Decisions on How to Surface.
There are three main ideas that I consider when surfacing an asset.
1) What is it?
2) What is its relationship to the camera?
3) What is its story?
Often a surfacer or texture artist, will receive artwork that will show what the production designer/art director wants. Other times we will have to rely on the storyboards or the script to figure out what is needed.
“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.”
I will be using this nursery rhyme as an example and the assignment is to surface the prop “pail.”
What is it?
First thing that needs to be decided is what material is it made out of? Is it plastic, metal or wood or even a champagne bucket made of glass? What is the style? Is it cartoony or photoreal? The first stop is always the artwork. In this example, it’s a realistic wooden bucket with a rope handle.
Great! Now we know that we need a wood texture and a rope texture!
What is its relationship to the camera?
It’s important to know how much time to put into completing your assignment. We know we are surfacing a prop, but is it a hero prop that will be handled by the main character or is it only a piece of set dressing that is far from that camera?
This is where storyboards and layout/previz are helpful. Knowing how the asset is being used in context is very important. The most efficient workflow is to have the cameras available and do your test renders from those cameras. If you don’t see it, then there is not much point in spending your time on those areas. It is also important to have the right size texture maps. Having texture maps that are too small will cost you resolution and maps that are overly large will make rendering more time consuming.
In our example, the “pail” will be handled by the characters and seen in multiple shots, including close-ups. This means that our asset should be surfaced completely and have decent sized maps.
What is its story?
Next we need to figure out the story of the asset. Is the story about a futuristic robotic self- levitating pail? Is the story about a brand new lacquered cherrywood pail with inlaid mother of pearl? No. The artwork shows that it is an old pail that is sitting on top of the hill by a country well.
Great! Now we know that we need to age the asset.
Now we do research! This is where we look for reference. How does wood look like when it’s been sitting in the sun, or with water damage? Internet image searches are invaluable, but going out in the real world with a camera (even a camera phone) can be just as useful. Always start with the artwork, but supplement!
Decide on the color of the wood and the size of the grain. Adding stains and discoloration can add character and interest to even a simple object like a pail. And you can go even further and add “hair” to the rope to look like fibers and displacement to make cracks in the wood, however you don’t want to over do it if it is not really called for.
There are many more decisions that need to be made with every asset, but these three questions will help you make the best choices possible when starting each new assignment.
Linda Kurgpõld is a veteran of the entertainment industry, working as a digital artist for the past 20 years. She has worked on such diverse projects as Academy Award winning feature films, TV commercials, video games, previsualization and animation, including a six year stint at Dreamworks Animation. She has specialized in textures and surfacing for the past 12 years.
Linda grew up in Studio City, California and received two degrees from the University of Southern California, a BA in Cinema Production with a minor in Fine Arts and a MFA in Animation.