Realistic Horse Coats with Procedural Textures?

During the INDIGO showcase yesterday, I got the chance to talk to the ladies of Studio Deloryan. They’re working on a horse management game called Horse Reality, featuring realistic genetics of the horses’ coat colours. The illustrations of the game are beautiful, but as they all need to be drawn by hand, it quickly becomes quite a workload.

Promotional art of the game Horse Reality, these images are also used in-game.

Think about it: all the featured horse breeds need to be illustrated in all the possible coat variations these horses can have. In addition, Deloryan told me that every breed also has separate illustrations for mares, stallions and foals, tripling the amount of images needed.

I’ve never been a big horse fan (I skipped that phase), so my horse drawing skills aren’t that developed. But even if I were able to illustrate horses of the quality of this game, I would definitely think, Isn’t there a way to automate the proces of creating artwork of all the coat variations?

As early as 2003, the Pok√©mon Spinda had procedurally generated spots on its sprite. Interestingly, the four dots would each have a square mapped out in which it would appear, designed so that Spinda usually would have a spot on each of it’s ears and two in it’s face (or one, if the two overlap). A very efficient way to create diverse but still similar variations, if you ask me!

You would need something more advanced for the generation of realistic textures, of course, but the tech isn’t new. The genetics of horse coats is pretty complex as this online tool nicely illustrates: some gene combinations result in almost indistinguishable variations, while other genes handle different kinds of spotted patterns (such as tobiano or overo).

This tool work with semitransparent images, as the patterns are always appear the same – but combined with technology like the randomization of spots on Spinda, it should be possible to create unlimited variations of tobiano markings, shouldn’t it?

As interested in technical art challenges as I am, I quickly looked if there exist any algoritms or scripts that could generate spot patterns of horse coats, but I found none. There is a Minecraft Mod that brings realistic horse genetics to Minecraft, but it uses only pre-made textures. If anyone knows of a tool that generates spot-like patterns, let me know! I’d love to explore the possibilities of this!