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The Culture of Low Poly 3D modeling and it’s impact on other styles of animation

31st July 2012

Here at Hurricane we strive to be great at many aspects of content production. Recently we’ve been producing a variety of 3D assets and elements for iOS apps, as well as creating highly polished 3D animations. These two seemingly very different genres shared some unlikely attributes.

Whilst I daren’t enter this mad-cap world of bump-mapping, NURBS and skyboxes, I do like to check in on the 3D guys from time to time to see what they’re up to. During this time there’s usually a lot of jargon flying around, most of which goes in through one ear and out through another. There’s one phrase, however, that’s been flying round the office like a taxidermal, helicopter cat (guardian.co.uk goo.gl/V0n7k), “low-poly”.

Put simply, low poly refers to the lack of polygons in a 3D model. Increasing the polygons produces a smoother, more detailed object where as decreasing the amount of polygons creates a less detailed more angular shape. These models are commonly found in computer games as they allow for better performance.

In the office I’m renowned as being a bit of geek (slight understatement) and when I’m not cutting video, designing graphics or data managing, I can often be found perched on my sofa at home playing the latest video games. Video games are more popular than ever, particularly with the rise in smart phones.  Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones in it’s first quarter this year, that’s more than the amount of babies born worldwide (thenextweb.com, goo.gl/LJjLG).

So where am I going with this? You ask.

Well, the struggle with making games for mobile devices is that not only do they need to be fun and engaging, they need to look good and perform well. If they can’t manage that, people will simply move on to the next game. This is where the art of low poly design comes in, sacrificing complex detail and structures to create something simple, yet striking.

But this style, born from necessity, has in fact bore a look of it’s own, with the “low-poly” look spreading from gaming into actual animation. Below are 2 examples of how the style is effectively used.

Cartoon enviros from Paeu on Vimeo.

Pivot from Pivot on Vimeo.

These examples exhibit a variety of ways in which the low-poly style can be utilised to achieve a desired effect. Paeu’s cartoon environment, with its bright, geometric shapes is hugely reminiscent of the landscape design in early 3D adventure games. Whilst simple and bold, it provides a vast, interesting landscape that doesn’t force focus on any single part but works as a whole.

Pivot’s style of low-poly animation is very different, using contrasting light and colour to force the eye to specific points of the image. It is this use of light and shadow that creates the illusion of detail in the characters and buildings around them, as they are still at their core, built from a very simple structure.

It was similar ideals that moulded our latest piece of 3D animation for The GSMA. Our design team needed to create a world in the not so distant future, where everything from fridges to cars is interconnected by mobile technology. For the most part all the models were stripped down to their very basic structures, with the main subjects more detailed, standing out amongst the shapes. Working in this way lets the animation move fluidly without overpowering the viewer with details, allowing their gaze to be naturally drawn to the text and key animations.

It is this bold design against a warm sunrise that represents a new world of technology. It isn’t a vision of a potentially daunting or intense future in which technology rules, but one that is simple and inviting without being condescending. We’ve tried to show how easily the technology will integrate into our lives, it is complex and even I don’t fully understand the ins and outs, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be easy to use. Below are a few screenshots of the project and there will be a video and a full case study to come shortly. The Low poly 3D animation we produced for the GSMA can be viewed here.

 

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