Above and Beyond: The Blizzard Cinematics Team Lends a Helping Hand
The work-life of those on the Blizzard Cinematics Modeling Team is a busy one—many IPs, many projects, as we previously explored—but they also occasionally get the opportunity to pitch in on the game-development side of game development.
This can occur for a few different reasons, but most commonly when game development cycles don’t quite match up to the cinematic release cycles. An example of this is Echo from Overwatch. Senior character modeling artist Kenny Huang was tasked with modeling Echo for “Reunion,” the cinematic that introduced Ashe to the world during BlizzCon 2018. However, Echo wasn’t to hit our screens as a playable character until 2020.
“We usually get a game mesh from the team, and we process that mesh so it’s compatible with our pipeline. For Echo, she was a special case,” Kenny said. “At the time, they were trying to figure out how she worked. Instead of getting a game model from them, all I had from them was an early piece of concept artwork.”
From there, Kenny tried to translate what was represented in the early concept into a 3D sculpt. “Then there was a lot of back and forth between their art director and character modeling supervisor to try to finalize the asset,” he said. “[The Overwatch team] has a strong vision of what their characters should look like, which is good. It was an interesting process.” Ultimately, Kenny’s realization of Echo for the cinematic effectively became the in-game model for Echo.
Kenny’s twin brother, Jason—who is also the Principle Character Modeling Artist here—is also proud of the cinematics team’s contributions to Overwatch through their work on “Reunion”. “Ashe, in that cinematic, all three characters—Ashe, Echo, and B.O.B.—they were all created on [the cinematics] side. It was very cool,” Jason said. “Most of the stuff we create never ends up in the game because you know, you’re never going to put our version of Varian with all his bells and whistles in [World of Warcraft]—he’d stand out like a sore thumb!”
Senior character modeling artist Taso Gionis was tasked with modeling B.O.B. from the concept art. “I fleshed it out,” he said, “but the one thing I will say I contributed to his actual design was the little spade on his bowler hat. He reminded me of Lemmy from Motorhead—he’s got the same facial hair! So I put the spade on his hat as a nod to Lemmy.”
Jason also cited skins as an avenue through which their work makes it in game. “We would get the character [mesh], but in our short, they need to be wearing another outfit,” he said, “and eventually this outfit might become a game asset.”
Both Kenny and Jason find it exciting when their work can be used in game. “Working with the Overwatch team, it’s like they’re our client, but we’re still in the same company so it’s not as impersonal,” Jason said. “We share tips with each other, it’s more collaborative.”
Overwatch isn’t the only universe where the modeling team has gotten to pitch in beyond the cinematics. Last year, Jason had the opportunity to do a month-long stint on the Diablo IV team after his work on “By Three They Come.”
These periods of being embedded with another team work both ways—sometimes people from game teams join the cinematics team for a period of time when needed as well. This sharing is something that the team is not only happy to do, but is excited and inspired by.
“Cinematics is our top priority, but this is unique to Blizzard, where it does afford us those chances to influence these projects and help out,” Jason said. “We’re one Blizzard.”
And here’s a look at some of other work created for some of other IPs over the past few years:
World of Warcraft
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