Gear Learning is part of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Education

The Creative Process

By on March 30, 2018

“What is the process Gear Learning goes through to create art for games?”


Today we are going to give you a quick overview of the process, start to finish, of how we made the evil spaceship for At Play in the Cosmos.



First let us go over the tools. All of our artists work digitally using a Cintiq, which is a big computer screen that lets you draw directly onto it. Cintiqs can get pricey. A great alternative is a pen tablet, such as xp-pen, which you can purchase for a relatively low cost. Lately, I’ve seen people using apps on their iPads with a stylus to draw.


Next we have the software we use. Here is a list of the programs we use as well some free alternatives.

3d software

3D Studio Max



Substance Painter

Blender (free)

2d software


GIMP (free)

Sai (free)


When designing objects, characters, and environments for our games, we go through a stage we call concepting. Here are the steps to do it.

1. Gather reference

All artists use reference. Even the pros! For the evil spaceship I looked to games I’ve played and loved in the past. Halo had some great alien ships and the Banshee is my favorite. A lot of my inspiration for this ship came from that. 

2. Silhouettes

Next step for us is creating several of silhouettes. It’s a great way to develop as many ideas as we can. After we have a good amount of these we take a vote around the studio as to which are our favorites.

3. Quick Sketches

Next step is to take the winners from the previous step and make more detailed drawings of them. We try not to get into too much detail here as we are trying to make as many variations as possible. After that we have another vote!

4. Detailed drawings

We don’t always have time for this step but I love doing it when we can! This is where we make a more polished and detailed version of the winner from the previous round.

5. blue print

In this step we get the concept ready to be 3D modeled on the computer. In this step we create a blueprint or map. I like to call them orthographic. In these we do a straight on shot of the front, back and sides. This gives the modelers something to work from.


After the concept  stage is finished it’s time to model. In this stage we use our 3D programs to create a mesh in 3D space on the computer. It’s mostly an artists personal preference as to which software to use. All of them have pros and cons. Our studio primarily uses 3ds Max, Maya, and Zbrush. However there is a free software out there called Blender that is great for learning the process.


This step is the last step on the art side of things. In this step, we take the grey mesh we modeled and paint it into its final form. 2D and 3D software is used during this process. Substance Painter is a great program to do this in and is our current favorite software for texturing.

All done!

Then voila! We’re finished! At least for the artists it is.

Josephine Allen

Josephine Allen

Games are my life. I decided early on that I wanted to make games and worked towards that goal since. I met this team as an intern for Learning Games Network in 2015 while still in the Animation Program at MATC. I graduated with an Associate of Art Degree in Animation and Concept Development in 2016. In 2017 I became a full time 2D/3D Artist here at Gear Learning. Since then I have worked on a number of projects spearheaded by Gear. I now get to fulfill my dream of working on games with this great team of talented people.

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