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Developer Interview Part IV: Organic Modeling

When it's time to start a video game project, it’s important to remember that you can’t do it alone. Like with every company, you need a team to work alongside you with many different skills in order to make your game a success. Every member of your team has to be knowledgeable or an expert in their field. We will explore the fourth skill set in game development, Organic Modeling. Its one thing to create a simulated object like a television, desk, or any inanimate object in a game, but it takes real skills to make a genuine, fake, living, breathing person or creature. Although the tiny details in the background and great audio makes the gaming experience more genuine, having realistic living creatures and people is the icing on the cake. From monsters lurking in the shadows to cockroaches coming out of cracks to even human NPCs in the game, organic modeling (with a small hint of animation) is used to make living things look lifelike and move as such. In order to write this article, I called in another expert from our team. She is our Organic Modeler and one of our animators at Sonder Games. She will give us an insight about the importance of organic modeling for video games. Here is an interview with Nika Levashova.

How did you get into organic modeling?

I think the beginning of my story isn’t much different from the path of thousands of other artists. Since I was a child, I always liked to draw. I remember drawing for most of my free time and sometimes during class. I started to realize I liked the process of drawing better than the result.

I came from a small town where there were no art schools, so I couldn’t get a formal education in art during that time. Because of this, I didn’t know that art could be a profession. However with the Internet becoming more advanced, all boundaries were abolished and now anyone can access all kinds of information without leaving their home. Learning since has become easier and enjoyable.

My parents did not support my passion for art, so I got a degree in engineering. It was only after I moved out that I could pursue my passion for art. In the early days, when I got off of work, I started taking online art courses to obtain new skills. I even tried learning how to oil paint; I still have several unfinished works from that. I don’t think I’ll ever finish them.

In my free time, I started working as a freelance web designer and later got a job at a company. After some time, I realized that, although this was far more creative than all my previous jobs put together, I still had no room to grow.

I always liked video games. Like everyone in our company, I’ve played a lot. Soon I couldn’t help but be interested in the computer graphics. It was pure luck when I saw a job listing from a small video game company and got a job with them. Because of this, I got the opportunity to do things in different fields. I did concept art, modeled props and locations, engaged in animation, character development and customization, and many other things. But most importantly, I finally found the thing that made me happy - character design. I'm very glad to have another chance and opportunity to work on characters for Sonder Games.

How did you get into animation?

I literally fell in love with animation while working on our project. Right now, animation is a new field for me, but I hope to get more experience.

Before that, I never paid attention to how important it is. Now, I think that this is a powerful tool for revealing the character’s personality other than just appearance alone. Although body language says a lot about the individuality of a person, it also conveys their personality and emotional state. In real life, we sense this at a subconscious level. In just a few seconds of communication, we can tell if the person is a threat or not. This is the main skill of the animator, to ensure that the characters can give the player a subconscious emotional response that’ll make the story realistic and more exciting.

Which one do you like more, organic modeling or animation, and why?

Don’t make me choose! These parts make up a whole. Modeling and animation are more interconnected than it may seem, because in order to have good animation, the technical details of a character's mesh along with the correct placement of the skeleton’s bones are important. In order to build a good mesh you have to know exactly how it should be deformed during the animation. It is also very important for both parts of the programs (the animation and the mesh) to know the anatomy and to understand the body mechanics. It's a vicious circle.

How important do you think organic modeling is for video games?

Like any component of a video game, organic modeling makes a big contribution to the gaming experience. The protagonist of a game is an avatar, our embodiment in the game world. If the player likes the character, they can empathize with them better. After all, people are very social creatures; we want to be able to relate to the beloved hero in the game in order to get new experiences through their history and interaction within the game.

How different is animation for a video game vs. animation for let's say a movie?

Perhaps the main difference is interactivity. In a movie, animation is done under one angle and the viewer can’t influence anything in the movie. In a game, we can see the character from any angle we choose. Their actions and reactions should be clearly read regardless of whether if it’s with a NPC or an object.

Animation for games reminds me of how a conductor directs music. It’s a set of actions in which a player can interact within the world of the game and create their own story. In game situations, animation is important when the score is just seconds and the quick response of the character using the player's action needs to be smooth so it doesn’t glitch.

When it comes to a realistic horror game, how important are the tiny details?

Details give life to the game; they give a better understanding of the atmosphere and story. You become like a detective investigating a crime scene; you're trying to understand why everything looks exactly the way it is and what’s the logic or story behind it. A small detail can change the entire perception of a story or show it completely from another viewpoint. I really like it when that happens. Imagination can draw very interesting conclusions when you fuel it.

What software do you use for modeling and/or animation?

Right now, my favorites are Maya, Zbrush and Substance painter.

On what websites do you post or share your work?

I have an active instagram account. Actually, this is my morning ritual - the first thing I do when I wake up is watch videos and streams of my favorite artists. It's very inspiring. I also have a blog on Tumblr and accounts on Artstation and Deviantart.

What advice do you have for a budding modeler/ animator who want to go into gaming?

Participate in contests, subscribe to your favorite artist’s streams, and look for friends with the same interests, because the environment is very influential.

Follow your passion, catch the flow. Don’t be afraid of failure. Even if today something doesn’t work out, your attempts are added to your priceless experience and gives direction for further work on your skills. Every small step is important; practice your skills every day and everything will only turn out better.

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