I want to tip my hat to those of you who have taken the time to learn modeling and animation. As a game developer (I suppose I get to call myself that by now) with an emphasis on the coding side of things, I have tended to try to “make do” when it came to visuals and sounds. When I finally splurged and involved an actual artist for the 2-d artwork, it was like night and day. I’ve always known at an abstract level that visuals and music are very important to a successful game. But until recently, I didn’t realize just how much goes into the modeling and animation for 3-d assets.

Some background: thus far, my games have been 2-d, the most recent involving use of cocos2d, an excellent 2-d game framework which I highly recommend. My games have been limited to iPhone development thus far, thus the link to the iPhone specific port of cocos2d. There are others. In any event, they have primarily been sprite based and honestly not terribly complex.

I have known about Unity for some time now, having downloaded and played with it a few times in the past but never really “getting” it. This was before I had tackled cocos2d, so perhaps at the time I felt daunted by jumping straight into 3-d game development. Maybe the concepts didn’t have time to settle. Whatever it was, it wasn’t until this most recent bout with Unity that it finally clicked. As a result, I’ve now created a game (which I haven’t yet released) with Unity and am laying the groundwork for another.

The first game is a simple arcade style game; one of those little time wasters you play when you are standing in line at the grocery store. It was sufficient to use the simple spheres, boxes and cylinders which you can create directly within Unity. The next game is a bit more ambitious and part of the reason is to do with the fact that I plan to use actual models imported for various objects. I want the visuals to take a step up. However, I don’t know anyone with the modeling skills, the time and the inclination to create the models I’m looking for. At least not right now. I knew that Unity can import models from Blender, a free (and powerful) modeling application, however I lacked the knowledge of how to make Blender work for me. Still, I decided that what I could do is learn enough about Blender to create some simple prototype models, import those into Unity and do my development and put off finding someone to make proper models to a later date.

I’m coming to the conclusion here, bear with me.

I’ve since been going through tutorials on Blender. Honestly, I suspect I’m already at the point where I could create the simple prototypes I need to get started on working further on my game concept, but I plan to finish the tutorials out. What I’m finding is that modeling is more approachable than I first feared and more complex than I first imagined. Much like drafting, once you learn the basics of how to accomplish certain tasks (creating a solid from a series of points on a Bezier curve, concepts of box modeling, etc.), there is as much science as there is art to building your model. To be sure, some things will require an artist’s appreciation to achieve certain effects, but getting from point A to point B isn’t quite the boogeyman I first expected it to be.

At the same time, modeling and animation are also more complex than I first thought they would be. I’m not sure what exactly it is that I expected, but seeing how different parts interact, seeing how one minor change in dimension can adversely affect an entire model, how losing track of one key frame in an animation sequence can suddenly cause a smooth animation to break all known laws of physics and require you to start over… there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.

While I never dismissed modeling and animation as being simple, I think in some ways I gave them short shrift, thinking that the amount of time and effort put into such things wouldn’t likely be on the same level as, say, the time spent coding the game. Well, no more. This one’s for you Mr. (or Miss) Modeling-and-Animation-Guy (or Gal)!