Of course, the software industry moves at lightning speed, so the tools have evolved dramatically since you began work. How has that impacted you the most?
Herbert: Polygon limitation is now a thing of the past because now most software can handle millions of polygons without any major lag. My primary modeling tool for hard surface modeling is XSI and a lot of my models are millions of polygons in my XSI scenes. There is a lot of software to choose from and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example there are now great tools for generating AO, UV’s, etc. It is because of this that I feel character artists spend less time dealing with technical issues, allowing them to focus more on the art creation process.
Rafael: Tools that have been developed which speed up the process affected the pipeline a lot. ZBrush tools like Decimation Master, SubTool Master and UV Master are very handy on every model. Most recently, DynaMesh is a very amazing tool that helps a lot when sketching a new idea for a character.
Rodrigue: The biggest impact was on time and quality. We can now really go to town with the details on our characters. ZBrush and 3DS Max allow us to work faster, yet also put more and more details and love into our characters with a lot of flexibility. (Layers, etc.) But of course having great high-res models is not enough and you need a good engine with nice rendering and nice shaders to really show all the hard work put into the high-res models. On that side we were very lucky on ME3; we had a very nice budget for the polycounts of our characters and I was able to re-work some of the shaders to add more reflection and sweetness to our armor. If you compare the rendering between ME1, ME2 and ME3 you can see a big jump in terms of character details and quality between each installment.
Tools and tech are very important but on top of it the biggest impact for us came from the Art Director and the concept artists. It's a great feeling to see a new concept and think, "Wow! This guy looks awesome I want to work on it!" and you know that ZBrush and the ME3 engine give you all the tools you need to deliver it without losing quality.
You've also seen significant advancements in ZBrush since you first started using it. How have those changes affected you?
Herbert: Greatly! I remember the first ZBrush version that I used was 2.5. I had to sculpt my characters in pieces because of the polygon limit and there was no SubTool Master or Decimation Master at the time. I sometimes like to generate my normal maps outside ZBrush and my AO with Mental Ray. Without decimation master, getting the best results outside ZBrush was very difficult. The new selection of brushes is awesome as well. With each update, sculpting in ZBrush feels more like sculpting in real clay but with symmetry, undo and “save as” enabled!
Rafael: I kind of adapted my workflow when I first started using ZBrush, so all the changes haven’t really impacted my work. But for sure tools like the new DynaMesh, SubTool Master and Decimation Master, sped up my pipeline like crazy.
I use DynaMesh a lot to concept new characters and ideas. Decimation Master is a must now for the pipeline in all my projects.
Rodrigue: Again, speed. The workflow is getting smoother and all the new brushes and layers give us so much flexibility and creative freedom. One of my favorite parts is the sculpting feel. I don't feel like I’m moving points around anymore. Now I feel like I'm actually sculpting. That feeling is great and because it's so fun I try to stay inside ZBrush as much as I can.