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Sarge Reporting for Duty: An Animation Mentor Character Rig

by | Mar 7, 2016

Animation Mentor Crew Sarge Rig

Sarge is the final character rig included as part of “The Crew”, a spacefaring group of adventurers that includes Aia, Jules, Dozer, Hatch, and Blip. Sarge can both be operated as an autonomous robot, or can be piloted by Aia or Jules. When adventuring in deep space, it doesn’t hurt to have an armored friend along for the ride. Sarge is now available for students in Classes 3-6, and to alumni.

The character rig creation process at Animation Mentor is incredibly collaborative. Keep reading to get a glimpse into the major stages Sarge went through, from concept to final character rig!

– The Animation Mentor Crew

Collaborating with Artists

Working with artists from all over the world is something we strongly believe in. We utilized the Artella platform to make the collaboration process seamless. Artella allowed us to easily collaborate with artists from all over the world as we developed Sarge and the rest of The Crew. We worked with artists from Spain, Turkey, Canada, the United States (east and west coast), and Australia in the creation of the Crew.

In developing each character for the Crew, we had a specific role for them to fill. In the case of Aia and Jules, it was to develop feature level characters for acting and dialogue, while Dozer, Hatch and Blip were more focused on VFX and creature animation styles. With Sarge we wanted a character that straddled the line between body mechanics and acting. With the helmet closed, Sarge is perfect for physical and action oriented shots. Open the helmet and you can tackle subtle acting shots.

Sarge animation test by Animation Mentor alumnus, Thomas Janson.

The Design Process

This was an early sketch by DEISIGN Studio that captured the direction and look we wanted to go with Sarge. We knew right away that Sarge would both have piloted and autonomous modes. Compared to the rest of the Crew, we also wanted to feature a much heavier and imposing character design. In the case of the above image, we liked the overall armored feeling of Sarge, but weren’t gravitating to the segmented arms. It was giving Sarge more of an alien look than we wanted.

Once we had settled on the general look in sketch form, we moved on to painted character pieces. This helped us visualize and imagine the feel we wanted the character to have in its final animated form. That’s always a challenge when designing a character for animation, at each stage of the review process you want to be thinking three steps ahead. How is this character going to move? How will it interact with the rest of the Crew? This stage was one of the longest parts of the design process. We had lots of back and forth with the character designer as we explored specifics of Sarge’s look. In the end, we went back to the basics and focused on a simple and clear design statement of imposing weight.

Once the team felt we had captured the look we wanted in the design stage, we could then move onto modeling. This is always an exciting step, when you can finally tumble and orbit around the character in Maya. It becomes easier to see what the screen presence of the character will be and makes the character more tangible. This stage requires a lot of back and forth between the character designer and modeler, as the 2d drawings are translated interpreted into a 3d form.

In our pipeline, surfacing and rigging tend to happen in parallel. In this image you can actually see a design change was made after modeling was finaled, allowing for more flexible movement of the “hands”. This is where collaborating with such an amazing group of artists really shines. We found a design challenge and everyone on the team jumped in to help make the character more versatile for our students. Seeing the character surfaced also really helps to ground the character in the world we’ve created for the Crew. After staring at the flat gray model for so long, it’s refreshing to see what the final look will be like.

At each step of the character creation process, we’re always evaluating the character with animation in mind. We want a fun and flexible character rig for students to use. That translates into a constant balance of flexibility in controls and attributes, and areas of simplification. One example of that is in Sarge’s thrusters. At one point we had close to 20+ attributes to get Iron Man level of subtle animation on the thrusters. While cool, that was a bit overkill and we were able to simplify that down to five main attributes and we still were getting the level of detail we were after. At this point we also bring in animators for testing purposes to bang on the rig as much as they can.

Sarge Reporting for Duty

We’re really excited to see Sarge in action and can’t wait to see what our students create using this character. Looks like Squirrels here is ready to take Sarge out for a spin! Hopefully he won’t cause too much mayhem. Join in the fun and get ready to tell your story!

Want to get access to rigs like Sarge?
Animation Mentor continues to add new characters to its rig library so students have a variety of production ready rigs for their animation shots and the ability to tell diverse storytelling.

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