Starting Out In Game Design Part 1: Character Concept and Modelling in Blender

My wonderful friend Rob Linnow never stops coming up with ideas. Ideas for video games, little gizmos for his home, web apps, toys, commercial products and on and on. At the moment I'm trying to help him realize a video game. It's a terrific education for me. I'm learning character design, rigging, non-linear animation, game logic and coding.

I'm not sure how much Rob wants me to give away at this point, but I'm sure I can tell you he wants characters with interchangeable outfits, and I hit upon the idea of helmets. That way we can keep the basic character's finish and rig very simple, and pretty much go as fancy as we want with the relatively immobile helmets. A quick search on Pinterest yielded the juiciest array, thanks in large part to whoever runs the extraordinary costume blog at flabergastertron.

Pinterest is a dangerous, dangerous place for a designer to visit. Anyone who is interested in the visual (in other words, all humans) should probably put their computer's power cable on a timer if they plan on browsing there, or you just won't escape. It's like having the V&A on your desktop. Deadly addictive.

Next it was time to get thumbnail sketching. I find it's best to keep sketches really tiny at first. It's the scale that your hand thinks at, so thumbnail sketches often have a really spontaneous, natural feel to them. Also, the little movements of the pencil can create lovely tiny gestural marks which it would be hard to execute at a larger scale. These happy accidents can sometimes translate into design features, that's often what happens for me anyway. 

The body of our character is going to be completely rectangular, like a domino. I was particularly taken with the "Thor" helmet with big horns on the left of the image above, so that was the one I decided to develop first. I've fallen in love with Blender's grease pencil tool lately, it's an incredibly useful feature for any designer/3d artist/animator/film maker as it can really streamline the process of going from sketch to model/movie, and is probably the finest storyboarding/animatic tool out there. This thing really does have enormous potential


It's much easier than trying to find the correct tab in the Properties panel, restrict the image to a single view etc, and in many cases might even be more useful since it's not limited to orthographic views. I then just traced quickly over it using the GP tool, so that I had just an outline drawing of my character to use as a guide while modelling.

I would strongly encourage anyone new to Blender to spend about a week performing basic operations such as adding geometry to your scene, entering edit mode, scaling, extruding, translating and so on. Something really interesting happens if you use Blender intensively for a few days. For one thing you will likely notice how snappy the viewport is. Next, the clever implementation of multiple consecutive keyboard shortcuts really does streamline the modeler's workflow. I have a number of years of experience modeling and animating with C4D, and there is no doubt that modeling is a far, far more pleasant experience in Blender than in C4D; there is no way I could model anywhere near as quickly or as fluidly in C4D, much as I may love it for its speed and utility in other areas.

The next post will be a short piece about how I rigged the character, which again I found to be a very intuitive, smooth process in Blender, very much in line with the modelling workflow. Don't be fooled by the lack of price tag, nor by haters on forums, Blender is tremendously sophisticated, and fun to use.