Perhaps there is no such person on the planet who has not even heard of Star Wars. Legendary films, favorite heroes, top merch, colorful games. All this is created with a huge responsibility to millions of Star Wars fans. That is why, when Lucasfilm (an American film studio of Walt Disney Studios) sent a request to Kevuru Games to create characters for the game Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, the team understood what a serious and important mission they would have. According to Oksana Khachko, Lead PM of Kevuru Games, which led this project, the first time she heard the words Disney and Star Wars, she had a slight jitters. How to work with them, how strict are their requirements, and what does the customer want to see as a result?
It turned out that the devil is not so black as he is painted, and strict rules and a clear concept are about love for one’s work and a good result. Oksana Khachko tells how the artists of Kevuru Games created the Boggs Henchman infantryman and the Attsmun Industries Droid robot.
Fast Facts: An Indicative Test Is the Key to a Successful Start of Cooperation
As is often the case in the gaming industry, the start of the project was preceded by a test task. I think that it showed the strengths of our artists, and Lucasfilm provided us with the characters that we could do at the highest level. They had a clear vision of the characters and original concepts. And we needed to model them in 3D.
We did absolutely everything: from the first blocking, where the basic proportions and shapes of the characters were displayed, to the creation of LOD – preparation of the final models for use in games and their maximum optimization depending on the conditions of use (for example, to display a model that is far away, LOD with fewer polygons is used, which saves computing power). That is, we covered the pipeline completely.
How Was the Work on the Characters
We had two basic characters – the human infantryman Boggs Henchman and the Attsmun Industries Droid robot. The human character had three texture color scheme options, the robot had two. In addition to the concept, there were certain technical requirements: the limits of model optimization, colors, and shapes. It was the concept that was provided to us that helped us to get into the client’s vision as much as possible.
The Right Concept Is the Key to Success
To say that the concept was perfect is to say nothing. It was really well crafted. Everything was clearly spelled out: the material of the clothes, the seams, and the lines. In my experience, sometimes clients allow for a certain amount of variation, but Lucasfilm knew exactly what kind of characters it needed. This was probably dictated by the fact that these heroes already existed in the cinema universe, and everyone knowed how they should look.
Thanks to a clear concept, we had practically no edits. Basically, all the feedback came in the form of “all good, we can continue”. The only thing is that the robot had a cutout on its shoulder, and we had misunderstandings with it. The thing was that it was poorly visible on the concept, and due to a certain barrier between us and the client at the first stage, we could not understand what kind of cutout shape was needed. But after two or three short feedbacks, everything fell into place.
Feedback System: What You Need for Effective Communication
By the way, the feedback process was built in an interesting way. We transferred our assets in the form of screenshots from all possible positions to the Lucasfilm delivery system. And the client drew edits on these screenshots, as if on a virtual whiteboard. There were moments when it was necessary to move the binoculars or the visor, and we understood where we had a gap, corrected them, and got the result completely according to the concept.
It should be remembered that the concept was in 2D and the model was in 3D, and it was quite difficult to fit all these points into millimeters so that they matched. This skill of artists is to convey not only proportions, but also the smallest details in the way that clients want, or even to some extent predict their desires. Not everything can be seen on the concept and copied from it, because it shows only a certain angle or several angles, and the 3D model can be twisted as you like, and you can see all the details.
Stages of Project Management
The stages were absolutely standard. We estimated the work, handed over the estimate to the client, received consent, and this, in fact, was already a starting point, direct production, when we formed our team, sorted out the tasks with the artists themselves, and began to work.
Taming the Delivery System
All discussions and approvals of concepts went through a special system that we set up together with the client. Under the terms of the NDA agreement, we cannot disclose details, but I can only say that the security settings and access were very serious and I have not come across anything like this before. The Lucasfilm team helped me in taming this system, and this also affected the convergence of our teams.
The first phase was blocking – creating a kind of draft 3D model. We showed the general proportions (length, width of the arm, leg, head, and how everything fit together). We coordinated this with the client and moved on to high poly. And at first, at the blocking and high poly stages, we did daily deliveries and updates – clients asked for it themselves. This, by the way, helped a lot – we saw daily feedback and could make changes immediately after the review.
High poly is the most interesting stage for me. This is the most detailed work that shows the model in all its glory. You can see every detail in terms of geometry, the connection of mechanisms, you can imagine how everything will move. This is a very creative process. I know that the next stage is more difficult for artists – this is retopology. In high poly, the model can be very beautiful, but it is not used due to the large size, as the game may freeze. The main parameter of such models is the number of polygons from which the geometry is built.
At the high poly stage, we began to show our progress to the client less often. He said everything went smoothly, and we were able to show the results right before the calls.
By the way, a little about communication. Lucasfilm was so positive and open with us that it was a pleasure to call them. And rather, the exception to the rule was that not only me, as PM, was present at all general meetings, but also our entire team of artists. They received first-hand comments.
At this stage, the artist reduces the number of polygons in such a way that the appearance of the model does not differ much from what it is at the high poly stage, but the model can already be used in games. This is very difficult, because it is necessary to exclude points in geometry in such a way that it essentially does not change, but becomes simpler.
When we were working on this project, the lead often told me: “Wait to rejoice, there will be retopology, it will be difficult there.” Therefore, we all exhaled when the retopology stage went well – the artists did everything very professionally, and the models were rebuilt at the low poly stage flawlessly. We reached the optimal number of polygons that was set by the client.
After the approval of the retopology, there was texturing. We had a very interesting job – creating skins and color options. If we had one white robot, and that was its base skin, then we added another color option. The model was one, but we made textures of different colors in order to show the options. Same for the Boggs Henchman character. He was supposed to have equipment of three color variations – orange, green and orange-green.
At this stage, we even learned a little about the biography of the characters. For example, in one of the cases, we put spots on the top of the robot. The client said that this was not suitable, because historically this robot was a very expensive thing with a high level of maintenance. But, since this is a combat unit that often moves off-road, it is advisable to put spots and scratches on the bottom – it walks, the paint is scraped off, this is a natural factor. There is logic in this, it is interesting to track and display it.
By the way, at this stage, a big discovery for me was that a modeling artist should understand almost all aspects of our life. This starts from how, relatively speaking, some kind of metal is scratched, to what a difference there is in the seam when leather or fabric is hemmed. Or what should be the anatomical difference between the capillary network on a living and inanimate person. Or how jeans are wiped. All this is done in shades. Artists know this, and it is very interesting to watch their work.
Level of detail
After texturing, we made LOD. This is the creation of models with different levels of detail, which are switched depending on the distance to the object in the field of view. The successful approval of this stage was the finishing point of the pipeline.
I was very pleased that the clients themselves offered to add us to the credits as a production team. It was a kind of recognition that we were not just performers, but full-fledged partners in the development of characters. It’s very cool and nice!
About Communication With Large Companies
We had no difficulties in terms of technical documentation with the client. After all, the language of terms is almost the same. Another thing is small talk, when you first need to talk with a client about something other than work. An outstanding part of American culture is to first ask how you are, get an answer, and only then go to work, this is their etiquette. Therefore, a slight fear could appear here at the first stages. But over time, it passed and we could freely discuss any non-working moments. Moving on to work afterwards, of course.
Mutual Respect and Partnership
A feature of communication with such large companies is that they always respect people in their places. They are confident that if people are in this position, then they have done everything to get it, and deserve respect for themselves as a specialist. We felt it every time. There was no problem in our communication, whether it was feedback or my asking for help with the setup. Everyone was very friendly, pleasant, and understanding.
Structure Versus Chaos
Giants are different. I remember cases when there were 5-6 people from the client’s side, occupying almost the same position, and there were no clear agreements between them, which caused misunderstandings in the feedback. And here the team was formed as a backbone. There were people from the delivery side who were responsible for the budget and deadlines, and people who were responsible for the art component. And I knew exactly who to turn to on this or that issue. So there are different situations with large companies. And we are very lucky with Lucasfilm!
Tips and Parting Words
The experience of cooperation with Lucasfilm showed that you should not be afraid of gaming giants. Clarity, delicacy, but at the same time rigor are perhaps the main pillars in their work. With this approach, the process of interaction with the customer’s team turns out to be very productive, timely at every stage and … easy! The main thing is to be a professional in your field, and then Lucasfilm (or another large studio) will be able to absolutely trust you after a few meetings and worked out models, seeing the results that you present to it. Do not be afraid, but do it – this is my main advice, which I learned with a smile from a wonderful project called Star Wars!