It was a productive month, ranging from setting up forum to extending my portfolio pieces. One of them was related to the Character Design Challenge, Egyptian Gods. This is how Bast here came about.
It might show around the Rocket Coil and the blog posts, but I love to think about design as a form of storytelling. I’ve seen many designs, especially in the CDC that would look amazingly good, but quite a few of them – while drawn perfectly – seemed to lack a story and were just pretty drawings.
I definitely wanted to place more story in my design. I’m sure there could be a debate about whether I succeeded at it or not, but if nothing else, I learned more about the process. There were hiccups in the production, of course, and some of them can be avoided in the future.
I’ve decided on the process in advance: First, I’ll come up with a Context, a framework which is not related much to a theme, or, that any theme could be applied to if needed (more about that later). Then as I decided which god or goddess will I be working on, I will develop a Story about them. All the time while making a story, I’ll think about how this relates to the context. The next part is Research. Admittedly, making research was my weakness for a long time and I know I’m not alone in that. But over the years, you learn… Next was Design development (or a Design Code if you will); and after that, Production.
The context is the equal to the “Big Picture”. As mentioned, it’s the framework around which the rest of the concept is developed. In my case, the theme is Egyptian Gods, but as far as the ‘context’ goes it could be anything.
“What, if all of this actually happened? What if Egyptian Gods wasn’t just mythology that we think it was, but is more of a chronicle? What if those Gods were physical, walking around the earth doing whatever they are known for, thousands of years later?”
This was my context. It’s bigger than design, it’s bigger than a story. What does it mean for the design and story? It’s that those characters are real, physical. They have their flaws. They have emotions and they are imperfect. They don’t always exclusevly look good, really, as so many gods do.
I picked Bast as my Goddess. I didn’t want to pick one of the well known ones like Ra, Isis, or Anubis, since I was sure there will be plenty of those. In the end, I saw quite some designs of Bast as well and I was kind of delighted by it. Still, I think Anubis outnumbered all others by far.
I’ve mainly read Wikipedia about Bast. I found enough material about her there. Soon enough, I also came to see that most of the gods changed both their background story and their role or affiliation throughout the history of Egypt. Bast, for example, was a vicious lioness in the beginning, becoming a goddes of mothers and family in the meantime, and by the end, they just placed her on the perfume boxes. My Bast story was a little bit different, but was mainly built around those key points.
How does a lioness look like? Lions are everywhere in pop culture, but I still wanted to do some research for the project. I wouldn’t want to struggle with her key points simply because I wouldn’t do as much as a google images search.
First I looked up some imagery and after comparing some of them, I went into sketching. I wanted to find the key shapes and how do they bring the “spirit” thorugh. I focused on her head, because Bast basically only had head of the Lioness. The biggest surprise for me that lionesses show very different vibe when looked at from the front to how they feel from the side.
The Design development
The noticable part of design development was in fact done as part of the research process. What wasn’t settled on there, was planned to be figured out during the blocking phase of my design manifestation. As a result, she was to have long legs, a human head with somewhat lioness features, animal-like feet; an aegis around her neck (instead of carrying it in hands as she’s often depicted) and a sistrum in her hand. I decided she’ll have a typical egyptian haircut with a headband. Instead of a gown, I’ll go for a shorter skirt with pants underneath. If she is to be an Eye of Ra, she has to be capable of fighting.
A big portion of these features were placed down directly into the sketch and blocking, which is eventually going to become a digital drawing/painting…
… but some days later it just wasn’t. Meant. To be. At least three times, if not more, I went on to draw her from ground up. Entirely new file. In most of them, new poses.
It came so far that I’ve asked some other artists what do they suggest, because whatever I’m making clearly isn’t working. They gave some suggestions, good ones, but it just won’t be enough. In the end, I’m just lacking skill here. Either I’ll need to do it more stylised, but even that wasn’t sure to make a balanced design.
I’m going to give up on that. But I can’t, I’ve put too much energy into that. Too much time. And the design (idea) is good, it works, she’s a great hero. I just don’t know how to put it into painting-
Why the hell am I not doing it in 3D?
The (Actual) Production
That was a thought that occured to me. If I know, I’ll have to put in so many more hours of getting it right in 2D, and it’ll still probably look worse than if I just did it in 3D, it only makes sense to really do it in 3D!
Since I already spent way too much time on the 2D attempt, I started to think how can I spend as little time as possible making the 3D version. Modeling and rigging new character will take a long time, so I either took something from the libraries, or I use a version of my Faery Tale characters. I favored the second option, because even the hair of Kaylee looked a bit like Bast’s hair…
So I opened up Kaylee’s character. I modified or deleted her clothing, and prepared everything neccessary for Bast’s clothes. I did the animation that will put her in the pose and simulated the cloth. Next, I added aditional geometry for her aegis and wrists. At one point later, I added whatever details I wanted. I modified her face and ears a bit, corrected the muzzle, whiskers and tail.
The environment was kept easy, I wanted the character to stand out. The background will be blurred out by environment fog and depth of field, so the geometry was kept to really simple standards. By the way: Pyramids in my scene are only 6 times taller than Bast.
Next up I prepared materials and again, decided to keep it simple. I spent more time making the maps for the hair around her face, ears and feet. Eventually I removed the hair on her face, because it just wasn’t working. It did make her look more feline-like, but my friends talked me into removing it. It was a good choice.
Eventually I also replaced her modeled hair with the generated ones. I already had generated hair on her body, so it only made sense that I replace the mesh with simulated hair, too. It was really challenging, since I have almost no experience in CG hair styling. I’ve lost count quickly how many times I’ve just reset it all and took another swing at it.
And then, the moment came when I said to myself: This looks good. It’s good enough. I’ve rendered it out and took it to Photoshop. I added the dust around her feet and something like a footprint from before. Neither of these are the fanciest or the most convincing examples, but I felt that it works just well on the current stage. My attempt here was to just make it convincing (so she won’t look like she was just put there), not realistic.
It was certainly an interesting ‘exercise’ and a test of my process. Especially the idea to first keep it in 2D and eventually taking it to 3D was unexpected turn. This also changed her proportions to quite an extent, but her character remains and I love that. In the end, however, I also want to try more of combining 3D with 2D.
The best turnout for me was the idea of making this a standard practice. I can make the ideation and basic Design of a character in 2D, but the final output can be in 3D. For this, I have to come up with a good workflow that will enable me to come to this quickly with any kind of character.