I was recently asked by a fellow student how I would be adding to the game industry with my thesis, this was my response:
Imagine you are student with exceptional technical abilities, intelligence and great ideas, but you don't have the visual savvy to show off what you can do in a way that gets you noticed. As artists we may overlook this aspect because we are already good at something that is evident the moment someone sees it. The old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" would apply here. For a designer or programmer who is trying to get noticed it is not so easy, but with the right tools and approach the next genius designer might get a gig because he caught someone's eye with the visuals of his portfolio. The visuals being stronger equates to time, more time spent by a prospective employer viewing their work. If I can teach an approach to creating environments that is simple enough for the non-artist to create, yet builds their confidence and abilities, I maybe creating a path for the next great designer/programmer to get a job that will pay them to explore and share their God given talent. I think that might add to the game industry.
Albert Bandura is considered the 4th most important Psychologist in the history of its practice. His influence is far and wide. In my opinion the most important discovery Albert made was to help people to overcome their fears in order to live a fuller life. His techniques of building "Self Efficacy" or perception that a task can be accomplished in people can not be overlooked. Using these effective techniques I believe we can empower people to push through their hangups and mistakes into the realm of accomplishment.
I just recently learned about David Kelley and the Ideo (or "D" school) at Stanford University, and I am blown away by how much the work he is doing parallels the work I am developing within interactive design media and games. I had postulated that everyone can build virtual environments because just about everyone has (at least when they were children: Blocks, sand castles forts etc.). After beginning David's book "Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All" I found that I am not the first to think in this fashion. David uses the same concept to build a premise that all people are creative and that belief of this is critical to unlocking that inner creativity that has always been there. After belief is there some simple steps, exercises if you will, allows one to start building on and unlocking their creativity. I now have a very strong basis to garnish from. Thanks Professor Gilbert for pointing me towards him!
Architect, Daniel Piechota and Designer/Developer, Loring Sagan head this firm found in San Francisco. Their work is elegant, clean, and makes an effort to work with the environment, it also fits into the model I am using to empower non artists to create art. Look below at some of the designs and one thing stands out, simple geometric forms made with fine materials. Much like the minimalist of the 1960's less shows essence.
I just recently picked up Houdini from SideFX. I feel very fortunate to have jumped into using Houdini now in version 16, as the good folks at SideFX have made it a point to start competing in a broader market. The tools that are being offered in the newest Houdini are good enough to start to attract a traditional modeler, but it is the Houdini Engine that has become of particular interest to me. The Houdini Engine is a tool that lets you create procedural pieces for game engines and other DCC apps, so that pieces created in Houdini can be changed interactively within the engine or app. This kind of workflow will allow artists and designers to highly modify and iterate freely in less time: https://www.sidefx.com/products/houdini-engine/
As an educator I have chosen to be "software agnostic". I put it into quotes because the truth is, while I am willing to use any software to get the job done, I will fully admit that I do have my favorite software. I have professionally used 4 major 3D authoring tools, 2 3D sculpting tools, 7 game engines (many proprietary), and 5 2D texturing packages. More and more I have come to be inspired by the capabilities of real time graphics. At one point in my career I was in favor of using traditional render technology over real time because I was unable to achieve the visual fidelity I wanted in my work using game engines. But I am pleased that I now I no longer feel like game graphics are way behind film. It has become more and more evident that real time technology is the wave of the future, and I would go as far to say real time technology is the future of film too. That being said I would tip my proverbial hat to Epic and Unreal Engine. Epic has been pushing the capabilities of their engine for as long as I have been using 3D (since 2002). Below are some inspiring minimalistic environments rendered in Unreal 4.
Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) an American Architect has been an influence of mine since I saw his work as a young man living in the Chicago land area. His home for the early part of his career is located in Oak Park Illinois; below you can see the basic shapes that make up an elegant room.
Part of unlocking peoples ability to be creative is leading them to unlocking it slowly, simply, through small creative accomplishments. Looking at the image above it appears elegant and rich, but when it is broken down, it is quite simply block and tube shapes. Simple elegance is one of those things FLW achieved so well.
Ah ha moments continue! I have been debating how to go about creating the visual portion of my Thesis. While I had an environment that reflected the minimalistic description in mind, I had another epiphany as I was reading a comment by a fellow classmate today. He simply asked what is the visual component? Tools, art, assets? I hadn’t thought about creating a set of blocks for different looks, and assets. Then I remembered that I am learning procedural modeling right now, and it is possible for me to create digital assets in Houdini to be changed interactively in Unreal to meet more needs than just doing one off static assets; a way of building the blocks. Non-complex methods for the designer, simple sliders to interactively change the asset dimensions where needed. While I have not paved this path yet, I believe it is entirely plausible…more on this later!
Serendipity happened earlier this year when I reconnected with an old acquaintance from Purdue University. While I was looking to find out what the prospects were in the Computer Graphics Department at Purdue, I found that I would get much more than I imagined.
Professor David Whittinghill PHD, the heart and soul of the Games Study program at Purdue is forever trying to expand and perfect the program and the level of knowledge of his students. In his pursuit he proposed an environment creation class within the experimental "490" curriculum. While at first glance an environment class seems status quo for a games focused track, but for not so Purdue. Currently the Purdue Games Study curriculum is setup more as an amalgamation of tech art, design and programming; very little in the way of art classes are offered. This has led to a gap in the games studies program; namely while the students in the program are technically savvy, their portfolio's lacked the polished look that would get them noticed. This condition perplexed Dr. Whittinghill and was his purpose for trying out the new courses.
Proposing the course was one thing, but teaching the course was entirely another. Dr. Whittinghill is a programmer by trade and while he is a wealth of knowledge, an environment artist he is not. Dr. Whittinghill was going to have to rely on second hand experience from training courses to put together a curriculum for the class (cue the serendipity). Having over 6 years in building environments professionally the timing of my inquiry seemed divine. In his response to my inquiry, Dr. Whittinghill seemed to jump through his email and try to drag me right into a contract with Purdue!
Eventually we came to terms and I was brought on to help build the class. We started with brainstorming sessions; Doc and I would sit in the game lab with the intention to combine our ideas into a complete 16 week course. During that time the challenges inherent in the overall curriculum came up. It became clear to me that most if not all of the students enrolled in the class needed to be led into complexity slowly. Working with science majors did not mean that there was no artistic knowledge or background present, but it certainly needed to be cultivated.
At some point during the brainstorming it became clear that teaching the components needed to create intricate finished pieces of environment art was not the problem. Many tutorials exist from many accomplished artists on how to put together technically advanced level art. The problem was the barrier to master this kind of work was high, and in some cases insurmountable. From personal experience, time, effort and aptitude are all needed in order to achieve the ability to create masterful environments in the modern world of games. We lacked the time and in most cases the aptitude for the highly polished work we would like to see in our students portfolio's. The challenge lie in the unlocking the inner creativity without being bogged down with so many technical practices.
One day during our brainstorming and curriculum building I started thinking about some of the modern architecture, pieces that seemed so attractive, yet had very simple design elements. In these simple designs it was more about arrangement, lighting, fit and finish that allowed for exquisite aesthetics. "Minimalism in architecture may present a means to the ends we are looking for" I explained to Dr. Whittinghill. I expanded this idea further; "using simple designs with fine materials arranged properly can look beautiful, could be accomplished within the time constraints, and didn't need high level of artistic aptitude. It would be like playing with blocks; one just creates spaces uninhibited and without consequence, and that it could even awaken dormant artistic abilities."
This led to my thesis statement:
Using fundamental geometric modeling, photo source texturing, and simple lighting skills, non art majors in Game Studies can create minimalist environments in Unreal Engine that will improve the aesthetics of their portfolios, therefore raising the appraisal of their portfolios by current industry professionals and giving them confidence to further pursuit a career in game development.
Daniel Triplett, is an artist that worked in game development for over 6 years, and now teaches in the Computer Graphics Technology department (CGT) at Purdue University.