Saying goodbye to the PowerVR gnome: charting his creation from SDK to GDC star

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If you’ve been paying attention to Imagination’s recent demos you may have seen that a certain gnome has made a regular appearance on our booth. However, after putting in sterling work we’ve decided that it’s time to retire our small, plump, red-hatted friend. However, we have become rather fond of the little fella so we thought we should give him a proper send-off by writing a short blog post charting the technical details of his origins.
Mr Gnome So, why did you create a Gnome?
Mr Gnome –  as we’ve now decided to call him –  was originally created for our Developer Technology Team in 2015 as something with which to test their tools and SDK. We decided to create a gnome because we wanted something that looked distinctive, was cute and had a distinguishable silhouette. This was important in order that he had a variety of different shapes and varying areas of thickness for testing shader effects such as sub-surface scattering. (I suggested myself as a model, of course, but my suggestion was turned down so we went with a gnome instead).
Not long after the gnome was finished the Khronos Group announced their new Vulkan API and with GDC looming large we wanted something to showcase our work in this area. Mr Gnome was therefore geared up and sent out on his first mission – i.e. we created the Gnome Horde demo. It ran on an Intel-based Nexus Player using a PowerVR G6430 GPU and demonstrated the efficiency of Vulkan running on our hardware.
How was the Gnome created?
We brought Mr Gnome to life using 3ds Max, ZBrush, Photoshop, Quixel Suite and Marmoset Toolbag. First, a simple base mesh was created in order to provide a simple biped structure, which could be exported into ZBrush for high-res sculpting. ZBrush is a powerful sculpting package used throughout the games and film industries and can handle models of a much higher resolution than 3ds Max. Once the model was imported it was subdivided several times to add enough geometric resolution to allow for detail to be added such as beard hairs and cloth folds.
cloth folds
Once the sculpting was finished it was time to convert the high resolution sculpt (25 million triangles) into a low-res game asset (12,000 triangles). In order to do this, the model was exported back to 3ds Max to make use of its powerful Graphite Modelling Tools.
skinningOnce that was done, a UV texture map was applied to the model so the 3D geometry could be unwrapped and flattened to a set of 2D UV texture coordinates. This enables the artist to project detail onto the 2D image which corresponds with the geometry on the 3D model.
more skinning the gnomeTexturing programs Photoshop and Quixel were then used to create a simple set of physically-based textures for the gnome. Marmoset Toolbag 2, a powerful full-featured 3D real-time rendering suite was used to test the quality of the materials, a much quicker approach than creating a new scene in a game engine.
textures more texturesAfter texturing the model the biped was created and manually adjusted to match the anatomy of a gnome. Once this was done, the gnome model was bound to the biped skeleton using a skin modifier. This made it possible to pose Mr Gnome, so we could provide several poses for the GDC 2015 booth, which helped add character.
skin modifierThe Vulkan gnomes demo showcasing Vulkan proved popular and to date has received over 267,000 views on YouTube. As such, we decided to use Mr Gnome as the face of the Imagination GDC booth in 2016, as well as other Imagination merchandise such as t-shirts, badges and business cards.
gnome usesWith the recent buzz surrounding Vision and AI and AR, we decided to resurrect Mr Gnome in an application we called Game of Gnomes. (What can we say – it just came to us).
In our 2018 GDC demo, we used Vuforia’s powerful AR tools within Unity to create a playful and interactive AR demo.  To do this we used a Meizu Pro 7, based on a MediaTek Helio X30 chipset featuring a PowerVR Series7XT Plus GPU.
gnome GDC 2018Mr Gnome was also used for an attractor demo at GDC 2018 where his mask and hat were overlaid on people’s faces – cue much hilarity and merriment.
This then is the journey of Mr Gnome, a plucky and fun chap who served us well. He started from humble beginnings and rose to become the king of the gnomes, and all thanks to PowerVR GPUs.
As well as entertaining many, his creation also highlighted the need for forward-thinking when developing demos – you never know what they might be used for in the future. So farewell Mr Gnome and enjoy your retirement. To make up for his departure, we will be developing some new models and we look forward to showcasing them for you at the nearest opportunity.

Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes

Michael is the manager of the PowerVR Demo Team. He joined Imagination in 2014 after gaining several years of experience in the games industry including working on the award-winning title Chivalry: Medieval Warfare as well as several other projects.

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