The first project I worked on for Aardman Digital, the game dev department at Aardman, is now publicly available! And I've asked permission to upload some images for the blog, so here we are.

I was contracted to make the pre-rendered CG assets for a browser game made in Flash. The client was CBBC and the subject their new children's TV programme, Herosquad. The game has been in the press, but only really so far as acknowledging its existence, but hearing the kid's feedback from playing the game was pretty special, how they couldn't put it down, etc. You can play the game for yourself here.

So my involvement was mostly making the buildings that would populate the map that the player would navigate, a medium sized coastal town, Weymouth was often used as reference. I also modelled a couple of vehicles but a lot of this material was taken from a handy model pack used to fill out the vehicle roster and add some variety.

I started with this car  and went from there.
Using reference for things like the cars was super important as they have really specific curves to their outlines. at a distance you can get away with a lot, but they still really help getting the reflections and specular highlights looking nice as the car turns on and road and it glints in the sun etc.

Scale was really tricky on this project and its something I wasn't great at judging by eye, luckily Rich had a default posed 6' foot skeleton we could import into scene and measure things against to get the correct scale and consistency throughout. At one point the fire engine was massive next to the housing, its now tiny for gameplay reasons, so its easier to navigate the roads, but its not how we originally scaled it. Also you can scale something correctly up close, zoom out to the game camera, and it looks totally wrong. It can totally change with perspective.

Some of the buildings are super simple. This beach hut (which coincidentally doesn't appear on a single beach, and is more like a suburban shack or allotment shed now) is basically a cube with a roof extruded from a single 'poked face'. I had some nice mounds of sand piled up against the corners and a dune grass pathway to the front door, but they got cut in the end, excessive detail.
Having stuff like that around the base of the buildings to help them sit in the environment better was essential and something that was requested quite early on.
For example on this church there is a whole lawn and gravel path piece which is rendered separately in order for the vehicles to be able to be rendered on top of the ground, but underneath any tall buildings they might pass behind, like the church steeple. Thus giving the impression of depth in the scene. I spent far too long modelling ornate details on the stained glass windows which you can barely see here if you squint and don your monocle.
This is probably my favourite thing I modelled, the colours, shapes and weird asymmetrical design that I totally fluked. The reference images I both was given and found really helped in this case, a mixture of modern warehouse with skylights, industrial factory with bricked up windows, and the pipes and boxes that seem to cover every industrial building if you look closely on google maps. Also, solar panels, none of that unsustainable shit. Wish the brick shader wasn't quite so reflective though, you can't check every angle when testing shaders and this was clearly one I missed.
Throughout the project I had about about two brick textures, two roof tile textures, a couple of tarmac and concrete textures, and a grass texture that served me for 70% of the texturing I think. With a lot of scaling, mirroring, colour remapping (invaluable for creating the illusion of variety), and tiling I was able to really quickly texture stuff once it was modelled. Like on this house, the same bricks and slate roof and grass that all the other houses use, just with different colours and sizes. This helps keep a kind of art style whilst avoiding obvious repetition. I now love tileable textures. Also, when so many of the shapes are cubes and seen from a distance, you can automatic unwrap basically everything. So much time saved, so many horrible UVs.
Yep, they have a fireman's pole that goes all the way from the roof down to the ground floor. The Herosquad colours seemed to be navy blue and red so they were slapped on this fire station and the training tower below too.
This is a traffic cone. It is a subdivided 3D model with a reflective silver strip encircling its middle. WOOH! HIGH PRODUCTION VALUES!
I enjoyed creating some of the air traffic for the helicopter missions, this hang glider even has a tiny pilot made of cubes, and you can totally get away with it, which is fun. I made sure to support gender and ethnic diversity with these NPCs, or "non-player characters". Because that's important.
For the helicopter a bit more detail was needed in the model as it appeared in the menu screens closer up than they do in game, along with the fire engine and boat. I did shader work on the other two vehicles but modelling credit goes to Tom Lord and Rich Spence respectively. I used lots of coastguard photos for reference for the helicopter and having such exact reference was in this case as much a curse as a blessing, hard mechanical modelling that is very exact is not my strength. One of the reasons I was initially uncertain about the added responsibility of modelling a hero vehicle. I can happily model something vaguely organic or wonky and broken, but stuff that requires strict adherence to form, ie human anatomy or vehicular design, I really struggle with. I thought this was just a drawing thing as I have always struggled with life drawing or technical draughtsmanship, but it seems this fundamental inability to accurately replicate form and proportion has transferred to my CG modelling as well. That same proportion failure is coincidentally what I love most about my drawing, I like to mistake it for style and personality.
The rotors and helicopter were rendered separately so that the blades could continuously spin, whilst the helicopter rotated independently of them.
At this point in production buildings were getting quicker and quicker to make as I was able to steal pieces from previous models, as I had already done with some houses Rich had from an older project. Here the TV ariels, roofs, fire escapes, and pipes are all copied ... in fact I don't think anything except the "H" in the circle is unique to this model. But with significant replacement and retexturing it is almost unrecognisable as a whole.
This lighthouse originally had some rocks around the base that I quite liked, but they glistened too much and didn't look rocky at all. The lichen effect on the roof was just achieved by remapping the midtones of the slate texture to an organic green. Its what sells the image to me as a slate-clad lighthouse keeper's abode.
A nice office block with parking area delineated by some bollards.
This is one of the earlier buildings where I started breaking out the fancier reflection features to make the most of these assets being pre-rendered. It makes the roof look a bit favella with the corrugated iron, but it makes the material look so much more tactile and appealing, especially at the angles where it catches the light. It was also where I realised the you have to push the bump map values of the shader to 10 times what you might usually, because of the very distant camera angle the shader is sampled differently than it would be close up, this means detail is lost and has to be compensated for by exaggerating things like bump.
I wish I had close up renders of some of these props as they hold up quite well and its nice to see alternative angles. Though others, like this van, are much safer from a distance where you can't see the horrible lumpiness of parts of the bonnet etc. Being confined to this high angle though meant getting really inventive with keeping the roofscapes interesting, because that's by far the largest surface area on show, walls are lost in the perspective.
It was genuinely great fun to work on, I grew to love the miniturised style, that orthographic angle from old top down strategy games. And I'm now back working for Aardman Digital on more stuff which looks even shinier, so hopefully that will see the light of day eventually too.

Pixel Propaganda

Propaganda for my own writing?! Yep, I wrote some words for gaming opinion and news site Rebel Gaming! I had thoughts about the mobile gaming platform and the way it had no respect for the player's time, and how I felt about that. So time and feelings, deep stuff.

I continue to love the show Extra Credits because I feel what they have to say is really important and it also happens to fall in line with a lot of my own views which doesn't hurt. Here's a video of theirs on the role of fun in a medium.

This got linked round the CG department, and I couldn't contain my hysteria, I am in love with this GIF.


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