Bones, Muscles, Flesh, Rig... IT'S ALIVE! ALIVE! (Tech, Art)

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Bones, Muscles, Flesh, Rig... IT'S ALIVE! ALIVE! (Tech, Art)

Welcome, welcome, welcome. Step up and see the gallery of monstrosities!

It’s time to talk about what we’ve been working on. We’ve been working on your hero. Or villian. It sounds so simple, but when you get down to it, it’s one of the key core values of the game - that you can make your character look like whatever you want.

To fully explain what we’ve been up to, we need to explain how your character goes together. After that, there’ll be a nice break as your head explodes.

The simplest real world way to describe what a video game character is made of is by going back to art class in school.

Imagine, if you would, someone making a marionette about the size of a person. It can move like a person, more or less, but it doesn’t need to have exactly the same number of bones a person does. Now, how many bones it needs to have is a matter of some debate. If you want a limber marionette, you’ll want more than one bone in the spine, but more than three or four is probably excessive. And let’s talk about those elbows. You don’t want them flopping all about when you move the marionette, so you want a nice simple hinge there, even if a real elbow has just a bit of flexibility sideways.

For some fun practical experiments, there’s a game called that shows you exactly how much of a pain in the neck even a very simple marionette can be.

Okay, so we’ve settled on how many bones our character has, and we’ve settled on how much flexibility and travel each joint has - a simple hinge, a more complex ball joint, or some combination of other options.

Trust me, this takes time and effort. Why? Because you need to get an animator - who is an artist - and a rigger - another kind of artist - and at least one coder - who is yet another kind of artist if you ask me but nobody agrees with that one - to agree on what bones and joints and everyone has their own opinion. So it takes testing and time.

But eventually you have your character! No. Wait. You have your character’s skeleton.

Got to put some meat on those bones. Now, in art class, you’d grab some chicken wire, and start sculpting a body around the bones, to give the dummy a good start at a body - a rough form. Funnily enough, that’s what we do here. That’s called a ‘mesh’, and it winds up looking remarkably like chicken wire when you’re done, too. A big hollow shape over the bones that moves when the bones move.

It’s more complicated than that, though, because now you have to get into weighting.

Weighting is how we tell that mesh how to bend. You know, you’d think it’s easy, but the mesh doesn’t know how stiff it is. If you make a statue out of steel, it’s not going to bend very much when you move the joints. But if you make one out of foam rubber, it’s going to have lots of give. Weighting lets us tell the mesh how much to give where - and if you get it wrong, the fingers look like noodles. Or like a Betty Boop cartoon, with the rubbery walk.

We’ve been having a lot of fun with the fingers, by which I mean no fun at all.

So… we got a character who can be wiggled about and doesn’t look like a terrifying squid monster. It’s sculpted enough that it looks sort of like a human being, and the spaces between the chicken wires aren’t… aw, man, look at that, it’s all bent because of how we sculpted it - the chicken wire is bent into octagons and cubes.

And this is when you learn about ‘well formed’ meshes and ‘tris’. This is a huge lesson in and of itself, but basically, if you don’t do things right, you’ll wind up with a character like a squeezed soda can - one touch and holes erupt through it.

Well, we’ve got our well formed mesh. Awesome! Next stop is to paint it like a person!

This is where you learn about UVs. UVs have nothing to do with ultraviolet light, but rather, they’re a coordinate system. Remember back in high school when you had to plot graphs? X across vs Y up? For 3D, it’s XY and Z is up. Well, those already have meaning in a game - it’s the world map, so for mapping over the body of a mesh dummy, it’s UV and sometimes W. Mostly not W, but the space is there if you need it.

A UV is what happens when you take a guy and slice it up and spread it out so it lies on a flat plane, like so.

Ours doesn’t look like this anymore, but basically, you map these coordinates to the coordinates of the mesh body, and boom, everything wraps on top.

Presto! You have a naked character!

If you paint it, you get one in spandex.

Things get way more complicated here, especially when you add more meshes on top, but let’s call it working for now.

We’re not done, though.

We’ve got a character - but…

We want more. We want sliders. Now, there are two kinds of sliders. Bone sliders and morph targets. Bone sliders are pretty much what they sound like. Remember that skeleton? Let’s say you want a arm slider - you take those arm bones and you shriiiink or grow them. Slide in, slide out.

Not bad, good enough for a start, but… there’s not that many bones in the body. How are we going to do muscle? I mean, you want beefcake, right?

Now we get to the fun part. It’s called morph targets. Basically, you have to take this sculpted body… and then resculpt it. Buff it up, bulge the forehead, shrink the nose. Every single slider is… well, two or three morph targets.

And… we’ve got a lot of morphs.

In fact, it looks like we'll have only two base bodies in the game. Male and Female. We're just going to be able to add a lot more muscle to it. Enough to make them both Huge. This shot looks unfinished because there's a lot more tricks to add here, from shading and normal maps to, well, eyes - trust me, we're not done yet.

We’ve been working on this since before the kickstarter. We’re on our third skeleton, and fifth body.

But we’re just about… just about done.

You’ve seen screenshots. Pretty soon, we’ll have something a little better to show you.

And after that? Well, we need to build up some infrastructure, but we might have something even better. Something you can touch.

This update brought to you by Dr. Tyche, Warcabbit, our fantastic Art Department, and especially Nicholas Esposito (@NE_3D who did our rigging, and has now started his own company at - the site's not fully ready yet, but he is.)

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