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Nov. 30, 2022

Understanding the Defence 3D Modeling Pipeline

Understanding the Defence 3D Modeling Pipeline

Tom & Colin introduce the first episode of Season 1's education episodes.

This episode is designed to be referred to when you (the listener!) have a need to 'gen up' on 3D modeling. Specifically related to the defence industry.

3D Modeling Topics Covered:

1. Scoping the work/Design

A careful process that can take several discussions with a new client. Setting expectations; defining deliverables. Most projects succeed or fail in the planning phase, and it happens all the time (e.g., recent M4A1 model).

a. Technical Specifications

  1. Target engine
  2. File format requirements
  3. Shader inputs
  4. PBR (metal/rough)
  5. Spec/gloss
  6. Special textures
  7. a. Thermal


b. Fresnel

  1. Animation requirements
  2. Special functionality requirements
  3. Geo LOD
  4. Shadow stencil LOD
  5. Dimensional precision requirements
  6. Polycount
  7. Texel density
  8. Naming conventions
  9. Stylistic requirements (photorealism, stylized, brand new or grungy?)


b. Reference Gathering

  1. Photo references
  2. Technical drawings/blueprints
  3. 3D scans
  4. Measurement data


2. Modeling

The beginning of the “real work”. There are many different pipelines.

a. Highpoly

b. Low Poly

  1. UV Map


  • Overlapping vs non-overlapping UVs, number of UVs.
  • UDIMs -an automatic UV offset system that assigns an image onto a specific UV tile


  1. Texture baking


  • AO
  • Normal (world space, global space) , Y-/+ (OpenGL vs DirectX), Mikk-T vs not
  • Curvature


  1. Texture authoring


  • 3D authoring has become standard
  • Gloss/Rough the most important for overall “feel” of materials


  1. LODs


  • Auto-LODs (there are some limitations)
  • Do one or two by hand, the rest automatically


3. Export

4. Rigging/Integration

5. Testing





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00:00:05 Tom Constable 

Hello, welcome to the first education episode of season one, The Warfighter podcast I'm Tom Constable, and this is Colin Hillier. 

00:00:13 Colin Hillier 

Hello welcome. 

00:00:14 Tom Constable 

So it's the first episode to what we'd like to do is introduce the concept, talk about our sponsor, and then go into the main crux of what we're going to discuss today, which is awesome. And it's definitely one for the geeks. 

00:00:25 Tom Constable 

So the purpose of these episodes is essentially designed to be Evergreen content. Therefore it's relevant regardless of whatever time or year you're listening to this episode. 

00:00:32 Tom Constable 

It's a deeper dive into a topic where maybe on the main podcast we'd skirt over it, but this is an opportunity to to geek off to go deeper into it and really better understand it and it's within topics within training within defence. 

00:00:45 Tom Constable 

Or even simulation and training within defence. And essentially it is going to be interactive. We don't want it to be a lecture for one person. 

00:00:51 Tom Constable 

Colin and I are here to ask those questions to ensure that everyone understands and is follows along the the deeper dive that we go. 

00:00:58 Tom Constable 

In Colin is that about right from your perspective? 

00:01:00 Colin Hillier 

Yeah, and we're all busy these days, so sometimes we don't have the time to read or get into the reference material. 

00:01:06 Colin Hillier 

So hey, this could be a cheap guide if you're off to a meeting about a certain topic and you just want to gin up on this, then here's 20 minutes. Half an hour where you can then be slightly more of an expert. 

00:01:17 Tom Constable 

Yeah, and the you know I'm excited for the guest we've got on today really, is that, you know, in terms of defining an expert for the topic, he is the right man for the job. 

00:01:24 Tom Constable 

Before we jump into that topic, Colin, it's massively important to thank the people that made this possible. Who's? 

00:01:29 Tom Constable 

Our sponsor so conductor is our education sponsor. They themselves have built a hybrid warfare and crisis simulation platform that essentially gives like a synthetic Internet and delivers realistic virtual information to the user to train different kinds of things like information operations, media operations, Homeland Security, counter terrorist operations or even humanitarian disaster relief. 

00:01:50 Tom Constable 

And the cool thing about these guys top right corner of their website and the website URL is in the show. 

00:01:54 Tom Constable 

And you can literally press the try it now button, which I've been doing and you can really experience a synthetic training scenario without any delay. 

00:02:02 Tom Constable 

Colin, the thing that you don't know is in the background. Last few weeks I've been working with their chief creative officer to create a bespoke training solution just for you, based on something that's in my brain to test your ability at crisis management. 

00:02:14 Colin Hillier 

OK, now I'm worried. 

00:02:16 Tom Constable 

And I've had options. You know, there could have been a counter terrorist operation, one of one of the options we discussed was a monkeypox outbreak, and whether or not you. 

00:02:24 Colin Hillier 

But I want to know what you know about me. 

00:02:24 Tom Constable 

Can deal with. 

00:02:28 Tom Constable 

I don't want to go into this too much detail, but next education episode I will be revealing all should be ready to go and I'll be setting the gauntlet down to see whether or not you can respond to this crisis effectively. 

00:02:41 Colin Hillier 

OK, we'll we'll we'll. 

00:02:43 Colin Hillier 

Look forward to that. So just to introduce this session, it's all about the three. 

00:02:47 Colin Hillier 

D modelling pipeline. 

00:02:49 Colin Hillier 

Simply, we're asking Chris to talk a bit about how that relates to more modern game engines and how that has changed from more legacy platforms. 

00:02:57 Colin Hillier 

As you said, it's a quick primer, a quick reference guide for anyone else to dig in a bit. 

00:03:01 Colin Hillier 

Deeper, mainly factual, based with a a few few silly. 

00:03:04 Colin Hillier 

Questions from Tom. 

00:03:05 Colin Hillier 

And I essentially get a better understanding of the sausage machine. What goes into it? How's it done? What's all the gory details so? 

00:03:13 Colin Hillier 

I hope it's useful. 

00:03:15 Tom Constable 

Yeah, and I was very keen for this to be one of the first education bits that we do. We are in a privileged position on mcconnon that we can pick what we discussed and in what order. And because our background is very much. 

00:03:25 Tom Constable 

In the simulation space we. 

00:03:26 Tom Constable 

Maybe a lack of comprehension around the complexities involved in creating 3D. 

00:03:32 Tom Constable 

Rules and I wanted this to be an opportunity to really clear that pipeline up so that people understand the complexities, but also because you understand the complexities can really set these requirements effectively. So here we go. Here is the man that knows Chris Torchiere from vigilante design. 

00:03:47 Colin Hillier 

Well, Chris, welcome and thank you for agreeing to be the first person to lead us through our education series and the topic is 3D modelling and the process behind modelling within modern game engines. 

00:04:00 Colin Hillier 

So first of all, could you give? 


Us just a bit. 

00:04:02 Colin Hillier 

Of a background, what do you? 

00:04:03 Colin Hillier 

Do in your day job. How come you know so? 

00:04:05 Colin Hillier 

About this 

00:04:06 Christopher Torchia 

Thank you for inviting me on looking forward to this conversation a little bit about me. I started perhaps back in 2009. 

00:04:14 Christopher Torchia 

I was basically working on game mods for ARMA one and it was just before Arma two was coming out and I was learning how to manipulate video games while I was working full time. 

00:04:26 Christopher Torchia 

As a technical scientist at a biotech company my back. 

00:04:29 Christopher Torchia 

And actually, as in biochemistry, I started picking apart video games, learning how they worked, and I belonged to a couple of online communities forums where I was getting advice and at some point I met somebody worked in the defence space and he told me, hey, you're pretty good at doing this. I was making reskins for soldiers and. 

00:04:49 Christopher Torchia 

New 3D models of weapons. Because you're pretty good for at doing this, so you could be getting paid for it instead of making free content for video games. 

00:04:57 Christopher Torchia 

So I said I like the the sounds of that, so I started working for a defence company that was an offshoot. 

00:05:04 Christopher Torchia 

Using an iteration of the Arma game engine Arma, if for people who don't know it was a video game that was created back in the late 90s and it was the sequel to Operation Flashpoint, it's a full scale open world first person shooter combined arms type of video game. 

00:05:24 Christopher Torchia 

Some people notice that hey, this game could be quite useful for simulation and training purposes. 

00:05:30 Christopher Torchia 

And eventually a simulator was branched off of this game. Eventually, it would be known as virtual battlespace VBS. I got involved only a little bit with VBS in the beginning, but I started off mainly creating game content for Arma two and Arma three. But on the side I was creating content that would eventually make its way. 

00:05:50 Christopher Torchia 

Into virtual. 

00:05:51 Christopher Torchia 

Metal space, so that's kind of how it started. From there I realised that actually what I'm better at than than making models directly myself is organising and managing teams of people who are doing this. So I registered a A DBA, just a name to do business as vigilante back in 2000. 

00:06:11 Christopher Torchia 

10 I guess we started working on various projects, Arma, three Day Z, which is a zombie simulator game. 

00:06:19 Christopher Torchia 

Made by the same company that made Arma as well as eventually a lot of the content that would find its way into DVS product for the UK Ministry of Defence, which of course is based on UBS three. I started working full time for Bohemia Interactive simulations. I was hired as technical Director of Art for. 

00:06:39 Christopher Torchia 

What's now known as VBS four. At the time we were just calling it blue and I was proposing and implementing some of the visual systems that are connected to the whole earth rendering. 

00:06:49 Colin Hillier 

And so now, Chris, you run a company called Vigilante with a sister studio called Plan A. 

00:06:55 Colin Hillier 

That is involved in both the making sort of AAA content for games that we might know and love as well as work in the. 

00:07:02 Colin Hillier 

Defence side is that right? 

00:07:03 Christopher Torchia 

That's correct. Starting in late 2019, I decided to take this a little bit more seriously. Go full time with vigilante design. 

00:07:13 Christopher Torchia 

This time not as a DBA, but but as an actual legal entity and just a couple of months later COVID happened. Lockdowns happened. It's been an interesting challenge to have to. 

00:07:23 Christopher Torchia 

Hire and build a company when you can. 

00:07:25 Christopher Torchia 

Might be Co located, but it actually uniquely positioned us as well because we're natively remote and didn't have any adjustment time. 

00:07:33 Christopher Torchia 

We're already doing remote work and we for us it was just business as usual. So yeah, that's how we got. 

00:07:37 Christopher Torchia 

Started with this. 

00:07:38 Tom Constable 

You are the man who understands 3D modelling is for. Yeah not just AAA games but also for defence simulation. So I'm glad that you've taken the time to have a chat with us to share your knowledge. 

00:07:47 Tom Constable 

For those people that are listening to this are new to 3D modelling. From your perspective, what do you hope they're gonna get out of this? 

00:07:54 Tom Constable 

Education episode 

00:07:55 Christopher Torchia 

I could probably go on to ad nauseam about technical details. What I'm hoping to do is. 

00:08:00 Christopher Torchia 

Provide something like an overview of the process, different phases involved, maybe some information about the distribution of work where most the bulk of the work actually is. 

00:08:10 Christopher Torchia 

Perhaps some something about trends that I have observed in the industry over the last 10 years and where I think things might be going. Maybe we can even have a debate about visual fidelity and its influence. 

00:08:22 Christopher Torchia 

On transfer of skills and knowledge to the trainee, because ultimately that's what the. 

00:08:27 Christopher Torchia 

It's all about. I tend to believe that creating high quality, aesthetically pleasing and consistent environments are important to the overall training experience and helps with the buy end of the trainee. And so This is why I think it's worthwhile to discuss this subject. 

00:08:42 Tom Constable 

And optimization, don't forget that. 

00:08:43 Christopher Torchia 

Of course optimization as well, and I don't mean to brag, but I literally wrote the book on making models for VBS. 

00:08:52 Christopher Torchia 

I love a bit of a brag. 

00:08:53 Tom Constable 

Humble brag as we. 

00:08:54 Tom Constable 

Call it so I like that. 

00:08:57 Colin Hillier 

Some grenading so. So Chris, it's probably fair to say that the skills and the processes involved in 3D modelling from say earlier image generators have sort of developed quite a lot, and it's quite a complex process now requiring different skill sets. 

00:09:13 Colin Hillier 

Different tool. 

00:09:13 Colin Hillier 

So could you start just by giving us an overview of the sort of process that's involved for more modern engines? 

00:09:20 Christopher Torchia 

The basic overview of the process is you really start with a design phase in the design phase you're defining requirements. 

00:09:27 Christopher Torchia 

Next, you're going to start the the real work, so you can basically divide the work into pre production, production and post production. 

00:09:34 Christopher Torchia 

So design is going to be pre production, your production is going to be modelling and texturing where you actually create the 3D and 2D assets that are required as inputs for your image generator or game engine. 

00:09:46 Christopher Torchia 

Then there's a post processing step, which is where you're. 

00:09:49 Christopher Torchia 

Doing any kind. 

00:09:50 Christopher Torchia 

Of rigging, animation setup as well as a configuration. 

00:09:54 Christopher Torchia 

And importing it to the game engine for testing and release distribute. 

00:09:58 Christopher Torchia 

Of this work is perhaps 10% pre production, 65% production. The remainder is going to be your post production and a lot of people think about modelling as just that production segment where you're talking about modelling and texturing. 

00:10:10 Christopher Torchia 

The 3D and 2D assets, but you don't think about the work that goes into defining what you actually need to do during production, and. 

00:10:17 Christopher Torchia 

Post processing, what are the requirements to get this thing? 

00:10:20 Christopher Torchia 

Actually functioning in the end. 

00:10:21 Colin Hillier 

So starting in that first piece sort of design and scoping. 

00:10:25 Colin Hillier 

It appears you're you're saying that that's kind of critical because it depends on what the model's going to be used for. I guess there's a number of considerations you're going to make. 

00:10:32 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, it's important because this is where you're effectively setting expectations. If you're talking about internal production team, of course, I've worked in both situations where I've worked as part of a content creation team at a company making a product, and now I'm functioning more as a almost like a consultant. 

00:10:52 Christopher Torchia 

To prime. 

00:10:54 Christopher Torchia 

Who are the ones that are creating the products? And we're a vendor providing the service effectively. In my experience, the project will succeed or fail in the planning phase. 

00:11:04 Christopher Torchia 

In many cases when I'm interacting with clients in the industry, they'll come from a technical or a management background and not necessarily understand the content. 

00:11:14 Christopher Torchia 

Creation pipeline and people will often think it's sufficient to say I need a 3D model of NM2A3 Bradley, and here's a picture of it. 

00:11:23 Christopher Torchia 

When can I expect to receive my model and what your task is to effectively spend several hours consulting with them? 

00:11:31 Christopher Torchia 

Helping them to think through what are their requirements. What's the target engine? The file format requirements? What shader are we talking about? 

00:11:39 Christopher Torchia 

Are we using PBR based materials or is it going to be the previous generation specular gloss animation requirements? What part, which parts of the model needs to articulate any special functionality? 

00:11:52 Christopher Torchia 

Like do we need shadow buffers? Do we need collision geometry? Do we need thermal imaging functionality? For example in simulation? 


So just there. 

00:12:00 Colin Hillier 

Are listeners that are probably not so familiar with all this, it's it's probably a bit much to go into all of these aspects, but when you talk about shaders like what is a shader, what? What are these elements that you're trying to describe? 

00:12:11 Christopher Torchia 

Right, uh, yeah. So when we talk about shaders we I guess maybe people will discuss shaders and materials interchangeably. 

00:12:20 Christopher Torchia 

So when you have an image generator, the image generator is creating a picture of an environment usually and some 3D models, so you'll have static and dynamic models, so static is the environment that dynamic are the thing. 

00:12:33 Christopher Torchia 

Like vehicles, avatars and in order to distinguish the difference between types of materials. For example, a tree tree bark versus chromed metallic wheels, you expect the Chrome is going to reflect a lot more light than the tree bark will the tree bark will diffuse a lot more of the light. 

00:12:54 Christopher Torchia 

The Chrome wheels will reflect a lot. 

00:12:56 Christopher Torchia 

Or the light. So we use these shaders as we call them in the image generator in order to allow physically based realities of of how light interacts with surfaces to take place. 

00:13:09 Colin Hillier 

And then within the model you took him out, geometry loads. So we say there are levels of detail. 

00:13:15 Colin Hillier 

There's fire geometry, shadow geometry, so a model isn't just what we might think as the shape of something. There's a number of dimensions to that. 

00:13:23 Christopher Torchia 

Depends on the target engine. In some cases you're almost rate. You create the model and its highest detail, and then for optimization reasons you would like to generate what are called low D lots or levels of detail. So this would be a progressive reduction in the number. 

00:13:43 Christopher Torchia 

Of polygons from which the model is made. This helps the engine function in a more optimised. 

00:13:50 Christopher Torchia 

Manner so that you're rendering fewer polygons at further distances. So it's a means of optimising this. The scene based on distance from the camera. 

00:14:00 Tom Constable 

Ultimately, fewer polygons means better frame rate on the engine, which means the better training experience for the for the user. 

00:14:08 Christopher Torchia 

Yes, generally speaking that's true in general it's funny it's being a little cyclical. It used to be in the past that textures were more of a burden for game engines, and then it became that polygons were more of a burden. 

00:14:21 Christopher Torchia 

And now I think it's coming back with newer advancements in rendering technologies for example, and not limited to nanite meshes and newly released Unreal 5, where it's it's again going back to the situation where larger amounts of polygons do not necessarily mean poorer performance. 

00:14:40 Colin Hillier 

So it's pretty fair to say there's sort of this trade off. 

00:14:42 Colin Hillier 

Going on between your Polygon count. 

00:14:45 Colin Hillier 

Your textures probably even as you say what engine you're using and then what hardware what graphics cards you're using, because they all have ability to process things faster. So how do you get to that direct answer? What's the process balancing out all those requirements? 

00:14:59 Christopher Torchia 

You work usually for a technical artist, someone who focuses on pipeline and defining requirements for any given product before production. 

00:15:08 Christopher Torchia 

Parts we can generalise the trend we might touch on this a little bit later on, but this is effectively the reason why the industry has moved towards utilising high Poly modelling and texture baking onto low Poly models. The reason is because of this performance trade off, you get to have all the nice small details. 

00:15:28 Christopher Torchia 

From your high Poly model baked into what's called a normal map and we can get there a little bit later on, but the the process of discerning which situation is more optimised for your product is a little bit engine specific. It can be slightly trial. 

00:15:42 Christopher Torchia 

An error and there are people who spend their entire careers on that subject. Figuring out what's the right balance. 

00:15:48 Colin Hillier 

So before we move on to that, it's probably worth just covering off the data requirement and this might surprise some people, but what are the sort of range of sources of data that you work with? 

00:15:58 Christopher Torchia 

Data as inputs for for modelling. 

00:16:00 Colin Hillier 

Yeah, inputs the source for creating that model. How do you go about that? 

00:16:04 Christopher Torchia 

A lot of the times we will do our own photo reference gathering and in most cases or many cases it's just open source finding photos. 

00:16:14 Christopher Torchia 

On the Internet there are many communities of people who really nerd out about military equipment, and every single thing you can imagine it can be found online in some kind of photo album, which is great for us and we also look for technical drawings or blueprints because that really helps us a lot of times we have requirements where we need to have less than 5% margin of error. 

00:16:35 Christopher Torchia 

Between the resulting 3D model that we make. 

00:16:37 Christopher Torchia 

And the real life dimensions when we can find technical drawings or blueprints, that's that's very key. The most accurate, greatest precision we can achieve usually comes as a result of other 3D scanning techniques, such as photogrammetry. 

00:16:51 Christopher Torchia 

Laser scan worked on several projects where people have given US laser scans for helicopter or helicopters or aircrafts. 

00:16:58 Christopher Torchia 

Both the airframes, the exterior and the, and the cockpits interior, and we've utilised those to create ultra high detailed procedure train. 

00:17:05 Christopher Torchia 

Type VR experiences. 

00:17:08 Colin Hillier 

Going back to what's your requirement? What are you trying to do? Will determine whether 13D scan is appropriate. Or you can do it from photos or a mix is is that correct? 

00:17:16 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, that's right. In most cases it's enough for us. 

00:17:18 Christopher Torchia 

Just to have. 

00:17:19 Christopher Torchia 

Photo references in the case where we're being asked to create a procedure trainer or in one case we're asked to make a pre trip inspection product where you're in the position of a civilian tractor trailer inspector and you have to cheque even down to the. 

00:17:36 Christopher Torchia 

Red depths of the tyres. How much oil is in the engine? And so we were working with CAD data from the. 

00:17:42 Christopher Torchia 

Manufacturer created something extremely detailed from doing so, and you're right, the requirement is driven by its intended use. It is a design question. 

00:17:51 Colin Hillier 

Yes, useful primer to this. You get that early work done right and then it prevents mistakes or problems down the line. 

00:17:58 Colin Hillier 

So moving on to the modelling process, which I think is sort of another layer down and there's gonna be lots of terminologies we're gonna have to stop you and get you to explain on this. But depending on the engine this will vary. I guess this this isn't always the same. 

00:18:11 Colin Hillier 

For each in each generator or each game engine. 

00:18:14 Colin Hillier 

Is that? 

00:18:14 Colin Hillier 


00:18:15 Christopher Torchia 

OK, so just very quickly for those who don't know what an image generator is there, there isn't really a standardised definition. 

00:18:21 Christopher Torchia 

But to put it very briefly, it's just. It's a programme that creates the picture of what's being simulated. Perhaps the the simplest definition. 

00:18:30 Colin Hillier 

So digging into the modelling process now and I think this is this, is where it gets a bit heavy, but it's probably worth getting understanding some of these the phases. 

00:18:37 Colin Hillier 

Is if you just. 

00:18:38 Colin Hillier 

Take us through once you've gone through that design phase, got the requirements and and just what your source data is. What's the and and and again, I guess this will vary depending on what engine or image generator you're using. 

00:18:51 Christopher Torchia 

Yes there are. It can be a. 

00:18:54 Colin Hillier 

This is just too too hard a question. 

00:18:56 Christopher Torchia 

There isn't really a right answer on which. 

00:18:59 Christopher Torchia 

Pipeline to use for modelling it again, it usually is going to be a question answered by the technical artists before a project kicks off. 

00:19:09 Christopher Torchia 

One of the challenges that we face a lot in the defence industry is we're using these legacy simulators and legacy image generators that have been around for decades. 

00:19:19 Christopher Torchia 

And in terms of rendering technology, they haven't necessarily been kept up to date. 

00:19:24 Christopher Torchia 

Or kept up with. 

00:19:25 Christopher Torchia 

Feature parity compared to the wider real time rendering industry. What I mean by that is effectively video games. The video games industry has progressed by leaps and bounds. 

00:19:35 Christopher Torchia 

Is a lot more competition. It's an open system. They're not necessarily competing for limited government funding. They're going directly to consumers, and they've been able to make vast investments into keeping. 

00:19:46 Christopher Torchia 

Their technology up to date and innovating in the defence space. There just hasn't been as much need for that. So you find a huge variety in requirements for these image generators. 

00:19:58 Christopher Torchia 

That are typically used. So if I think of something like open flight, usually you need to make highly optimised models and textures are going to be using far fewer polygons and wouldn't be using things like normal maps. So in that case you're going to use just a low Poly model and a diffuse texture. 

00:20:15 Christopher Torchia 

All the way up through now. A lot of people I've already mentioned Unreal 5. A lot of people are. 

00:20:22 Christopher Torchia 

There's a lot of buzz in our industry about using Unreal Engine. Unreal Engine supports physically based rendering and global illumination, so you can. 

00:20:30 Christopher Torchia 

Really pretty images now with no additional production cost really. In this case you want to be using high Poly models and utilising these shader based technical bitmaps. 

00:20:41 Christopher Torchia 

These textures, like ambient occlusion maps and normal maps, and we'll get down there. It's the model technique that you use depends on the engine that that you're targeting. 

00:20:50 Colin Hillier 

So there's a number of terms. 

00:20:51 Colin Hillier 

That are commonly used across these engines. 

00:20:52 Colin Hillier 

Since probably worth just taking us through those don't necessarily apply to all, but are common for most game engines. 

00:21:00 Colin Hillier 

You take us through. 

00:21:00 Christopher Torchia 

That yeah, so for people who may not be aware of what the difference between a high Poly model and a low Poly model is. 

00:21:06 Christopher Torchia 

High Poly model perhaps could be best thought of as a reference mesh, and you can put as much 3D detail into it as you'd like. 

00:21:13 Christopher Torchia 

So you can create models when they're subdivided that that could be 1,000,000 or 10s of millions of polygons. But if you tried to import and model with that many polygons into a game. 

00:21:23 Christopher Torchia 

Or an image generator. You would basically fry it. It wouldn't be able to run efficiently. You'd get one frame a second so we can cheat a little bit by creating a high Poly model and then from that read to apologising. It's called, which is when you use it as a 3D reference and you generate a model. A second model that has far fewer polygons. 

00:21:43 Christopher Torchia 

So it works in a far more optimal fashion inside of the image generator. Why do you do this at all? Well, it's because you can use. 

00:21:51 Christopher Torchia 

It's that high Poly mesh to what's called bake a texture, which is where you can use a special kind of technical texture that encodes in red, green and blue colours. 

00:22:03 Christopher Torchia 

The direction that light is reflecting from a particular surface, and when you do this, you're able to fake. 

00:22:11 Christopher Torchia 

A much greater degree of 3D detail based on how light is reflecting from the surface of the model, which can be set by those shaders that we talked about earlier. 

00:22:21 Christopher Torchia 

The shaders determine how light interacts with your model, and these normal maps can allow you to influence how the light is red. 

00:22:29 Christopher Torchia 

Selecting from your model so you can fake reflections from. 

00:22:32 Colin Hillier 

So essentially for those to who can't quite picture it, it's you might have a flat surface. Geometrically it's flat, but it looks like there's a bump on it because of. 

00:22:42 Colin Hillier 

The the baking and the and the. 

00:22:44 Colin Hillier 

Normal maps. 

00:22:45 Christopher Torchia 

Exactly, and in fact back in the day, the first textures that used to do this were called bump maps. 

00:22:50 Christopher Torchia 

Specifically for that reason, well, let's let's figure out a way to use a texture to make it look like a surface is bumpy. 

00:22:56 Christopher Torchia 

Let's call it a bump map. After that, they call it a normal map, because that's the more technical term for the modelling of how light reflects from a surface. 

00:23:04 Christopher Torchia 

It's reflected based off of the polygonal vertex normals. Just you know that now we're getting down to into the technical nitty gritty. 

00:23:12 Colin Hillier 

But well, and it's useful to understand the sort of entomology of this stuff. What are the other techniques then? If you take us through that? 

00:23:18 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, well, once you've created your model, let's just say for the sake of an example, we're we're making a vehicle model. We made the high Poly model. 

00:23:26 Christopher Torchia 

We retopology sized some geometry and now we have a low Poly model. The next thing you do is you have to create a UV map and UV map, but you could also just consider it sort of like an XY coordinate based system. 

00:23:40 Christopher Torchia 

OK, so imagine you've gone hunting for deer and you you got yourself a nice trophy book and you want to butcher. 

00:23:47 Christopher Torchia 

Or perhaps you want to collect the skin because you want. 

00:23:50 Christopher Torchia 

I don't know make clothes out of your your deer that you just got so you have to think about how would you actually skin that deer. 

00:23:56 Christopher Torchia 

Well, you usually you would you put a cut under under the gut and then down the legs and around the ankles and around the neck and then you get a nice. 

00:24:03 Christopher Torchia 

You can get a a flat skin from that. Well, that's exactly what we're doing with UV mapping. 

00:24:08 Christopher Torchia 

Except instead of. 

00:24:09 Christopher Torchia 

Out of a deer. 

00:24:10 Colin Hillier 

You are skinning a tank. Yes a. 

00:24:12 Tom Constable 

Tank, possibly the best analogy we've had in the season so far, so thank you and keep going. 


Yeah, yeah. 

00:24:18 Colin Hillier 

But I would use. 

00:24:18 Colin Hillier 

I would use an orange as. 

00:24:20 Colin Hillier 

Example, But let's go with the deer. 

00:24:23 Christopher Torchia 

I should have said a bear. 

00:24:24 Colin Hillier 

Not gonna forget this are you? 

00:24:28 Christopher Torchia 

I should have said a bear and a bear skin rug and nobody really skin steered right. 

00:24:32 Colin Hillier 

Better hunter hunters out there. This is gonna be dull it's gonna be dull. 

00:24:36 Christopher Torchia 

Right so. 

00:24:40 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, instead of skinning a deer, you're skinning a tank. 

00:24:43 Christopher Torchia 

And if you think. 


What is that? 

00:24:45 Christopher Torchia 

And it's the same idea. It's the exact same. 

00:24:47 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, it's just different. 

00:24:48 Christopher Torchia 

Shapes you're having to make cuts along changes in plane essentially. So with a tank it doesn't have legs or ankles or anything like that, but you have to flatten out the hull. 

00:24:59 Christopher Torchia 

The top of the hull, the sides of the hull so you make simulated cuts. We'll say in the model, along with different directional planes, XY and Z space. 

00:25:06 Colin Hillier 

This and. 

00:25:07 Colin Hillier 

This is because. 

00:25:07 Colin Hillier 

The computer will have all of those textures and maps and and it needs to understand what that take that from a flat plane and put it wrap it around this shape. Effectively, that's what's going on. 

00:25:16 Christopher Torchia 

Exactly OK, and yeah, to use an analogy, if we were going to create a 3D model of. 

00:25:22 Christopher Torchia 

Planet Earth that's a a round thing which exists in three dimensions, and if you want to put a texture on it, a texture is A2 dimensional thing. 

00:25:30 Christopher Torchia 

So how do you make a 2 dimensional thing interact with A3 dimensional thing? You need to give it a coordinate based reference so that it knows where to overlay, which pull from the texture over which. 

00:25:41 Christopher Torchia 

Part of the model. 

00:25:42 Christopher Torchia 

You're basically skinning your tank. In our example, flattening all of its different surfaces out. 

00:25:48 Christopher Torchia 

In 2D space and we call this coordinate system instead of XY, we call it UV. I don't know the history why that UV was chosen chosen instead of XY, but but it was and this will allow you to be able to designate which pixel on your texture belongs where on the tank. 

00:26:06 Colin Hillier 

OK, that clears that up for me. And once you've done that, what's the next step? 

00:26:10 Christopher Torchia 

This is when you get to your texture baking, which is what I've already referenced to a couple of times earlier. When we're talking about modelling. Once you have your UV coordinate system, you can now. 

00:26:21 Christopher Torchia 

Take the data, the lighting data that you can generate from your high Poly model and project it onto your low Poly model so you don't UV map the high Poly mesh you UV map your low Poly mesh and you use the high Poly mesh as a 3D reference because your software, your 3D software will raycast, which is where it will put. 

00:26:41 Christopher Torchia 

Your this is done automatically. It puts your 3D model. 

00:26:44 Christopher Torchia 

Into an environment, and then it casts simulated rays of light at it from every different direction and then records the results of the reflection. 

00:26:53 Christopher Torchia 

Then it transposes that reflection result into a 2D texture. It's technical, but hopefully that sort of makes sense, and it knows where to put those reflection results. 

00:27:04 Christopher Torchia 

Based on your UV coordinate system, because you've skinned your tank so now it's simulating the reflection of light from your tank and it's recording where the light is reflecting and. 

00:27:14 Christopher Torchia 

Writing it into a 2D texture and you can generate a whole bunch of different data from this. So one thing you could do is to record where are the shadows, collect where the shadows collect. 

00:27:25 Christopher Torchia 

This is called the ambient occlusion ambient light, where is your ambient light being occluded from where our shadows. The other thing we already talked about is the normal map. The normal map is. 

00:27:35 Christopher Torchia 

Recording how light is interacting with the surface of the high Poly model and it records it in such a way that it can be visual. 

00:27:42 Christopher Torchia 

Based on the low Poly model without having to have the 3D details in place as we've already talked, you could also create something that's called a curvature map and this is important for texturing because it shows you where your plane changes are and you can even create procedural textures that can add dirt and scratches in places that are appropriate based on your normal map, your ambient occlusion. 

00:28:04 Christopher Torchia 

Up in your curvature map you can get a very nice. 

00:28:07 Christopher Torchia 

Texturing result with minimal manual input. If you're very creative using these baked textures as they're. 

00:28:14 Colin Hillier 

Called all these techniques build up in layers, effectively to create the effect that you want. 


Is that is that? 

00:28:19 Christopher Torchia 

Exactly, so the ambient occlusion map and your normal map, and in some cases your curvature map are usually inputs to your shader to your material that will eventually be integrated into. 

00:28:29 Christopher Torchia 

Your engine and it it's giving your image generator lighting information about how light should interact with your 3D model so they work together to to make it very compelling. 

00:28:42 Christopher Torchia 

3D results even on 2 dimensional planes. To get your bump and your shadowing and your correct shading of the material. 

00:28:49 Christopher Torchia 

And this really has become standard because texture authoring software used to be that we used. Don't know, maybe even some people go back as far as Ms Paint, but. 

00:29:00 Christopher Torchia 

I only ever used Photoshop and Photoshop used to be the de facto industry standard for generating these textures, and now everything has moved to 3D authoring just where you're basically loading your 3D model into a self-contained 3D rendering software and you're able to paint directly onto the surface in three dimensions, which is in terms of productivity is. 

00:29:21 Christopher Torchia 

Huge innovation for the 2D artists. 

00:29:24 Colin Hillier 

So once that sort of the textures are there and the geometry take us through what you then need to do to get that into the game or the engine. 

00:29:32 Christopher Torchia 

Once you have all of the inputs that you need, you're exporting them from your source software. In many cases, it could be 3D studio Max for the model and for the textures. 

00:29:42 Christopher Torchia 

It's oftentimes substance painter which has really quickly become an industry standard. You export those as formats that are relevant for your game engine, and then you need to do. 

00:29:53 Christopher Torchia 

Some form of material configuration you're importing these to your image generator or your game engine, and then you are configuring how the model and textures will interact with one. 

00:30:05 Christopher Torchia 

Whether and how light will be influenced as a result, this is an entire. You could spend an entire podcast or series of podcasts on just that process right there, talking about how how to set up beautiful, distinct materials on a composite object made out of many materials, and just having one set of texture inputs that material tuning in modern game. 

00:30:25 Christopher Torchia 

Engines often takes place inside of the engine if we are talking about legacy engines or image generators such as VBS. This material configuration is often times taking place outside of the game. 

00:30:39 Christopher Torchia 

And then you have to have a second step to cheque it inside of the game engine. And another thing is I'm realising as I'm I'm switching back and forth between the defence lingo and the games lingo because I I've spent time on both sides and I'm realising that in the defence industry we talk about avatars instead of characters. We talk about image generators instead of game. 

00:30:59 Christopher Torchia 

Engines. It's like we've created our distinct lingo and I hope that me switching back and forth isn't confusing anybody. 

00:31:06 Colin Hillier 

It's probably worth. 

00:31:06 Colin Hillier 

Just wrapping up or or taking us from the point that we output the modelling our modelling software and then getting that into a functioning avatar or vehicle. 

00:31:18 Colin Hillier 

Within that engine or image generator, what do we then need to do next? 

00:31:23 Christopher Torchia 

Once you have your material set up a lot of times you'll need to do actual game configuration and the configuration of animations. 

00:31:30 Christopher Torchia 

So after you've exported your model, you're typically having if it needs to move. If it's content and it needs to be articulated, then it needs to be rigged. This is a process where you are designating parts of the 3D model. 

00:31:43 Christopher Torchia 

As movable objects. 

00:31:45 Christopher Torchia 

And then you need to create a configuration for the engine to understand which parts of the model move for vehicles. 

00:31:52 Christopher Torchia 

It's a little more straightforward because you're talking mainly about rotations translations. When it comes to characters, you are doing a lot of blending between rotation and translation at the same time. 

00:32:05 Christopher Torchia 

Comes a little bit more complicated, but yeah, this is the process of rigging which marks which parts. 

00:32:10 Christopher Torchia 

Of the model can. 

00:32:11 Christopher Torchia 

Moved and in which ways. Once you have that, that's an additional input. You have your texture inputs, you have your animation inputs. 

00:32:19 Christopher Torchia 

You will need a model configuration input, which is the behaviour the the simulation or functionality of the model. If again the example of a Bradley IFV it needs to have a cannon. 

00:32:31 Christopher Torchia 

Coaxial machine gun. A tow launcher. Its tracks need to move, and et cetera. You need an inventory system. You have to keep track of how much ammo. 

00:32:40 Christopher Torchia 

So then that becomes an input and once all of those things are together then you basically have, tada a working model. 

00:32:47 Colin Hillier 

The main difference on the simulation side is the performance characteristics or the weapons effects needs to be correct. So you have to do some some degree of testing and verification. 

00:32:59 Colin Hillier 

For that. 

00:33:00 Christopher Torchia 

Oh yeah, we didn't even talk about VFX. You've brought up the effects need to be correct. That's another input in addition to the the 3D model, the 2D textures, the shader material configuration, the animation configuration, and the functionality configuration. You need VFX, which are things like the muzzle flash for a gun when you fire it. 

00:33:20 Christopher Torchia 

It makes a flame a ball of flame. It emits some smoke when the bullet hits something. It has some kind of visual effect. 

00:33:27 Christopher Torchia 

As a result, when you fire a top missile, you see a rocket flame coming out of the back of it and then it explodes. So all of those are additional assets that need to be created by. 

00:33:36 Christopher Torchia 

Type of artistic specialty. A VFX artist, which becomes its own distinct input. 

00:33:42 Speaker 4 

And on on that note, talking about that, the whole process and thank you for doing an amazing job at telling something that's extremely complicated into something that it's easier to follow. Still, you know. 

00:33:52 Colin Hillier 

Still complicated. 

00:33:53 Tom Constable 

Still still complicated, but you know easier to. 

00:33:54 Christopher Torchia 

Still, I'm sorry. 

00:33:56 Speaker 4 

Follow, certainly I think it's important. 

00:33:57 Tom Constable 

To know like this is not one 3D artist doing all of these. 

00:34:00 Tom Constable 

Could you just talk through 3D artist? You got weapon artists, vehicle artists, character artists, rigour. Can you just go through all the kind of roles within that process just briefly? 

00:34:08 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, that's actually true. To make this example the Bradley again. 

00:34:12 Christopher Torchia 

So you start off in the beginning, you have the designer, the person documenting the requirements, gathering the references, etc. 

00:34:18 Christopher Torchia 

You pass this off. In some cases it could be a dedicated person that specialises only on making high Poly models, and sometimes that's more efficient. 

00:34:26 Christopher Torchia 

You just have a guy that his thing is he makes all the high Poly models. He passes it to the next artist which will make a low Poly. 

00:34:32 Christopher Torchia 

Who passes it? Low Poly and a UV map usually passes it off to somebody who will do the textures and then that person passes it to the rigger. 

00:34:40 Christopher Torchia 

We'll set it up. We get it ready for articulation, the animator, the VFX artist, and finally the person, the integrator, the person responsible for tying it all together. So how many was that? 

00:34:52 Christopher Torchia 

66 people involved in the in the creation of 13D model from start to finish and we didn't. 

00:34:58 Christopher Torchia 

Even talk. 

00:34:58 Christopher Torchia 

The QA tester, so we can't forget them. Testers always get left out of this equation. 

00:35:03 Colin Hillier 

Chris, thank you. I think that's an excellent overview of the process. It's good to learn a bit more about some of these terms that we hear when we're involved in this, but we actually don't know. 

00:35:12 Colin Hillier 

I mean, and so that's a really good refresher if people want to know him a bit more. How do they get in touch with you? 

00:35:18 Christopher Torchia 

Vigilante us find us there. Send us an e-mail or I don't know. I probably don't want to be giving out my my own e-mail and end. 

00:35:25 Christopher Torchia 

Up getting. 

00:35:26 Christopher Torchia 

All kinds of. 

00:35:26 Speaker 4 

Spam, but spam. It's fan mail. 

00:35:31 Speaker 4 

I'll be the first one. 

00:35:32 Tom Constable 

To send it to you. 

00:35:35 Christopher Torchia 

We get enough of that. Thank you. 

00:35:38 Tom Constable 

Well, you're skinning analogies. Perfect thanks so much again and look forward to hopefully having you back on the show in the near future. 

00:35:46 Christopher Torchia 

Yeah, thanks for having me and look forward to it. 


Christopher TorchiaProfile Photo

Christopher Torchia


Chris is a man of many talents. He is a published biochemist who graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo, after which he started hic career in biotech as a Technical Scientist @ Thermo Fisher Scientific. He later transitioned to freelance 3D artistry cca 2009 and eventually worked as Art Director of DayZ at Bohemia Intaractive and Technical Director of Art on VBS4 at BISimulations before starting his own co-development company in 2019 called Vigilante Design. Fun facts: he plays electric guitar, loves to cook all things Italian, and making silly photoshops of himself in front of Hubble telescope images.