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#11314600 Jul 22, 2015 at 06:06 AM
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60 Posts
With all the research I've been doing about period engineering, fortifications, tactics, and so on (in the interest of boring everybody's characters in lecture, of course :D) I've been itching to create some art, and with our deployment in the very fortified Northwatch Hold last weekend I was inspired to create my own interpretation of it. I doubt it'll be done while it's still relevant, sadly - I hope to finish sometime before our next deployment - but I have some rough outlines to share, and hopefully more to come.

First up, here's the reference image I've been using (along with who knows how long toodling around the place in-game), from the helpful page over at wowpedia:


I don't think it'll shock anyone too badly to learn that Blizzard's fortresses are more fun than realistic, especially when there are cannons running around willy-nilly. In creating this piece I'm aiming for a sort of hybrid of old-fashioned, grand castle architecture and the practicality of later star forts - the kind of fort you might see in the interim, when the former hadn't quite left, and the latter hadn't quite been figured out.


Here we have a perspective view of the whole fort. The first thing you'll notice is that it's much bigger, in terms of the ground it covers, which lets me fill in the details WoW had to skip (like buildings on the inside for its garrisoned troops). It also has a shallower aspect - the hills and buildings are much shorter. Part of that is because vertical distances in WoW are exaggerated, but part of it is a deliberate difference in the style of fort, which I'll discuss later.

Located where it is - on a ridge separating two low-lying areas - it has a big advantage in the terrain, and its design is intended to capitalize on that. Getting the terrain and general proportions "just so" has actually taken most of the time so far. It's still not perfect, but it's fairly faithful to the layout of the original.


This is a bird's-eye view of the fort, showing how it's divided into sections. The northern section is the best protected, so it contains all of the fort's vital areas like barracks, workshops, and armories. The other areas provide what's called "defense in depth". For example, a major Horde land attack would likely concentrate on the southern area first because it's easiest to reach. However, if they break through, the attackers still have to contend with multiple layers of defenses, while the walls they just seized provide no protection from troops further in the fort.


A front view of the fort, much as a soldier standing on the sea plain would see it. From here, the fort's full width is apparent; for scale, each vertical blue line is 50ft apart. Attackers approaching from this direction would be faced with missile fire from most of the wall as they advance. The downside is that it would be impractical to man the entire wall. Instead, the garrison has to move to counter the enemy's position. This is another advantage of defense in depth; the defenders will have plenty of time to react to maneuvers against the first wall, giving troops on the second wall a stronger position.


This view is the left-hand side, facing the sea. The fort has to double as a coastal battery, denying the harbor (which is poorly defended) to enemy ships. To this end, one of the gun batteries is located on the seaward cliffs. Its height advantage gives its guns much better range and stopping power than equivalent cannons at sea level.


The detail of one of the walls, from the outside. (This wall is the one separating the center section from the south section.) The wall is fairly short - its total height in this case is only about 8 ft. Designers of this age knew that cannon could destroy tall walls just as easily as short ones, so they made walls much shorter (and therefore cheaper) and built more of them instead. Hence, even a modest fort like this could enclose a large area and contain several defense lines if need be.

The downside is that, unlike a tall, imposing castle wall, these can be climbed or scaled with ladders fairly easily. Thus, they need a lot more close, active defense - troops positioned to fire on the attackers or engage them in melee as they reach the top of the wall. For this reason, there is a broad rampart on top of the wall. In later star forts, this was usually earth, but early ones such as this could have wood or masonry decks.

In terms of construction, most of the wall was actually dirt. Because they didn't need to be especially tall, packed earth could be used to make thick walls cheaply. The outside and, sometimes, inside (as in this case) would be finished with a facade of stone or brick to weatherproof it and for aesthetics. Brick was preferred because of the effect of "spalling". When a cannonball hits a hard stone surface, it tends to spray sharp-edged chips around that could incapacitate or kill defenders. Brick would be pulverized into sand instead, resulting in less danger. At the outside base of the wall is a mound of dirt called a talus that provides a little structural strength, prevents the enemy from digging or sapping the wall directly, and makes it more difficult to scale.

To the right of the gate, you can see a bastion projecting from the wall. Rather than the complicated systems of projecting floors and murder holes which protected older castles, these were a simple way to allow troops or cannons to fire along the sides of the wall, preventing attackers from taking cover along it. These bastions are square-sided, but as the gunpowder age wore on, it became more common for bastions to have a hexagonal or diagonal profile. Presenting a point to the enemy minimized the damage their cannon could do.


Another section, where the southern courtyard wall meets the center wall. The big cylinder is a placeholder for the gun tower. Because the two areas of the fort have to remain separate, the inner wall's parapet cuts across the join. Even a small barrier like this could break up the momentum of a charging foe and serve as the nucleus of a strong defense. If need be, the cannons on the gun platform behind it could easily sweep either or both walls. The position and facing of the parapet was designed to give any attacker as little cover as possible, even if they seized a defending position.

This is also a perfect demonstration of an important modelling technique: soft shading. The "cylinder" is actually a polygonal prism; it only has so many sides. (In this case, 16 - you can count them on the top view.) Soft shading allows the computer to "cheat" and light the model as though it were curved, even though it isn't, resulting in a gradual change from dark to light across the whole cylinder. The same technique has a lot of uses. If you look at the joint in the wall, the upper part (which is brick) meets at a very obvious right angle. Right below it, the lower part (which represents dirt) has been soft-shaded to look like a gentle turn, even though the geometry is almost exactly the same.


That's all there is for now - over the next week or so I plan to finish the major modelling work, meaning the gun platforms* and the big internal buildings, and unwrap the whole scene. Then it's on to texturing (my nemesis!) to get some colors on there! Textures are easily the more time consuming of the two parts; especially if, like me, you're not very good at digital painting. Not only is there the basic color to consider, you can give models a lot of texture and life at this stage. Hopefully I'll get the chance to talk about that a little down the line.

* A quick preview about these. In WoW they're quite tall towers. But just like walls, towers tended to become shorter and stouter with the advent of cannon. Though they serve the same role, these gun platforms don't have quite the same... towering... effect as their predecessors.
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#11314993 Jul 22, 2015 at 08:51 AM
206 Posts
I can't wait to see the final product. It's looking cool so far. Although I do expect some fantasy embellishments if you get the chance!
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#11317553 Jul 22, 2015 at 09:50 PM
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70 Posts
One thing you may want to note, the damaged tower near the lower level is meant to be a damaged mage tower, but for some reason Blizzard didn't use the correct model.
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#11324504 Jul 24, 2015 at 06:12 PM
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89 Posts
This is above my head, but keep up the good work.
Ave
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#11325628 Jul 25, 2015 at 05:08 AM
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60 Posts
#11314993 Edrington Grunwald wrote:

I can't wait to see the final product. It's looking cool so far. Although I do expect some fantasy embellishments if you get the chance!



If you have any suggested embellishments, I'm all ears! (Exception: I'm terrible at people or animals.)

#11317553 Vannesira Smith wrote:

One thing you may want to note, the damaged tower near the lower level is meant to be a damaged mage tower, but for some reason Blizzard didn't use the correct model.



I'm not too worried about things like that. The fort's stood for years and years - plenty of time for things to be rearranged. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

#11324504 Averelie Talbot wrote:

This is above my head, but keep up the good work.



Hopefully the next few will be less me yammering about forts, more pretty pictures! On which note:


The first of the internal buildings, a barracks. It's based on WoW's plain human barracks (such as Sentinel Hill's inn, among other places), although this one's two stories to add more room. The psychedelic colors are a test pattern that helps me perform the next step of the process, which is UV unwrapping. UVs are basically how the computer assigns color and texture to the different faces of the object. By using a pattern like this, I can see exactly which parts map where, and make sure that lines and shapes aren't distorted.


This is one of the towers I was talking about earlier. It's a lot shorter than a traditional Alliance tower, but keeps the same base and overall shape. It mounts (or will mount, rather) a battery of cannons. The open top lets the smoke from firing clear away. I haven't decided on a final design for them yet; I think I might add a second fighting platform or something else in the center instead of just a big hole down into the center.

As you can see, it's also wearing the test image for colors. When it's time to create the final texture, I'll import the test image and map together into Photoshop and paint directly on top of the grid.
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#11330703 Jul 26, 2015 at 03:18 PM
206 Posts
I really dig the tower design -- a mix of practical, historical designs and Warcraft's own style. Speaking of, I recently came back from my trip down to St. Augustine and Savannah and found a lot of neat forts to explore. In St. Augustine, you have designs based around the trace italienne style that was so prominent during the early modern period of European history. Most, if not all, Spanish forts in the Caribbean and the New World followed this "star" design. A key feature in most of them as well were the sentry turrets. Adding a few of those along some corners, along with embrasures might add some more flare to the design in later stages.

Pictures of St. Augustine's Castillo de San Marcos










Next, I also went to Savannah where the designs were based mostly on English and American style fortifications. These forts were used during the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Their design is much more squared away, with no slant on the walls and relying heavily on moats and redoubts. There's also an emphasis on the use of blockhouses and firing slits that fill the fort's walls, rather than a reliance on an independent upper gun deck.

Pictures of Savannah's Old Fort Jackson








There's also some pictures of what the forts look like on the inside. I know that you're probably going for mostly the exterior, but if you do decide to expand upon the interior design of the fort, I hope these help with some inspiration.
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#11562316 Sep 24, 2015 at 06:58 PM
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60 Posts
So! Haven't posted here in a long while; sadly, life got in the way of art for a while. However, I have some new pieces to show off. I decided that I wasn't happy with the rather plain model I was working on for the walls, so I designed a nicer (and more complicated) one with a little more flair to it.

(Front)

(Back)


For this wall, I took inspiration from the level 3 garrison art, particularly the arches and the chevron-shaped battlements, as well as the overall bluish tint. Of course, this building is made of brick instead of massive stone like the garrison. Here you can see it side by side with the old one:



Once I had the basic colors down, I took a very quick pass on one of my favorite techniques, bump mapping. Bump maps are a simple way to add depth and texture to a surface by defining which parts are raised or lowered. The computer can then very quickly shade in highlights and shadows that are much more complex than the 3D shape would have on its own.

This is the wall with the settings turned up to show the bump map:



You can see right away how it adds lighting around the bricks to create the feeling of relief. Adding a light to the scene demonstrates how the highlights move around dynamically with the light source, meaning it can be lit from any angle.


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#11572393 Sep 27, 2015 at 08:53 PM
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60 Posts
I had some time this weekend, so I knocked out a couple variants on the new wall.

First, there's bastions for the side and corners:


Along with a gate:


The gate is in two parts, which keeps it from being hit by direct cannonfire as easily. In between is a small gap for shooting at anyone trying to get in.
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