Creature and Character Design | Illustration


Oct 9, 2014

Animation Mentor CREW Characters | Creating Aia

Hey, hey! At last, the first of the new characters I'm designing for Animation Mentor has been officially announced! Her name is Aia and she's a member of the CREW, the new batch of advanced characters that comes as a follow up and an evolution to The TRIBE characters I had previously designed. This means I get to show what went into the process of creating her...

Meet AIA.
She's the Pilot of The Crew and an all around badass. This was the premise I had in mind for Aia... someone who was confident, adventurous, filled with positive energy... as well as captivating and appealing as a result. I wanted that appeal to come from within and build the design around that driven personality, of an unrestrained and comfortable-with-herself person. Okay, okay! So I might have romanticized her personality a bit... So what. I strongly believe that as a character designer, whether you're designing a likable character or a villain, you have to invest yourself emotionally with it, if it's going to result in a genuine and memorable character. Plus, I draw whatever I please, so beat it... Here she is and this is how she came to be! Enjoy!

Once my proposal for the concept of the Crew got picked up (which I unfortunately can't show you images of, since it includes the other characters that will be coming out in the future) and we decided to start further developing the lead female character... I went looking for reference. In this particular case, I can't say it was a very tedious process  ♥v♥

This last model is Devon Jade and I feel obliged to give her special credit, as I was greatly inspired by photographs of her more than any other's. The striking white hair was a big part of it I'm sure, as this was a trait that I wanted to have in this character, even before I came across this particular model. 

Simultaneously, I was doing quick sketches and explorations to try to find the character. These type of sketches are also useful to receive feedback from the client and get a better idea of what they might like. Ever since I started collaborating with Animation Mentor, I've been working closely with the great Bobby Beck (CEO & co-Founder of Animation Mentor) and in this particular case, him and the team over at AM fell for #7 bellow. So, the sketches continued developing in that direction.

Fun fact... #2 was inspired by this rad looking cute girl I briefly came across at a bar in San Sebastian. I would have so loved to go with a hairstyle like that.You never know where inspiration will strike... sometimes it just "walks into a bar". 

Once we settled on a design for Aia, I proceeded to create a detailed rendering of it, to server as solid reference for modelling and texturing down the road. I'd like to thank my friend Jose Manuel Fernandez Oli (also known as Olijosman), who currently kicks major ass at Blue Sky, for sitting down with me and sharing his wisdom back when he visited last summer... I'm still nowhere near his genius, but he's definitely been a big influence in the way that I try to approach this type of renderings. And if you know his work, you can probably tell "I was trying to do an Oli" ;)

Once the color render of the design was given the "final" stamp, we started working on the modeling of Aia. In order to give art direction on the modeling progress, I did some paint overs over initial sculpts by our modeler, before moving to poly-modeling. Working with stylized human characters is specially difficult, as everyone's eye is naturally trained and highly critical when looking at these types of designs. Appeal is a tricky thing. 

After numerous iterations and by the end, minuscule adjustments, we eventually came to Aia's final model, which was then ready to go into Rigging and Texturing. As you can see bellow, we put great attention to detail in all areas... subtlety is complex.  

At this point the process diverted into two simultaneous streams: Rigging and Texturing. For the former, I created an expression sheet for Aia with a collection of notes and objectives that I thought we really needed to nail. Luckily for us, we had the amazing Ozgur Aydogdu in charge of rigging, and well, as he usually does, he knocked it out of the park. As a former character animator myself, when I first got my hands on the rig and was able to play with it... it amazed me how intuitive and easy was to get very rich and appealing expressions very quickly. I still want to create some poses and renders of my own... perhaps even an animation? 

Pretty much simultaneously, I was working with Animation Mentors shader artist Rachel Ito, to develop Aia's look. Closely referencing my color rendered sketch of Aia, I was in charge of painting the color/diffuse maps that would then be applied by Rachel along with her shaders. Here are some viewport snapshots, just displayng the basic color maps with no lighting or shaders yet. 

At some point during the rigging process, once we started seeing some animation tests by the amazing Lluis Llobera, we came to the realization that even though the standard hair was working and looking great, it was perhaps too big of a leap forward for beginner animators coming from the TRIBE characters. So, while we definitely wanted to keep Aia's standard hair, we determined it'd be wise to add an optional alternate hairstyle that would be shorter, with fewer controllers, and thus easier to animate. It was time to go looking for reference again and start sketching and exploring.

While I would have gladly gone for something more rad, it was decided that we went with the pixie cut, which turned out very well in the end. At first I designed it as one single bulk of geometry, but we felt it was a little boring... so I developed an alternate design with separate strands of hair, which is the one we ended up going with, and is now the optional alternate hairstyle for Aia. You can compare the two versions bellow:

And this basically brings us to now! There's an animation test coming up soon that I can't share with you just yet, but I'll update this post with it when it's out. If you have any questions about the design and creation process of Aia (that I might be able to answer), feel free to ask in the comments bellow!

Oh! I guess there's room here for a small p.s... So you might be wondering about the name Aia. I was offered the privilege of naming the character I had become quite attached to, after working on her for so long; so I named her Aia, after a mountain in my hometown of Oiartzun (Basque Country), called the Stone of Aia. It's a very peculiar landmark, and a very important one for me. Whenever I come back from my travels and see it pop up in the horizon, that's when I know I'm home. So yeah, if you are a die hard Animation Mentor fan, and feel like doing some creative pilgrimage, gimme a shout when you visit this part of the world, and I'll be happy to take you for a hike to the top of The Stone of Aia ;)

Original photograph by Seamus 1372

For more stuff like this, you can follow DEISIGN on Facebook | Twitter | Blogger | Vimeo | Youtube


India said...

This is a awesome post, thanks for sharing your process!

I really want to hone in on my drawing to describe in more detail what we want from our rigs at work. I love your sheet of notes, and it's very clear for the riggers to see.

How do you find going from animation into character development?

Thank you for the inspiration!

DEISIGN said...

Hi India,

Thanks for your kind words! Glad you enjoyed the post!

Yeah, I like to give detailed notes and drawings to try to ensure that the transition from the original design to final rig is as seamless as possible. Or if anything, that the character improves along the process.

As for your question about going from animation into character development.. I find my background as a character animator helps me in a big way, to be aware of the needs the the character will ultimately have to fulfill. I feel that background has also improved my posing and expressions, as I always think of any sketch as being part of a scene or story... so that every expression and pose feels like it's coming from somewhere and going somewhere too; instead of just looking "cool" but void of personality.

You are most welcome, India. Thank YOU for your support!!


India said...

Thank you for the insanely speedy reply!

Yeah that totally makes sense. I'm currently working on my own short film, and the CG character is very geometric, and I want her to feel more like a 2D character. So trying to communicate the rigging choices is a little tricky, but this has helped a ton. My rigger won't know what's hit him!

Ahh yeah, again, makes absolute sense. I love that idea of context, much more compelling then a t-pose turn around.

Thank you again, so happy to have found your site!

Alex Alvarez said...

This is awesome man, what a masterlord of the 3d design galaxy! Great job. My congrats.

Patxi Pelaez said...

Precioso trabajo Dei!! Felicidades!

Max Steven said...

Hey, I love your character design so so so much :X Have you ever intended to mentor a course or something like that. I will desperately want to enlist :((((((((

Velma said...

I love you character design...
Very cute,,..

Josh said...

It would be lovely if you could post the process of making the hair geometry or at least a wireframe of the model. It's useful for studying the creation of the model.

Ilya said...

Like the little freckles.

Cameron Trapp said...

Hi this model looks fantastic and the breakdown is really helpful.

I'm studying game design and focusing on 3D Character creation and modelling so I was wondering what program you used to develop Aia?

This is also the artistic style i'd like to go with my modelling and was wondering if you have any tips on how to get started with this style?

Thanks, once again awesome work on this character!