Hmm, upgrades – Hani revision in depth

Beyond the Tree has come a long way since its first fledgling steps: now past 50 pages it’s all but gone through half a year of updates, and still only with a fraction of the first story arc of two which are roughly planned. My experience with 3D graphics haven’t sat idle during the time – excluding nitpicky details, model conversions generally get better with every new one I convert as I become more used to the process, more aware of the pitfalls and learn more tricks to make the result both better and easier to achieve.

With #50 numbering the last time we’re at an inn for a few weeks, I decided it was high time for me to make another attempt at upgrading the model of Hani Foonmall with a few varied improvements. After playing Thief: Deadly Shadows (also known as Thief 3) I found myself suddenly endeared to the trousers of Garrett – the main character in it. For some reason, the look where the trousers were wide and the boots were thin seemed more apt and professional than the thin trousers and wide boots that Hani used to have.

So, I came to the conclusion that beyond just upgrading her present model, I was going to re-convert the whole thing from ground up and see if I could reinvent her look just slightly to better match how I felt she should look.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that for Hani, every peice of apparel she wears is something she loves both because of its look, its function and its comfort – it’s well-worn and battered, but she wouldn’t trade any of it away until she absolutely has to. The armour is plain but functional, the trousers are a bit frayed but simple and well-worn. The boots are solid enough to carry her through most climates and her single-strap backpack essentially holds everything she needs and is something she’s had with her since forever.

The first model Hani had (left) was pretty much only the standard Night elven female model imported directly from World of Warcraft and assigned a skeleton and appropriate morphs. There were some minor changes out of necessity, but they were mostly minor and consisted roughly only of changing tris (triangles) into quads to make meshsmooth work better and some minor changes to her eyes so she could close them without a fuss. This first edition model weighs in at 710 vertices and 1030 faces (polygons), which’s quite light and shows its for-game nature.

Revision 01 (middle) incorporated a few more changes, notably the hands were given a significant boost in polygons to make them look more like fingers and less like bent sausages when being posed. World of Warcraft doesn’t have this problem itself because it doesn’t rely on a MeshSmooth-like filter to make the models look less jaggy like I do. Plus, we’re not supposed to pay too close attention to the hands, while I might very well need to have them in focus. Revision 01 ended up at 949 vertices and 1252 faces (polygons).

Revision 02 (right) was re-imported and converted from the basic NIght elven female model over again to get things “right from the first step”, so to speak. It has a whole lot of changes from the original World of Warcraft model its based on, putting in a whole lot of polygons in the face and hands, not to mention adding extra polygons to better define a proper shape of the torso (especially after smoothing), the new trousers she has and everything. She even has a belt strap across her upper torso to explain away how her backpack is held in place that – believe it or not – was taken from a Mo’arg. This (for now) final revision weighs in at a significantly higher 1465 vertices and 1682 faces (polygons).

One of the things I keep changing around with each model revision is the hands – hands are one of those difficult things that I’m told many artists struggle with to draw, and they’re not really any easier to give form using 3D graphics. Again we have the three different models lined up next to eachother with the first version (left) being pretty much identical to the models used in-game. It should be fairly evident just how dramatically the polygon count in the hands is rising with each revision – revision 01 (middle) having significantly more sides per finger and revision 02 (right) having even more still.

Part of the cuts along the middle of the finger exist there simply as counterweights – to keep MeshSmooth from bending the whole finger or warping the finger shape into something thin and unsightly. Others are to give the overall hand a more defined shape shape or suggest the presence of nitpicky details like nails or knuckles.

There’s really no one way to approach hands – I spend a fair bit of time looking at my own hands when converting the ones from the models in World of Warcraft and try to work out what the overall shape should be like and where I might need to add extra polygons to help the hand move in ways hands should be able to without deforming.

The core model doesn’t use a single texture but has a few multiple ones spread across it – this isn’t so much how it’s made but how I choose to weld it together later to make the facial expression morphing and posing deformations easier to handle. The eyebrows and headband both can be affected by various facial expressions so they more or less have to be a part of the main model the way I make those expressions. The shoulder strap I included in the model too because it needs to stretch, bend and deform as Hani moves her upper body and shoulders about and I find it easier to just keep it included than attach it seperately afterwards.

With the model finished, it needs an underlying skeleton – a biped – attached so it’s easilly poseable. You can build a structure of bones yourself, but with 3ds Max having the biped structure already available it’s the quickest and easiest choice. You can see the basic structive I’ve laid out for the skeleton to match the model – a single large “toe” to act as all toes, five fingers out made out of two (as opposed to three for us real people) segments, four spine segments and soforth. It’s generally a combination of what I’ve found the easiest and most flexible to deal with without making things unnecessarily complex.

Revision 02 is capable of more still, however; as the image above suggests, I’ve added a rudimentary attempt at making Hani able to look in different directions with her eyes only – without having to move her entire head. It’s far from perfect, there’s texture stretching involved and some angles and directions just look painfully broken. I’m hoping that with time I’ll see whether I’ll get much use of that feature or not and then keep in mind what worked with it and what didn’t for potential future conversions/revisions. Beyond the Tree is a learning experience where I keep occasionally testing the boundaries of what I can do with Blizzard’s models and to what heights they can be taken before I reach a point where I might be able to make textures and models completely on my own.

I’d say Beyond the Tree is still likely to use models and textures – albeit modified ones – from World of Warcraft throughout its entire run however – for consistency if nothing else. Blizzard has a very distinct art style and something not following it is likely to stand out significantly.

So what else is new? For one I ditched Hani’s bedroll – there was no way I could unroll it, it had an unpleasant knack for looking like it was defying all manner of reality and physics and really just seemed like it was in the way half the time. With the supporting cast supposed to gradually expand too, one single bedroll isn’t exactly going to cover for two people, let alone four.

In the place of the bedroll – and as a result of my experiences making issue page/issue #46 – I gave Hani a simple dagger. Though I have no doubt she could fight quite profficiently with it (and I might actually let her show off the fact at some point), for me it’s more of a utility tool. In #46, I realized that the immense size and length of Hani’s sword made it awkward for doing simple things – like cutting Te’len’s ropes in #46. A dagger is of far better length to appropriately pose such actions.

All in all it’s a rather complex – for me – model revision that aims at further breaking down the limits imposed on the World of Warcraft models placed there to adapt them to the simple fact that they’re meant to exist in a game. It’s far from perfect of course, it’s ever tied down to its origins – something that might very well be just as much an advantage as a disadvantage. I rather like working with the models from the game, and it can be great to see just how far they can be taken and what kind of end result can be brought together with them. Blizzard has an impressive team of modellers and artists and it’s great to have the chance to stand on their shoulders and work from what they’ve constructed.

We’ll simply have to see how far this model revision can go in the comming weeks and what changes and features it might provoke in future attempts. 😉


2 Responses to “Hmm, upgrades – Hani revision in depth”

  1. 1 Thrashalot
    September 28, 2008 at 13:27

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I’ve been trying to find time to try my hand at this and your work is quite inspirirational. Of course, I shouldnt try to find time, I should make time. 🙂

    Excellent work on the hands. Those are always a pain.

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