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Creating Sprite Sheets from 3D Pixel Models, Animated in Blender

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Last night around 4:00 am I had this crazy idea. I figured I would post here to see if there's any plausibility behind it. 


As a little background I've done a lot of programming on games, but never any art/modeling/animation.

I'm working on a solo project and need art for it. However the amount of sprites I would like in the game way too high. 


Currently I'm using the Universal LPC Sprite Sheets which you can check out here



Those allow me to change the users look depending on what items are equiped, which I quite like.


The problem is that getting someone to do custom graphics for a game with that many sprite sheets is out of the question  (unless they would do it completely on rev share, lol.) I'm in college and have almost 0 budget.


Brainstorming for a solution I more or less decided the most plausible solution to this, in order to stress my (non-existent) artistic abilities as little as possible would be as follows;


- Use a program like Qubicle Constructor http://www.minddesk.com/ to create a 3d pixel model of a base character, along with pixel models of  base armor and weapons. (They even have it set up to "qubify" predone 3d models, so I could even buy models somewhere and do that.)

- Take the .obj that Qubicle Constructor exports and import it into blender. 

- Use something like rigify in blender to give the model a rig.

EDIT: I've found pre-rigged animations that you can simply import into blender. Ontop of that. It's very easy to qubify something in blender. So the above steps aren't really necessary.

- Create animations using that rig.

- Somewhere in here I need to make sure that I can easily add pieces of armor to this rig. Not like completely new pieces, but adding another shape of shield or something like that, and have the animations I've previously done still work nicely.

- Then do something like shown here http://www.polycount.com/forum/showpost.php?p=1615247&postcount=9 to export the animations to spritesheets.

(Here's the 3DS MAX Script http://www.geoffsamuel.com/Script_Files.php?proj=4 )


This way after I did the original animation for each armour piece, and base weapon type, I could add as many weapons and shapes as I wanted. The other benefits I see with this is being able to come up with much more advanced animations than sprite sheets usually have, and being able to create completely new animations rather easily.


If someone who had any background with animation/modeling could tell me if there are any obvious and unavoidable problems with that plan, I would appreciate it. That's all I'm looking for.


EDIT: After some research, this is actually a lot more common than I thought. 


The basic steps would be:

-Find 3d model with some animations.

-Use blender to "qubify" it.

-Set blender up to look how you want it to in the spritesheet.

-Export sequence to pngs

-Create spritesheet from pngs.


And I'm sure their is some way to set parts of a blender model transparent, so I can get sprite sheets or each individual armor piece.

Edited by zachprinz

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This process is fairly commonly done, though I haven't heard of it being done with pixel art before.


I think you'd probably have better luck "pixelizing" the final generated images rather than "cubifying" the 3D model.


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I agree with Servant, though it isn't exactly pixel art though.  The reason is mostly because you have to do things too big to get nice results, and the style ends up being far from pixel art.  I guess if you "Cubify" the model first, you may get an interesting style, but I doubt it will really look like pixel art honestly, though I see where it could happen.


I can't sprite worth squat.  The game I'm working on will have graphics all based on Blender.  I recommend you maybe have a single file.  On layer 1, put your light setup and camera, and whatever object you are working on(or rendering at the moment).  For lighting, I recommend you mimic pixel art lighting, which in many cases is directional from the upper right to the lower left.  Also, I use AA, with Catmull-Rom Filter at 5 levels.  Make sure under "shading" in the "Scene" properties you set the alpha to transparent(as opposed to sky), and I would use PNG files with RGBA channels.  This method gets you a nice clean edge.


This method of sprite creation is great, assuming you are doing 64x64 sprites and up.  If you go lower than that, you lose too much detail in my opinion.


In my current project, I'm using the above techniques.  The models are generally simply colored, not high saturation, and using Blender integrated textures, like Clouds, etc... to create surfaces.  It works pretty well for the most part.  A real artist could get much better, using pixel art or 3d renders, but this way the result for me is still much better than what MY pixel art would be.  I should also say that you can get different styles using Blender's renders. You can get edges rendered if you need to.  You can change lighting models to get sharp highlights.  You can also use a technique I've seen, which I found I think on Blender Cookie.  Google "Blender 16-bit sprites" and I think you'll find it.  It involves changing the lighting model to use a texture like a cloud texture, which ends up creating a sort of "dithering" instead of smooth highlights.  It can be an interesting style.  The reason I'm not currently using it is that due to the material settings, you can't easily animate the actual colors of the materials easily.


Which leads me to mention the following.  In recent Blender versions(2.5 and up), you can animate almost anything.  This includes material colors, specular brightness, any material settings almost, including generated texture settings, like cloud size, etc...  I would use this for you advantage.  For example, my reactors in my game are bright blue in the middle, and a semi-shiny metal in the dome and base.  When they get hit(destroyed), they compress down to where the dome and base are together.  To make things look better, I've also made the middle part no longer shine during this animation.  Also, the dome and base metal colors are much darker(duller).  If I really want to, I could possibly add a texture or two, for like "cracks or scratches" and then set the material to not affect anything, and then show up during the animation.  In fact, i think I'll do that tomorrow evening after work.  Also, you seem to know the good use of re-using animations.  This is great in that if you need to re-render something, you only change what you need, and you don't have to re-draw everything like pixel art.


If you really want some examples of my game's art, I can post them to my dropbox.  There isn't much yet, but I'd show it if you want me to.


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