Character Modeler

  • Character Modeler

The process of character modeling for video games relies heavily on computer software applications that allow artists to build a three-dimensional character from digital wireframes and virtual clumps of clay. Character modelers work in the medium of polygons, which are shaped, textured, and painted with virtual tools to produce stunningly lifelike human characters and impressively stylized creatures of fantasy.


Duties

The character modeler works within the art department of a game studio to create 3-D representations of game characters and creatures according to the style and aesthetic set forth by the art director and game designers. After a concept artist’s rendering has been approved, the modeler is instructed to build the character in the digital environment, giving the new being depth and detail. Traditionally, clay models were used as reference tools for hand-drawn animation, but technology has evolved that allows those physical sculptures to be photo-scanned into a software application for computer animation. Today, it is more efficient for game studios to employ specially trained character modelers to create characters entirely in a computer environment. This allows greater flexibility for on-the-spot editing (rather than sculpting a new figure) and enables the modeler to accomplish texturing, painting, and application of UV directly in the program.

Character modelers use software like Maya, 3ds Max, Zbrush, and Blender to build the basic shapes of the character, then refine those figures to include the fine details of skin textures, clothing, and other elements. Most often, these artists work in multiple applications, transporting the model from one program to another in order to maximize the use of tools available in each. For example, a character modeler may begin by mapping together spheres to represent a human character, draw in facial features and limbs, then port that character to Maya to adjust the wireframes that will control hinges (like joints). This person consults with staff character artists, animators, and character riggers to ensure the model meets with the appropriate style and functionality necessary for gameplay. The modeler must monitor his or her polygon use to ensure that the model does not exceed the allotted memory capacity. A model that uses too many polygons takes more time to render, and therefore can slow the game and create stalling or stuttering during play. The object is to create as much detail and depth as possible on a limited memory budget.

Skills & Education

A college degree in game art or game design is encouraged, and courses should include the study of fine art techniques and traditional drawing, painting, and sculpture. Training in photography with special attention to perspective and lighting is beneficial. Additionally, courses in human and animal anatomy are highly encouraged. An artist must be capable of mimicking forms that are true to life by studying the structure of people and animals. Experience with 2-D and 3-D art software like that discussed above, as well as RenderMan and Photoshop, is necessary. The modeler should understand the requirements and limitations of game console platforms and engines, as well as the pipeline structure of video game development.

What to Expect

Most hiring managers of video game art departments will agree that it is more desirable to hire a character modeler with solid traditional art skills who can be taught the software, than a graphic designer who cannot deliver a pen-and-paper drawing. In fact, many larger studios rely on proprietary art software and therefore expect to train new employees. Entry-level work as a character modeler is available to those with exceptional skill (as demonstrated in an art portfolio), but typically this role requires at least three years of experience within a studio and at least one shipped title to your credit. That said, any entry-level role in the art department could lead to advancement as a character modeler. Similar roles include character artist and concept artist. Promotion from the modeler position can lead to work as a lead character modeler, game designer, animator, or a similar role. 

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