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DF Lee

Art Update #6: Creating Characters

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Hey Backers!

Previously, we've discussed the development of the visual style of Reds, with several posts describing the overall painting style of our game and our multi-plane approach to constructing the worlds. You can read these posts here:

- Art Update #3, Creating Visual Style, Part 3

- Art Update #5, World Creation Process

In this post we're going to focus on character design and creation. During the pre-production phase of development we used the lumberjack to explore our character style. Although the lumberjack is not in the final game, the approach we took to his construction, painting, and modeling is consistent with how we are going to make the actual game characters. Using the lumberjack allowed us to quickly test out ideas and processes and get a moving character in the game early.

The major phases of creating a character in Reds include:

Phase 1: Concept Exploration

The character process always begins with initial concept exploration.During this phase, one or more artists create rough drawings to explore different directions the characters could take. A good concept isn't a finished illustration, it need only be clear enough to communicate the important ideas. Some qualities of a good character design that we always keep an eye out for include:

- Personality. Does the character's appearance match their personality? One of the best ways to express this is through pose. A great pose is a succinct summary of the character's attitude and beliefs.

- Readability. Does the character have an interesting silhoutte? Will the character stand off the background? Are the character's major areas (head/hands/upper body/lower body) distinct from one another? Color can be a great tool here (as can in-game effects such as rim lighting), but we look for strong readability even in a rough grayscale sketch.

- Expressivity. Is the character built to animate? Are their proportions, faces and hands capable of the acting and actions that the game requires? Adventure games have lots of acting and dialog sequences so Bagel's tendency to draw over-sized heads really helps us.

Because the lumberjack wasn’t an actual game character, he didn’t go through as much iteration and scrutiny as a normal character, but Bagel's early character sketches below still demonstrate several of the above qualities.

art6_characterstyle_01.jpg

Phase 2: Paint

art6_characterstyle_02.jpg

Once we have a concept that we want to move forward with, the next step is to create paintings of the character from all of the major angles that the character will be seen in. Our current navigation setup uses three primary angles: front, side and back. All angles are rendered at slight "offset angles" to avoid completely flattening the character. There is still some programming and animation work to be done in this area and we may add additional angles to smooth things out; however, for the purposes of our early tests we used three angles.

In this step, Bagel's painting style really defines the character. One of our visual goals is to bring a painterly, but still relatively crisp style to the characters. We want to add enough texture and detail to satisfy the eye while also creating an easy-to-read, highly stylized character that distinguishes itself from the background.

Major considerations in this phase include:

- Defined Edges. Although we want a softer, somewhat painterly silhouette on our characters, we don't want distracting edges that will draw too much attention or look strange when the character animates.

- Painted Lighting. The characters are painted with a subtle top-down lighting source, since most real-world lighting (sun, interior overhead lighting) comes from above. The lighting and shadows are kept soft so that it will not clash with any real-time lighting effects (such as rim lighting or additional location-based ambient lighting).

- Layers. All of the characters are painted in Photoshop using layers so that the animators can easily separate the parts for the 3D model in the next phase. In additional, many of the animated parts are "over-painted" so that they extend further under adjacent layers. This ensures that when some part of the character rotates or deforms in an animation, the model doesn't create any holes or breaks. In the image below you can see that although the left arm is layered behind the torso, the entire arm is painted so that as it moves, the rest of the arm can be revealed.

art6_characterstyle_03.jpg

- Hands and mouth. Because we also use flipbook style textures as part of our animation process, we will commonly create additional textures for elements that we don't use skeletal animation for. Although this varies per character, it usually includes hand poses and mouth shapes (visemes). These elments would simply be too complex to do with skeletal animation and are much better represented with flipbook textures.

art6_characterstyle_04.jpg

Phase 3: Model

We are animating our characters with a combination of skeletal and flipbook animation using custom plug-ins and scripts in Maya. We believe this approach will give us the fidelity, flexibility and production speed we need while also playing to the studio's animation strengths. This choice has several impacts on the approach and process, including creating the need to create a simple 3D model.

In this phase, the model paintings are turned into textures and applied to simple, largely flat, 3D geometry so that it can be bound to bones needed to drive the skeletal animation. Our process involves the following major steps:

- Create UV textures. The layered paintings that were created in the previous phase are separated and flattened into textures that can be applied to 3D geometry. Each element needs enough border space to avoid any potential artifacts. Because we are shipping on a wide variety of platforms, differences in graphic capabilities could cause issues if enough “border padding” isn’t maintained around each element. We typically create one texture for the body and one for the head, per angle. Which means for the lumberjack we create 6 textures (not including flipbook elements).

art6_characterstyle_05.jpg

- Create geometry. The next step is to model the geometry in Maya and apply the textures, building the character up with many pieces of mesh. Again, because we are shipping on a lot of different platforms with varying graphics capabilities, we need to use as few vertices as possible. Areas that will be deformed by skeletal animation will need enough tessellation to smoothly deformed, so those areas (such as the arm) are given special attention.

- Texture alpha, not mesh edges. On our first attempt to create an in-game character, we decided to use mesh to define the outside edges of the character. The thought was that using texture alpha to define the silhouette would result in too much over-draw for some platforms. What we found out was that the extra vertices needed to create a mesh edge caused more performance issues than any overdraw issues caused by using texture alpha. That means for the final character process, we use texture alpha to define our character’s edges, which lets us keep the vertex count lower and maintain a softer, more painterly edge than is possible using mesh.

art6_characterstyle_06.jpg

- Volume. Although our geometry is mostly flat, we can create mesh on the “Z plane” to create some limited volume. We typically do this on the heads of characters, which allows us to get some silhouette and shape variation by tilting the mesh toward or away from the camera. You can see in the image and video below how tilting is used to subtly change the shape of the head to add interest.

art6_characterstyle_07.jpg

[vimeo]47754919[/vimeo]

That wraps up the basics of designing, painting and modeling a character in Reds. In an upcoming post, we will go into rigging a character for skeletal animation, and talk about our animation style and process, where a both skeletal and flip style animation are used together to bring our characters to life.

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I really like the second character sheet.

Also, the facial animations at the end look great. Even though I'm not a fan of skeletal animation, this is definitely making a lot of progress.

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Adding some Z Depth to the heads (and maybe other parts) is a brilliant idea that I simply never considered. Could we therefore say that this game is neither 2D or 3D, but "2-and-a-bit D"?

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Looks amazing!

Though, there's a hole in his beard in a very first expression in this video. One must be careful to not let such artifacts slip into the final product. I guess that's the danger of making it 3Dish instead of fully painted.

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The Z depth creates a great effect and I loved the expressiveness of the lumberjack in the video. I can't wait to see what the final game ends up looking like!

I did notice his chin poking through his beard momentarily in the video, but I'd bet that's likely because it was just put together as a demo so it wasn't looked over as carefully as something that was actually going into the game would have been.

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Adding some Z Depth to the heads (and maybe other parts) is a brilliant idea that I simply never considered. Could we therefore say that this game is neither 2D or 3D, but "2-and-a-bit D"?

Same here - I've never heard of anyone doing things this way before. (And by "this way", I'm referring not only to the tilting, but your whole approach to the animating.) Is this something you've come up with yourselves, or where did that come from?

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Very cool to see that! I love the final movie.

I'm curious, are you moving forward with the creation of the in-game characters more or less in the same pace or the lumberjack is going first? Do you really use a rectangular mesh or is it just a clearer way to present a triangular one?

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Adding some Z Depth to the heads (and maybe other parts) is a brilliant idea that I simply never considered. Could we therefore say that this game is neither 2D or 3D, but "2-and-a-bit D"?

I think this is referred to as 2.5D.

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I want Lumberjack to become a secondary mascot for Double Fine. Maybe have a small cameo in the games in the back ground or something

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Wow this is all extremely interesting! Balancing style and artistry with the technicalities that come with the medium is a feat I find to be very impressive. The process you're using to animate for the game works so well with how Bagel paints! And also with the fun mood that Reds is beginning to portray in its story. I'm so excited to see and be a part of the start of the actual character designs and animations. Keep it up guys! =]

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Great post. I have one minor niggle though, you guys keep posting great Bagel characters that probably won't be in the game. Bear #1 is an example, and the rabbit in the plaid jumper w/ slippers is another. Here's an idea: after the imminent commercial success that the DFA is sure to be in accordance with prophecy, give us another Bagel game where we get to play with a thousand of his characters as a puppet show. In any case, I hope that the world of DFA is heavily populated and not some solitary and lonely experience.

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Wow! That was amazing! Can't believe how expressive that face was. Great work, DF!

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Adding some Z Depth to the heads (and maybe other parts) is a brilliant idea that I simply never considered. Could we therefore say that this game is neither 2D or 3D, but "2-and-a-bit D"?

I think this is referred to as 2.5D.

Sort of, but 2.5D usually implies that the characters truly are in 3D, the gameplay just only exists within a 2D axis. That's a little different to this game, in which the characters themselves are somewhere in between--and the gameplay itself is likely to have 3D components, in the sense that the characters can move towards or away from the camera, as seen in some of the animation tests. It's an unusual blend!

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Great update. Bagel's characters are awesome. Love the animation at the end.

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Adding some Z Depth to the heads (and maybe other parts) is a brilliant idea that I simply never considered. Could we therefore say that this game is neither 2D or 3D, but "2-and-a-bit D"?

I think this is referred to as 2.5D.

Sort of, but 2.5D usually implies that the characters truly are in 3D, the gameplay just only exists within a 2D axis. That's a little different to this game, in which the characters themselves are somewhere in between--and the gameplay itself is likely to have 3D components, in the sense that the characters can move towards or away from the camera, as seen in some of the animation tests. It's an unusual blend!

I'm in favour of √5 D. Radicals are so elegant, more so than decimal notation.

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I think this is referred to as 2.5D.

Sort of, but 2.5D usually implies that the characters truly are in 3D, the gameplay just only exists within a 2D axis. That's a little different to this game, in which the characters themselves are somewhere in between--and the gameplay itself is likely to have 3D components, in the sense that the characters can move towards or away from the camera, as seen in some of the animation tests. It's an unusual blend!

What he said.

Let's just say "multiple D's", then!

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This project has already blown my mind in so many ways.

I had never considered using a mix of 2D and 3D before. What an eye-opener.

You get the beautiful, hand-made feel of a 2D painting with all the animation flexibility that Maya brings.

Thanks so much for sharing.

--Phil

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I did notice his chin poking through his beard momentarily in the video, but I'd bet that's likely because it was just put together as a demo so it wasn't looked over as carefully as something that was actually going into the game would have been.

Not all of us can grow a resplendent beard, free from unsightly patches of skin. Lumberjack is no different. He is flawed. Much like any beautiful human being.

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A great pose is a succinct summary of the character's attitude and beliefs.
And apparently (according to Scott C.) having one foot propped up on something is a pose that says "My belief is that Tim should put me in his game."
Great post. I have one minor niggle though, you guys keep posting great Bagel characters that probably won't be in the game.
It's all just a ruse so that it'll be a surprise when you find out that Hipsterjack is the final boss.

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