Art is hard
Progress on Kung Fu Legends is slow because of my need for art. I want to be able to work on having 3D models to put into the game. I want 3D models to be able to mock up some artwork for the website. Unfortunately, I’m no artist, and my wallet is no fund for artists. I’m also in a design phase where I have an art style in my head that I want to work towards, but I don’t have the sketching or art-language skills to convey this to a proper artist. Nevertheless, I’ve given some of the art design a go.
The idea I’m going for is something like art mannequins, crash test dummies or the similar, but stylistically different, Stikfas models. I want something like that, but without the artifice of ball-and-socket joints. I want detailed hands, but almost totally blank faces. This way I get to have very simple art, but it also gives people something to project upon. You can allow them to read things into the poses or movement of a character without having to animate them in any great detail. It also helps focus on broad body movements, which ties strongly into the martial arts theme. I’d be all for clothing and stylised hair, so long as they are simulated and I don’t need to worry about animating them.
To be able to read emotions in a character I’m thinking of overlaying very simple cartoon-style effects. Like a red tinge for blushing, surprised eyebrows, or a cartoon mouth for yelling. Reading sight-lines can be done with the tilt of a head, which you read from the position of hair. Removing eyes reduces the animation workload substantially. Removing the mouth for most of the time means you never have to worry about lip-synch.
I’d like to avoid being too much like manga/anime because that style is done to death. It’d be kinda neat if I could use shaders to give materials the appropriate look, like subsurface-scattered skin, reflective metal and translucent cloth. That’d give it a great modern, realistic look, whilst remaining stylistically minimal. I have immense confidence in being able to work with shaders, but less in modelling or doing detailed texture work.
So here’s two attempts I’ve made at modelling the head of a generic character. The first attempt is styled off a mannequin’s head, which is why it’s a bit lightbulb-shaped. I’m also experimenting with the minimalistic facial expressions.
I don’t mind it so much. I put in the nose to help with directing the head. I should probably put ears on, but meh. In profile he has a flat face, but really it’s quite round which, for example, gives a bit of space between the eyebrows and skin. That also assumes I want to do it that way and not just paint them onto the head surface like a decal.
This next attempt was to give it slightly more anime proportions, and to round out the back of the skull while flattening the face. I didn’t put the nose or eyebrows in this time, so see how readability went without them.
I have a feeling that this model would play the comic effects much better, as well as suggesting a slightly more realistic style.
So many things to consider, and it’s only just the head! I haven’t decided if necks should be cylinders just disappearing into the head, or whether they should be a curved extension of the head. The latter is harder to model, but gives fancier results. The ball-and-joint visual style worked well for Toribash, but I would like to give characters a touch more realism.
The other thing I’ve been considering is where I actually want this art. I’d love promotional artwork to jazz up the website. Also, I have an idea of still-life scenes in the background for the main menu. As for the game itself, I’ve thought about riffing on the anime-game-style where you just have a frame of a character above/next to their dialogue. I’m certainly not keen at the moment for animating fight scenes because that’d be a nightmare. If the technology behind Euphoria became more dependable, mainstream and openly-implemented, I’d look into something like that. But first thing’s first – let’s make something that doesn’t make someone’s eyes bleed and helps the rest of the game. Crazy-ass ideas are for the future.
So what do you think? Do you have a preferred head? Any suggestions or comments? I’d like to hear them.