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Gnomon Workshop Vehicle Modeling for Production Review

December 30th, 2008

This article by Zoltan Gyalog is a review of a video training module called Vehicle Modeling for Production, an informative presentation that is designed to help people use computer graphics tools to make high quality models of vehicles and characters for use in video games. You can click on the image below to buy the DVD from Amazon, although as of this writing there were only two of them left in stock.

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The Behind the Scenes series is a new production line from The Gnomon Workshop, guiding 3D artists throughout the process of creating a high definition cinematic sequence that takes place in a video game. The Behind the Scenes or BTS title refers to the fact that viewers will have the chance to witness actual production meetings between members of the production team. In this case, the main agenda is to create the 3D polygon model of a two dimensional futuristic helicopter, an invention of renowned concept artist Mark Goerner. Accomplished 3D modeler Paul Schoeni is your guide and teacher throughout this video training module, as he creates the high resolution helicopter model based on Mark’s drawings.

The included production meetings do concern constructive discussions about the drawn model and its three dimensional variant, as the original sketch is tight enough to give an overall impression of what the 3D rendition should look like, yet exhibits certain details of high frequency that should be interpreted with cautious flexibility.

The training module consists of 14 lectures. Right after the first production meeting between Mark and Paul, your teacher gives you a very useful overview of the tools he is most fond of and reliant on. Schoeni uses a recent version of Autodesk’s Maya software to build the model, while his highly efficient modeling workflow concerns absolutely traditional methods, tools, and solutions. Some renowned artists do prefer to invent and use custom tools or even sophisticated scripts to work, yet the latest versions of Maya have the majority of the popular custom tools already implemented.

In the aforementioned introduction sequence, Schoeni uses a series of polygon cubes to demonstrate his personal toolset. A rather fruity sequence, the methods and tools you see in operation now will also be utilized during the creation of the high definition model. Paul informs us about the common methods of accessing the tools, while his personal approach of keeping them nicely organized on a custom Maya shelf might suit for the student as well.

The focal operations demonstrated in this training module do give both a general and an in-depth overview of Maya’s sophisticated polygonal modeling capabilities. Creating and maintaining a clean, strong global topology for the 3D mesh is the primal agenda of the modeler. By utilizing Maya’s diverse polygon display functionalities and the related options, Schoeni reveals very efficient methods to establish both soft and extremely tight flow to the geometry. As a modeler, your primary concern will be to carry certain hard edges of your low resolution model on to the higher resolution variant, yet there will be occasions when your aim is quite the contrary: you want Maya to flush the polygons out, giving you a nice, clean, smooth surface to work further on. All these methods are thoroughly utilized and demonstrated by Schoeni during the lectures.

While extruding the polygonal faces of an object is the quintessence of polygon modeling, it is always a very good idea to aim for four-sided polygons, or quads. Schoeni though points out that sometimes it is acceptable to get away with three-sided polygons, especially at the tip of less significant, less complex objects. What you can extrude from your model though, does come from what you have constructed already. There is a lot to learn from Schoeni’s splitting techniques, as he demonstrates very efficient and logical ways of getting tight results with only two or three clever splits, as opposed to affecting the entire mesh with the insertion of a brand new, global edge loop.

During the modeling process, Schoeni delivers useful notions about the theory behind extremely complex geometries, pointing out that the eye can be pleased even if it witnesses essentially simple shapes with supportive detail work on them. Paul draws your attention to the dominant, simplistic character of the shapes that might be interpreted as highly complex mechanical structures if finer details are present on them. This general agenda of pleasing and entertaining the eye via the utilization of keen readiness to offer detail is in the prime interest of this training module. By the individual work processes taking place on various primal parts and accessories of this helicopter model, you will have a thorough understanding of how such an accurate work is formed and how it is perceived as remarkably complex at the final stages.

It is most curious to see that Schoeni does not necessarily seem to be obsessed with rigorous mathematics during the creative process. Though you will see him “eyeballing out” finer, repetitive details on numerous occasions, he also shares extremely useful workflows and tricks out of his modeling arsenal to scatter supportive detail work – like tiny bolts, for example – throughout the mesh with tight controls and convincing results.

The production meetings with Mark Goerner are reoccurring sequences in this training module. During these conversations, you will have a pleasant glimpse at mutual constructive criticism where Mark and Paul examine and compare all variants of the helicopter – that includes finer 2D models and the 3D model – to each other, finding the direction most suitable to work further along.

Video training modules from The Gnomon Workshop usually do ship with project files and related tools included with them; unfortunately, this particular session is an exception. Though you won’t have the chance to observe the finished model at your own pace in three dimensions, let it be a reminder that the primal interest of these great lectures is to give you the tools and methods to construct a model of such complexity yourself. The most significant problem I found with this training module is that there are some very unpleasant time jumps in it. Though time jumps are acceptable once the current workflow is clearly demonstrated, the very first gap in this module affects one of the most essential sequences of the whole process. That is the finalization of the proxy model. Since the proxy model is essentially the base and the soul of the high resolution, finished model, I find it rather unfortunate that the construction process of the proxy is briefly, yet significantly interrupted.

Apart from this shortcoming though, Vehicle Modeling for Production gives you both a thorough idea and a complete tool set about how and why professional 3D models possess that extremely convincing look and feel to them. If you would like to increase your hard surface 3D modeling skills and would prefer to do that by witnessing a renowned professional who gives you extremely useful information and tips along the way, then Vehicle Modeling for Production is one of the safest choices you can make.

My rating for this training module is 4.5 out of 5



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