by Philippe Character Modelling

July 06, 2021 at 1:31 AM    251

This blog post is a collection of various 3d characters that I have modelled over the years. Each one for a different project and each one had its own modelling and rigging problems to be figured out!. All this work just goes to show you that it is more than just a passion it's a way of life, ever since I started watching animated movies produced by professional Production 3d animation studios (Dreamworks, Pixar) I am fascinated at how they bring the characters to life!. They are so believable and the animators behind characters like Po the giant panda in Kung fu panda, Hiccup one of the leading characters in How to Train your Dragon etc. These guys have so much talent, I can tell you from years of experience it's all very well creating fun and creative characters but the animation is what takes them to that next level.


So first up my frog character, this little guy came about due to watching The Jungle Bunch (Les As de la Jungle). A French CGI animated television series by TAT Production Studios. In the series, there is a Glass frog called Al and Bob a Cane toad so my frog character is based on Al and as I mentioned in the intro they make it look so easy!. Once I had modelled the frog, well I needed an environment for him to exist in so the project grew into an experimental environmental scene exercise!. I will do an article on the subject at a later date. Lots of plants and Lilly leaves in the pond as you can see in the image and grass millions of blades of grass!. My little animated clip showed the frog doing some Ti-Chi movements on a rock and hopping off onto a Lilly leaf and finally diving into the pond. In theory, the storyboard sounds simple enough, haha 3 months later...

For 12 seconds of animation! So let me share with you some of the scene, tips & tricks I used to achieve this little clip. The frog character obviously had to have squash & stretch capabilities in the rigging process the skin material as well is relatively complex. A VRay SSS (Sub Surface Scattering) material resulting in a sort of translucid wet effect and I used a bump map texture also. Something I learned during this project, that just goes to show you we live and learn every day. The water material, look closely where the frogs left leg hangs in the water it looks like the water has depth no?. But the water is just a simple polygon plane nothing more. I used a Blinn shader to get the reflections and the depth I discovered by accident playing around in the attributes editor under the materials Refraction settings (1.333/ 1.6 for water) Fog Color, Fog multiplier and Fog bias gave me this nice depth effect. The ripples were done using a wave deformer on the water plane and the splash well this can be done inside of Maya using Bifrost. I did it in RealFlow a liquid simulator and used the Open Alembic Cache to import it into my Maya scene. You've heard me talking about using VRay Grass for creating short animal fur in another of my articles, well this time I used it for what it is meant for creating lot's of grass and maintaining fast render times and it does an amazing job of it.


Next up the old guy character, this is one of my favourite characters. He has a lot of advanced features integrated into his control rig and I think he has personality!, even before being animated. The facial topology worked out well for me and I get some really nice facial expressions. Even with his x4 size nose, he is likeable, what do you think? It's a little hard to see in the image as I rendered it using camera DOF (depth of field) but notice all the attention paid to the hand modelling to get that boney effect, old guy looking hand and I used a two bone/ joint setup on all the finger articulations resulting in better deformations. The storyboard for this little animated clip was to bring attention to how abstract it is for some older people using modern-day devices. Windows disappearing behind other ones and the frustration behind it all, where did it go?. Society is moving forwards and the oldies are finding it hard to follow but we expect them to learn and do complex online banking filling in all kinds of forms as today there is less contact with actual humans to explain things and help people. So this project was done to bring attention to all these various matters but with a touch of humour even though in reality it's not that funny!. All the old guy's clothes are dynamic cloth simulations using Maya's nCloth system so there is a low polygon mesh skinned to the skeleton being used as a collision object. The hair as well is dynamic using nHair so lots of dynamic simulation caching going on, anyway you get the idea it was great fun doing all this...


This little 3d character was a real challenge, he came about because I wanted to bring to peoples attention to the sad fact that chucking their used surgical masks on the ground has terrible consequences when it comes to little animals. When we all go off to bed lots of little creatures come out of their hiding places and regrettably get all tangled up in the elastic and my girlfriend's cat even brings them inside and plays with them!. If you want to watch a little trailer video I did you can see it on another one of my blog articles named 'Night Scene'. If you are interested here is the LINK. It's very short admittedly and it's basically a camera movement introducing the Hedgehog character. I was experimenting night time rendering so lots of different lighting effects that I was not familiar with before this project, but I think it turned out rather well. So the challenge here were the hedgehog's spikes, they ended up being a mix of nHair Paint fx being converted to a polygon mesh and wrap deformed to the body geometry and a dynamic nHair system which gave it just a little movement. Once again I had a character but needed an environment for him to live in, so I modelled a little park scene with iron gates that are swinging in the wind as it is a stormy night scene and it's raining. The principal street light is rendered as part of the scene, the light itself has a VRay light mesh node with glow and the rest was done in post-production using AE (rain effect & lamp light fog). The surgical face mask is an nCloth simulation using the Nucleus nodes built-in wind function and using collision objects to stop it from passing through the Character.


In my opinion another lovable character, a rather plump chef!. Again a very cartoon stylized character rendered in EXR format and composited in post-production over a blurred kitchen backplate scene. In this image, he is presenting a good ol' English Christmas pudding (The image I used for an online Christmas card). Even though if you are viewing this and you are French you will be saying to yourself "Yuk the English just don't know how to cook", yes I've heard it all before! oui je suis anglais aprés tout and I have to tell you after I stayed with a French family and I prepared for them a 'Toad in the hole' they loved it and are still making it themselves today 8 years later!. If you want to watch the little animated clip it is HERE. An article named 'Scene Accessories' where I explain in detail how to go about parenting scene objects to your characters as normally they will at some point be interacting with other objects, picking things up, putting things down it's all explained in that article so I won't repeat myself here. I will just mention a couple of things I encountered doing this project (1) The fact that the character is rather fat (well he is a chef sorry I don't mean to intentionally stereotype chefs, I don't want to put people into boxes!). I had to do quite a few corrective blendshape nodes to get some of the deformations working correctly on the characters volume whilst arching the spine in the forward direction where does all that volume go? it does not disappear and it won't behave like a real person and create wrinkles, so this was something that had to be overcome. (2) the buttons on his vest as I didn't want them to deform their shape as I manipulated the character so they are not skinned to the skeleton, they are using a script called 'parentToSurface' basically attaches an object in this case a button using a follicle node. The button maintains it's solid-state as a hard plastic object and follows a vertex on the vest and it works great!.


This character named Keti is a little different from how I usually work The first major difference is that he has a games engine compatible skeleton. This strips it down to the bare essentials. In the image, he is in an imaginary 3d game environment (Unity Game Engine). The real purpose of his existence though was to demonstrate how easy it is to create complex characters in 3d and using an orthographic camera view to render out a 2d walk cycle that could be quickly and easily transformed into a sprite sheet which for 2d games is usually how it is done but what if you are not good at drawing? well, this is a possible solution for you. Just to show you what I am driving at view the image below. This is just to demonstrate a concept so it has been left in the default Lambert material but of course it would be fully textures like in the image above. This would be a great little 2d games character and so simple to set up!. There are lots of tutorials out there on 2d game development so now you have your hi-res sprites the rest is up to you, have fun creating 2d games... KETI SPRITE

This set of character positions demonstrates a 2d walk cycle. This is a 24 frame cycle and you could use the same process for doing the jump up, jump down animations needed in your game or even a little cinematic!. This is just one solution, there are lots of software available to do this kind of thing like Adobe Animate for example. But creating all the various moving pieces and pivot points and layer hierarchies can be very long and labour intensive. Once you have your 3d character all the orthographic camer views are then avaibable to you front, back, top etc.


Floppy the rabbit, I love this little guy and a real pleasure to animate. He has a production-ready rig setup including custom attributes for flapping his ears. Two interchangeable skeleton setups one for hand animating with squash & stretch, bendy limbs and dynamic options on ears and the other for hooking him up to receive motion capture data. As each method mentioned here requires two completely different skeleton setups. He is obviously heavily influenced by the 'Raving Rabbids' character spin-off from Ubisoft's video game 'Rayman', 'Les Lapins Crétins in French. I changed various aspects of the character so as not to infringe any copyrights on the original, so my version has eyes embedded into his head, ears that are drooping down hence his name 'Floppy' and he is blue. Where I had fun, the ear rigging IK, FK, Dynamic & custom Flap and with the mouth setup and positions. Where I had problems, with the legs, they are very short and the knee articulation caused me a few problems and it also caused problems when linking it up to be controlled by motion capture data using HumanIK as most mocap biped data is human-based and has legs that are relative to the scale of the overall skeleton. Saying that problem solving is part of the enjoyment of the whole process so I managed to overcome most of the problems I encountered. I am sure if you share my passion for Character design & animation that you too have done a version of this famous rabbit character if so I would love to see your videos maybe send me some links.


This character is a stylized female called Lilly she was modelled for demonstrating dynamic nHair techniques realized in Maya. She is a fairly complex rig and has a huge library of facial expressions for a future lipsyncing project. She also has a low poly collision rig skinned to her skeleton that can be turned ON/ OFF using a custom attribute (SDK). This is done so as not to slow down the rig whilst animating it and can be turned ON at the end using nCloth clothing annd caching the simulations before the final renders.



This character was design for a post-production publicity video the making of the book for COVID-19. A book that was released all over Ethiopia translated into 3 different Ethiopian dialects educating young children all about the dangers of the corona-virus and the simple things that they could do to help them protect themselves. The book was a colouring book and was organized by IOM UN MIGRATION. I am proud to say that I received a certificate of recognition proof of my involvement in the book. The little girl in the book was illustrated in 2d by an Etheopian artist called Bete.



Below are some cartoon images representing the virus in the book. I prefer the ones on the right and they were drawn in Adobe Animate making use of its fantastic line manipulation tool and layer system usually for 2d animation purposes. Sadly though they didn't get validated in the IOM meetings as some people thought that they looked too scary for kids with their pointed teeth and scary expressions! and would give them nightmares (sometimes 6 hours of work can just be rejected in a few seconds) the representation of the virus that was accepted was the one on the left considered more friendly and gentle for kids!. I am not absolutely convinced with their reasoning as for me it's more logical that a virus should be scary! no?. Anyway It was sometimes very complicated the communication between France which is where I am based and Africa (Ethiopia)



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