Jake Hempson interview
Character Animator Modeller
Ric Welcome to The Art of Making Marks. Just in opening the interview could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
Jake My name’s Jake Hempson. I am a character animator/modeller and I’ve been working in games for the last eleven years. I started working in games as a concept artist back in 1996 at a company, in Oxford, England called Rebellion Developments and we were working on the Alien Versus Predator game for, at that stage the Playstation one. But gradually I moved on to just doing PC games and pretty much since then I’ve been working at different games companies in the UK for about seven years. I moved to Australia in 2003 and I’ve been working at Krome Studios for the last three and a half years. I’m now a lecturer at Qantm in Brisbane and I’m primarily focused on teaching just animation and modelling concepts. I’ve been using a Wacom tablet since about 1997 when I was working on a project and having some RSI issues with my hand so I started using a Wacom and I’ve been using Wacom tablets for 3D modelling and for animating so I don’t actually use a mouse, I’ve always used a Wacom tool.
Ric So really it was purely a mouse replacement issue at the beginning and so how did that then transfer to your workflow?
Jake Well from 2D background work, transferred in to concept work so I’m using it for 2D concept working and also within 3D when I’m using more refined modelling applications like Soft Image at the time. Soft Image is a XYZ translation with different mouse buttons which was a bit strange using the pen, but more recently now with MudBox and zBrush which is now an extension of 2D concepting but well it’s like 3D concepting which I’m using more and more. Obviously that’s where I initially want to see how Wacom integrates with the 3D aspects of the tools in terms of using it for the conceptualisation.
Ric So what type of Wacom tablet are you using now?
Jake I’m using an Intuos 2. Yeah, Intuos 2 with the two side scrolly things and the little button shortcuts. That’s pretty much what I’ve been working with since the whole Intuos/professional range happened. I do have a couple of Graphire tablets which is like my walk around tablet when teaching. I’ve got that at my desk so if I want to do some quick stuff, whip up something and then obviously the school has Intuos 2’s I believe.
Ric So could you tell us a little more about your workflow and describe more about your actual work.
Jake Okay. With game development generally the character design concept work is 2D. Then we block out a character in 3D using 3D Studio Max or Maya. Just in my case, I work in Maya now. Once you’ve blocked out that character, then it’s pretty much using standard processes which is throughout games development now. So you take that blocked out character which is effectively your low res character model and add some extra rows of geometry to help support the subdivision modelling when you take in to Zbrush or MudBox. From that we basically export in to OBJ file, import it in to our 3D package. In my case I work with MudBox primarily then rework it. I physically sculpt it in MudBox using the pen pressure sensitivity of the Wacom Tablet which is a big feature in that application. So you can actually, by pushing down harder you can actually manipulate the geometry and actually sculpt it. In a 3D sense it feels like clay because you are actually applying pressure to carve into areas, cut into areas and sculpt it.
Pretty much once that process is finished, as a games developer you’ll then re-export it and either generate normal maps or ambient exclusion maps and bake that down into the low res model which would have well placed UV’s and well unwrapped, and then those will be used as shaders for the final game engine. That’s the very simplest way I can describe the process. Some people might work from a high res model for the user concept and that would get signed off. You’d then make the low-res model to match the contours, and that does happen. Sometimes I’ll model a character in Zbrush or Mudbox and I’ll rework the hands to become bigger and more expressive and then when I take that back in to Maya I would then perhaps rework the low res geometry to fit the silhouette and closely approximate the hands to what the high res model was. So I make changes back and forth, and again ‘bake’ my texture maps, my normal maps, my colour maps, all that sort of stuff.
Ric Obviously Wacom tablets are used extensively in Films and game production/development but do you see opportunities for Tablets as an actual interface for game functionality? Like how the Nintendo DS is developing with pen interaction.
Jake I suppose you’re also looking at the Nintendo Wii model of gameplay.
Ric Yes there are many new styles of human interface systems for games starting to happen also the very popular Guitar Hero on Xbox 360 is very interesting.
Jake Yes this is happening. I know a couple of games where you actually make a mouse movement in a certain shape that you draw and that would represent a particular spell casting technique. I can’t remember the game off the top of my head but the game designers are talking about the fact that you draw a square shape, that would represent you and then call up a set of commands. It was for the style of Role Playing games that are happening these days.
Ric Yes I have see a prototype called Crayon Physics that’s also very interesting. You draw a square and then it takes on the physical properties of a 2D square. Things like putting pressure sensitivity recognition into Adobe’s Flash Player would open opportunites to develop all kinds of brouser based games or new kinds of interaction with websites for annotation and navigation.
Jake I think it’s probably a deeper discussion Wacom should be having with game designers/developers in general. I even tried to play Quake once with a Wacom tablet and that was interesting. [laughs]
Ric My son finds the Cintiq very, very good for sniper shooting in Counter Strike. [laughs] What new product or innovation would you like from Wacom in the future?
Jake I guess something moving into hap tick mechanisms although I don’t really want an armature attached to my pen. I’d like to have different overlays for a range of tactile surfaces. I’d also like to see tighter integration between the hardware and the software applications like zBrush and Mud Box. Like maybe a button switch on my actual stylus to say ‘okay I’m switching from this mode to this mode like changing tools from a brush to knife but using the same stylus’. So that’s probably a thing you could think about I’d use the same stylus but have different modes I can allocate to it. There’s a hook tool in Zbrush which would be wonderful to be able do that with.
Ric The notion of utilising the rotation sensor of the Wacom Artist Brush in Zbrush would be amazing but after some discussion with a developer it sounds like a lot of work to impement that kind of feature. We need more people like you asking ZBrush for this feature.
Jake Wacom should also talk to the MudBox developers at Autodesk. They would probably be receptive to that kind of idea. The whole concept of being able to have a sphere and slightly tilting the brush to select an area behind the 3D same to pull the geometry out a bit would be great. So I can see that with your different type of stylus pens there could be some great tools developed for 3D.
Ric Thanks you so much Jake for sharing with us your interesting world of character designing for games on Art of Making Marks.