What's the Difference? A Comparison of Modeling for Games and Modeling for Movies
Why Modeling for Games is DifferentOne of the biggest and most obvious differences between the two is the ever-present polygon budget that's found in any game development process. When it comes to modeling for movies, whether it's an animated feature like Toy Story 3 or a live action film with CG integrated in like Pacific Rim there's not really a limit on the amount of polygons that can be in any given model. For movies, often times the only constraint you have is time. Like any other production, movies have deadlines which must be met. This means you'll need to be able to produce great looking models on time and on budget. In movies you've got free range to use however many polygons it takes to get the model to look good on screen because, in the end, that's what matters the most. For games it's different because you're limited by the power of the game engine and the hardware it's being played on. Of course, hardware is constantly advancing, and with consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation 4 the graphical capabilities have increased. But even with next-gen consoles today there's still a strict polygon budget that must be met in order for the game to be able to play smoothly. Games are rendered in real-time right in front of the player, so in order for the game to run at a constant frame rate and maintain it throughout the gameplay, the 3D models must be created at a level that's not taxing on the game engine. As you're playing a game there can be thousands of different assets all being rendered at one time on the screen, taking a lot of processing power. Unlike movies, games don't have the luxury of being pre-rendered. After all, it wouldn't be very fun to play a game that took hours, minutes or even seconds to render each new frame on the screen every time you moved your character. For many games, a lag of a few seconds can be the difference between life and death. You've probably seen a cinematic intro for a game before and were blown away by how great it looks. As you've probably found out, pre-rendered cinematics usually don't portray accurately what the graphics look like in-game. This is simply because it'd be impossible to be able to render that amount of detail in real-time.
Example PlayStation ModelThe original PlayStation required a lower poly count than is popular with current gaming systems. The above image is an example of the low poly count that could be found with these earlier generation game models.