November 08, 2009

Re-topology should be a thing of the past

I'm just so permanently annoyed about this whole "topology" issue. It's like a freaking bucket of cold water when you're teaching a natural artist all about zBrush and he's almost having a turn on, then you have to explain to him that he'll eventually have to re-topologize something to get it ready for some real-time simulation like in games, or even to get the best detailing without huge slowdowns due to massive subdivision. Huge, huge turn off. There are many different techniques and softwares to alleviate the problem, but it's always there. No matter how good the software, you're still spending three or four hours of your time laying polygons on top of your high-definition mesh. And if your real-time platform (say, console hardware) target performance isn't met and you need less definition - get ready to spend an extra morning on re-meshing (or re-topologising) everything.

I think art teams currently minimize the high cost impact this has over the production and tend to accept it as something that there's no way around. I disagree. The more we need high-quality 3D content, and the tendency is that we'll need more and more of it, the steeper the cost this silly and time-expensive process will be for us.

In the future I expect we'll have two possible solutions for the problem:

- Extremely optimized automatic re-topo where you could just define the edge loop control vertexes, placed on the fly over the high-res surface, the target polygon count, and get optimal results. There are some awesome researches about that, Andrew Shpagin from 3D Coat is at the forefront of the actual implementation of these researches on his software so I keep a tight eye on his progresses. Check this link out for some amazing pics (if you're not a math-head, just ignore the equations) and a detailed description of these under-development techniques:

- Micro-polygon displacement (or render-time displacement) will become the norm and gfx cards will fully accelerate it, so that we won't have to care much if at all about the base polygon mesh - although this still will provide problems in the actual deformation/animation department, currently highly dependent of the polygon edge flow. Would probably require, in tandem, some new real-time animation technology like topological posing with masks like zBrush does.

For now we can just keep hoping that the current re-topology chore will, rather sooner than later, be a thing of the past.


BinAly said...

Haha, you and your never-ending problems with Retopology.

I agree, we seem to be working with tools designed by cave-men. However, I believe that the industry already noticed this, and we are improving fast.

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