Character Development Process
Animated characters are one of the most powerful tools for brand building in the 21st century, social media driven market place where people crave entertainment and talk-worthy content.
I follow a 12 step process that ensures
a smooth running project and a brilliant result.
An animated character is a real person too. People fall in love with them, admire them and become fanatical fans of them. So, it makes sense, if you want to create a highly effective person that will connect with people, to know more about what kind of person it is you want to create. This is what the profile phase is all about.
Once we have a good character profile worked out it is time to visualise what this character is going to look like. As with us humans, first impressions count and a complex set of finely balanced proportions makes a character either likable or revolting and unnatural. So, we start this process with good, old fashioned pencil and paper and a bucket load of talent.
Translating pencil drawings into a 3D model is both an art and a science. What is drawn cannot always be built, so the challenge is to reproduce the feel of the character as closely as possible to the drawings. Part of this process is to create profile drawings which is then used as a guide to model the character.
The characters are constructed in 3D using state-of-the-art software. The model is created as a polygon mesh, which is essentially a collection of carefully placed, computer generated triangles.
Characters need to express human emotions and if they can talk, they need to be able to make the right mouth movements. For this we create duplicates of the model and manipulate them to create different kinds of facial expressions as well as a range of phoneme shapes governing how the mouth moves.
To enable me to animate the character I add a bone structure - a system of joints and control handles - inside the 3D model. This process is called rigging. The way each bone influences the 3D model is set by adjusting bone envelopes and setting the influence weights of individual vertices.
Texture mapping is the process of adding graphics to the polygon object. The first step in the phase is to un-wrap the model so the textures can be designed and applied as flat 2D graphics. I also create maps for various effects such as bump maps (to simulate textured surfaces), opacity maps and specularity maps.
Part of the process of making the character look fantastic is to set the various ways that light needs to interact with different surfaces. This means setting the various levels of things like the surface glossiness, translucency, reflectivity and transparency. And on skin you get subdermal layer scattering, specular edge weight … trust me, it gets interesting.
The software I use has an amazing ability to simulate things like hair and cloth. To create hair I have, as you would expect, computer simulated brushes, scissors, hair colouring and things to make hair, frizzy, wispy and curvy.
Once the model is built, textured and rigged I put it through its motions – this is to make sure the character looks great from all angles, bends and twists as expected and generally can do what will be expected from him, her or it when cast in a video production.
Now I need to make sure the character looks like a super star. Here I add some typical environments, set up the lights, get our newly created superstar to pose in different positions and under different light conditions.
And finally it is the character’s big audition moment when all the lights are switched on, the cameras are rolling and its time for some action. Any problems we find are fixed, settings are tweaked and when all the boxes are ticked, the character is ready for fame and fortune.