How to Design A Three-Stage Dragon Family for a Video Game

Guillaume Chichmanov
May 24, 2024

Creating a family of creatures for a video game can be very challenging, it’s a lot of work and it can sure look like a lot when first given the task. 

In this article, Ignacio, 3D artist at Cominted Labs will be explaining how he managed to create a Three-Stage family of dragons without getting overwhelmed or stuck in the process due to confusion, thinking too much ahead or worrying about the next creature.  

1. Concept sharing and reference gathering

Whether you develop a concept yourself or receive it from a client, you should always do more research in order to have a clear idea of whats ahead.  Apart from the design of the creature itself, its always very useful to look for more references primarily involving art style and anatomy.  These two points are crucial to maintain a seamless evolution of the family, easily recognizing that they are in fact, a family, and definitely look like one. 

2. Starting the 1st creature

With the overall design and artistic style of the creature now decided, its time to start modeling.  You start off by blocking out the proportions and general shapes of the creature.

While doing this process and once finished, you want to take into consideration the evolution of the rest of the family.  General shapes should make sense among them and they should share some traits from one evolution to another.  

When defining the shapes its crucial to consider the next evolutions of the family.  If this challenge is faced in a constructive and smart manner, you should be able to recycle the previous evolution models in order to have a much faster workflow with the following evolutions. 

3. High poly sculpting

Now that the blocking and all the general shapes are in place its time to move on with the details.  High poly sculpting is the best way to add any detail you want to your model.  I personally love Zbrush but Blender is also a good option for sculpting details.

During this process the details will not be a factor for a faster workflow, but something you can do in order to have aligned tools and overall look as well as save time, is to have a selection of different alpha textures to use in this specific family.  In that way you will not be wasting time searching for different alphas for all the different evolutions, on the contrary, you will have a selection of alpha texture that you know they work well together and you will be able to use them accordingly depending on the evolution you are working on.  The idea is to have similar tools so the aesthetic language of the creatures are all connected with each other. 

4. Retopology 

In the process of retopology the model is optimized for video game and/or animation purposes.  An optimized and clean topology are necessary for the model to be a usable asset in any project.  

During this process you will have different body parts like nails, horns, wings, tails, overall body.  The retopology done for the first creature should be done thinking forward, these are the models that you will be able to reuse with the future evolutions of the creature.  This is crucial to work the family in an efficient manner, doing a clean and dedicated retopology is very time consuming and can also be mentally straining if not managed properly.  So setting yourself up to be able to reuse different optimized models for future evolutions will work wonders when it comes to achieving high quality models in a tight deadline. 

5. UV unwrap and Texturing

Once retopology is done the process of UV unwrapping and texturing take place.  They are two processes that are very related with each other, but when it comes to taking the different evolutions into consideration, UVs are not a factor. 

Texture is relevant when considering the other evolutions and there are tools in Substance Painter to help you save time and work in a very efficient manner.  The different evolutions should have a certain level of a shared aesthetic language.  Colors, shapes, eyes, horns (or other key part of the anatomy).  The challenge is to understand there is a visual connection between the evolutions but they are also very different. 

When it comes to Substance Painter there is a remarkable feature that will make the whole process much faster, this feature is the possibility to create your own materials.  After finishing the first creature, you can create a smart material from it.  With this material you will be able to apply it directly to the next evolution.  A few tweaks will always be necessary, but it will allow you to save a lot of time for the base of the texture.

Creating a family of creatures for a video game is a complex and demanding task, but with a structured approach, it becomes manageable! By following the steps of concept sharing, reference gathering, thoughtful modeling, detailed high poly sculpting, efficient retopology, and cohesive texturing, you can ensure a seamless evolution of your creature family. Remember to keep the future evolutions in mind at every stage to maintain consistency and save time. This process not only helps in delivering high-quality models but also keeps the workflow efficient and less overwhelming

If you are building a game and looking for an efficient and cost effective outsourcing partner, Cominted Labs is at your service. We are a leading game art outsourcing platform that has collaborated with over 50 leading game publishers and developers. Our clients include TCG World, Perp Games, Ethereum Towers, Baby Doge, Crossmint, MadWorld, and many more.

Contact us today and book an intro call.

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