It’s all about the cogs. All of the internal workings. These digital tools that I use must be considered, and employed from the inside out. Like building a table, though you see less of them, it’s most important that the legs are built correctly. The surface can be changed or embellished, but bad legs make for wobbly tables.
As someone who is usually preoccupied with how an object in a game or video will ultimately look, having to worry more about the bones and the core construction can sometimes suck. That is, it sucks time away from simply focusing on the external aesthetics.
I have heard or read many pieces of advice for artists. There are those who say that you should dedicate yourself completely to one aspect, one field, one avenue of study. If you would like to work on costume design, you shouldn’t distract yourself with the technicalities of animation. If you want to work on illustration, you shouldn’t delve into sculpting.
When I receive digital objects or assets, as sometimes happens, created by folks who mainly focused on the external aesthetics, I see a lot of wobbly tables. An awful lot. These are items that obstinately defy improvement or modification. They often won’t even suit whatever purpose they were created for. Similar to a car built with the gas pedal nestled safely under the hood, but with an otherwise spotless interior.
Game assets are deviously complex matryoshka dolls of digital information. Texture maps, normal maps, shaders, geometry, collision volumes, skin weights, skeletons, animations, local space, world space, and the reactive and interactive code that drives the whole shambling mess. Without at least a cursory understanding of each of these layers, that beautiful facade will have no place to hang.
Start small, start simple, but don’t only focus on presentation. Work from the inside out. Work on the cogs. Well built cogs can wear many faces.