Using SketchUp (and Unity) to craft stunning game environments
Are you ready for this? Studio Oleomingus is an independent game studio run by Dhruv, an exhibition designer and SketchUp artist, and Kevin, a programmer. We love how they use SketchUp to tell adventurous stories set in creative environments with interesting gameplay. Studio Oleomingus post-processes their base SketchUp geometry in Photoshop and Unity to create some really beautiful art and environments for games. We thought we’d ask Dhruv a few questions about their studio and work.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I am from Chala, a small town in Gujarat on the western coast of India. I am a designer by training, though I now split my time between working for Oleomingus, crafting and teaching games. I studied exhibition and spatial design at NID (National Institute of Design). The course incorporated a study of architecture and graphic design.
I started using SketchUp as part of my course work in 2009-10. I chose the software because it had a very small download size at the time and it seemed rather simple to use. I first used SketchUp to outline a small gallery space; over the course of several projects SketchUp became an indispensable crafting tool and I became rather comfortable working with volumes and shapes directly.
A handful of easy-to-use SketchUp tools were used to create this room. This was post-processed in Unity and Photoshop.
How does SketchUp relate to what you do?
SketchUp is the only crafting tool we use for creating our game environments. We work with a very simple development pipeline, where we build our meshes in SketchUp, paint them using textures created in Photoshop, and compile them in Unity. For prototyping, we use an assembly of geometric shapes and simple volumes that are particularly well suited to SketchUp. SketchUp’s toolset allows for a clear delineation of simple surfaces using volume and vertex-based tools.
SketchUp is used to create unique environments and capture the designer's imagination through the use of textures and playful volumes found in their game environments.
Let’s talk about your current project, an exploration game called "Somewhere".
“Somewhere” is a narrative-driven first-person exploration game set in an alternate colonial India. Narrated through a collection of short stories, the game explores the strange consequences of the search for a mythical city of storytellers called Kayamgadh. This is a game about people and their lives, about absurd encounters and stories that are lost. It delves into the fractures of forgotten histories and the artifice of memory. But most of all this is a game about the telling of stories.
A SketchUp view of Somewhere, Oleomingus' newest game.
We use SketchUp as a level editor for our diorama-like spaces. Our process of creating an environment starts with an assembly of volumes and colors. Then structures are created by combining forms from a library of simple geometrical components, each with latent cultural connotation. Of course, this technique of assemblage does not seek to recreate in exactitude, but only to evoke a sense of space or recognizable form, by combining simple solids at various scales.
Of course, this technique of assemblage does not seek to recreate in exactitude, but only to evoke a sense of space or recognizable form, by combining simple solids at various scales.
What modeling functions are important to your work?
We frequently use the Scale tool to re-size small objects in our environment, so a toothbrush becomes the size of a lamp post or the lantern the size of a bed. Aside from calling attention to the object and the anomaly of its enlarged existence, we use this scaling as a way to organize space.
The peculiar shapes of small objects crafted to fit the human hand often result in surprising pockets of spaces when scaled up. Compositions of giant teacups, for example, are ideal boulders on a landscape and giant toothbrushes make for excellent trees!
Studio Oleomingus uses the Scale tool to ‘ginormify’ everyday items for environments that are otherworldly but familiar. Here, a toothbrush forest comes to life.
Scaling an object in this manner also determines the minimum scale of your room or exterior environment, and breaks down most rational grids into irrational units with strange pathways of navigation around them.
Similar to scale, repetition is mostly a function of copying versions of an object from another file throughout the environment.
Composing objects by repetition fractures regular space and combines delineated surfaces into contiguous volumes. For example, a forest is a series of repeating trees, and isolating an individual tree is difficult. Therefore, in compositions where it is imperative not to call attention to a single object -- a surface, wall or structure -- repetition allows us to create homogeneity.
Repetition makes it easier to convince the player of an anomaly. If one chair in the game floats in the air it simply appears to be a bug, or requires a special explanation, but if all the chairs float, then the phenomenon, by virtue of repetition, simply is and needs no further justification to exist!
Color and Texture
Our use of color is predominantly a function of Unity and not SketchUp; however, simple texture mapping with SketchUp’s Paint Bucket tool in SketchUp defines our peculiar workflow and allows a comfortable rapidity in prototyping several combinations of colors and textures.
Prototyping combinations of colors and textures: SketchUp is used to demonstrate and quickly change color compositions without having to make changes to the original mesh.
So, the Paint Bucket tool is our SketchUp equivalent of a texture mapping tool. SketchUp's simple approach to wrapping materials across grouped meshes and our use of seamless textures allows us to resolve texturing without having to cut seams, paint meshes or align the UV coordinates. Moreover, our art style is predicated on the use of simple patterns and bold colors so we work only with diffuse textures and without normal or specular maps.
Watch this quick demonstration video by Dhruv on how to make patterns from textures in SketchUp.
Some of the seamless textures Oleomingus uses in their Texture Folder in SketchUp.
Follow Me Tool
The Follow Me tool can serve as a loft tool when you are working with surfaces that are to be stretched across an edge. We use this to craft objects with radial symmetry or symmetry across the loft axis, and when we are working with the cross-sectional profile of the object, it's simpler than crafting the entire volume itself.
The Follow Me tool was used to create the phone cords in this image: a simple cross-sectional profile (a circle) extruded along a complex edge path.
The Sandbox Tools were used to help craft this environment.
We use the Line, Polygon, Scale, Move, and Smoove tools to manipulate underlying terrains. The Sandbox tools allow control over edges and vertexes.
Watch the Edge and Vertex video where Dhruv demonstrates how to use these tools.
Combining these tools, you are no longer working with surfaces or volumes but with skewing and scaling edges or pushing and pulling vertexes.
Organic shapes and terrain created with the SandBox Tools. Learn more about Studio Oleomingus' terrain process and see the short demonstration video.
What SketchUp extensions are important to your process?
We use ThomThom’s QuadFace Tools to subdivide and un-smooth geometry, and to remove or insert loops around closed surfaces. CLF Shape Bender by Chris Fullmer is useful for creating leaves by bending cut-out surfaces, and Tree Maker by 3d Arc Studio is used as a reference for creating small plants and automatically arranging leaf components. Once complete, we then export the SketchUp model to a Collada file and bring it into Unity 5.
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