Today we have a question and answer session with Luiz and Jules who are two key members of our Art team.
What has been your favourite element to design and/or work on?
Luiz : So far it has been the Excalibur itself. The Trek universe is very well established and has a fan population that is very strict about following what has been stipulated by the show, so the Excalibur is where we could exercise the most creativity.
Jules : The TMP Federation fleet, which is still ongoing, and that's the era of Trek I know best amongst all of the team members.
Where did you learn the skills you need? How long have you been doing this?
Luiz : I graduated as an architect and started working with 3D visualization for architecture at university back in 2000. The jump from doing architecture to in-game models was just a natural progression.
3D modelling programs are far from being intuitive and back in the early 2000's, it was quite hard to find good references and tutorials to learn from. Thankfully, I had a CAD / 3D class during university which helped a lot.
It's a good thing that by now, the internet is flooded with content for people that are willing to learn.
Jules : It was a combination of my own experimentation (which is forever ongoing) and stuff I learned from the experienced users of the BC community (like Luiz for example). I've been modding since about May of 2003.
What are the main stages that need to be followed for a game element? How long does it all take?
Luiz : It depends a lot on what the element is.
But the basic workflow is usually the same: modeling, optimizing the model, adding mapping coordinates for textures and texture painting.
The way you achieve each of those steps varies a lot from one element to another, as do the programs you need to use to achieve the best results.
Jules: Well, I need to model, map and texture a ship, and do anything else needed to do on my part in order for the others to do their part (the Hardpointers for example). Now, for how long it all takes...that depends on things like how big “a something” we're talking about, how detailed it is, how easy it is to make all that detail work in an in-game environment, etc.
What software do you use?
Luiz : My main modelling package is 3DS Max, as it was the program I started using for my professional work, although mainstream programs now have very similar characteristics and resources.
Zbrush is used when sculpting is needed, as in organic models.
For texture creation. I use Photoshop which is the most common and most powerful painting package I know about.
Smaller tools like UV layout, Xnormal and Facegen are handy and used for specific purposes.
Jules : 3DSMax and Photoshop.
How does your workflow differ from that of a professional game artist? Does your work pioneer any new techniques?
Luiz : So far, the innovations we plan for Excalibur are much more on the technical side than on the artistic side of the game.
Most of those focus on making things easier for modders and the community, and they involve making strong workflows that can be easily followed and replicated.
While we use some optimizations to achieve that goal, the workflow on Excalibur is done just as in any commercial game, seeking to achieve the best graphics possible, without compromising the performance on most machines.
Jules : There is one difference: since we don't have the time constraints of a commercial dev team, I can take my time with the assets to make them as accurate as possible.
The world of Star Trek is well established, how are you putting your creative stamp on it?
Luiz : Excalibur is all based in a fan created ship, the USS Excalibur, and that's where our creative efforts focus.
The Excalibur is partially based on the work of Steven Davis at his NX-90000 Excalibur (which I built in low-poly for Star Trek Bridge Commander, and was one of the most successful ships for that game), but we are re-creating the ship into something more original that can be easily identified and linked to the ST Excalibur project.
Of course, there are a couple of other original designs in the game to fill gaps in the established fleets, but we try to keep things as faithful as possible.
Jules : By making the assets I develop as close as possible to their on-screen counterparts. :)
Are you creating anything for the game which is not already established in Star Trek?
Luiz : While we are working on the game script (and re-working it a couple times), we are dealing with a time period that is not established in an on-screen timeline. The facts that happened after the Nemesis movie are only covered in the Titan book collection, and some preludes to the Star Trek Online game, both not truly "faithful" to the series. So, we decided to have our own take on those elements and that time period.
Jules : Yes. There's my Aeh'lla class Romulan scoutship that I have designed back in my BC days. She's an advanced scoutship, a newer design than the ones we saw on-screen.
What is the hardest thing you have had to do for the project?
Luiz : As lead artist, I think that making the entire game look consistent whilst keeping the feel we had on the show, is a real challenge.
During all the series and movies, the look of things changed and the timeline was stretched with dozens of contradictions.Those contradictions and inconsistencies extend to the visuals of the shows and sometimes we need to make small adjustments to make it all fit together and not look silly.
As an artist, I create up-to-date looking character models. Making them look alive, whilst using few resources, is extremely complex.
Jules : That one is yet to come. So far, the Mirandas where the hardest with all the sub-variations whilst keeping it all without extra texture maps.
How much of it is a team effort compared to individuals painting ships?
Luiz : On the Excalibur team, we have several highly specialized artists working on each step of the art process. Some are specialized in modelling, some in texturing, others in building interiors.
Taking the best of everyone and putting everything together is much more a team effort than it may look at first glance.
Jules : My work tends to be self contained, the only exception being when I map and texture other team member's models :)
Any space on the team for someone interested?
Luiz : We are always looking for people that are willing to help us build Excalibur!
Our only request is that people willing to join the team have a strong love for the project and are really willing to help it become a great product.
We have different roles for different specializations and levels of knowledge, so we can try to fit most of the artists that are willing to join in somewhere.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning a little about how the art team works. If you're interested in joining the art team, then contact us in the forum.