Dev Blog: Modelling Characters

Blog Post 4 – Modelling Characters

Modelling characters was a new experience for me, as I have never modelled anything organic before, nor anything designed to move. Therefore I had to keep into consideration that certain areas such as knees and elbows should require a higher polycount than unmoving areas such as the head or torso to some degree. I tried modelling characters a few different ways for this game, some characters are a singular model with parts extruded and coloured with a different material to look like clothes, whereas others were created with multiple models, some being needed for small niche decorative parts of the character’s attire, but other models taking the role of large bits of clothing such as dresses or skirts. With no prior experience with 3D character modelling and animating, I wasn’t sure which way I should model characters, and online tutorials were not very helpful as every person had a different way that they did it. Although one practice was found in every video, and that was the use of the Mirror modifier. This meant that all I had to model was one half of the character, which was then mirrored and copied onto the other side. Regardless, after a couple of attempts at modelling a character, I ended up with a base model that I was happy with.

Using Jessica’s concept art for characters, I was able to tweak the base model where necessary, I could make it tall and thin by extruding it on the Z-axis, and scaling it in on the X and Y axis, or I could make it small and stout by scaling it down on the Z-axis and extruding it on the X and Y-axis. Regardless of the body shape, I was able to alter the base model so that it could be used for every character. Some characters such as NPC 4 and Eric were a lot easier than others to create, as they were close to the base model I had already created, whereas other characters such as Ms King or Mayor Wallace needed more time and effort to turn the base model into a completely different person. With the characters modelled, the next stage was to dress them. As previously stated, some characters were straight forward and only required me to extrude certain faces of the model and recolour them to look like clothing. These models had no issues later on. Other characters such as Ms King were modelled with numerous objects, forming her skirt, jacket, and hat. Unfortunately, although these collections of models looked good in Blender as a stationary model, only, later on, did I realise that they did not look the same once exported and imported into Unity, nor Adobe Mixamo. Once the models were in motion, parts of the outfits would clip through limbs, or stretch in the wrong places, and as a result, they were not in a usable state for the final build of the game. This required me to go back and make changes where required, in order to fix issues caused by using multiple objects to form one character. After a few days, all of the main characters were modelled.

Once all of the characters were modelled, I exported the file as an FBX and placed it into unity, this is when a lot of the issues became known. For many characters, there were issues with normals facing the wrong way, with many of the characters having the same problem in the same places, as they were all created from the same base model. For some reason the normals on the inside of each character’s leg were facing the wrong way, although this was an easy fix as I just had to go back into the blender, manually select the faces and flip the normals, it was a time-consuming task, considering I needed to do it for every character. Besides issues with normals, there were some problems with material colour as well [see below]. Some colours were completely off, Jazz especially had numerous issues for her model. Her hair, skin, shirt, and shoes all had a completely different colour to that which she had in Blender. I’m not sure what caused this issue, but I was able to fix it by going back into Blender and deleting the material and resetting it. However, besides this, overall all of the colours that were right were a shade or two darker. Ultimately I believe this to be an issue with lighting, the lighting conditions in blender weren’t matching the lighting conditions found in Unity, therefore the colours look different. If this is the issue then hopefully it can be fixed at a later date by adding different lighting into the unity build, similar to the lighting used when adding materials to the characters. If this issue cannot be fixed by changing the lighting in the build, then I will have to go back to the blender and make changes to each colour of each model one by one.

Additionally, during the modelling process, some creative decisions had to be made. Jessica’s designs initially had the characters with faces, which I tried to replicate with the model as well. By using the knife tool I was able to carve out specific faces from the mesh into the shape of eyes and a mouth based on the reference image behind it. Then I coloured the faces with the corresponding colours, and the faces were complete. You can see an example of one of the characters faces, at a mid-stage of development. Personally I thought that the faces looked off, they had an underlying creepy vibe to them, and unless I learnt how to model and animate facial movements, which would not have been possible in the time frame, then each character would stay with a blank unmoving expression on their face. After some discussion with Jessica, we agreed that blank-faced characters were probably the best suit for our game. They fit the low poly style of the game and didn’t give off an underlying horror vibe either. So, instead of giving characters eyes a mouth and eyebrows, I just gave them a nose and ears.

Overall I am happy with the development process undertaken for the characters. Jessicas designs were creative and a perfect fit for each side of the game, and although the modelling process unearthed numerous issues, the outcome was a set of characters fitting of the game style and world.

  • Adam Watts

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