How We Make Pike

In this article we speak to Pete Rabczuk our character artist about what goes into making pike and chain pickerel.

We start by doing as much research into the species as possible. We use the internet extensively to conduct research, ranging from shapes and sizes of fish, pattern variations, colour variations, where they like to be within a lake, what lures/baits they like etc. This all informs the creation of the fish, both artistically and in the game design. We also try to get out and experience the species in question in real life if we can, this helps us to create something as authentic as possible. We were lucky enough to go on a research trip with an expert lure angler, Phil Medhurst, to try to catch different predators in the Royal Military Canal and also use his expertise to help design the fish. A small team also went on a research trip to the US fishing for bass but also included catching some chain pickerel.


When creating a new species of fish, we start off by creating a basic mesh for the species which has all the necessary topology for deformation and movement of the fish. This is the base on which we sculpt all of the high resolution details. The next process is to start sculpting the fish to produce a high polygon model. We do this using ZBrush (software), which simulates real world sculpting digitally. At this point, the fish is in the millions of polygons and wouldn’t work in the engine (Unreal Engine 4) so we down-res the mesh to a more manageable polycount – this is known as retopology.


The next process is to UV unwrap the model, which is making it ready for texturing before it is baked. Once the baking has taken place, we use a piece of software called Substance Painter which allows us to create colour variations of the pike and chain pickerel.


Masks are also created to add random patterns onto the body of the fish. Scales are then added within UE4.


It is then time to start rigging and we have a rig for the fish that we adjust for the different species. Once the species has been rigged, it is skinned to make it ready for animation – the joints on the rig are animated which deforms the geometry via the skin weights. Making the fish swim and move in the water.


At this stage it is ready to be sent to the animator, Will Dewe, who gets it ready to be submitted into the game engine. Once submitted, materials are created which allow us to manipulate the colour, scales and patterns of the fish. We create blendshapes in Maya for different varieties of fish in terms of length / weight / features, such as long tails to ensure that every fish in the lake is different and it’s hard to catch the same fish twice.


The final stage is to test all of this in the engine, and set up weight curves so that the game knows how much each size/blendshape should weigh, before bringing the final animations into the engine, completing the process!


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