Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Codemasters Professional Brief - Vehicle/ Material Project

The second professional practice brief of the year was a vehicle/ material focused brief set by Codemasters. I had been anticipating this project from the beginning of the year, as you're probably aware, vehicles are kind of my thing!

As mentioned the task was focused on two elements, the first was to create a vehicle within a scene, the second was to use the real time shaders provided especially by Codemasters. Emphasis was on the second aim in order to demonstrate the material properties displayed on the vehicle using the shaders provided as well as this we also had to focus on the final presentation of our vehicle scene considering the lighting set-up as the final renders had to be in real time. An example scene was provided by Codemasters which was to aid us during the process, having never used specific shaders before the example scene meant I had the opportunity to pull it apart and explore it in order to see how best to use the shadrers so that we could spend more time focusing on the art.

In consideration to my last project, the Rooftop Project, where I had lost quite a bit of time for various reasons including spending too much time at the beginning of the project concepting ideas, for this project I wanted to get straight into it. I had two options, to design a new vehicle or to choose an existing vehicle. Obviously I chose the latter, one, for the reasons mentioned above and secondly I felt that my familiarity with vehicles in general, especially my chosen vehicle a motorcycle, would give me an advantage in delivering certain key features including the variety of material properties within the vehicle. The vehicle I chose was a Ducati Desmosedici RR, a rare and exotic motorbike in its own right, see photo below;

Before modelling I went straight to to purchase and download blueprints for the bike but these were lacking a lot of the smaller details which are more visible on a motorbike in comparison to a car such as cables, levers and more engine components so I also downloaded examples of orthographic images of the bike, I used both of these reference images within the viewport when modelling and found it helped to move between one or the other depending on the amount of detail I wanted to capture in that particular area of the model. For the front reference of the bike I even merged the orthographic image and blueprint in Photoshop.

I began by setting up my reference images inside the 3D Studio Max scene, which was more difficult than I had first hoped. It was important that all of the projected drawings matched each other in the various viewports of 3DS Max so that I didn't run into any difficulties during the modelling stage, particularly with this being a motorbike, the details are more confined and even the flow lines of the body work are much tighter than you would usually find with a car so it was important that this wasn't affected by poor planning and set-up.

Once set-up I quickly began modelling and experimenting with various methods, such as starting the model in different viewports. I also began to box model the vehicle but it became quickly apparent that this was not going to be the best way of modelling the vehicle. Again, because of the tight and varying flow-lines within the body work, it was vital that the topology of my vehicle was as good as possible to mimic this within my model.

I quickly abandoned this method and began to planar model the vehicle, it gives you much more flexibility when it comes to smaller more organic shape modelling like this and probably why its more commonly used with character modelling too.I was also going to have to worry more about my tri-limit budget later on, right now is was about getting the core elements and shapes of the vehicle in place as well as clean topology. I could then look into refining the geometry towards completion.

As you can see from the screen shot above, the planar modelling method was extremely effective in achieving the smooth transitions within the geometry. As explained, I was also having to be quite generous with my tri's to begin with to ensure that all of the elements to the vehicle, the mentioned smooth changing directional bodywork, swooping front and side vents for example were as accurate as possible.

The next stage for me was to begin modelling some of the larger elements of the bike to begin getting an idea of the overall look of the model as well as the scale and position of these different elements such as the wheels, the brakes and forks etc.

All of these elements were done in the first few days and I was extremely happy with how quickly the project was moving along. I was really enjoying modelling the bike, as I had the chance to work on something I have a passion for away from uni anyway and as initially thought, this seemed to be paying off.
The next stage for me was to begin modelling the petrol tank and seat unit as well as begin modelling other smaller parts such as the handle bars, frame work, swing arm and chain etc. For some unknown reason I began to attempt to box model the petrol tank again. I clearly hadn't learnt from my mistakes! Again, it became quickly apparent that the tank would be best planar modelled. I actually found the tank very hard to model as it has various small changes of shape and direction in a very confined space with made it hard to model with limited tri's. I also began to apply simple colours to my standard materials just to give me an idea of how the vehicle would look as a final composition, which helped a great deal.

 Another smaller part of the vehicle still having to be modelled was the mirrors. I decided to do this in a separate Max file which I then imported into the vehicle file. I found modelling the mirror extremely difficult, for some reason I just could not get the shape right at first despite numerous attempts, and found it almost impossible to model the mirror to match both the front and side reference images. Again this was something I had to compensate for in using my judgement in order to make it look right. Again, I also had difficulty maintaining a low tri count for the mirror given its small size and it complex shape.

Time in week two was running out as I began to model the final smaller details of the bike. Despite starting so quickly, getting all of the detail I intended into the vehicle was taking longer than I first thought. Every time I looked at my reference photographs and then back to my model there seemed to be a different part I had missed each time which was becoming quite frustrating. Considering I had already well hit my tri-limit there just seemed to be more and more parts needing to be modelled.

At this point, because I was well over my tri-limit by a few thousand tri's I felt it was necessary to split my vehicle so that I had two. With one I could continue to model all of the smaller details without having to worry about the tri-limit which would be my high-poly model and the other I could begin to re-fine and re-topologize the geometry and begin to bring the tri count back down towards the budget.

Week two had almost come to an end and although I hadn't finished my vehicle as planned I had began to explore the example scene provided and explore how it had been set up. It seemed as though I could follow a very similar set-up for my own vehicle despite it being nothing alike. I planned on placing my vehicle within a pit-lane garage with an obstructed view of the pit-lane and pit-lane wall outside. I began by modelling a very simple layout, similar to the example scene and placing my vehicle inside to get a feel for how it would sit within the environment. I also used the same method for creating my sky as in the example scene by squashing half of a sphere and creating a high resolution panoramic image from photographs of a day-time landscape that could be applied to the sphere/ dome.

I was also able to pull apart the textures from the example scene as well as experimenting with the shaders in a new Max file to give myself an idea of how they would function seen as I would be texturing my vehicle in week three now. I explored how the diffuse textures had been done with the specular in the alpha channel which would tell the shader how to use the reflection map on the model. Once I had explored how this effected the reflection map within Max it actually became quite straightforward.

I was now halfway through the project and I had gradually fallen behind again, but hopefully this time I hadn't bitten off more than could chew and I was still confident that, especially now I was familiar with the shaders and the processes involved with using them I would still be able to finish the project to a high standard.

Now that both of my high and low-poly vehicles were modelled I could unwrap my low poly. Unwrapping was the usual story, the same old stuff that takes 10 times longer than you had originally hoped! The main thing again with the unwrap was to make sure I utilised all of the texture space and considered which parts of the vehicle would demand the most detail in the texture. Below is the final UV's;

After unwrapping the vehicle I was able to then bake the high-poly model onto the low poly, because I had only included more defined high detail elements such as the petrol cap, seat unit vents and nuts and bolts I also planned on putting some smaller details into the normal map using Photoshop and nDo2 such as the tyre tread and speckled paint effect on the frame work and brake calipers. Below is an example of the models before and after baking. From left to right is the high-poly model (31,754 tris), centre is the low-poly model (10,812 tris) and then the low poly model with the normals. 

The final task for the week was to complete the diffuse texture and specularity map in the alpha channel of the diffuse, they are shown below;

Throughout the texturing process I continually exchanged between Photoshop and 3D Studio Max, now running in Direct3D to inspect how the textures rendered on the model with the shaders. As mentioned in the brief, due to the particular format of the shaders so I had to duplicate the texture in a multi-sub material in order to achieve the desired material effects for my vehicle. Although the reflectiveness should be dictated in the alpha channel of the diffuse I also wanted more control using the parameters within the shaders themselves, so for example I could have the body work of the bike really shiny and reflective but the rubber of the tyres quite dull, as in the example scene I also wanted a diffuse texture with an alpha for the screen of the motorbike so this also had to be done in a separate material.

I able to achieve the range of material properties I wanted by using 6 multi-sub materials as shown to the right.

Below is an example of my vehicle in the viewport with the materials applied;

Now that my vehicle was completely finished I had to complete my environment and place the vehicle within it. Again, after exploring how the example scene was set up I followed the same method by texturing my environment using a variety of simple textures on a multi-sub material using the DirectX Xoliulshader_1.6 shader.

For some reason I encountered lots of problems with the viewport now that I was in the new environment file. Problems such as;
  • The viewport being too dark
  • Materials no showing correctly
  • Textures showing at a very poor resolution
This took some time to correct, simply by changing various setting within the viewport configuration as well as comparing how I had set my own scene up with the example scene. I think most of the problem was that the scene had to be displayed only using the default lights, but because there had to be textures applied with light maps the scene was showing too dark. I also managed to combat the problem further before applying the textures by setting the viewport configuration, and under the 'lighting and shadows' tab change the illuminate scene to use 2 default lights which helped massively.

One other thing that helped improve the look of the environment within the viewport itself was to change to field of view of the viewport to around 90.0, again taken from the example scene, which improved the aesthetics of the scene when exploring the viewport.

Once the environment was unwrapped an textured I needed to work out how to bake a light map, this again involved a lot of trial and error baking a variety of different textures to see which yielded the best results. In order to save the baked texture and apply it I had to unwrap the whole environment again within a separate channel. This was easy to do quickly and a good enough result could be achieved by simply using the flatten mapping tool. Once this was done it was simply a case of using the render to texture tool to render the shadow map using id channel 2. The shadow map render is shown right;

After completing the environment with lightmap applied, the next step was to complete the cube map. Again this was a new problem presented by the project, but again, using the example scene and brief provided everything seemed quite straightforward. I completed my cubemap by importing the camera rig from the example scene into my own, I then increased the field of view until I was happy I'd gotten enough of my environment in the screen grab. Using these screen grabs I then composed my cubemap in Photoshop. My final cubemap is shown below; 

Once I had completed my final renders and post processed them in Photoshop the next step was to create a video. Fortunately I have some experience using Windows Movies Maxker to complete a decent professional looking video. I did encounter numerous problems which had to be resolved.

To render a video from the viewport, once I had set a camera up with key-frames, Max has an extremely useful feature under tools – Views – grap viewport and create animated sequence file. Unfortunately this only rendered out at 4:3, to change my renders to 16:9 I used Adobe after affects. With all of my video together in Windows Movie maker I also composed some music with sound effects using the program Audacity to compliment the final video. 

I am extremely happy with the outcome of this project and especially the final product inc the renders and video. I feel that I was able to understand the example scene very well and solve lots of new problems presented by this unique project. As per usual there are some aspects of the project that could be improved with time, I feel that the diffuse texture could benefit well from more surface properties to really sell the look of the individual materials of the vehicle. The environment also could of benefited from a more varied lighting set-up between the outside and the garage.

My main issue with the outcome of this project that has had some effect on my work flow at the end has been the fact that I shared my work with others a few days before the deadline. This resulted in endless requests for help and information on a variety of issues including the lightmap baking, creating the cubemap and creating the video from the viewport. I really don’t mind helping others, but when I've spent a lot of my time learning these things for myself and solving these problems, it seems a bit unfair for other people to just request this knowledge without having looked into anything themselves. I honestly believe that some of my peers would not have completed certain aspects of the project if I hadn't of shared my knowledge of these things with them.

Ducati Desmosedici RR (click to view in 3D)

Ducati Desmosedici RR

Friday, 15 November 2013

Year Three - well and truly underway

I'd be better starting this blog with some swearing, but im just going to go with blimey. Blimey! time is moving on quickly and im already well into my third year and the second project of the semester. The thought of keeping up to date with my blogs keeps creeping into the back of my mind and somehow it seems to escape me each time.

Suffice to say im already struggling with my time management. The last few weeks have been quite hectic to say the least and there's been some positives and negatives to come from this.

The main positive to come during the past weeks has been that Pudding Lane Productions, (the group I was a member of during the group projects last year), won the Crytek and British Library Off The Map competition which was announced at Game City in Nottingham at the end of October. The team were invited to a QandA at the Crytek studios in Nottingham before the event which was great. The team got some excellent feedback on the level and I was able to ask some more personal questions in regards to my employability concerning my more complex situation at home. The team then attended an event in the evening where we were announced the winners of the competition!

The response the team have had since winning the competition has just been insane, something we really weren't expecting when we first set out on the project in February. The story has been featured on almost every reputable news and gaming website, we've had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from both the mainstream media and the general public and over the last few weeks our Youtube video of the fly-through of our finished level has almost reached 400k views which is just staggering. The whole thing has been quite overwhelming in all honesty and, at first, I don't think some of the team members quite grasped how big winning the competition had become as the team and our work are now being showcased all over the world. The team have now had numerous offers from a variety of different sources in regards to using  the work we have done further and even developing it but at the moment, with all of the third year projects everything else is unfortunately on hold. Some responses I think I'm personally most proud of though is reading comments from people telling us that they are primary school teachers who are using our video in their classes to teach history and I think that, that is just awesome and exactly the kind of thing we wanted to demonstrate how video game technology can be used in so many different areas.

Unfortunately, the Off The Map event took most of the days out of my week for various different reasons and this had a major knock on effect to my first project of the year which was the Rooftop project. I'm really upset about this because I feel I had a really strong idea to go with. Admittedly I was too ambitious with what I wanted to achieve and may not have come to an adequate finish even with the extra days I lost but I'm confident that I could of added some finishing touches and polished what I had if i hadn't of lost those days.

My Rooftop project idea was to build a hub for a near futuristic world where hover cars are the norm, taking inspiration from The Fifth Element in particular and also Blade Runner, so the rooftop would effectively become a street scene/ landing strip for hover vehicles to land and park. Again, I was too ambitious with the scale I chose to build the level, and, if I where to do it again I would certainly build at a much smaller scale and aim to include more detail, which of course would be more achievable. So, at the moment my Rooftop is not at a place where I would be at all happy to include in my portfolio, basically, its unfinished, but there is still potential to pull it back I feel. I need to add lots of detail such as doors and windows to my buildings as well as a lot of surface detail/ decals such as cracks/ road markings/ erosion etc that would really sell the material properties within my level and inject a lot more life into it. Below are just some final screen grabs to give you an example of the stage i did reach before the hand in;

As you can see from the screen shots above, some of the fundamental elements of the level have been nailed including the warm colour palette I was aiming for in contrast to typical sci-fi/ futuristic environments, most of the base, tile-able textures are in and sit on the mesh nicely, the level itself is interesting in its layout and great to explore including the upper and lower levels and some smaller details have begun to populate the level including the glowing cats-eyes on the landing strips, working traffic lights and crossing signals and other smaller props including traffic cones, railings, lamp posts, phone boxes, information boards as well as area specific props inside the garage and fuel station and a chrome material and glow tubes on the diner for example.

Despite feeling quite negative about its current state, the level clearly still has potential and provides a strong base to build upon to finish it. I would like to go back to it, sooner rather than later, and inject that final detail that the level is crying out for in order to make it more presentable but I'm struggling at the moment to find when that will be. I was hoping to come back to this at Christmas but the third year seems to be relentless with its work load, there are still two more projects to hand in before Christmas, one of which i will have time to work on during the Christmas break as well as beginning to finalise ideas for my FMP and begin developing the brief and getting work underway. Currently I'm working every available second I have and it still doesn't seem to be enough time to get the work done so I'm not sure if this will happen.

I'm currently working on the second professional practice brief which is a vehicle and material project set by Codemasters, one of the companies I've talked about and shown a clear interest in working for, so I really want to finish this project to a high standard. I will post some updates on that project very soon. 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Summer's Over, and My Third and Final Year Begins!

Glad to be back for one last run, the final hurdle, the last hurrah, the final sprint and so on and so forth. But before I kick it into gear for my third and final year, (which rhymes), I'd like to briefly discuss my thoughts at the end of year two and my summer holiday which included the release of my second year results.

The sense of relief when I walked into the office to hand in my documentation for the group project, a document which totalled 80 pages mind, was, somewhat inappropriately, better than that of a sexual nature, as they say. The whole of the second year, in particularly the final group project had left me unbelievably drained, I can honestly say that I'd given it my all, and considering I'd just driven 2 hours from Warrington to hand my design document in for 10am after a Whitesnake concert the night before, I was certainly ready for the summer break!

I'm fairly sure I took some time to relax over the summer, but I cant seem to remember as I was also very busy. Very busy enjoying myself though so I suppose its swings and roundabouts. I did start the summer with some work though, call me crazy, but it seems I cant get enough of it! During the year I'd had a message from some friends of the family who had been admiring my work on Facebook, I'd been best of friends with their son throughout school and sadly his dad had developed cancer and was not very well. They had asked for a piece of work from my second year but as a surprise I wanted to do an original drawing for them, something purposeful and meaningful as a gift so I began to scour their facebook pages for a photograph. I came across an image of Steve (my friends dad) with one of his sons who just so happens to be a helicopter pilot in the RAF, even flown with Prince William, of the both of them in a helicopter with all of the gear on! I had second thoughts about choosing this piece initially as it was an extremely technical drawing and I wouldn't of been able to finish it to the standard I achieved without full dedication.

It seemed mad beginning such a task only one day into the summer break, but I hadn't done a pencil drawing for what seemed like an eternity and perhaps it was a chance for me to warm down after such hard work. I completed the drawing, which was A4 size, in roughly 40 hours and I am extremely proud of it. I bordered it and framed it for Steve and his wife and was able to take it to them during my first week home with the parents. I can only hope they were happy with it, which I have a slight hunch they were, and that they are able to cherish it. I am also proud to have the drawing displayed on my online portfolio currently which is simply entitled Steve. Steve sadly passed away towards the end of the summer which was extremely sad, he was a much loved person and will be sorely missed by all of those around him, his wonderful family and his many friends.  

As mentioned the bulk of the summer break was filled with plenty of activities, Sophia turned 22 in July and we spent the weekend in London, having the opportunity to visit the new skyscraper The Shard which was an incredible experience, and the Harry Potter studios the following day which was extremely enjoyable. If you enjoy the Harry Potter films then I'd certainly recommend going, the sets and props contained within the studios were just breath taking and whether I end up with a career within the games industry or the films industry, Harry Potter is certainly one of those phenomenal once in a life time productions that any artist would dream to be a part of.

Download festival shortly followed which was once again a unbelievable weekend. Rammstein were the highlight of the weekend, despite admittedly not being a huge fan their set was breathtaking. Unbelievable pyrotechnics, guitars with flame throwers on the end and fireworks which fired across the audience.

Did I mention that at this point 2nd year results had been posted on MyDMU?, and despite not really being able to make head nor tale of the numbers I was being presented with, they were at least higher than last year, which seems reasonable to assume that I'd done well.

Mid way through the summer me and Sophia attended the Manchester comic-con which was a great day. As per usual lots of money was spent, (I managed to obtain some great horror comic series!) and we even had the opportunity to meet the actor Warwick Davis who signed our copy of Life's Too Short in which he stars (which I highly recommend watching as it is incredibly funny!).  
I spent most of my free weekends fishing as a way of trying to relax. After months of sitting in front of a computer screen for 15 hours a day it felt good to be outdoors, especially considering the good weather we were graced with. Yet, fishing can have a funny way of being ever so slightly stressful, especially when you're getting into all kinds of impossible knots!

At the beginning of August me and Sophia spent another night in London to attend the Iron Maiden concert at the O2 arena! The 20,000 seater arena sold out in 12 minutes and I know why. They were awesome!

The end of the summer seemed to be fast approaching. Time flies when you're having fun! And I hadn't really done much more work. I'd attempted a few digi paints here and there just to keep my hand in and I decided to begin working on a 3D model. I had the thought that if I at least begin something and spend a few hours a week on it, then I'd at least be familiarising myself with the pipeline ready to get back into the full swing of things. I decided to try and model an old motorcycle which my dad had owned when he was 19, a Honda 400 four. It's an extremely interesting subject, particularly for myself but very technical, and I'd go as far as to say its one of the hardest things I've ever tried to model. I've only gotten so far with it but I hope to try and finish it in my spare time during the year;

In September we attended the MotoGP at Silverstone for the whole weekend which was awesome. I've only ever been for the race day in previous years but to be able to enjoy 200bhp motorcycle's for a whole weekend with the likes of Cal Cruthlow and Valentino Rossi was a fantastic weekend.

And so came final preparations for my final return to DMU. I told you I'd been busy during the summer!, and that was being brief! In my next post I'll talk about how it feels to have reached my final year, my aims for the year and how my aspirations for the future continue to develop and change in light of my current situation.

To be continued.......  

Monday, 27 May 2013

Visual Design - A Little Catch Up!

Despite the group project work, I have actually been doing some independent visual design work. Without saying too much, here are some examples of the visual design work I have done during the second semester this year with a small description of what the work was for.

Leicester City Centre studies;
I decided to try and create something interesting from a fairly dull subject and I was extremely pleased with the result. I still don't like digital painting as I feel that there is something fundamentally missing compared to a traditional piece of work but I am becoming more confident with the medium and the processes involved. 

Mortal Engines, final character self portrait in an environment;
I actually took inspiration from this piece from the new Tomb Raider game's art book where the character was posed in a similar manner, the piece also had a lot of contrast to it. This piece is representative of the part of the story when Chrysler Peavy's pirate town of Tunbridge Wheels is attacked on its approach to Black Island and sinks.
Book Character Final;
This project involved choosing a favourite book character and creating a concept. I chose to draw 'The Man in Black' from the Stephen King novels The Dark Tower. More than anything, this project was a wonderful opportunity to produce a nice traditional piece that I'd not had the opportunity to do for a good while.
Masters Study Final, James Gurney;
 This year, our masters study project was to create a piece in the style of a master instead of just re-creating a piece. I struggled to find something that I liked but would also provide me with a challenge. I really wanted to avoid digital painting but with my skills improving I thought it best to stick at it. I decide to do a piece in the style of Jame's Gurney's Dinotopia, but, where as most of his pieces seem to be set in old, historical fantasy cityscapes I decided to take the opposite approach and, still using reference from some of his work, do my piece set in a modern sci-fi world. I received a very positive response for the piece! 

Self set, Moonshiners Project, 'Moonshiners Running';
Our year was given the opportunity to set ourselves a weekly project. A few ideas were put on the table and debated as to what would provide us all with the most scope for creativity. The subject chosen was '1920's Moonshiners'. At first I wasn't to interested in the subject, I had preferred others. The project was meant to give us all the opportunity to work on individual areas we were interested in whether that be characters, environments, vehicles etc. I really didn't know what to do, but after a little hunting for reference a great idea popped into my head! I aimed to complete a concept piece with all three elements, character, environment and vehicle. Will i never make things easy for myself? Well, I enjoy a challenge and I aimed to create a car chase concept with a hillbilly drinking moonshine. I also made my final piece into a kind of old, racing type sign. I'm not entirely sure how well I pulled off the whole piece though?

Interior Project;
The final visual design work I would like to share with you for the time being is the interior project. Initially meant to be a bar interior concept project, I noticed a few students who were trying different things. I also wasn't very interested in the bar idea and decided again to try something in the area I would like to be part of possibly, car design. I aimed to produce a number of simple, but stylistic perspective interior car concepts, to be extravagant with style, design and colour. I think in the future I would like to work further on the process and begin to eventually even work some surface properties into the concepts. And yes, both concepts are left hand drive! I've had some stick for that, although the pieces can easily be flipped, from my research most concept cars seem to be left hand drive. I have no idea why that is though.

Thanks for looking! Joe.

Life Changing or Career Building? - If we evolved from apes, then why are there still apes?

There are some things you just cant teach.

Okay, so maybe there are things that can't be taught, but this doesn't mean that those same things cant be learnt. Odd isn't it?

This blog is the perfect opportunity for me to follow on from my previous post regarding creativity and education and to hopefully discover more in regards to my own perceptions surrounding good education.

I've read many arguments for which is better to teach, technical skills or 'soft' skills. In a nut shell, technical skills are more advanced, job specific skills such as maths, science and languages etc. Hmmm, what the hell are 'soft' skills. I suppose I would define soft skills as having the ability to take a more thoughtful approach to things, perhaps even new and innovative approaches. As from my last blog post, technical skills teach you that one answer is correct, the rest are wrong, soft skills give one the ability to explore multiple answers and question them.

I agree with a select few arguments, that these skills go hand in hand and compliment each other, I personally would desire a balance of each set of skills, and preferably be strongly skilled in both areas. Other opinions clearly favour soft skills though, apparently because today, technical skills quickly become outdated, especially with the advancement of technology. I don’t think I agree with this. Of course we now live in a world were technology progresses more and more rapidly all of the time, but how much do the fundamental components of technology really change? Do you know it has taken thousands of millions of years for life to form on planet Earth? And do you know that over all this time, we still share almost 99% of DNA with our brothers the primates?

Is technology any different? Really? You know, the controls I learnt to use to watch a VHS tape on my old CRT TV when I was 6 years old really isn't much different to the controls I use to control my blu-ray player on my brand new HD, 3D, smart TV. My point is that I really don’t agree that things change that drastically in one life time or a thousand years. Things improve, which is just wonderful, but the fundamental technical skills are so vital in order to continue to develop new skills all of the time, without the base technical skills at your core, the ability to learn and pick up new skills, whether it be a new piece of software or anything else would be very, very hard. I don’t buy it for a second that just because Autodesk release a new version of 3d Studio Max, or Unreal or Crytek release new versions of their game engines, or even if a company release a whole new piece of software that I've never seen before, that the skills I've learnt from the use of the older programs all of a sudden become redundant and wasted. Mine and my wife’s brand new Ford Focus, and when I say brand new, I mean brand new! Is so much more advanced and improved than the 13 year old Fiat Punto we had. But you know what I did when I got in the new car? Started it up and drove off in it, no problem at all, didn't have to think about anything. Okay I had to learn how to use the new controls on the steering wheel, even get use to the more advanced response from the accelerator and brakes, the traction control and the ESP (Electronic Stability Program). Okay, I'm getting geeky about cars again, but again, my point is that the technical skills I have been taught first hand in my life are incredibly vital in order to make my new experiences in life easier to handle.

Soft skills are still a bit of a hard one to explain. I might say that soft skills benefit your technical skills more than the other way around. Soft skills are more human, more natural, they help us to take approaches that perhaps aren't always the most logical, but are still necessary. Soft skills are perhaps not as easy to find or access compared to technical skills. If I want to learn new technical skills, I simply find the ones I'm looking for and devote some of my time to learning them, that isn't to say that some people can learn them quicker or easier than others and that then may come down to that persons level of soft skills. I think then that soft skills are offered randomly, and perhaps that is why some people are more attuned to them. Perhaps these people have had more opportunities to learn soft skills than others.

I'm not really sure if there will ever be away to teach soft skills, and I think that a persons ability to learn them depends on many factors such as age, personality, their beliefs, and even their technical skills etc. I think education needn't change so drastically, as although the future is so close and rapidly approaching, it is at the same time far away. I have always worried that when I'm as old as my grandparents that I will be as afraid of new technology as they are now, although, give them their due (maybe with a little thanks to me), they're not so bad. But they were never brought up surrounded by new developing technology like I have, so I struggle to see how I would be, I hope to be amazed by what the future holds, but I'm confident that thanks to my ever developing technical and soft skills, I will be able to handle what ever the future holds. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Creativity, Talent and Skill – If you don’t know, have a go!

I could swear I'd done a blog about creativity before?! I really didn't think my mind was that frazzled, but, if you're not already aware, that is what the Game Art and Design course can do to you. Unless! I have already done a blog on creativity, and in that case then, Mike, you need to get more 'creative' with your blog tasks.

To create something is to bring something into existence, so, somebody who is 'creative' basically has the ability to bring things into existence?

The problem is, most of the time this question gets debated it becomes tedious and boring, so lets just go straight into a Youtube video shall we. I know my head lecturer wont mind me posting this, so please watch it and enjoy it, and learn something. If you enjoy it, AND learn something, then please just feel free to ignore what else I have to say.

The talk by Sir Ken Robinson above is an extremely important and enlightening one. Because he has the ability to make people laugh, his message is more received than others and this is the important thing. If you agree with most, or all of what he says then, like myself, you're probably from planet Earth and have therefore been educated here.

I think the most important thing that Sir Ken mentions in the video is Education. For me personally, education is one of, if not the greatest assets to mankind, it is an extremely powerful tool, and when used correctly it can give very powerful results, but if used wrong it can cause major issues.

So far, I have been blessed with a wonderful education all through my life, not just at school, but from family, friends and even strangers. But as Sir Ken points out, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with some approaches, even to good education. For me personally, it has taken a self directed journey in order to discover this, and maybe that’s the only way to, and maybe it sometimes takes others longer to discover it than other, or maybe sometimes people never discover and here’s where the problem lies.

Are you afraid to be wrong? If you are, why? I suppose from a young age you quickly learn that if you do something wrong it can cause problems, but why are we not taught that if you do something wrong, you might learn how to do it right, or learn something new, or create something new? Getting something right gives you one result, getting something wrong gives you infinite possibilities!

Did you know, that apparently it took Thomas Edison 1000's of tries before he invented the light-bulb? Would he of invented it if he was afraid to get it wrong? And the point that Sir Ken makes in his lectures is, “If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything original”. Creativity and originality work hand in hand, and if somebody or something is creative then it means that it is an original idea that has value. Creativity spawns from unpredictability and the capacity to innovate. This brings me onto a little argument I had recently. Somebody had already told me that this person has this opinion, but I was taken aback a little when he said it to me. He told me that 'art is easy, anyone can do it'. Naturally, I quickly disagreed, and to prove my following point I quickly logged into my online portfolio to show him a specific piece of my work. Last year I spent many hours doing a pencil drawing of a car, a Bentley Continental GT if you're at all interested, and its shown below;

What I told him was that before I joined the Game Art and Design course I could never draw cars like this. I'd tried and failed many, many times, and he replied, 'but you must of always been able to draw well'. Well, no. We hear the phrase, 'naturally talented' thrown around a lot, and to some degree I agree with it and understand it, the human form is a very complex one, and yes, some people may have the abilities, naturally, to do certain things better than others, but my argument was that if that was the case, then it wouldn't last for long. You can only rely on natural ability for so long before you hit a brick wall, true ability, talent, skill, comes from dedication and hard work. Valentino Rossi makes racing a 240bhp motorcycle look very easy, but he had his arse on a motorbike before I could even walk! Ronnie O'Sullivan makes getting a top score of 147 when he plays Snooker look very easy, and his first 147 score was when he was 7! What do these two extraordinarily talented individuals have in common, natural ability?Then why is one good at one thing but cant do the other? Why cant some people draw cars like the one I drew, why couldn't I always draw cars like that? If art is so easy! Its because Valentino Rossi, Ronnie O'Sullivan, and myself believe it or not, have practise, and practised, and practised very hard to become as skilled as we are in the things that we do. I drew that car wrong 100's of times before I drew that one, but nobody seen me get it wrong! Ronnie O'Sullivan missed thousands upon thousands of shots before he became as good as he did and Valentino Rossi crashed at speeds of up to 200mph before he could race a MotoGP like he does today, like its part of him!

So it all comes back to my most important point. Creativity, talent and skill all thrive on one important core entity, and if the core becomes rotten, then creativity, talent and skill can become broken, misused or misunderstood. Education. The ability to be open to education is the most important thing, not for me or you, but for everybody, for life on this planet, and all to often we can close ourselves off from it all to easily without ever knowing we have. 

Generalist or Specialist?

Jack of all trades, master of none?

Its a question on many of the students minds right now, especially after this year. After a number of guest lectures from industry professionals and the group projects, lots of ideas and advice are being constantly thrown about on the specific roles available, specifically within the games industry.

Now is a better time than ever to start thinking about life’s next direction though, believe it or not the future is just around the corner every day, it keeps coming like a relentless, heartless, impatient bitch. Regardless of this, a few years ago I found out the hard way, that no matter how hard you work and plan for the future, sometimes it can throw something completely different at you and you find yourself all of a sudden picking your plans up out of the trash. It might not always deliver negative results though, and as most people will tell you who have experienced this, often, when one door closes another opens, and probably the best advice I could give you now is to pick up as many of the pieces as you can, take them with you through the new door, and although things might not turn out exactly as you had hoped, you might be pleasantly surprised. One of my favourite sayings is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I'm no stranger to making the best of what life throws at you, and at the end of the day, what other option is there?

Despite this positivity I wont lie that I have many worries about what my future holds, despite feeling confident with my artistic abilities and the fact that I would be a great asset to any team, I have no doubts that aiming for, and sticking at a full time job along side my caring role at home would be a struggle. But I also have no delusions that I’m not the only person who has to deal with personal struggles, and the most important thing is never to stop trying to overcome them. Last year, a guest lecture from Mitch Small of Codemasters, really gave me a moral boost, because of one thing he said. Basically, he told us that as much as thinking about our immediate futures in the games industry, we needed to stop worrying that if we miss an opportunity now another wont come along eventually, and he assured us that life will always continue to throw new opportunities at you, I think the most important thing is that I need to be patient, what ever happens, happens. Que Sera.

At certain times this year has been hard for me. A few weeks ago a few members of the Lockwood art studios gave a guest lecture and were also offering placements and freelance work, and I felt upset as my fellow students went and collected contact information and discussing what they were going to apply for as I sat back and thought deeply about if I could really give it my all, and this led me onto asking the same questions about my future careers. Right now, I'd have to say the answer is no, but can anybody? Just because I couldn't give a job my all, doesn't mean to say I couldn't give it a lot! So again, I'll just be patient and see what the future brings.

Right now, my immediate plans are to finsih my third year of uni and hopefully come away with a decent qualification. In a way, there a little less pressure compared to some of the students who have no choice but to find a job at the end of this. I would really like to take a year out at the end of next year and really take some time to regenerate and relax, I honestly havn't stopped for four years now, and I really need to give my mind and body time to recover.

In terms of what I would like out of a career, well, unlike some I'm not setting myself incredibly high goals. I've heard many people suggest that becoming a 'T-shaped' person in terms of your abilities is the best way to go. This basically means that a person should be an expert in a specific area, but also have a more simpler, broader range of skills in many others so that any new tasks a company may need completing could easily be picked up by that person. In a way the Game Art and Design course gives us the best opportunity to do this, to me, the most important thing I've learnt from the course is that with the quick turn around of new technology and new software, the ability to pick things up quickly and use them well is crucial.

What I've really wanted to do since meeting Mitch Small is work for Codemasters in their race game devision. As mentioned, I'm confident in my artistic skills but I have no real wishes to become a concept artist, funnily enough, what I'd really like to do, despite what can be mind numbingly repetetive at times, is a general 3D artist, and with my huge passion for motorsport in general I think doing something game related and motorsport related I could really make a massive contribution as I am so passionate about both. Knowing that this is something I'd like to do also gives me an advantage, as I can now research and work more specifically towards this role without forgetting about learning new things, and maybe become a 'T-Shaped' person?