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(S = K log W) Like Butter

...because I'm on a roll (again)((kinda)).

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Sphinx Logo.
Some of you know this story and some of you don't. I'll put the short version here.

When I moved out here in '99, I did so mainly because Washington was better than Montana jobs-wise. More importantly, Washington, specifically Seattle, had a lot of venture capital money and a lot of game companies.

Jay (whose wedding is this weekend, the pre-stuff starting tonight) and I moved out here to make a game. After watching a few of our friends half-ass their own company together, make millions, and then fall apart as they had no business structure behind it (ie. one of them sued the others because they didn't have a business plan, legal documents, employee documents...it was basically just a project they were doing for fun. ....Until a venture capitalist picked them up), we decided we weren't going to go that road.

We did gobs of research of best practices of setting up a legal business, made a website, put all the documentation together. We actually had a working S-Corporation for my first five years here. Of course, it never went anywhere, first because of the Dot Com crash and then because there just wasn't any money out there following that (especially not for games).

The logo I came up with looked like this:

(we were selling surplus stuff for other companies by this point - this was shortly after I came back from Colorado and shortly before the last nail was put in the coffin).

So I have always wanted to make one of those logo videos to go along with this idea, but never really had the skills to pull it off: a lion with a person's head and wings is harder to pull off than it sounds, and even harder to make look at all good. Even with the company defunct, it was still intimidating.

In the last month, I decided to just do it. Still reworking the logo itself, but compared to the sphinx model, that's REAL easy. Behind the cut is the process I used to create the sphinx and the logo video. I didn't resize these (because I'm an asshole), but I will put them under a cut.

First up, reference images of a lion:

A google image search of "lion profile standing" pops this image up pretty quickly. I dump it into my 3D program as a background image and use it to start building the Sphinx's body.

Like 'real' art, there's a lot of push and pull here. As with any early-stage art project, it's best to keep it simple - make sure the silhouette looks good, the edges 'flow,' and it looks and more importantly feels like a lion. No one should look at the model and say: "Cool seal, dude."

Next up, was creating the Sphinx's head. Even back in the late 90's, I was a Fiona Apple fan and there was something about her fact that was....catlike? Dunno - but I always kind of pictured her face on my sphinx. Of course, I was abysmally bad at making faces back in those days, so this is usually where the project stopped.

I made the head separately, using a similar process to creating the body. I went out and found two Fiona pics, one profile and one straight on. You might notice the 'straight-on' one is weirdly symmetrical. That's because I took it into photoshop and duplicated one side of her face onto the other. This makes modeling easier.

From there, I made her face and head with a thick neck coming off the back and, of course, the lion ears. It had to match up with the body, so I made sure the geometry there was at least close. Then it was just a process of putting the two models together.

At this point, the model itself is basically finished, although I still do a few tweaks. One of those is to double the amount of geometry (split each of those squares into four squares) - this makes a 'smoother,' more realistic model and something probably more in-line with today's game models.

There are a few things that need to happen to a model at this point. In some, the order doesn't really matter, in others, it matters A LOT.

You can slap a texture on at any point in time, for example, but you have to do the facial expression animations before you give the model a skeleton. I usually start with a texture because, for some reason, I can visualize it moving better if it looks less like a lump of geometry.

The first step to creating a texture is to break the model up into smaller parts, and then lay them out so you get the most out of the space available. That's a whole other concept and kind of an artform on its own.

Anyways, once you get everything lined up, you add a checkerboard texture to the model. If there are areas that don't look like squares, the model needs to be manipulated until they do. This is an area of the texture that will stretch and smear if not corrected and make the model look like crap.

With a basic texture done, I can take the model into a program like zBrush or Mudbox. In addition to making a 'skin' (a confusing term because adding a skeleton is also called 'skinning'), these programs actually allow you make 'fake' geometry. Basically, you can add in muscles, bone structure, veins, and whatever else. The cool thing is that this is an illusion that rests on top of the actual model, not actual geometry on the model - in other words, less processor power.

Instead of having a million polygon model, you have a simple model with a complex, light-reacting skin.

At this point, I started playing with Hair - something I hadn't done before. The first attempts were pretty amusing, like this 80s hair-band style...

Or this one that got the color right, but looked like the sphinx was bursting with static electricity. It was also around here that I noticed that weird seam on the flank and had to go back to fix the texture to take that out.

I kept playing with the hair, and added in a skeleton. This is an involved process that takes a lot of back and forth, moving limbs around to make sure the geometry is deforming realistically (rather than say, moving the leg and the whole stomach moves with it).

Knowing this was going to be a VERY simple animation, lasting around three seconds, I still put some time in here just for practice. That done, I posed the sphinx and began playing with the wings and lighting.

Kind of happy with how it was coming together, I started working on the background, still going back to do a few tweaks on the sphinx here and there.

Finally, I came up with something I liked, tweaked the lighting a little more and, BAM! Nine hours later? Animation!

Still not completely happy with the logo itself, but it's getting there. All told, the logo is FAR easier and quicker to manipulate.

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