Drake Kraken – Design & Plan Breakdown – Ryan Lopez
Hello, my name is Ryan Lopez and I’m a graduate Environment Artist currently looking for my first position in the video game industry. I graduated from Michigan State University in 2018 and since then I have been working on improving my portfolio and environment skills.
Many of the articles posted previously already talk about the technical aspect of 3D environment art, such as the workflow they used and the specifics of texturing and lighting.
Andy Baigent who wrote an article on his Hydroponics Lab used the same exact workflow and goes into great detail about trim sheets and weighted normals. Instead, I’m going to write about other topics that I encountered while making my latest environment Drake Kraken such as planning, design choices, the importance of feedback and storytelling.
To me, planning is easily one of the most important steps whenever I begin to create an environment. I believe that if you spend enough time on planning, the rest of the project will be relatively easy so you can focus on creating art instead of the more technical aspects.
The very first thing I did when I started working on the Kraken was to do a draw over on the concept art made by Sarah MCculloch. First when doing a draw over, I try to break up the environment into smaller pieces so that it’s easier for me to understand and I become less overwhelmed.
It’s very easy to get overwhelmed when first creating an environment since there are so many aspects and I believe that breaking it up into smaller pieces helped me focus on what needed to be done easier. After I had broken the concept into smaller pieces, I then determined what pieces were unique and what pieces could be modular. As the concept is from Star Citizen, it was easy to determine that most of it could be modular, but in this case, it really helped me determine what needed to be unique and what places were missing from the concept that I would have to create since I wanted to do a flythrough. Doing a draw over saves a lot of time and I think that without it I would have never finished this project as it really was daunting to me.
After my drawover the next step was to gather as much reference as I possibly could. I’m a huge fan of Star Citizen and automatically knew that taking in-game screenshots of other ships manufactured by Drake would be incredibly important in helping me have the same art style throughout my environment.
I didn’t stop at collecting reference through in-game screenshots as those can only help so much. I also gathered tons of hard surface references of objects such as pipes, doors and tracks.
Furthermore, I like to have a general reference pack handy when I need ideas or have other specific things I’m looking for such as screws and hinge placement. JRO Tools has a huge collection of hard surface references that you can purchase and I used his extensively throughout the entirety of my project.
Once I was done gathering reference I moved on to my block out stage. The block out is easily the most important aspect of creating an environment so I try to spend a good amount of time creating a good block out. While I was following concept art, there were still many areas that left me with questions of what to do. I used my blockout phase to determine what I could put in the areas that the concept didn’t specify. I also tried to get an initial blockout of lighting and materials.
None of this has to be permanent, in fact, I changed my lighting 4 times throughout the entirety of creating the Drake Kraken and my final lighting was nothing like my initial block out.
However, it gave me a general idea of what everything would look like and what direction I wanted to go in artistically.
Following concept art makes it a little harder to tell your own story because there is usually one that is already established. In the Drake Kraken I really wanted to push storytelling in less obvious ways since there was already an established story in the concept.
I did this by focusing heavily on decals and the story that could be told through them. I wanted the Drake Kraken to look used, but I didn’t want it to be too dirty. In Star Citizen lore, ships made by Drake are usually purchased by less than savory people, such as pirates.
So I imagined it to be more used since they might not have the same resources that an actual military would have.
However as they worked so hard to obtain the ship they would still care enough to keep it decently clean. I used dirt masks throughout the environment to add dirt into crevices and small corners to exemplify the age of the ship.
I also created edge wear decals that I applied throughout the environment. Using trims and weighted normals makes it a little difficult to create wear and tear so edge wear decals were a simple and easy solution. Another thing I did to try and sell the idea that the ship is used is that I added scuff marks in multiple places along the floor from people walking.
Throughout the environment, I added a bunch of small detail decals to try and tell a story. As individual pieces, they don’t do much but when everything starts to get added together it makes a large impact on the overall look and story of the environment. Another story that I tried to tell is that while the manufacturer doesn’t want its consumers to be harmed by their products, it doesn’t necessarily try its best to keep them safe. A prime example is the track in the middle of the habitation hallway. Just by adding this one change to the environment, it becomes apparent there is very little concern for safety except for warning signs.
Finally, I also added smaller detail decals like the “mind your step” and “maintenance panel” ones to push stories even more. While they don’t seem like they do much individually without them the environment seems empty and lifeless.
I truly believe that while you can have a good environment without small details and stories, incorporating these aspects will make an environment great.
The last topic that I really focused on in the Drake Kraken was having good design choices.
Since the concept didn’t really show detail on the walls I had to improvise and design some aspects that I felt would fit into the environment. I used a lot of my reference to find aspects of other Drake ships that I could change and add to the Kraken. This was extremely helpful for the main sections of the wall because what was in the concept was hard to depict.
However, there’s also a ton of design basics that I tried to incorporate as well. One of the best ways I feel to improve design is by following the golden rule of primary, secondary and tertiary shapes. Not only is it super helpful for modeling but it is also for design. In everything, you design you want your primary shapes, secondary shapes and tertiary shapes scattered throughout.
Some areas it’s good to have the shapes scattered uniformly and other times it’s good to have shapes scattered randomly.
Another part that I wanted to improve upon was the floor. In the concept the floor had a lot of paneling on it but it was too busy with no purpose. Drake ships are known for having unconventional designs so I saw an opportunity. Here is where I added the tracks in the middle of the floor, I decided to do this because I not only did it fix the overall design of the floor by adding interest, but it also fit into the storytelling of it.
Again, when making the tracks I really focused on my primary, secondary and tertiary shapes and in the end, I believe I had pretty good results.
I know it’s a bit of a cliche to bring up the importance of feedback but I feel like my project really exemplifies how important feedback truly is. When I initially started this project I was only getting feedback from one person. While everything was looking okay, I kept feeling that something was missing. Sadly, I couldn’t find what was wrong with it no matter how many adjustments I would make to it. I just knew that there was something wrong.
Eventually, I stumbled across the Beyond Extent community which is a discord dedicated to 3D Environment art. There are a ton of discord communities dedicated to 3D out there now, some of the most notable ones are DiNusty and Experience Points. While I had joined DiNusty before I never really decided to be a part of the community and I feel that’s one of the most important parts of getting good feedback.
After a couple of weeks of hanging out in the Beyond Extent discord I finally decided it was time to ask for feedback on the Drake Kraken. Everyone was extremely nice and receptive and the feedback was awesome. I think that for the Drake Kraken, receiving feedback was a big turning point in the overall quality and I cannot express enough the importance of getting feedback from wherever and whoever you can get it from.
Overall I would say that I’m satisfied with the end results of the Drake Kraken. I do believe that there is so much room for improvement but that’s also part of the process.
The more you do the better you get.
I hope you learned something from reading about my process on the Drake Kraken. If you’re interested in checking out my portfolio you can find it on my Artstation.
Thank you for your time,