You've mentioned maintaining the characters. What did that involve?
Sculpting the character and building the initial topology is always only the beginning. After that initial build, the changes begin. At time, it is easy to get disheartened when everyone down stream from modeling begins making requests for changes.
Many of the characters have multiple limbs and this increased the amount of sculpting and retopologizing each time a change was requested.
Many of the characters also have these sizable tusks on their heads. At one point it was felt that it would be easiest to render these if they were separate pieces of geometry. The call was made to roll this approach out to the 35 or so characters that had this design element. Later we discovered that this assumption was unfortunately wrong. All these characters then needed to have a major overhaul to reincorporate the tusks back into the main body geometry and then reproject and touchup all the characters with this new base.
Which characters were your favorites?
My favorite characters on the show were the Warhoons. They are these very primitive, hunchy, violent characters. They were the least developed of the concept sculpts and there needed to be a whole lot of them, so I had fairly free range to create a diverse range of variations for them. They are also some of the more outrageous characters in the film. We ran all of the Warhoon variation concepts past Andrew for approval. In the end I designed and modeled twelve Warhoon variations for the film. I also had the opportunity to help design the costumes for them based on production's concept of a bone costume.
The other character that was a fun challenge is the ten-legged Woola character. It looks and behaves a lot like a dog. As a dog owner myself, I attempted to put a little of my pug's facial details into the character model. Some of this was snuck in under the radar, so long as it didn't vary too far from the original concept from Andrew.
ZBrush's projection tools are great, but each time you reproject a little bit gets lost. It is a bit like making a fax of a fax of a fax. When detail is lost, it then needs to be recreated again.
The lesson to all of us in production is that the more initial prototype testing can be done in advance, the less reworking will need to be done on the back end. It is always less expensive to explore and test and revise on one model as opposed to 35 models. This sort of mass overhaul occurred a couple times over the life of the production. The end result is terrific, but it was a tedious journey getting there.
Most of my maintainance was centered around making sure the topology was getting updated and that all of the corresponding displacement maps also got revised and published each time there was a revision pass.
The largest, most violent characters in the film are the White Apes. I built these based on the Legacy maquette. These required the most reworking as the base pose ended up being the most different from the orginal maquette's pose. They needed a large amount of anatomical reworking as a result, so they proved to be a good sculpting challenge.
The main characters were also challenging, but as an artist I'm particularly engaged when I get a chance to get involved creatively with the design process and feel that I've contributed artistically to the realization of the characters.