North Tusk Orcs: From Concept to Model

The world of Terminus is indeed a magical and mysterious place, filled with refugee races who have been thrust together on this land that already had its own inhabitants. While much has been written and revealed about the Sacred Six, what of those that predate them? In the first of many spotlights, we sit down with Justin Gerhart, Forrest Imel, and Will Barry to take a look at the North Tusk Orcs from conceptualization to realization.

Q: What differentiates Pantheon's Orcs from the standard fantasy tropes?

JN Garhart (Lead Writer): I can’t speak to all the iterations out there, but one distinction is that Orc tribes on Terminus are predominantly female-led. The ruler of each clan is pulled from a class of warriors known as the Kaa’ruk, who are imbued with a mysterious, spiritually-sourced strength. These Kaa’ruk and their order of priestesses are often female, and the hierarchy of each tribe is often matriarchal as a result. Kaa’ruk themselves are as varied as the types of Orc tribes that cover Terminus, but they all serve as the semi-divine leader of their people. Tribes will thrive or wither based on the prowess of the role, which for Orcs essentially boils down to losing or taking land, slaves, and wealth.

Secondly would be that Terminus Orcs are spread across the planet in loose pockets of varying power, but they all still share a strong common ancestry. Orc tribes are part of a collective that obeys an ancient order of shamanistic judges who serve as stand-ins for the race’s parent deities. And even though they live in relative autonomy, all tribes are bound by a pact known as the Bloodsworn Covenant, which ensures the far flung populations will band together if ever so commanded.

Forrest Imel (Concept Artist): Like with most of our races, we wanted the Orcs to feel familiar but with a distinct Pantheon flair to them. I think we achieved the unique quality with the proportions we set for the Orcs. We looked at a lot of large apes as inspiration. I thought it would be interesting to give them a look as if they COULD or, maybe, used to walk on their knuckles, but they’ve developed over time to walking upright.

Q: Justin, what was your inspiration when bringing the Orcs to life on Terminus?

JN Garhart: Because the North Tusk of Avendyr’s Pass was our first tribe in the game, the semi-nomadic Germanic tribes that fought countless battles with Rome were in my mind. They helped form a framework for how a smaller, territorial people might coexist near a powerhouse like Thronefast, and the ebb and flow of influence they exchange over time. Those tribes were also diverse and steeped in their own culture and identity, which again I felt the individual Orc tribes needed to have a measure of in order not to be reduced to a typical, dismissible global baddie. They needed culture and personality, legacy and a past.

I hope that all of our races start with a standard of legitimacy that is built from their history, or are in a present state that can inform that history. We don’t want any of our NPC races to come off as shortchanged because they weren’t meant to be inhabited by a player. We believe that shows through (and is quite rude to the NPC race). With the Orcs, I tried to sit and “study” their daily life in order to know what made them more than just brutal, bloody bone breakers (because they are such things). I needed to know what kept them together, what were the binding agents of their social glue. That’s where the Kaa’ruk and Bloodsworn Covenant came from, the role Shamans have, as well as the strong but simple iconography like the North Tusk.

In keeping with that, we wanted each tribe to have a measure of physical individuality, which Forrest was excited to take the lead on. His renders for the influence various types of climate will have on each individual tribe of Orcs brought that idea home beautifully. Even slight variations can really sell the idea that a race is native to an area, just like we see in nature.

Q: We’ve talked a bit about the history of the Orcs here, what were the primary directives given to the Art team in regards of the lore, and how did the team interpret them?

JN Garhart: It was twofold, really, and fairly simple. First, we had to establish them as a singular race. That required we look at some of the things Forrest mentioned with proportions, silhouette, the style of motifs and so forth. We needed to make sure that in most cases when you saw a settlement, fort, or outline of an NPC, you knew exactly what it was. Second, we needed to explore the physical traits of several tribes in order to establish differentiators within the larger race. That’s where the environmental and tribal-based alterations could flourish, because after we established the common form of the Orcs, we were free to imagine and iterate on the secondary outcomes.

Along with that there’s always the “eye of the needle”, which is making sure we have the right mix of fantasy and our form of realism. We are going to do some wild things in Pantheon, but to do that properly we have to nail the foundational aspects of the world, or in this case of a race. This enables the flourishes to truly stand out as special and unique.

I’m realizing all you wanted to know was how the story influenced the art, and I went on a tangent completely bereft of anything lore-related. I will end this answer by highlighting the small distinctions between males and females, which was meant to show that the latter has a higher role in the tribe on average. But really, nailing the virtual outline of the Orcs was as critical as any specific story note.

Forrest Imel: Specifically for the North Tusk Orcs, I really liked the emphasis on the Large Tusk Altar they have in their encampments. There are always several bits of narrative that could be used to help guide an NPC’s visuals, but it helps to find one major one and really establish that in the designs. You can see the tusk motif in the female Orc’s final design the best.

Q: How much creative freedom are the artists given?

JN Gerhart: It depends a lot on the particular race and how well defined they are prior to the initial meetings. We always have an exploration that incorporates a few of the “safe” or lore-directed looks, as a control if nothing else. But we also ask for several versions that are truly artist-driven and/or meeting-derived. In some cases those ideas birth new features that flow backwards and actually influence the lore. And beyond that we certainly let those efforts guide the environmental concepts if they are not already conceived.

Even though there are often non-negotiable needs that come from the story behind the NPC, no one person can supply the entire identity for something as full and alive as a race dwelling inside of a brand new world, virtual or not. Our creative people need to have input on our creative efforts, be them big or small.

Forrest Imel: It varies. Some characters will be discussed with clear call-outs on specific visuals that they’ll need, and others are completely blank and need to be figured out on my end. The Orcs were probably right in the middle, some specific details were laid out (like the emphasis on tusks), but others were developed throughout our meeting or on my end through exploration.

Q: Forrest, when Justin gives you the philosophy behind the race, what’s the next step for you? What’s the process to take that to a realized, finished piece?

Forrest Imel: It can vary, but generally I’ll need to do a few passes of exploring what the race’s look will be. But what I explore first can differ too. For instance, I started the Orcs by exploring features like their skin color, scarification, warpaint, tattoos, etc. From there I established what their posture would be like. Feral, upright, in the middle, etc. Once we were happy with a combination of features and postures, we brought it all together for the final concept. This can all change depending on the purpose of the character I’m working on, the backstory, the position they play within the game itself, etc.

Q: Will, when you receive the final concept drawing, what is your process? How do you take what Forrest has done and bring it to a finished model?

Will Barry: First I’ll have a look at the concept and see what materials it may require (e.g. wood, metal, etc.). I’ll then bring it into the modeling/sculpting software as a reference image.

From there a very basic mesh is created and laid out to the proportions of the concept. When that’s done, I’ll move onto sculpting the first pass. The first pass is mainly the silhouette and mid-resolution proportions like main muscle groups. After that, I’ll start more fine tuning using reference images and subdividing the mesh as I go along. The final stage of the high poly is creating details such as skin pores, scratches, and damage. Images are posted for the rest of the Modeling team to show progress along the way.

Once the high poly is finalized, it’s then retopologized to a lower poly mesh and texture maps are baked out, such as Normals, Ambient Occlusion, and any ID maps for Substance Painter.

The textures are finalized in Substance Painter, and the model is set up in Maya and passed on to the rigger to be skinned.

The final steps are importing it into the engine, checking the textures, setting up subsurface scattering maps, and adding any other shaders.

Q: How long does it take from idea to implementation?

JN Gerhart: It can take several weeks, maybe up to a month, depending on how many variations we need within the race or creature itself. Armor sets, if needed, can also add time. So can pickiness on the part of the writer. Some writers are very, very particular with their pickiness.

Forrest Imel: It can be anywhere from 2-4 weeks, usually. Sometimes longer depending on how much exploration we end up doing before finalizing the designs.

Will Barry: Characters usually take about 1 to 3 weeks to model (depending on complexity and revisions).

Q: What were the challenges for each of you during the process?

JN Gerhart: Achieving a meaningful but authentic distinction from the Ogres, honestly. I think we all carry a certain subconscious cache that can blend the two races, probably because across the grand universe of fantastical worlds, Orcs and Ogres have a lot of shared characteristics. We needed to hit a mark that had genuine physical distinction but also didn’t compromise on authenticity just for the sake of telling them apart. Ultimately, we are really happy with the place we landed.

Forrest Imel: I mean, it’s always challenging developing these characters and making sure everybody is happy with them in the end, but there were no special challenges I can think of for the Orcs. Just the usual headbanging against a wall trying to make it all look good.

Will Barry: Keeping the model as close to Forrest’s concept as possible while adding the required detail for the in-game model.

Q: What was your favorite part of the process on bringing the Orcs to life?

JN Gerhart The variations that Forrest put together, which I can’t wait to experience more in game. And as always, the modeling process is so much fun. Will does a great job showing every step with regular updates and invitations to put eyes on the asset as it’s being formed. When he’s nailed it and is putting on the finishing touches, there’s always a rush of excitement. Also, when Bruno Rime tunes his shaders and makes the character look like a “real boy” instead of a sculpted model. At that moment I can cherish the effort it took from so many talented people to bring the race from idea to in-game.

So I have three favorite parts.

Forrest Imel: I think it was the armor designs for me in the end. I really enjoyed how those turned out and had fun trying to bring in elements of their culture into the final designs. Also just seeing Will wrap everything up and make it look prettier is definitely something I look forward to each time I finish something.

Will Barry: High poly sculpting is usually the fun part, but the final result in engine is always nice, as it’s an accumulation of several weeks work.