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Soar Behind-the-Scenes with a 3D Artist

Filament is making moves in the third dimension! We’ve come a long way from our origins as a 2D studio, and thanks to our growing in-house team of modelers and animators, we’ve been taking on our most ambitious 3D projects yet. Recently, for a game that we developed with Blue Note Therapeutics, we were tasked with making 17 unique bird avatars. The birds had to be simple enough to run on a last-gen iPad, full of personality, and done in just a couple of months. Here’s how we did it:

Our very first decision was to split the birds up into three size classes, each of which had similar proportions and would share a common rig with animations. This way, we would only have to make three sets of animations (small, medium, large) as opposed to one for every bird. We wanted to build these rigs with as few joints as possible, ensuring that the game would run smoothly even on older devices. 

With this in mind, we made some more decisions.

Rigging wings to open and retract naturalistically is very complicated, and would definitely blow past both our technical restrictions and the painterly art style we were going to be working in. We settled on having separate meshes for the folded and unfolded wings, and quickly toggling between them any time a bird took off or landed.

Moving the tails, beaks, and talons of our birds with joints would also put us way over our limit. We decided we could get around this with blendshapes, which allow you to phase between several poses of a model to move parts of a character without the use of joints. This turned out to be a great call for more reasons than one, as animating the mouths and feet this way enabled us to handle a wide variety of expressive body shapes on birds restricted to a common skeleton.

The birds in this game represent people going on a journey full of meaning. As the lead character artist on the project, this meant I had to make each bird’s animations feel distinct and human, even though they obviously would move the same as every other bird that shared their rig. To accomplish this, the team and I considered the birds in terms of player expectations, roughly planning out each size class as a different kind of person.

With a roster full of spindly long-necked birds and famous birds of prey, what sort of player would choose a bluebird or a cardinal to be their avatar? I tried to imbue the small bird animations with a youthful spirit, full of eagerness and whimsy which I figured any players drawn to these round, goofy creatures might identify with.

I made the medium bird animations with a rugged, strong, and somewhat stubborn character. This game is an emotional, reflective journey, but not all players are comfortable with being vulnerable! With this in mind, I sought to give these players avatars who shared their attitude, in hopes that they might feel more included in the game’s experience.

The large birds took a little time to find their footing. Our concept art depicted them as guides along the journey, and their beaks and posture gave them all a certain archness. Ultimately, I tried to make them move like graceful elders– wise, endearing, and creaky at the joints.

This game has been one of Filament’s most ambitious projects to date, but thanks to our collaborative efforts and our growing team, we’re making great things happen. Here’s to even more ambitious 3D projects in the future!

More on game art at Filament Games: 

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