What were your artistic goals going into Mass Effect 3? How did you go about raising the bar when ME2 had already pushed it so high?
Herbert: I joined the ME3 team because I felt that the Mass Effect character art team is one of the strongest in the industry. With Kolby Jukes, Rodrigue Pralier, Jaemus Wurzbach and Rion Swanson all setting the bar very high, I wanted to learn and grow as an artist. With Rafael Grassetti joining the team, the bar was pushed even higher. It is great that I am growing and learning from my team. There is always something new to learn every time I go to work.
Rafael: We basically re-worked all the characters from ME2. Since we were re-using character models from ME2 we couldn't change their topology and rigging. So we used ZBrush to re-work the details, often redesigning the character from scratch and improving all the normal maps and textures.
Rion: One of the things here was to work to further unify the character factions. Cerberus and the Reapers are the largest groups and so even though different artists were working on characters within the same group, we tried to keep a strong sense of unity. Once the first character within the group was established, we’d use it as a benchmark to follow. Using the same master material, following the same look of the textures and re-using parts where we could all helped keep a cohesive look.
How successful were you at accomplishing those goals?
Herbert: I am still learning every day.
Rodrigue: I think we were happy with the result while we were working on the models. But near the end of the project we started to see all these elements that we wanted to redo and make even better but we had so much to do that we weren't able to do that. I think it's every artist’s curse: as soon as you are done with a piece you already want to go back and change things. We will do better next time. :)
Rodrigue: The first part was to gather great artists to work together on an ambitious project and to all motivate each other to push the quality of our assets higher. But it was really the evolved art direction of Mass Effect that gave us the opportunity to truly show what we can do. Compared to ME1 and ME2, ME3 is more "realistic" (if I can say that for a sci-fi video game!). We focused on the mix of materials, layering and the shader contrast. We worked more on cloth and folds sculpts in this game than either of the previous ME games. We mixed metal parts with leather parts and fabric parts, etc. It was all that to give a more rich and appealing look to our characters. One thing that amazed me when I looked at the 2D concepts was how the 2D artists were able to render all the different materials in 2D: chrome, steel, gold, etc. -- everything was looking so great on paper that we decided to spend more time on our shaders to be able to stay true to the concepts. Also, we were really focused on capturing all the elements of the 2D designs by adding even more details and interesting shapes when doing the 3D models. The worst thing is when you see amazing concepts and when you look at the 3D model you realize that the 3D artist removed elements to make the job easier. We try to do the opposite by taking the concept as the minimum required and then trying to push it even more.