A retrospective on learning character development the hard way
Reflecting on previous work can sometimes make you cringe, but it’s an important part of the process to become better at what you do. I draw a parallel with a 5 yo painting a stick figure scene.To them it is amazing and special, a shared reflection of their thoughts and feelings on a subject. It fills their parents with a sense of pride as they attach it to the fridge.To an outsider it may just appear a wayward collection of coloured lines and fingerprints.
My technical skills were limited and I stumbled along the way as I tried to create the ‘suit’ but by the end I was better for it. I was left with a slightly better knowledge of the tools I was using, a greater appreciation of a proper creative process, and of course, the product of it all…M.O.E.
So…here we are. the long overdue story of how M.O.E came to be.
Summer Break 2009-2010
At the end of semester 2009, our lecturer for ‘G & I’ , DS , put out an invitation to the group to meet in one of the labs over the holidays and come up with something cool to work on outside of the confines of the UNI curriculum. Many of us had made some pretty awesome stuff during the semester and some of us were hungry for more. The meeting took place and many of the people who showed up for that first meeting would go on to play a role in the creation of ‘Pubgames’ , but that’s a story for another time….
We met several times over the Christmas break and there had been much discussion about what the ‘ Team’ should work on. I think it was near the end of January/ Start of February that the idea for an ‘evacuation suit’ running game was decided. I missed that meeting but the one that followed I remember well. We all met up to decide how we were going to tackle things/ who would do what etc. I was keen to do something creative and subsequently volunteered to work on the ‘Evacuation Suit’.
One of the crew, Damien Clarke , had drawn up a few ideas on what the suit may look like. His initial concepts captured a character that I connected with straight away.
Now, I watch cartoons. I have most of my life. My favorites have generally revolved around slapstick and physical humor. Cartoons like Earthworm Jim and Looney Tunes(circa 1940-1970). I saw elements of these cartoons in the concepts and set about trying to realise them in 3D.
Now all of the above were just attempts to get a rough idea of what the initial concepts could look like in 3D. We all got together at some stage and the consensus was that we go with what I called a ‘Back-pack’ style design. Concept 11 was a ‘terrible’ example of this style and yes, I do cringe when I look at it but if memory serves, it was a couple hours worth of mucking around to round out the three styles of ‘suit’.
So, I began to improve on the ‘Backpack’ design of Concept 11 and the process continued….
The problem was, I was letting my love of robots and machines and…..LEGO dictate what I was doing. I spent all my time trying to create what ‘I thought’ would be a machine that could actually work if built in the real world. It looked like a hulking mass of nightmares and the polycount was off the charts. Animating it would have been a pain with all of those cables and hydraulic lines.I remember LOB tentatively pointing out that it was a bit complex and not really much of a ‘character’. The others were of the same opinion and I was inclined to agree with them.
I had gone off track and started creating a machine. I had lost sight of the initial ‘character’ goal and needed to somehow find my way back…..
So I set to work trying to find the character within the machine.
It was also around about this time that UNI started up again.
The whole thing lined up perfectly with one of the units I was enrolled in for semester one. Interactive Evaluation was a unit where you could work on any project you wanted so long as you documented your design process and presented weekly progress updates. Working on a 3D character for an external project while also getting credit for a unit of study was going to make life a hell of a lot easier. So, the tutor approved my project and the journey to realise the evacuation suit continued….
What’s in a name? M.O.E than you think….
It was April of 2010 when the suit really took shape.Towards the end of March I had decided to start calling the suit ‘M.O.E’. “Why M.O.E you ask?” Well I derived the name M.O.E from the first letters of each of the words in the phrase ‘Means of Escape’. I figured it was a rather fitting name for the suit given it was actually a ‘means of escape’ in the literal sense.It also added an element of comedy to the whole thing as it reminded me of ‘The Three Stooges’ and ‘The Simpsons’ .Looking back on it now I feel that giving the suit a name helped feed the creative process as I could react to M.O.E as a character and that keyed into everything I found amusing.
So, I had what I considered a solid design and had come up with a really cool colour scheme and name to match. I think it was the 9th of April when I presented it to the team for some feedback.People seemed to like it but there was still something about it that wasn’t quite right. I recall the terms ‘Gorilla’ and ‘Rugby Player’ being thrown around at one point.
It looked like a character of sorts and was certainly built for smashing with a hulky upper body and oversized fists, but it’s stumpy legs and wide frame didn’t really look as though they would lend themselves to speed running or jumping.
So I went back to the creative cave and continued to tinker. I focused on how the character was going to need to move within the world and form followed function. I designed new joints that would allow a greater range of movement and started messing around with biped rigs and a library of old MOCAP data in 3Ds Max……….and then this happened…
The rest of the semester was spent refining the design. I finished off the legs and tweaked the mesh in various places. I also redid the hands. They were a little bit too big and the ridiculous poly count of the finger joints as well as the limited range of movement offered by the existing design didn’t really match the rest of the mesh.
So there you have it. A visual breakdown of how M.O.E came to be. It has been simplified and shortened but most of the key points have been included as best I can recall. After the end of semester the team continued working on the project which ended up being called ‘Means of Escape’. Pubgames was also formed, and the story of the suit called M.O.E, his hapless victim…err I mean person he is saving, and all of the explosions anyone could ever ask for, continued in the development of the prototype. Check it out on YouTube
I did a little more work on the suit while we were between projects at Pubgames sometime between the end of 2011 and the start of 2012. There had been discussion at the time of possibly reviving ‘Means of Escape’ but it never eventuated. For now at least, M.O.E remains unpublished.
All images and video remain the property of their respective owners and may not be used without permission. The ‘Pubgames logo’ remains the property of Checkbox Studios Pty Ltd