June 1, 2023

Ivo Franic (Lead Vehicle Artist)

Ivo Franic has been creating cars for sim racing games for 20 years. Or, in polygon years, that’s 10K to 300K. He’s also had a close-up with the consequences of too much speed in Sweden a few years ago that made the local papers. So what’s next for Straight4’s Croatia-based (and Ozzie-raised) Lead Vehicle Artist?

Your Moby Games credits have you starting your career on F1 Challenge back in 2003. How did you get into the industry?

I got my professional start in the industry with F1 Challenge '99 - '02 when EA contacted the modding group I was part of, EMAC F1, where Ralph Hummerich and I were creating F1 cars for the ISI F1 games. That was a fantastic opportunity for us, but we had to make four full seasons of F1 cars in a few months while Ralph still worked a full-time job, and I continued my university studies. Fun times, nonetheless. After that we made a couple more F1 season mods while I completed my mechanical engineering degree. Then in 2007 Ian Bell contacted us with an offer to join Blimey! Games and work with the team that created GTR and GTR2 that we looked up to for so long. We instantly said yes, and we’ve both been with Ian ever since.

You're lead vehicle artist at Straight4: Can you explain what a vehicle artist does, and what the job entails?

As the Lead Vehicle Artist at Straight4 I work with a fantastic group of very talented artists to create the best looking and most realistic vehicles for our racing games. After many years of modelling the cars myself, I am now the lead and my responsibilities include overseeing the whole vehicle team, organizing what cars we make and how, and coordinating with our partners.

From CAD to final vehicle in-game, how long does creating a car typically take and what are some of the challenges to the job?

Creating a highly detailed and above all accurate car in today’s market of racing games is a very complex and time-consuming task. What we did in a matter of weeks with 10,000 polygons in 2004 now takes a few months and is generally over 300,000 polygons. When we have access to a CAD model from the manufacturers it makes things easier as we don't have to rely purely on photo references but have a very precise 3D model with millimetre accuracy to model against. It’s still a time-consuming process, typically taking a month or so just for the 3D model—and before we then create the textures and apply them to our complex shaders to create accurate PBR materials. But it doesn’t end there, we still need to add damage, setup animations for the exterior and interior, and make sure it all works correctly in the game engine. It's a labour of love, but worth it when we see our creations come to life in our games.

Looking back on a 20-year career, what's the single biggest highlight and why?

I’d have to say my highlight was what we as a team achieved, against the odds, with the first Project CARS. The whole project was hugely impressive, but the vehicles and the level of detail we had in those cars is still impressive by today’s standards, and what our custom-built engine allowed us to do visually was simply amazing. We set new benchmarks in the industry, and we are planning on doing it again!

Mantorp Park must hold a special memory for you. Can you describe what happened? You were there working on Need for Speed: Shift, right?

Yes, Mantrop Park is not a track I will forget any time soon. Our team was invited out to Sweden to do a track day event after the successful release of Need For Speed: Shift. It was an amazing trip, and we all had a great day out, until I had a … little accident in the Ginetta G20 track car.

I was having a blast driving that thing around, each lap feeling more and more comfortable, pushing the car a bit more each corner, feeling it step out and holding small oversteer drifts on corner exits, just loving the whole experience. Or at least I did until I pushed a bit too hard into the fast turn 1 left hander! The car began to over-rotate, and I couldn't hold the slide. I spun out and went through the gravel trap and into the Armco, backwards. The car flipped and I was stuck inside, upside down. Luckily, I didn't get hurt, but I destroyed the car ... still feel bad for giving everyone in the team a heart attack when they realized what happened. I think Ian eventually forgave me!

What's the one car that you've loved working on the most?

I’m a big fan of Formula 1 and love the technical side of the sport, so when we were supplied with the CAD models of the current Ferrari F1 cars that we made for Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends I was gob smacked. Seeing the secrets of the aerodynamics up close was so cool for me, especially as I got my start in this industry by making those cars from photographs I found on the internet. Seeing the actual F1 team’s CAD data was a dream come true. So Michael Schumacher's last Ferrari F1 car, the 248 F1, gets my vote.

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