This article is about the character design approach of Pet Projects, how this was influenced and how it differs from previous projects. A much tighter deadline, smaller scope and way more abstract visual language affected this workflow a lot.
Inspired by the work on Sprite Fright, the character design happened both in 2D drawing/painting and 3D sculpting simultaneously. Each inspired the other and ended up being inseparable.
Art director and concept artist Vivien Lulkowski worked rough, loose and fast to not just explore many directions, but also test them already in 3D.
Sketches and variations were key in defining what looks like the characters we need and what doesn't. All of these were then easy to collect into a collage for more specific testing.
Julien Kaspar cleaned up the rough sculpts further and started testing specific expressions. These were for the extreme case. To see how far we can push not just the character designs but also what could be achieved in animation with our rigs .
Unlike previous productions, these expression sculpts were all completely independent remeshed objects. We had to generate the most amount of impact in the least amount of time. As long as we were confident that this could be achieved with a real rig, we moved forward.
During these tests there was constant feedback, draw-overs and paint-overs. Many final expression tests are only available as a paint-over, as it wasn't needed to refine the sculpts into the most final state.
Only then did we create focused topology tests. Every unanswered question needed to be answered here, thus riggers and animators were actively involved. With a new approach on UV map based sculpting we are confident to pull this off.
It's vital to annotate and write down various findings and limitations. The Cat was especially a complex problem to solve. How could we possibly make a usable and flexible rig that supports all the expressions and angles we were aiming for? What does the topology need to look like? What constraints does this put on the animation?
It's interesting to look back at the previous two productions because they are all very different in this aspect.
For Charge, we didn't even do any character design expression sculpts. They weren't needed. It was only necessary to make a high detail sculpt and make all movements look realistic.
Sprite Fright was also very different. The design was a slow and iterative process and ended up being mostly finalized at the time we did expression tests. Those tests were on a relatively fixed topology as well, and done on shape keys and lattices.
The advantages for that approach are that it's very non-destructive and the results will be very consistent and close to the final characters. The results were easily put together into expression sheets for the animation style guide.
But for Pets we needed this to be even faster. With what we made so far, it will be up to the animators and art director to finalize the animation style guide. It's good to embrace that this just takes some more iteration and draw-overs.