Wreck It Ralph Behind the Scenes
The process of creating characters at Disney is an evolving, collaborative effort. We start with a strong design and must maintain the appeal it conveys throughout the animation pipeline. The design evolves throughout the process, but a large part of what we do is maintaining the attitude and personality of the original drawing as it translates into 3D.
We use ZBrush at WDAS as a tool that allows us to make changes and explorations quickly with designers and animators. We can explore facial expressions, and test out proportion adjustments on the fly without waiting for draw-overs or note sessions.
Here are some of the characters I worked on for Wreck-It that benefited from this workflow:
This is the Moppet Girl from the arcade; she is a good example of how we start with a concept, and end up with a slightly different final version based on design and animation notes. Concept by Cory Loftis.
This is the final design for Surge Protector. There’s something about him I just don’t quite trust. Concept by Cory Loftis.
This character is the Sorceress, one of our Bad Anon characters. Originally, she had very detailed bat wings, which were cut because she couldn’t sit properly in her chair. Our hair proxies for Wreck-it were low res, and meant to represent the general shape and volume of the hair for the Look development department to create Xgen hair. Concept by Cory Loftis.
Here’s Winchell, one of our donut cops. The chocolate frosting was displaced in look dev. Concept by Cory Loftis.
Mac, one of the marines from Hero’s Duty. Mac was the first marine sculpted, when the designs were more pushed. Eventually I had to update him to fit in more with the other Hero’s Duty characters. Old Mac is a very direct translation of a drawing, while New Mac is more informed by the evolved style of the Hero’s Duty world. Armor modeled by Tony Jung.
The Hologram soldier from Hero’s Duty. This guy went through tons of different revisions until we found just the right kind of appeal for him. One of my favorite designs in the film. Still can’t believe nobody thought my idea for a spin-off sitcom was a good idea.
It’s always an interesting challenge translating a drawing to 3d, but particularly at Disney I’ve felt an importance to keeping true to the use of linework that is such a basic component of the Disney animation ‘feel’. We are trying to keep the spirit of a 2d drawing in 3d space. Using the ZBrush tools has helped enormously with this sculptural side of modeling, it gives the freedom to explore shapes and proportions quickly. Coming from a traditional sculpture background this software feels like a familiar way to explore form.
When modeling a character we work closely with the character designers in an interactive way. We have ‘Working sessions’ where by, after an initial pass at the model ourselves, a character designer will make suggestions on the model while exploring options. With ZBrush these notes can be addressed immediately, for example, scaling a head up or down or changing the placement of a plane change in a certain area of the face. Working this way helps the evolution of a character a great deal, and I’ve personally noticed the benefits of elevating a character this way.
I think what’s most important to me about ZBrush is that it helps me find the arrangement and balance of forms fast and efficiently on a production schedule. I also find that the materials in ZBrush can help ‘sell’ the character, even a quick pass at this can help with presenting the work.
This is the head sculpt of ‘Markowski’ that helped get buy off of some of the facial shape language. There are some obvious plane changes that were added with some of the various pinch tools.
This is an earlier version of Turbo, slightly more deranged and less Human. ZBrush gave me the ability to explore various stylized wrinkles and folds, and to land where the art direction required.
An Early version on ‘Surge Protector’ this guy is a pretty even balance of curves and straights.
Drawing by Jin Kim.
This is Party Glen, This is an example of how the character can veer slightly away from the original drawing, but keeping the original intention. From design tweaks and notes from animation we changed the position of the feet and eye shape. This is a normal part of the iterative process.
Concept art by Cory Loftis.
This is Brad, he was pitched to me as a ‘Dreamboat’ which I had to research, so with the same shape language of the heros duty world I was given the task of making the handsome guy. A chiseled jawline and sharp cheekbones helps with this.
Two of the Nicelanders. These were variants of the same model, both shared the same body and head with different clothing. The hair for the Nicelanders is geometry with textures. We were given the task of sculpting it to get the simple forms and silhouettes. We used vinyl toys as reference for the stylized flow of the hair.
Hello all, my name is Stefano Dubay, and I am a character sculptor here at Disney. Like many other Zbrush users, I used to use the program to create detail-heavy characters. Upon my arrival at Disney I was somewhat surprised to see how crucial ZBrush is in this pipeline. The first lesson I learned here was that simplicity DOES NOT mean translate as easy to sculpt. In animation every minute angle of a 2D curve defines different plane changes that compose the form in 3D. The exactness of your execution is what gives the correct feeling and mood to the character- in one word it’s appeal. ZBrush comes in as a necessary tool to sculpt these forms. This is because of the flexible control of the surface given by the sculpt approach to modeling. The various tools already in ZBrush make it possible to change the model very quickly and exactly. I usually start by finding where the curves break, in design these places are called hits. The various hits build up a rhythm in the silhouette that has to look good from every angle.
After that I figure out what exists between these curves, might it be plane changes or the way a highlight travels along a surface (and that depends on how the plane curves between two specific plane or contour changes. This and much more is involved in the development of an animation character, and it has to happen fast, and it has to be quickly editable too since we have interactive modeling sessions with the character designer on a daily basis. My experience here at Disney taught me a lot and also made me better at making the cute, creepy, and detailed critters that I make in my spare time, but that’s another story, Again remember that simple doesn’t mean easy. In simple designs streamlined shapes have to coexist in perfectly balance without the help of a load of details that help hide possible shape inconsistencies. As an analogy think of an animation character as a high end sport car
There there is no need or rivets, gun-ports, turrets, needless air grills and such. All those superfluous details are irrelevant when the design is made out of just a few aerodynamic curves. Those curves, though are crucial to make something with an intrinsic beauty as an object of design.
These were two of the space marines present in Hero’s Duty world. The design I usually receive can be very rough and will need to be interpreted correctly in order to capture the character. The ability to interpret depends a lot on the experience of the sculptor working with a designer. Being able to address quickly and effectively the notes he or she gives, as well as foreseeing the aspects a specific designer might or might not like, is very important. These aspects consist mostly in plane changes, and rhythm of forms. ZBrush really helps in making all of them. This is the younger marine, codenamed Marco, is wearing the armor modeled by my very talented colleague Tony Jung.
This is an example of a maquette and its reference image. Concept by Cory Loftis. The most important factor is to make the maquette feel even more than look like the reference. Getting there is almost a science. A ****tail of different ingredients an artist here learns along the way, to get something that looks good, that looks like the essence of the character, that has the proper mood and that has appeal. One very important tool is the use of primitive shapes. Shapes have a natural emotional value (just think of the terms acute and obtuse) here I really pushed the rectangular shape of the turtle’s head echoed by the shape of the glasses all to contrast with the saggy roundness of the rest. A little color theory also doesn’t hurt, and pink + green usually looks good.
This one is Zombie, before and after the process of cleanup and refinement. The first image is my initial quick concept sculpt. The second is the character after several cleanup iterations. Even if the characters look very much alike in the two images they differ at the same time drastically if you learn what to look at. Here in particular the structure and rhythm of the forehead details, the fullness of the brows, the relation of the mouth masses to the cheekbones and the brows, and the falloff gradient of the masseter muscle on the side of the jaw to say a few. Many of these changes are done “on the fly” during meetings with the designer and i really cannot phantom how to do the same and accurately, by point pushing.
Pose courtesy of Jason Figliozzi.
One of the main reasons why I love using ZBrush is the speed you can get when you really need it under the pressure of crunch time. These are characters I made for Litwack’s Arcade. The design can be really rough to begin with, ZBrush allows, in some instances, when production requires, to quickly sketch, interactively review, edit and eventually get approved a character quickly and efficiently. Then I quickly color it, render it for showing it to the Directors. I remember the kid here being in the making for just a few days before me going on Christmas vacation. I had been asked from production to make a quick render before leaving, it was the same day of my flight so I had maybe 2 hours to do it all, and he got approved! Early Christmas present! That does not mean that we can take and forget polymodeling because of ZBrush, I still have to generate a clean and animation ready mesh (and the requirements for animation can be extreme since some of these characters squash and stretch a lot).
Coming into Disney Animation, I was thrilled to find out that not only were we allowed to use ZBrush, but it was encouraged on our characters. It’s a useful way to have productive working sessions, present models, clean up and simplify our meshes for production.
ZBrush is a powerful way to handle our face shapes. With our facial systems, it’s important to control the direction the vertices travel and how the forms build up when blending one shape into another. Without subdividing, move and smooth brushes quickly get us where we want to be. Our riggers bake out blendshapes and we clean them up nice and pretty. Sure, we could do it all in Maya, but it just doesn’t have the same delicate touch that helps us preserve the simple and elegant forms we’ve defined in a model’s neutral state. Having working sessions with our riggers and character animators in ZBrush is painless and we can give them exactly what they want technically and artistically with a lot less back and forth. Keeping those characters appealing and “on-model” by Disney standards from start to finish is our priority.
Here are a few examples of those face shapes on Vanelope!
Sour Bill was an interesting challenge. We had to try a lot of scaling of the eyes, experiment with the level of detail we wanted in the number of wrinkles on his forehead and under-eye bags. Move brush, transpose tool, and projection (onto a perfect sphere) were my best friends for this simple little guy.
Here’s an early version of Satan. His teeth used to be outside his mouth until it was decided he needed lips for his speaking parts. This was definitely my favorite character to sculpt on since it allowed me to explore outside of my usual cute comfort zone.
A lot of this early vis dev modeling really started happening on Tangled. Now we carry this philosophy onto the beginning of every film we make here at Disney Animation. All the main characters went through this on Wreck it Ralph. We’ve realized that so much of the design changes after we get into CG, that it would be to the productions benefit to start modeling much earlier than we have on previous shows. ZBrush allows use to do these sculpts quickly and with a more organic feel.
Hill Billy Ralph.
Director Approved Ralph.
Vanelope T-pose design sculpt.
Vanelope design sculpt posed.
Taffyta design sculpt.
King Candy design sculpt.
Early Felix design sculpt. Based more off Jack McBrayer.
Early Felix design sculpt posed.
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