This article is for beginners looking to become 3D artists. By the time you finish reading, you will know what pipeline is, why it is needed, and what stages it consists of. A careful study of the text will take about 10 minutes.
This is the first part of the AAA pipeline series. Here are links to all six. Choose the one you need:
AAA games are created and distributed by large publishers. These projects are often produced with higher budgets and more extensive marketing efforts.
It would be better to look at an example. Grand Theft Auto V was developed over three years by more than a thousand people under a budget of $265 million. It is undoubtedly a Triple-A project.
Pipeline is a series of stages in creating a 3D model. It starts with blockout and ends with a model ready to implement into a project. The main aim of the pipeline is to streamline the production process and simplify it by dividing it into smaller, more manageable steps.
There is also one optional stage of the presentation. It appears when you need to post your model in the portfolio. Even good works lose their attractiveness if you neglect an appealing cover.
AAA pipeline is like a language spoken by professional 3D artists. When applying for a job in a big studio, the test assignment often assesses whether you understand the workflow process. The more a candidate knows it, the easier it will be for them to work in a team. Thus, learning the pipeline is necessary to get a big game studio job.
The stages of the pipeline have a clear order for a reason. They are all connected, and a mistake will affect the entire project. Poor work at the beginning will backfire on the final steps and demand redoing the model.
A typical misstep for novices is to detail the model just from the beginning. This leads to wrong proportions and technical difficulties in the following stages. Complete the first stage of the pipeline before jumping to the third or fourth. If you haven’t finished blockout but try to create textures, you risk wasting time and spoiling the whole work.
A blockout is a simplified model made from basic shapes. Only beginners start creating a car with an emblem on the radiator screen. In the AAA pipeline, it is standard practice for professionals to begin with a blockout.
Blocking-out is creating a model using boxes, spheres, and cylinders that convey the basic silhouette of the object. Blocking-out focuses on building the model sketch to get into the correct proportions. There are no small details during this stage, only large and medium shapes. It usually takes about forty minutes to complete a blockout.
Detailing is the next step of blocking-out, during which a 3D artist makes a model more believable for a viewer. It is important to consider the elements that provide the object's functionality and work out transitions in geometry. However, you want to ignore grid issues, such as weird reflections or inaccurate polygons.
Mesh optimization is transforming a draft to implement it into a project. Usually, two types of models are involved in game development — lightweight Low poly and super detailed High poly.
Low poly models are the ones used in games. They should maintain a balance between detail and lightness. Developers often set the polygon budget due to the limitations of the target platform. For example, almost all tanks in WoT have less than 50 thousand triangles.
High poly is a model with a high level of detail. There are no restrictions on the number of polygons as long as your computer can handle the file. High poly modeling aims to make extra surface details and transfer them to Low poly as textures.
Also, 3D artists often use High poly models in their portfolios since they showcase their skills well. However, putting such a model into the game will freeze even the most powerful personal computer.
UV unwrapping is flattening a Low poly model into a 2D map, similar to a pattern for sewing. Think of it as taking the skin off a 3D model and laying it flat to be painted.
The main goal during this stage is to create a UV map with a minimal number of seams. Then make sure that the textures don’t stretch, the islands do not overlap, the repeating elements lie on each other, and the pixel density meets the project's requirements. Once the 3D model is unwrapped, textures apply without distortion.
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