This is probably going to be the longest article that I post, but it's important so listen up!
Have you ever wanted to break into the games industry? Do you want to create art assets for a game? Do you have any idea what that means?
Well, here to help you is your friendly neighborhood college student!
I am by no means a professional, but I'm here to help those that want to try and get started on working in games. A place to start, and a team to work with. This article is going to describe the programs that I use, the ones that are available to you, and the ones that are(amazingly) free. I'm going to break it down into several sections in order to keep it as organized as possible: Concept, modeling, UV unwrapping, animating, and texturing. If those terms are a little unfamiliar to you, that's all well and good. I'll explain them in more detail when I get to them. Now lets go ahead and get started shall we?
Conception is really just designing the objects and environments that you are going to be building. It usually requires some skill in classical art techniques, as you'll be drawing up the artwork. This is the job of the concept artist.
Pen and paper. I'm a little old school here. I really like to hand draw my artwork(not that it's that great anyway, but that's not the point). The drawbacks are the fact that you continuously need to buy materials, and therefore the cost is pretty high.
Photoshop: The industry standard. It's not too expensive, and it really does everything you need to, from standard painting to combining multiple images to adding filters to... pretty much everything else you could ask for. I use this on and off when it better suits my needs, or to transfer my work to digital.
GIMP: The number one free program for digital painting and photo editing. This is what a lot of people use when they cannot afford to purchase Photoshop.
Photoshop Elements: Literally a lower priced, less powerful version of Photoshop.
Corel Painter: Simply a painting program. It's been designed in order to give users the closest feel to physical media, rather than seeming like a digital media. Again, no experience with this, but I've seen and heard good things about it. It is, however, 'outdated,' as the last release was in 2011.
Another recommendation for those who want to do some concept art digitally: Purchase a tablet for your computer. Wacom is the most common, and they aren't too expensive.
Modeling is the process of creating a 3-Dimensional representation of an object, character, or environment, called(surprise) a model. These are created using polygons, which make up the exterior visual parts of the model. Video games use triangles, while animation(Pixar, Dreamworks, CGI for other movies) typically uses quadrangles.
Autodesk Maya: This is, again, the industry standard, for both animation and game design. It has a lot of tools, has so many scripts available to help you do what you need, cloth simulation, physics simulation... UV tools, etc. Students: Sign up to Autodesk's Student site, and you can get this, along with any other Autodesk programs, for free!(while you're a student)
Modo: This is another good option. I've not used it extensively, but it is a good tool. It's very straightforward for modeling, great ways to count polygons, and is a very smooth and simple program to use.
zBrush: zBrush is a very useful program I initially brushed(Ha!) over as well. It allows you to literally sculpt a model. This often turns into bad topology(the flow of the polygons and edges), however, zBrush allows you to create better topology within the program itself. It really is a great way to create organic models.
Blender: A free alternative, Blender is often the most commonly used program by those that cannot afford to purchase one of the above programs. I've heard great things about the program, but the UI is the one thing I've heard that isn't up to par.
Google Sketchup: Another free program, this one is a great starter. It isn't used by too many people as it's not too great, but it can give you a great start.
3DS Max: Another Autodesk program, this is also a pretty heavily used program in the games industry. I am technically 'master certified' in it, but I haven't used it much in the past couple of years, because my college uses Maya and Modo instead. It's a really good program and both modeling and animation are easy to do for the most part.
UV unwrapping is the process of taking the polygons(or faces) of the 3D model, and laying them out so that a texture can be painted on them in order to give the model color, etc.
Maya: Maya has built in UV Unwrapping tools. They aren't that great, but they will work. They are pretty efficient for solid objects, but organic(humans, animals, etc.) should be done elsewhere.
UV Layout: UV Layout is what I typically use for all of my UVing needs. It is solely designed for UV unwrapping, and is great for it. The interface looks a little dated, but beyond that it functions really well, and is moderately priced($100 or $200 if I'm not mistaken).
Roadkill UV: This is a free alternative that even has a plug-in for Maya, to make Maya even better.
Animating is the process of taking a model, and making it move in someway. This can be a character whose body parts need to move, or an object that just needs an animation of some kind attached to it.
Something I didn't mention enough was rigging. Rigging is the process of attaching a skeleton to a character. This is a very important process, as it allows the animator to take the character and animate it easily. Large companies have dedicated riggers. The image shown here actually shows a rigged character.
Maya: Again, this is a pretty great program overall, so I highly suggest it. Rigging is pretty easy, and straightforward, and animating the rig is pretty smooth.
3DS Max: I've only used this for a little animation, but it does work really well for what I've used it for. It can be finicky, so I still recommend Maya over 3DS Max, but that's personal preference.
Texturing is the process of attaching color, detail, and in general painting on the 3D model.
Photoshop: Again, I've talked about this before. It's a great all around program, and I highly recommend having it, even if it does cost a little bit of money. Taking the UVs, you can paint on a flat plane the colors and detail you want.
Mudbox: Another Autodesk program, this one is extremely useful in that it allows you to physically paint on the 3D model to get the texture right.
I usually alternate between the two in order to get the texture perfect.
zBrush: I went into the modeling power of this program earlier. Well, as I described Mudbox above, zBrush works in a similar fashion. You can paint right on the object, to visibly see the texture on the model that you want.
GIMP: Again, a repeat.
Corel Painter: Repeat.
Photoshop Elements: Get this if you can't afford actual Photoshop.
So, for everyone interested in getting into some game design, there's a list of program with which you can get started.
Autodesk Student Website: http://students.autodesk.com/