The rise of the “indie” (independent) game industry has caused (or been caused by) a shift in 3D modelling. The most relevant change in 3D modelling is the software used to create it. Free programs, such as Blender, Sketch Up and the free version of Unity, have allowed independent or small companies to create 3D models and video games for free, thus gaining a foothold in the industry (JPR, 2012).
Typical 3D Modelling Pipeline for Games
Concept drawings are used extensively in order to flesh out the game concepts, aesthetic and feel (Ciszek, 2012).
Early concept work for Sunset Overdrive. Sourced from: http://conceptartworld.com/?p=34097
From these concepts drawings the core shapes, structures and visuals are broken down in order to begin the process of prototyping and developing the assets (Epic Games, 2012).
Refined character concept art for Sunset Overdrive. Sourced from: http://conceptartworld.com/?p=34097
Using the concept art, the modeller creates a 3D model of the character or asset. Programs such as 3DsMax and Maya may typically be used for this. First, a medium to high poly mesh is created and then transferred to another program for sculpting (Epic Games, 2012). Ciszek (2012) notes that “in the game industry, most models are created as surface models”, as opposed to solid models, as both the modellers and game engines can handle them better.
From the concept drawing (left), a 3D model is created for Assassin’s Creed Unity. Sourced from: http://www.pierrebertin.com/search/label/AC3
Sculpting allows extra detail to be added to the model; this is typically done with additional software such as Mudbox or Z-brush (Ciszek, 2012). In this step the artist is able to bring the concept drawing to life by adding fine detail and refining aspects such as clothing and facial features.
The model is refined through sculpting. Sourced from: http://www.pierrebertin.com/search/label/AC3
High to Low Poly
As video games are rendered in real-time, the poly count of the final asset must be low (or lower than the sculpted version) in order for the game engine to handle it (Epic Games, 2012). Converting the mesh from high poly to low poly can be done in a variety of programs such as Z-brush and Maya.
Low and high poly versions of the same model shown side-by-side. Sourced from: http://audreee.deviantart.com/art/Naga-high-and-low-poly-282339160
UV-Mapping and Texturing
Through the process of unwrapping a complete set of UVs are created, ready for texturing (Bourdon, 2013). Texturing may be done in Photoshop and/or used with secondary software such as Quixel. After the texture maps are finished, they are baked into the low poly model; a game character will typically use diffuse, normal, ambient occlusion and specular maps (Ward, 2013).
Before and after texturing. Sourced from: http://cgi.tutsplus.com/articles/game-character-creation-series-kila-chapter-4-texture-baking-building–cg-28262
The process by which the character or asset is set-up for animation (Bourdon, 2013). Consideration for what movements the character will make must be taken into account.
A game character is rigged using Maya. Sourced from: http://cgi.tutsplus.com/articles/game-character-creation-series-kila-chapter-6-basic-character-rigging–cg-31083
By manipulating the game character through their rig, the animator is able breath life and movement into the character (Bourdon, 2013). Just as in feature films, good animations should be more than just the required actions.
GLaDOS, a robot from the Portal games, gains a human-like quality and emotion through animation. Sourced from: http://es.terraria.wikia.com/wiki/Archivo:GlaDos.gif
Boudon, G. (2013). Understanding a 3D Production Pipeline – Learning the Basics. Retrieved from
Ciszek, P. (2012). 3D Production Pipeline in Game Development. Retrieved from
Epic Games, Inc. (2012). Epic Games Design Workflow. Retrieved from
John Peddie Research (JPR). (2012). The Democratisation of 3D. Retrieved from
Ward, A. (2013). Game Character Creation Series. Retrieved from