Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Building Character: An Analysis of Character Creation
View All     RSS
June 12, 2021
arrowPress Releases
June 12, 2021
Games Press
View All     RSS







If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 

Building Character: An Analysis of Character Creation


November 19, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Concept Art: Model Sheets

The second part of the concept art phase are the model sheets, a term that comes to us from traditional cel animation. I'm going to use some traditional cel animation model sheets as examples, partly because the project scope and overall tone of games is similar to classic cel animation, but mostly because model sheets from classic cartoon animation is much easier to come by than model sheets for contemporary game characters.

Here's someone I think we all recognize. Like the best model sheets, this one features many different poses and expressions, and allows those creating the final art to have a "bible" that they can refer to, so that original vision will be closely and uniformly followed. This model sheet of Bugs is from the late 1940s, nearly ten years after the character first appeared. It shows how, even after that many years and dozens of cartoons, the animators at Warner Brothers — in this case, director Robert McKimson's team — were still trying to improve and perfect Bugs, find new manifestations of his wise-guy attitude.

This model sheet (left), directed for MGM by Tex Avery, is from one of the great cartoons of all time, King Size Canary. Closeup of the model sheet (right).

This model sheet, directed for MGM by Tex Avery, is from one of the great cartoons of all time, King Size Canary. In it, a mouse, a cat, and a canary discover a bottle of "miracle grow" and use it to keep out sizing the others, with whoever's largest doing all the chasing. This model sheet, shows one of the most useful aspects of model sheets, as seen here in the close-up.

This model sheet (left), directed for MGM by Tex Avery, is from one of the great cartoons of all time, King Size Canary. Closeup of the model sheet (right).

Good model sheets will be filled with useful notes to the artists who'll be using it as reference material, laying down the rules that govern the character's appearance, expression, poses, movements, etc. A note for Mickey Mouse, for instance, might point out that his ears always appear as perfect black circles, no matter what angle you're looking at him from; a note for Marge Simpson might detail the proportion between Marge's height and the height of her hair, or what happens to her hair when she wears a hat, or goes swimming.

Here's an example from The Space Bar where a better model sheet would have saved us some grief. The native race of the planet where the bar was located were called the Marmali, a somewhat lizard-like race that, like kangaroos, use their large tail almost like a third leg. Once production art of various Marmali characters began to appear, Ron — who's something of a perfectionist — noticed that some had three toes on each foot, and some had four toes on each foot. And, sure enough, the number of toes was indiscernible in the concept art that the artists were working from:

So Ron hurriedly produced this additional model sheet which clarified a few details and which showed, beyond a doubt, that Marmali always have three toes:

However, had this model sheet been done at the time of the original concept art, a lot of unnecessary work would have been avoided.

Concept Art: Storyboards

The third phase of concept art, and the only phase that doesn't necessarily come before the start of production art, is storyboarding. These include a sequential series of images of any type of movement.

A storyboard can be just a few images from the sequence, as in the case of a simple or not-too-important sequence. But in the case of a movement or action sequence which is very complex, or an important showpiece, like this animation from one of Tex Avery's Droopy/Wolf/Red cartoon.

A storyboard can be just a few images from the sequence, as in the case of a simple or not-too-important sequence.

You want a highly detailed storyboard, which shows the position of the characters and/or objects as frequently as every few frames. A storyboard this detailed can actually be stacked and used like a flipbook. I once heard a lecture by Chuck Jones, and he related a great story about animation storybook flipbooks. The Warner Brothers cartoon studio, Termite Terrace, was being visited by the producer of the cartoon line, Leon Schlessinger. Like many managers of creative and technical types, he was somewhat insecure and cowed by his own lack of creativity expertise. Often, on these inspection tours, he had seen animators pick up sheafs of storyboard sheets and flip them on their arms to see the animation come to life. On this tour, he wanted to show that he was on top of things, so he picked up a shooting script for one of the cartoons, an all-text document, put it on his arm, and flipped through it several times as if it were a flipbook, nodding knowingly. Isn't it great how the spirit of Leon Schlessinger is alive and well in many of our own industry's executives?

Moves

In many of the kinds of games we're talking about, especially platform games and action-adventure games, one of the things that most defines a character is his or her moves, the actions he or she can perform. Just about every character can perform the basics — walking, running and jumping. What starts to separate characters is how they perform these basics — remember what Woody says to Buzz in Toy Story: that's not flying, that's falling, with style! Make sure that when your characters run and jump, they run and jump with style!

And then, you can build further by adding the more interesting moves — Lara's tuck-and-roll, Crash's hand-over-hand dangle from a mesh ceiling, Mario's butt-whomp. Unique moves can define a character's personality, and help them stand apart in a crowded field. One of my favorite sets of moves from the last few years is Banjo-Kazooie, a character-pair, where sometimes one, and sometimes the other performs the moves, including my favorite, the chicken run up steep hills.

Moves shouldn't just be limited to actions the player performs. Crash Bandicoot does a few things, which endeared him to me and, I thought, almost brought him to the level of some of the classic cartoon characters. Many of his death-moves were extremely well done and cute, such as his death by fire, where he becomes a pair of eyes in an outline of charred bandicoot, which almost immediately collapses into a small pile of ash where the two eyes fall onto the pile of ash, blinking in surprise. It's an animation worthy of Wile E. Coyote. Or when you go too long without giving Crash a command, he reaches behind and pulls out a wumpa fruit, and tosses it into the air, appears to lose it, and then when he looks away it appears and conks him on the head.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Related Jobs

California College of the Arts
California College of the Arts — San Francisco, California, United States
[06.11.21]

Unranked, Adjunct Faculty, Animation Program
Insomniac Games
Insomniac Games — Burbank, California, United States
[06.11.21]

Technical Artist - Pipeline
Insomniac Games
Insomniac Games — Burbank, California, United States
[06.11.21]

Technical Artist - Pipeline
Insomniac Games
Insomniac Games — Burbank, California, United States
[06.11.21]

Technical Artist





Loading Comments

loader image