Interview

A look inside the Red Moon Workshop

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Tom Massez
Junior Product Manager
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The ESL One Frankfurt Compendium just hit the Dota 2 in-game store, with the Red Moon Workshop having created some amazing items for it. We got in touch and asked them a few questions about their work and the life of a workshop artist.

A look at how Red Moon developed the items for the ESL One Frankfurt Compendium:


ESL: Hello, guys - could you introduce yourself to us for those who don't already know you?

Bounch: Hi! I’m Bounch. I’m the 3D artist for Red Moon. My primary job here is to encourage Andrew’s crazy ideas and to make sure Oroboros develops a nervous twitch from the concept feedback I give him. Really, though, I build the cosmetics in 3D and paint them up for use in the game. It’s a tough but rewarding practice.

Oroboros: Hello, I'm Oroboros and I'm the dedicated 2D artist for Red Moon, along with a half dozen other tasks (marketing, talking to clients, taking care of the social aspects of Red Moon). My primary job is to drive Bounch crazy with overly detailed concepts that exceed poly limits and convince Andrew to commit to impossible SFM projects.



Andrew: I’m Andrew Helenek, animator of Red Moon Workshop
 

ESL: How did you all meet?

bounch: I can field this one. It starts with Polycount. We were all members of the website and had each individually decided to attempt making cosmetics. I had done one with a close friend for the Polycount contest in December 2012 and really enjoyed making art for a game I really enjoyed, so I decided to continue doing more, looking for more people to collab with.

Through a friend of the site I was introduced to Oroboros, hearing that he was looking for someone to work with for the 3D side. After talking, we decided I would do the Lycan set he had originally concepted for the Polycount contest. We managed to finish without hating each other at the end so we decided to work together more. During all of this, I had gone to the GDC Polycount party (yes, lots of Polycount here, haha) and while I was sitting at the bar I found myself in conversation with someone that was also involved in Dota 2 cosmetics along with his friend Andrew.

I went over to the table where Andrew was sitting and introduced myself, letting him know how much of a fan I was of Cluckles. He responded kindly saying that he really liked the Phantom Lancer set I had done for the contest, which got us to talking about a future collaboration. It seemed obvious enough to me at that point to combine our skill sets, introduce Andrew and Oroboros, and wreak some havoc together.

Oroboros: Primarily out of frustration. I was trying to break into the Dota 2 scene but was unable to find a reliable modeler to bring my concepts to life. One after the other they'd disappear halfway through the process, which made me wonder if I'd ever find a reliable partner. I happened to be working at the same company as the head of Polycount, who heard out my frustrations and amicably introduced me to Bounch and the Polycount community. Following a few months of collaboration with Bounch, I was also introduced to Andrew, who came in to address our animation needs
 
 

ESL: What did you all do before you started work as workshop artists and what made you decide to go full time?

Bounch: I’ve been in the game industry as a 3D artist since 2007. After dabbling in the workshop first hand for close to a year, I decided I was having way too much fun to only be doing it part time. It was all I thought about. That, and it was really tough to constantly be doing 16 hour days for so long… though to be fair that hasn’t changed as of yet.

Oroboros: I worked in the game industry for six years or so, with my last job being at Sony working on a next gen project that unfortunately got canceled. Following the end of that project, I decided to give full-time Dota 2 workshop a shot as the freedom it offered from a typical 9-5 job was undeniable. I'd been following Valve's workshop scene since TF2 but missed that boat. I wasn't going to take chances this time!

Andrew: I was a student, believe it or not. It was my senior year of college and I constantly faced the looming worry of "what do I do once I'm out of academia?" Conveniently, with all that extra time on my hands, I put it all into the workshop, and, needless to say, it paid off. As far as me going full time, it just happened naturally - there was never a moment where I made a decision to go full time.
 

ESL: Could you describe the content creation process for an item a bit?

Oroboros: I come in at the beginning, middle and end of the process typically. I typically try to come up with a tidbit of lore for each item before starting the concepting process. When a concept feels good, it typically goes to Bounch and we usually have a feedback phase where I get a chance to do paintovers of the model in its WIP state. When the model is completed, I typically collaborate with Andrew and Bounch to pose the set and get a Marmoset render for illustrations and other marketing materials.

Bounch: Once Oroboros feels confident in his design of the current item, he then passes it off to me. I do slight revisions based on the triangle budget we have available to make it with then start off with the modeling. My primary programs for this phase are Maya and Zbrush, to block out and then detail the model respectively. Once I’m happy with how the high resolution sculpt looks, I take it into a program such as TopoGun or Maya to create the game resolution mesh.

This can sometimes be difficult due to the polygon limitations imposed by the game engine, but with enough thought and some trickery we can make most things work without going too insane. After this mesh is made, I then paint it up using Photoshop and 3D Coat before rigging and previewing in the game. If it’s a ward or courier, I will pass off the mesh before I start texturing so Andrew can begin his process of bringing it to life.

Andrew: Covering just my end, the animation side of things. Once Bounch sends me a 3D model, I put bones inside it and create controls to influence those bones. Think of it like a virtual puppet, and I'm its puppeteer creating the illusion of life. But before I animate it, I make sure to find some reference, something from the real world I can use to base the animations off of to make them more relatable and grounded. After I finished the animations, I start testing everything in the game, making sure it works as intended. I get some final critiques from other artists, apply any feedback, polish everything up then finalize and ship it to the workshop.
 
 

ESL: Can you take us through the day in your life?

Bounch: Haha, right now? This might be a bit boring of an answer, but it usually consists of waking up, working, taking a small break for food,  maybe playing a game of Dota or CS:GO, working, and then going back to sleep to repeat it all tomorrow. I must say it does feel a bit strange waking up right when the sun is going down sometimes, but right now it’s all about getting cosmetics done so the players have cool stuff to use in game. I’m hoping to make more time in the future to pursue my traditional art and music interests but for now Dota has a firm grip on me.

Oroboros: At the moment it's an absolute seesaw, but the average day so far starts late in the afternoon and goes till early morning. We've been working with so many international organizations that it's become necessary to stay up late to keep the communication channels open and our clients happy. I typically reserve a few hours to spend time with my family and get some exercise before heading over to the office to spend a day cranking out concepts. During breaks we try to get outside and enjoy Austin (when we can) and play CS:GO or Dota.

Andrew: It’s hard to define a day. The only constant is that I animate whenever I'm awake while taking breaks to play whatever video game everyone else is playing at the moment. I don't really do anything else outside of that - I live and breathe my work.
 

ESL: How do you guys come up with the ideas for the content you create? Do you have any specific inspiration sources?

Bounch: For me it’s a bit easier since I’m usually fed concepts, but I have ideas too, you know! A lot of my inspiration comes from places like Polycount, CGHub (RIP) and lately Pintrest thanks to the way you can sort and browse through reference that’s already been gathered and manicured by people looking for the same type of inspiration. Someone even made a board specifically for Dota reference: http://www.pinterest.com/bunnyparty/dota-2-workshop-inspiration/

Classic fantasy art such as Frank Frazetta also gives my creative energy a nice boost in a positive direction when I need it.

Oroboros: I'm constantly buying art books, browsing websites like Tumblr, Pinterest, deviantART or any other art website I can use to keep myself visually 'fueled' and fresh. Also, referencing lore and browsing existing workshop submissions for heroes is a fun way to get the juices flowing. I spend a lot of time on the Dota 2 wiki.

Andrew: Anywhere and everywhere. I find that my best inspiration and ideas come from when I separate myself from the world and simply shut my brain off.
 

ESL: Who has or claims to have the toughest job among you?

Bounch: I think each of us would make that claim. Though to be honest, it’s always going to change depending on what we’re working on at the time. No part of the process can really be considered ‘easy’, and we all respect each other's talents. Except for Andrew - I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s the king.

Andrew: Hahaha, we all have our own difficulties when dealing with the workshop - it’s never a smooth process, but the lack of animation guidelines in general makes my job even more difficult.

Oroboros: It really depends on the project and client. Every step of the 'chain' in our process comes with its own set of very unique challenges. My main job is to deliver a design that the community will love, which has been a learning experience all its own.

 

ESL: The ESL One Frankfurt Lifestealer set received responses from the community both positive as well as critical. How does community feedback impact the design/creation process?

Bounch: Community feedback can affect the result quite a lot, but it’s a difficult line to draw sometimes since everyone has their own opinions on what’s good or not. We take everything into consideration when sharing things publicly for feedback, but we have to be picky on what we implement, not only for aesthetic value but to make sure it is feasible to achieve in game.

Oroboros: It's all about the community - we always submit our stuff to social channels to get feedback. I'm always gauging reactions on items we release, and apply the feedback in the hope of making our current or next creation better. Sometimes we have to take things with a grain of salt as it's easy to be swayed by a vocal few over the silent majority.

Andrew: It's hard to judge. Most of the time, the feedback you receive will be one of two things, with a very small minority offering anything you can directly use. You create something they don't like, you get a Reddit post saying don't implement this and it gets flamed into the ground, or you create something they do like and you get ASCII spammed.

It's less about community feedback and more about studying the trends of which items are loved and which are hated and using that data to your advantage to create something players want. There are always exceptions, but that's usually the case more times than not.
 

ESL: Next to item creation, you also have to come up with a bit of lore around it. Do you base this of existing lore in Dota 2 or do you look elsewhere?

Bounch: I get most of my ideas for lore from what’s available on the Dota 2 main website, and an awesome thread on dev.dota2 that has breakdowns of every hero and their relationship with the world and other heroes. It’s a great resource and I’ve learned a ton - it’s honestly really fun to see how fleshed out the universe feels, at least considering my original expectations for a game like this. Unfortunately it seems Valve has decided to remove the lore snippets from the store, though I’m hoping it’s only temporary.

Oroboros: It's all about spinning off existing lore! I rarely deviate from Valve's lore, as there's plenty to go off. We always try to tie our submissions to locations and backstory provided by Valve and the community.

Andrew: There is a fantastic mega thread on the dev.dota2 which provides everything about the lore for just about anything. While we do look elsewhere, we usually make sure it makes sense in relation to the big picture in which the Dota universe exists.
 

ESL: What's your own favorite item to have worked on or created and which one is your favorite in the entire workshop?

Bounch: My favorite item I have done is probably our Red Panda “Snaggletooth” courier we did last year. He’s not in yet, but we have our fingers crossed for some day soon! I also quite like our ward “Omij, the Sentinel of Knowledge” and still have a soft spot for my first set, “Ancestor's Pride” for Phantom Lancer.  

There are SO many excellent entries that I couldn’t pick a single favorite. A few standouts for me though are DonDon’s “Father of Dragons” Dragon Knight set, Oni/Zaphk’s “Blessings of the Eternal Eclipse” Luna set, and Motenai’s “Jewels of the Teardrop Ice” Phantom Lancer set.  Again, there’s tons of fantastic stuff out there and I encourage everyone to explore the workshop because you never know what treasure you might find off the front page. Remember to vote!

Oroboros: In terms of an item we worked on, there's a few but the Snaggletooth courier is probably my favorite one yet. The concept just came together seamlessly, we had plenty of time to spend on it and everyone just loved it. As for a set someone else created, the Twin Blades set for Bounty Hunter by Motenai and Vidotto, which hasn't gone in yet unfortunately. Honestly, though, there's so much good stuff waiting to go in from a ton of talented artists that it kind of blows my mind. Too many pending submissions to count.

Andrew: My own? Easily Cluckles the Brave, it was more or less my introduction to the workshop and the reason why I'm where I am today. As far as in the whole workshop, that's impossible to answer, there are way too many submissions that are absolutely fantastic and it would be an injustice to pick out just one.
 
 

ESL: How much Dota do you (still) play?

Bounch: I don’t play as much as I did last year, which was at least one to two matches daily. Nowadays I spend more time watching matches online, though I do try to sneak in at least a couple matches a week. I’m hoping to start playing more again soon. New meta!

Oroboros: Dare I say it I'm taking a break at the moment? I mainly watch tourneys because we've been so busy as of late. Also: ELO HELL, Matchmaking sucks, Cyka squads. I kid, just need to finish up this avalanche of work that's landed in our lap.

Andrew: To be perfectly honest, I don't play too much anymore. I find myself playing other games or sometimes watching Dota streams in my free time.
 

ESL: What would your best advice be to people looking to start creating items themselves?

Bounch: I would say first to decide what you think you’d enjoy doing most. Learn as much as you can about the subject you decide to pursue and surround yourself with it. There are lots of great learning resources on the internet such as Polycount, Eat 3D, 3dmotive, and Gnomon Workshop. Regardless of which you choose, you can’t go wrong with drawing every day.


Oroboros: Figure out ahead of time if you're going to treat it like a hobby or something more serious. Go to Polycount, surround yourself with like-minded creators and do your best. Don't give up after the first submission, expect a wait to get that first item in. It's kind of a tough, ever-evolving scene to break into, but I've learned that persistence pays off eventually.

Andrew: Become insane, haha. Consistently doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the only reason I achieved anything. More specific advice, jump on Polycount, search tutorials on YouTube, anything that can advance your skills is what you need to do better yourself. Make sure you find time every day to put into it, whether it's an hour or a whole day - it's way better than nothing.
 

ESL: Is there anything you'd like to say to all the fans of your work or the new ones you've just gained?

Bounch: I just want to say thanks to everyone for supporting the workshop and making all of this possible. It’s an incredible new avenue for people to interact and get involved with the game, and for us to be able to contribute content to something we love and see people get enjoyment out of it is an absolute dream. Thank you so much!

Oroboros: Thank you to the community for supporting us throughout this interesting journey into uncharted waters. I'd also like to make a plea to anyone reading this to dig a little deeper into the workshop to find fresh submissions from other talented creators and show them your support.

It's not all about the front page and the top three - there's a ton of really cool work that goes unnoticed, which has always bugged me. And more than anything thanks to Polycount for putting us on the correct path and the helpful artists and individuals who have offered advice and guidance along the way.

Andrew: I love you all.

Be sure to like the Red Moon Workshop Facebook page if you’re interested in seeing future updates, cosmetics and more, and don't forget to check out the ESL One Compendium in the Dota 2 store!