Art: Blending a GIMP

By training I’m mostly a philosopher, and a little bit of a programmer too. What I’ve had almost no schooling in at all is art – bit of a problem for a one man game shop you might think. The last week or so I’ve been trying to catch up and get my artistic basics ‘good enough’ to get the job done.

My secret weapon, of course, is that I’ve been teaching myself how to do arty bits on computers since I was a tiny child and first grasped a mouse and a copy of Deluxe Paint. In fact, it was on the artistic side of game development where I first started making contributions, building 3D models for Half-Life and Unreal Engine 2 in a succession of packages popular about seven years ago. However, it’s not seven years ago and my skills have atrophied a little in the intervening time so it was time for a fresh start.

I’ve begun using two new (to me) bits of open source software which have risen up while I’ve been away from the digital art space. For 3D I’ve opted to make use of Blender, which to me looks a lot like Lightwave used to (but controls almost nothing like it), and for 2D the ‘hillariously’ acroynm-ed GIMP.

GIMP was the easiest fit; with its menus and tools being instantly familiar to anyone whose ever made use of a half-decent 2D editing package. It all started coming back fairly swiftly: layers, dodge & burn, smudge, level adjustments. I’m sure I’m missing out on some amazing new Photoshop feature that everyone is raving about, but I bet it also still starts up super slow.

I’ve not had to really use any manuals or tutorials to get into using GIMP so far; though I did find editing and painting transparency information a bit more fiddly than I would have liked. The one thing I did grab was a whole bunch of free brushes, pretty much at random, so that there were some more shapes than the limited default range to choose from. GIMP has its own brush format but can also make use of the Photoshop brush format so you can pretty much grab anything and everything, drop it in the right directory and it’ll be there.

If anyone out there has any top GIMP tips, tutorials, brushes or plugins that might be useful for making game textures, background art and similar then do let me know as I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff I’m still missing.

Blender has been a little trickier to get into. I expect it could be due to its origins on linux or the mac but it has very non-windows native keyboard shortcuts (ctrl +c and ctrl +s do not do what you think they might). I expect its all configurable somewhere but right now I’m not sure what all the buttons do so changing them is probably not the smartest move. The other hurdle is that 3D technology in games has moved on a fair bit more than 2D technology since I last dabbled so I knew I’d have some more things to learn. I want to make use of normal mapping in my first game so figured getting a good workflow for generating these maps was important. The internet provided its wonderous bounty once again and I found
this tutorial particularly clear for my purposes. I also wanted a clear tutorial on UV unwrapping, because in my previous experience each 3D package tends to have a few quirks in this area, and found a decent summation in the online blender manual, which is a general wealth of information on all things blender.

I also had a bit of ‘fun’ tinkering with the default .x exporter (my current model data format of choice) with it first seeming to export a completely invalid file (with no warnings) and then exporting a model with flipped normals and broken UVs. I did manage to fix it in the end but I’m not entirely sure exactly how I got to the fix so I expect I may have more good times ahead wrestling with it.

As above, if you have anything I should definitely know about blender or any really good resources for Blender + games rather than Blender + films stick it in the comments.

You are formally requested to monitor me via twitter here.

One response to “Art: Blending a GIMP

  • Nick H

    A new feature in the latest Blender (2.49) is Projection painting, allowing you to texture map an object from a bunch of overlapping textures taken from different angles. It’s probably most useful when mapping multiple reference photographs onto a model but you might prefer it to painting onto unwrapped UV maps.

    I had a sneak look at Blender 2.50 (not out for a while) – the UI is nicer and they’ve tidied up some of the animation nonsense.

    If you ever used adjustment layers or layer styles in Photoshop, you’ll miss them in GIMP. I think they need another year or so to get the new graphics library (GEGL) fully embedded into it before they can start to add useful features like this.

    Anyway have fun with your open source shenanigans!

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