This year I had the great privilege of co-hosting a studio talk on standards in 3D modeling at SIGGRAPH with fellowTurboSquid colleague, Michele Bousquet. This was an area that we are incredibly passionate about and, more interestingly, is an area that has been largely overlooked. The talk aimed to outline the current situation in the industry with the lack of universal standards and went on to outline how TurboSquid is attempting to change this with the advent of CheckMate, the industry’s first standard for 3D models.
Why 3D Modeling Standards?
The 3D industry is constantly evolving, production pipelines are changing and there is an increasing demand for content that meets the expectations of the client, both in terms of suitability and quality.
Now you may be saying that this all of this may sound obvious, but for some time now we have seen a disconnect between a client’s requirements and the artist’s production. This is due in part to the increasing use of 3D models in a diverse set of industries, projects and pipelines. Artists will also find creative ways to build content that suits a given pipeline, for example they could produce content that renders well in an architectural visualization, but the model would not be suitable for real-time application. Couple this with the growing complexity of projects and pipelines that require seamless transitioning between suites of software packages and you start to see where problems can arise.
Interestingly there is very little information available that details what a good quality 3D model is or even what production artists should be producing to fit a given pipeline. With that, one of the aims became to research and verse artists in the ways of creating 3D models for the broadest industry pipelines.
This research on industry best practices has subsequently been produced into the TurboSquid 3D Modeling Series and includes detailed instructions on producing content to real world scale, avoiding and fixing n-gons, ensuring your scene organization is up to scratch and other useful tools to help artists improve the quality and usability of their end product.
Formalizing the Standards
Naturally the next step was to formalize these best practices into a coherent 3D modeling standard. A detailed specification was formulated and opened up to artists during an extensive beta testing period.
At this stage I would like to say that in our experience we understand that artists do not like to be told what to do, after all this is their creative freedom we are talking about. For this reason certain aspects of the specification were contested and artists would often detail that this simply is not the way they have ever worked before and that they have never had any issues from clients. The difference here is that we are opening up 3D content for a multitude of project types and pipelines and we want to ensure that the model works right out of the box and not just in a given instance. It was important to demonstrate the pitfalls of what could happen if content is not built to a specific standard and for the artist to understand that clients are crying out for consistency and standardization.
That said, it became clear that artist would need some choice in this matter and so the discussion turned to the minimum specification that would be acceptable to customers at large. One of the highest priority modeling aspects was that 3D models should be hand-checked and open error-free. This would enable customers to begin working with the model in the scene without the worry of having to locate missing files, reassign textures and other unnecessary additional work. In essence this standard would produce ready and reliable 3D models.
We kept the original standard and made some limited compromises, this specification became a full 44-point standard, required flawless quad based topology, real-world scale, well named objects and hierarchies, beautiful HD renders and of course the ability to plug into your existing pipeline and begin working with the content. This content could be categorized as the highest quality geometry and textures.
Much of these standards were build on the notion of allowing customers to understand exactly what they are getting without any nasty surprises. These two standards were later defined as CheckMate Lite and Pro certification.
This is the first time that we have announced these standards to the industry at large and we are thankful for the turnout and great reception we got at SIGGRAPH 2011. We honestly expected around 30 individuals to turn up and instead there were around 300 people joining us for the talk. Individuals ranged from aspiring artists through to industry thought leaders and company executives. There were also fantastic questions asked and a lot of interest in the standards and how it applies to their own companies and pipelines.
The CheckMate program has been two years in the making and the byproduct of countless customer surveys, interviews and industry research. The idea is to encompass a multitude of internal industry standards and best practices, producing one coherent and universally acceptable standard for creating 3D models. I believe that CheckMate is well on its way and I hope that this is just the start of big things to come for this program. I know that the team at TurboSquid have worked incredibly hard to get this out and so it comes as great pleasure to see this hard work validated by the industry.