Art Spotlight: Grandpa Strig

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Who We Are

Hello Sketchfab! We are a group of Game Design students at Uppsala University; we come from Sweden (Natali) and Spain (Samantha & Roberto). We started to learn 3D modeling and animation about a year ago, and created Strig as one of two characters for a 2-player co-op exploration game called Strig & Kabu. We wanted to create a heartwarming experience within the 8 week timeframe we had available as part of our studies.

Strig’s Origins

Strig lives in a fable-like world and has anthropomorphic features. He is an alchemist, and uses mushrooms to create ointments and concoctions that benefit other animals from his village. He is old, wise, and experienced, but has back pains that prevent him from picking up the mushrooms by himself. He explores the forests with his grandson Kabu, who’s young, energetic, and eager to help out.

We based the concept for Strig on scops owls, as we felt the forehead plumage was a very interesting shape that could still be defined with a low poly model. We chose to have a low polycount (no high polys or baking) because it would decrease production time, something crucial for our small team our time constraints.

Mood boards that inspired Strig’s design:

Workflow

Scrum And Task Division

Roberto: Since we were making this project in an Agile Scrum environment, we didn’t have truly fixed roles. If something was needed for the game, any of us could make it (that’s why having a style guide was so important!), so while we all had our preferences and strong suits, we were all able to help.

For this piece specifically, the division of tasks was as follows:

  • Samantha: Character concept, concept art, rigging, and texturing; Environment texturing.
  • Natali: Character modelling and animation.
  • Roberto: Character concept; Environment art, concept, and modelling.

Concept Art

Samantha: We tried several versions of owls, but we wanted his eyes to look old, somewhat tired but kind and experienced. The first concept had these “chibi legs” that ended up not fitting the concept so well, and his grandson Kabu looked rather terrible with chibi legs, so we decided bird legs were more fitting. They were more of a challenge and made the movement more interesting in the end. Since we chose a hand-painted style, we decided to try several plumage types before getting into production.

We went back and forth between Strig and Kabu to make them look right in relation to each other and not design them in a vacuum. For the modeling phase, I drew a (rough) turnaround of both characters keeping in mind the relative measurements and sizes between both characters, props, environment, and actions planned for the game, like Kabu hopping on the staff.

Modeling

Natali: When Samantha was done with the concept and the turnaround, she sent it to me. I cut the image into two, added the front view to the front camera in Maya, and the side picture to the side view camera. I used a distance tool to make sure that the images were the same height that the character was going to be in the game. When I had that set up, I started modeling using the images as reference.

I started with a primitive box, and took it from there. I kept the poly count as low as possible in the beginning of the modeling, to make it more manageable. After I was happy with the topology and the primary shapes, I added some extra loops to add the smaller details and to allow for better deformation when the character was animated. I used the same workflow to create the staff from the 2D drawings. For the poncho, I tried to align the loops with those on the body so that it would deform well as the body moved.

Rigging

Samantha: Rigging was by far the most difficult part, since the way bird legs would move didn’t fit the Human IK. We made a custom rig in Maya for the first time, which had to be optimised for producing a large amount of animations and be comfortable enough to use. We encountered so many problems along the way that I still have nightmares about clusters and double transformations to this day. Nevertheless, when you find that the rig works as intended, it’s a wonderful, fulfilling experience, even if it is just by contrast. For the Sketchfab model we made quite simple idles to show the basic bones movement. The staff was prepared to work as a partial ragdoll bone in Unreal.

Texturing

Samantha: Based on our style guide, I was in charge of most of the texturing in the game, since I was the one who had experimented the most with hand-painting in Substance Painter. Substance Painter is not (yet) the most ideal tool for hand-painting, but I managed to get good results setting the brushes to a very low opacity so the transition wasn’t too rough or showed ugly brush marks. I’m sure there are better ways to do it, though, and I hope I can try some others soon!

I worked in sets of layers to be able to go back and make changes whenever we needed to, since colours might look different in-engine. First I added a base colour with some variation, followed by a multiply fill layer of a deep dark purple for the shadows, and a linear dodge (add) fill layer with a light orange for the highlights. That way I could go back and paint black and white in the masks without having to redo a whole layer of colouring if something were to go wrong. I added a couple more of these to add some very dark shadows and very bright highlights in some specific areas.

Animation

Natali: At the time I didn’t have much experience with animation, but it was fun to learn more and to try to move the rig around and see it come to life with only a few keys. I tried to get the most basic movements in first and then added flavour and character with secondary motion. As I worked on the animations, I often exported the model into the game engine to see how it looked there. In Unreal I also got to test the feeling of controlling the character with the animation, to see and feel what I should improve on. It helped me a lot.

Engine and Environment

Roberto: Parts of the Strig model were created with the possibilities of engine implementation in mind, such as the movement of the lantern on the staff (partially ragdolled), and the back of the poncho (cloth physics).

The environment was key in transmitting the essence of the world, the characters that inhabit it, and their lifestyles. The environment assets were created taking into consideration the palette and shapes of other elements, and especially how they relate to Strig and Kabu. For example, since it’s a night scene, we used mostly dark tones of purple, blue, and cyan for the grass and leaves (instead of lush, vibrant greens), which looks great in contrast with the yellow-orange fireflies that follow Strig’s staff and the luminescent mushrooms scattered around the area. It’s in this way that the characters truly feel alive, like they belong in the forest, and it helps set the mood for the narrative thread.

Sketchfab

Samantha: The Sketchfab upload features a small environment to situate Strig in the setting and the mood of his surroundings. I felt it was important, since the characters are part of the forest as much as the forest is part of them.

For the fireflies following the lamp, I made two crossed planes with an orange emissive texture. I thought it would look great with the depth of field and bloom post-processing effects and add a lot of mood and magical feeling to the scene. The lamp and eyes are accentuated with emissive maps. Emissives really help make things pop, even in the dim lighting of the scene.

As for lighting, it’s only a slightly cold direction light and a warm point light coming from the lamp. There’s also a direction light directly behind the scene with the “attach to camera” option on so it works as a rim light even if you rotate it around. SSAO really helps make the pieces fit together in the same space.

Thank you for taking a look at our work, please visit the game’s site if you are interested in knowing more!

Samantha Baqvel: Sketchfab /ArtStation
Natali Arvidsson: Sketchfab /ArtStation
Roberto Marcos Söderström: Sketchfab /ArtStation

About the author

Samantha Baqvel, Natali Arvidsson, and Roberto Marcos Söderström

3D Artists


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