What Is Kitbashing, a Kit, and
By Neil Blevins
Created On: Oct 2nd 2022
So when working on a film or videogame, you may hear the word kit or
Prefab thrown around. So what do these terms mean? Simply put, these
terms all relate to the practice of using pre-existing pieces or items
to assemble or model a brand new object or environment. That's the
short answer, now let's dig a little deeper.
You have two choices with this lesson, watch me discuss the issue in
the video below, or read the full text.
In the 70s and 80s in film, spaceships like those of Star Wars, Close
Encounters Of The Third Kind, or Alien were built as practical models
in the real world. But rather than building every little detail from
scratch, the big parts would be built from scratch, and the little
details would be taken from pre-existing model kits. So you'd go to the
local model shop, purchase 10 World War 1 or 2 tank and airplane kits...
remove the little pieces from the sprue (which is the frame the kit
pieces were attached to)...
JZ Hobby Store
Then glue the little pieces to your model, and then paint overtop.
Voila, the ship from alien...
Jon Sorensen Pics
This technique became known as kit bashing, since you were taking bits
of a kit and bashing them together to form something new. Think of it
like Lego, you are using pre-existing pieces to make a new design.
Lego Spaceship by Ninja 5
Setdressing In Live Action Films
In a similar fashion, the earliest scifi films didn't have the budget
to build everything from scratch. And so while a few props might be
manufactured specifically for the film, most of the objects come our
own world. A good example, the futuristic chairs in the film 2001 were
actually the Djinn chair by Olivier Mourgue, which you could purchase
for your home or office.
2001 Space Odyssey, Djinn Chair
So there's a long history in film of getting a bunch of props together,
and using pre-existing props or parts to make new things. This is where
the term prefabs come from, standing for "prefabricated", you're
building something new from stuff that's already been fabricated.
So now we do a lot of stuff digitally for films, including making
spaceships. But the old techniques don't die, they just transform. Most
artists make kits of their own, for example, here's a personal kit of
discs that can be used as details when creating a new spaceship.
I modeled all of these from scratch, but they have shown up on
countless of my spaceship models. Another nice thing about digital is I
can start with one of these kit discs on a new spaceship, but then edit
it to maybe look a little different, or add details to it to make it
work better with whatever design aesthetic I need for the final
project. But having something prefabbed helps speed up the process.
Plus, if you don't want to spend the time modeling your own kit, there
are countless kits available to purchase online, from tiny details to
entire buildings. While using these prefabs means your work won't look
as unique because you're using models that other artists can purchase
as well, how you use them and where you put them can still reveal a lot
of your own artistic style.
Prefabs and Kits in Videogames
In videogames, even now, having a game run efficiently is tremendously
important. And there's a lot of tricks to do that, from keeping your
polycounts low, to reusing textures. But another technique is using
kits. Basically, a concept artist will design an environment, but then
3d artists will break down that environment into repeatable chunks, and
then place those chunks all over a level. Here's an example from
Bungie, many of their Witch Queen environments are actually a set of
20-30 pieces repeated again and again to form complex environments.
Aaron Cruz @ Bungie
The art is avoiding something that looks repetitive. You can do this by
breaking up repetitive areas with a unique object, but by doing this,
you save on texture and geometry memory, because each repeated object
will be loaded only once.
Even at a concept level you can think in kits. When I worked on the
Pixar film Wall-e, I was tasked with modeling and texturing all the
satellites that surrounded earth.
Pixar - Disney
The art department, rather than designing 20 or 30 completely unique
satellites, designed maybe 20 pieces of satellite, and then placed them
together to make different combinations. So when I did the final 3d
modeling and texture, I built the individual pieces, and then bashed
them together to make the final models.
So whether you call it kitbashing, a kit, prefabs, or any other of a
dozen other similar names, the basic idea is to take pre-existing
pieces and build something new with them to save time and money. A
really common practice in the film and videogame industry, so hopefully
you can find a way to incorporate the practice into your workflow.