Game Character Production Pipeline (Part 1)

Game Character Production Pipeline(2)With my specializations, I will combining the modelling and animation projects into a single production pipeline for a game character. Therefore, I have researched the most common industry practices regarding the pipeline.

Through my research, I have tried to piece together how the production pipeline would work. For the specialization project, I will be working alone. This means my production pipeline will be straight-forward and look like the one above.

Production Pipeline Research(7)

However, depending on the level of detail, time frame and team size, different people can be working on different things simultaneously in order to save time and be efficient.

Game Character Production Pipeline(4)Before production on the game character begins, the art direction should work with the game designers to create an art bible, write some lore, define character abilities etc in order to help define what characters should look like and be like to fit into the game world. From here, concept art for the character can be created. When creating concepts, the priority is speed and quantity into order to explore a variety of different ideas and looks (Anhut, 2014).

Game Character Production Pipeline(5)According to Anhut (2014) there are some common misconceptions about concept art. A lot of art labeled as “concept art” is created after the final character design has been finalized for promotion and marketing. This confusion between actual concept art and promo art can cause workflow and time issues as the concept artists are forced to create “publishable” concept art (Anhut, 2014). For this reason, it is essential quickly create concept art to design interesting characters that suit the game.

Game Character Production Pipeline(6)When the character design has be defined, a turnaround sheet is created. This image should be suitable for modelling: character’s shaped and outlines should be clear, with enough detail to model but no unnecessary lighting, line-work or coloring. The turnaround sheet will be brought into the modelling program and used as a reference.

Game Character Production Pipeline(8)To begin the character modelling a base mesh is created. Usually this is created out of ‘primitives’ and adjusted so that it has the basic shape of the character with the lowest amount of detail possible (Ward, 2013).

Game Character Production Pipeline(9)From there, detail is added to the base mesh in order to create the hi-res (and hi-poly) version of the model. There are two common ways to add this detail, the method you choose will depend on your skill set, your familiarity with different software and the software and tools you have access to. One way to do this is through subsurface division in Max, Maya or Blender (Ward, 2013). Ward (2013) states that this method is really efficient as the base model, hi-res and retopologizing can all be handled in a single program. An alternative method is to use sculpting programs such as ZBrush. This method can ensure a extremely high level of detail by may make for more complex topology(Antonio, 2010). From my research, it seems that both ways are equally popular.

Once the hi-res version is complete, it is saved as a separate file.

Game Character Production Pipeline(10)The model is then taken and retopologizied. This is the process of simplifying a model and removing excess geometry (Ward, 2013). For example, if a shirt was added on top of the torso, the ‘skin’ beneath the shirt can be removed. There are multiple plugins and external tools that do this and can help with workflow. During this process, it is important test the normal map (which will be generated from the hi-res model). If the topography has been simplified or changed too much, the normal map will not work (Ward, 2013). In addition to this, it is important to check that the joints can still deform correctly. Once this stage is complete, the game ready model is finished.

At this stage the final game model is taken and unwrapped (Ward, 2013). This is done through adding seams and relaxing the maps. This is pretty standard and how you do it will mostly depend on symmetry and level of detail.

Using the UV map, the model can be textured model according to the character design. This can be one of the most time costly parts of the pipeline depending on your level of detail.

Using the hi-res model we can generate normal, specular, crevice and AO maps and bake them to lo-res model (Ward, 2013). This allows detail to be ‘added’ onto the model without the topology being adjusted. Once again, different games may require different maps.

Game Character Production Pipeline(14)Depending on the materials of the character, shaders can then be applied for great effect.

Game Character Production Pipeline(15)The next stage is building the character’s skeleton out of bones in Max or Maya (Ward, 2013). This can get very complicated so a simplified version may be good for a game character. Depending on your team, can be started by another team member once the low-poly model is complete in order to increase the efficiency of the workflow.

Game Character Production Pipeline(16)So finally the character should be modeled and movable. In order to ensure that the mesh does not break during animation, the model must be skinned to the skeleton (Ward, 2013). This can be handled in Max or with “Paint Skin Weights” in Maya (Ward, 2013).

Game Character Production Pipeline(17)The last step before animation is to set up an animation friendly rig. This is done by setting up controls and FK/IK targets for the limbs and joints (Ward, 2013). Additionally, depending on the game and level of detail, a full facial rig may be added. At this stage the game character should fully ready for animation and implementation.

Referring back to this workflow chart it can be seen that how much time can be saved by having different people work on different things simultaneously. This can help streamline a project by using time efficiently and by coming across issues earlier rather than later.


Alchemist Model [Image]. (2014). Retrieved from

Anhut, A. (2014). Let’s Get Real About Concept Art. Retrieved 2nd October, 2015, from

Antonio, L. (2010). Character Creation for Videogames. Retrieved 2nd October, 2015, from

Crimson Viper [Image]. (2009). Retrieved from

Diamant, R. & Simantov, J. (2011). Uncharted 2: Character Pipeline. Retrieved from

Fisher, A. (2013). Create a Game Character. Retrieved 2nd October, 2015, from

Michelle, L. (2011). Female Character for Games. Retrieved 2nd October, 2015, from

Simantov, J. & Yates, J. (2011). Uncharted Animation Workflow. Retrieved 2nd October, 2015, from

Street Fighter Concepts [Image]. (2009). Retrieved from

Ward, A. (2011). How to create character models for games: 18 top tips. Retrieved from

Ward, A. (2013). Game Character Creation Series. Retrieved 2nd October, 2015, from–cg-31010


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