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Slave Zero X: Artist Focus - Kebby

Tell us about yourself!
Hello, I'm Kebby from the United States and the 3D technical artist for Slave Zero X. I've always enjoyed drawing detailed schematics on paper and eventually got into computer technologies. I can create 2D and 3D animations, high or low poly models in Blender, paint textures, make maps and even some programming. I've been combining these interests to create mods for Quake and discovering it's unique engine limitations. It can be a challenging process to design new weapons or enemies, but it's very rewarding once it all works!

How did you get started working on Slave Zero X or for Poppy Works?
I was hired by Poppy Works thanks to Greenwood, he recommended me based on my work within the Quake community. When I first played Quake I really enjoyed it's moody atmosphere and fast gameplay. I tried out some overhaul mods like Alkaline and Arcane Dimensions, then wanted to try making something myself.

I had some previous mapping experience thanks to Doom and Source Engine games. Quake's welcoming community made it easy for me find tutorials and get started. I began figuring game limits, how models are animated, palettizing textures and eventually began writing code to make my own mods. I posted my work to the Quake Mapping Discord and got the attention of some fantastic people that had their own big projects.

That's how I met Greenwood and bmFbr, the leaders of the Alkaline mod. I did some work cleaning up older models, animation fixes, texturing alternate skins and made brand new enemies. Eventually Greenwood approached me about Poppy Works, and this cool new game him and bmFbr had been working on. The levels and assets were made using familiar Quake tools, and was a big opportunity for me to get into making games. I took the interview, showcased my work, and I got the job!

What sparked your interest to work on Slave Zero X?
I've always been interested in game development my whole life, planning out concepts and testing new ideas. Finally working on a game like Slave Zero X has given me the chance to vastly improve my Blender knowledge. I've discovered so many new useful programs since getting the job, it's great being able to work with artists like this and learn from them!

What do you enjoy most about working on Slave Zero X?
My favorite part of Slave Zero X, and what I'll miss most, is being part of a team. Everyone here is a passionate creator, we have incredible artists, animators, mappers, modelers, programmers, writers and musicians all working together. It's very refreshing after working alone for so long. Sharing new ideas, helping someone find a solution or having meetings where we discuss topics as a group.

The best part is when you get assigned a really awesome task by one of our concept artists. The challenge is turning that idea into a finished textured 3D model, but after it's done you get to hear their reactions. It's always a positive surprise during the big reveal when their vision becomes part of the game. It makes all the time spent worth it, and is a joy that never got old while working!

How would you describe the world of Slave Zero X? How did that World influence the art style?
Slave Zero X is a combination of my favorite science fiction stories like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Deus Ex or Half Life 2. It's a dark and twisted mega city ruled by an all powerful, seemingly omnipotent, techno wizard who controls everything and everyone around him. Francine's incredible art direction has always motivated me to go above and beyond in everything I create to match that level of detail. Capturing the gritty decaying structures, wires crawling across buildings like veins, bio-growth masses of who know what, intricate metal workings and fantastical dark machinery with tubes everywhere!

What has been a challenge you over came working on Slave Zero X? An art piece you wrestled with? The pipeline? Or whatever comes to mind.
One of our biggest hurdles was at the start of development, we needed to decide on the texel density for the entire game. It dictated what resolution the environment textures would need to be and impacted every asset in the game. We also needed to be consistent with how our art style was presented for both 2D sprites and 3D models.

Since I already had experience with Quake's workflow and limitations, I was able to work with the mappers and programmers to provide some processing solutions. They were able to engineer custom tools to aid us in asset production and I ended up writing a massive design document for our final pipeline. This led to me getting a promotion from part-time 3D artist to full-time 3D technical artist!

What skill has helped you most on this project?
Blender's texture baking tools were a must have for this project. It allowed me to use Francine's concept art directly as a material texture while 3D modeling. I could then go back and add any necessary texture details, lighting and shading as needed to stay faithful to the original idea. This sped up development significantly since I could reuse smaller model pieces to create larger complex structures. I then spent the saved time iterating new designs to create a wider variety of similar themed assets. Francine really enjoyed seeing her work shine through the new models when they were complete!

Poppy Works has been completely work-from-home since 2012. They are a global company in the sense that they hire any one qualified from all over the world. What has it been like working with such a diverse group of people?
It's been a wonderful experience working exclusively online, it's easy to forget that the people we talk with online can be halfway around the world. Usually the only problems we have are time zones and someone might miss a meeting because they're sleeping. I've been very grateful for the opportunity to work from home and it's definitely saved me time, money and stress from driving around each day!

Tell us something fun about working with the Slave Zero X team, a funny moment, something special that stands out to you about the team, or something you would like the world to know about this experience.
The occasional memes were a personal highlight for me. We'd have our meetings or discussions and someone would mention a silly idea or make a joke, but I'd turn it into a picture and post it as fast as I could. Always really funny to hear the reactions in real time, not sure how many of those made it in as easter eggs. Lots of the in-jokes won't make sense out of context, but sometimes without warning, the three little dots appear!

What has been your favorite piece to work on?
My favorite assignment by far is the Zone 5 military assets. This was late in the project so I had gotten more experienced with the modeling process. Using projection mapping and symmetrical designs I was able to create over 100 modular pieces very quicky for our mappers to decorate the environment. It was really fun to play around with all the parts like Lego, I eventually ended up making a mini-mega-city mockup in Blender. The same city construction was reused for a 3D skybox in Episode Enyo.

Another favorite is the huge enclosed boss arena, I was in charge of the design, modeling and textures for the entire chamber. I didn't have much concept reference to go off of, but Francine was able to guide the art direction for how it should look. It took almost two weeks to finish and lots of scraped attempts, but the final result was worth the extra effort!

Was anything cut from the project you wish had stayed in?
We really wanted to include a section where you pilot a giant mech, if only for a single level. I understand why it was cut, we'd need a lot of programming work for a whole new movement system, engine rewrites and camera systems. Not to mention all the new 3D art assets, animations for enemies, gameplay encounters and larger environment textures. It'd be like trying to create a whole new game from scratch. There were also a bunch of enemies that we didn't have time to finalize, hopefully they make it into the art book so curious fans can see!

How did you get started in this industry? Any suggestions for up and coming artists who would like your job?
I've always wanted to work on video games and it's hard to believe it's actually happened. To be honest, this has been my first real job as a 3D artist. I had tried doing freelance work after college but that ended up not being finacially viable. I ended up working retail for a couple years, but never gave up learning new tools and programs to improve my Blender skills. My suggestion for new artists is to keep the creative dream alive, always try to teach yourself something new that challenges your abilities. It can take a long time, but you never know when you'll finally be able to do all the things you really enjoy!

Final thoughts?
Poppy Works has been a dream come true, I am incredibly thankful for everyone here! Thank you so very much, from Kebby : )

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