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How were you introduced to ZBrush? At what point was ZBrush brought into your production cycle, and what were your reasons for doing so?

Shane Hawco – Lead Character Artist
Shortly after Jade Empire completed production, Mass Effect was in the prototyping stage and a lot of the character and level artists at the time got together to explore the possibilities of using normal maps in our future products. We dove into ZBrush head first and never looked back!

Have you found yourselves using ZBrush more than expected? How does it continue to benefit you now that your cycle is in full swing?

Shane Hawco – Lead Character Artist
ZBrush is an essential tool for the development of the highly detailed models you’ll find in Dragon Age. The characters and creatures have been painstakingly detailed by the skilled character artists at BioWare to help complete the immersion of the player into world. Without it I don’t think the characters and creatures would have ever looked as good as they do.

How many creatures were created for the original game? How many more for Awakening? How many are you working on for future content?

Shane Hawco – Lead Character Artist
There are over 70 unique creatures in Dragon Age: Origins. With Awakening and future downloadable content we wanted to do more than just add numbers to the creature list but add some dynamic element as well. The Childer from Awakening is a great example of this. They have different stages that they transform into, starting from the larva stage they become upright and bi-pedal with arms for more attack strength to the final fully-transformed creature with its mutated face and six additional appendages coming out of the back which were designed to create a ferocious feel and increase threat level for the player.

What is your production pipeline like for creating characters, armor and creatures in Dragon Age?

Shane Hawco – Lead Character Artist
First we start off with the concept art based on the writers’ and designers’ needs. From there we make sure that they are approved from every stakeholder so that we are sure that the concept is able to work as we intended before we being the costly development. Departments such as animation, character art, VFX and design play a big part in the decision making process at this stage. From there we make what we call a proxyrender mesh so we can flesh out the size and shape of the character along with looking at the topology to ensure that it can animate the way we want it to. Then we bring it into ZBrush for the detailed sculpt. Once it is done to our liking we make the final in-game rendermesh so we can begin the texturing process and start projecting the normal maps and ambient occlusion from the high detail source. Then we bring it into the game where we can make any final adjustments to the shader for the final product.

Do you use Decimation Master at all? If so, how does it benefit you?

Shane Hawco – Lead Character Artist
We have and found that it has some really good uses, but with how long DA:O has been in development we didn’t get to use it as much as we have on the expansion and with DLC. On DA:O we did most of our normal map projections in 3dsmax in parts. We are also really close to the characters final shape and polygon count before we begin the detailing process in ZBrush. It has been very beneficial with some of the larger one-part creatures and in assisting in speedy feedback with some of the outsourcing companies. I do also see where it might be useful in quickly creating normal maps with really high poly .ZTL files, rendering high-res sculpts with Mental Ray or getting quickly to a lower-res in-game mesh. We are looking at using it in the future to make even more complex sculpts without the worry of hitting the memory limits of some machines or software.

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