Animation ready character creation steps very briefly (for animation production or games). These are for those wondering how to go about it in general or for those wanting to compare workflows. Includes tips.
Backstory in design
Backstory, motivation and emotion – we expect these things from characters. Who is your character? What drives him? What kind of life he leads? How do all these things show in his appereance(design) and behavior(animation)? Solid characters have solid stories. Little of what you write may make it to the screen, but just having the story in hand supports everything, makes choices easier and gives your character feel of history.
Match story with style
What visual style is the most effective to tell just this story? Cartoony may give you more freedom in expression, but may not deliver as much information as you could with a more detailed style. You may find the story changing too, to meet the style. There is no style better than some other, but overall I find realism usually a poor choice, for it ups the challenge in all aspects yet can’t tell a story any better. Pixar for one knows this. They stick to cartoonish characters even though their enviroments are getting more and more real and detailed.
Draw your character
You might be very fast at modeling and wish to visualize there, but I don’t think it can ever compete with a pen. More to the point, you need at least front and side-view pictures of you character to ease your modeling and for making sure you stick to the chosen style.
Choose a modeling method
Modeling gurus may go directly to shaping final model in polygons leaving the fine detailing to a sculpting software. Yet, if you have the option, more organic way would be to sculpt first without worrying about polygons. You might for example start with Zspheres in Zbrush or from a volumetric blob in 3D Coat and sculpt like crazy. Then you would build the lower polygon-mesh on it and project the detail from old to this new mesh.
Pick the method that you are most comfortable with. You can mix and match methods as you go.
Model for animation
Make sure your surface flow is optimized, edgeflow supports the directions of the motions and allows extreme poses and the joints have loops and volume where it is useful. The better and simpler your base model is, the less problems you will have at rigging, animating and later when making changes.
Build simple and flexible animation rig
The less bones you use the smoother(organic) transitions you’ll get in their areas of effect. And the simpler you rig is, the easier it is to animate and change later if need be. When done make some action poses with your rigged mesh to test if it is all working correctly.
Automatic uvws, such as AUVtiles in Zbrush, may be all you need for animation production and pretty much make UVW-mapping trouble free, but please note AUV-tiles work only with 3D-painting. For games, and often for animation production too, you need well planned and carefully divided UVW-islands. These help painting textures in 2D, understanding what you are working on, and allocating more texture space to what is important(like the face).
I recommend 3D-painting softwares for most of the work and 2D like Photoshop for futher detailing and colour&contrast correction. Be sure to generate normal- and displacement-maps from your high-detail mesh. Normal maps are defacto detailing tool in games these days and can replace displacement maps in animation production as long as the character isn’t viewed too close. Also don’t look down on bumb-maps, ‘old tech’ as they may be. They are great for small details.
Light and render your beauty
First, with character in relaxed or T-pose, create even lighting with global illumination and bake out an ambient occlusion-map. It works as a dirt-map for animation production and games, helps bring out skin folds and other crevices, and for games gives sense of realistic lighting, too. Now pose your model. Make the pose asymmetric and such that it shows personality. Remember to give the eyes a focal point unless you want a zombie-look. Make your model ‘pop’ with 3-point lighting(or similiar) and render using at least the following texture maps: color, specular, ambient occlusion and normal/displacement.
That’s it, animation ready character creation in brief. Do you do things differently? Feel free to give critique and share your approach.