geometry produces in real-time lighting, and to help them pop when ambient lighting has a heavy blending effect. However, with greater incandescence, we now had to paint stronger shadows into the texture to counter the weaker real time shadows. Since the old goblin texture had hardly any painted shadows they were looking very flat in game.

Base Paint

The original textures were an excellent starting point, essentially acting as 3d concept art. First, I decided to created a mostly nude goblin texture. All the goblin models had identical UV layouts, which meant I could make one goblin birthday suit that would fit them all.

I typically approach a skin texture like this by roughing out the anatomy with large forms that describe muscle groups, then slowly working down into smaller details such as veins and wrinkles. Certain areas such as the wrist, waist, and lower legs were covered on all the characters, so to save time I skipped over these parts. It’s always a good idea to steer clear of a goblin’s rear end whenever possible, amirite? I’ve also incorporated some principles picked up from Valve’s amazing Dota2 Character Art Guide, such as using value gradients to make characters quickly identifiable. The value gradient, or the range of lightness and darkness in our color palette, has to be kept somewhat clamped in Folk Tale. Values too close to absolute white become overexposed, values too black lose color and definition when applied with real time lighting. By using the value gradient scale, this method works great to create focal points, help give the objects a more three dimensional feel, and establishes that all the goblins have unified values.


With the basic skin done it was time to start making each character unique. The warrior was a natural place to start painting because he had pants, gloves, and boots that covered the most surface area. I could use his texture as a base for the rest of the characters to save time. My approach to color was to stick with the original earthy palette of browns and greens, while adding small amounts of secondary and tertiary colors. Once the clothes and armor were complete I manipulated the skin hue to differentiate each character even further #cheating. 

The last step for these characters was to produce a specular map packed into the alpha channel having recently introduced specular maps into our character shader to counter the dull look metal would have in some lighting conditions.


When reviewing the goblin props, there were two main things I was interested in: does the model’s geometry look acceptable when viewed up close, and does it have a strong silhouette. Silhouettes play a large role in making a character easily identifiable. For dominant props, such as the warrior’s axe, I used more exaggerated, curved, and tapered shapes to increase its visual appeal.

This however, did require some items to be completely remade. Luckily these props were fairly simple and could be remodeled reasonably quickly. Creating a new prop starts with a quick black sketch to nail down the core idea and shape. Then that drawing gets put into a 3d program (I use Maya for this) where I can use it as a modeling reference. Once the models complete, the model is brought into Photoshop to texture and paint the weapon in the same manner as painting the goblin body.

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