How many characters total are in the film? How much time did you have to create them?
GEOFF CAMPBELL: It's funny but I'm not sure anyone did a final count. I'd say roughly 120, including background rodents and townsfolk but of those there were 30-40 hero characters. On every show there are usually maquettes created, but in this case as co-creators we were trying to go straight from Crash's 2D artwork to finished model. That's dangerous because you eat up time trying to get the topology right, the interior of the mouth, hair, fur, UV's etc. before Gore and Crash have had a chance to sign off on the basic proportions.
So without lengthening our model timeline, we squeezed in ZBrush maquettes at the beginning of each model build. Mia Lee was the first to throw together a maquette with textures that she did it in three days, yet with such accuracy that production in LA thought it was a finished model ready for shots. Everyone did an amazing job keeping to the three-day schedule and knocking out exquisite maquettes. It would have been a tremendous challenge had we not had ZBrush because you needed to work sculpturally without concerning yourself with topology, and the tool set in ZBrush was perfect for this work.
After the three days, the modelers had different workflows but basically you'd have a couple weeks to flesh out the geometry in Zeno, our proprietary software and Autodesk Maya. We had created a wardrobe library that has a lot of the more generic clothing but most of articles were constructed for each individual character. We also have our own hair/fur pipeline in Zeno that made it pretty easy to style and groom the various characters. Modelers, texture artists and look development artists combined their talents to give the characters the mangy, greasy, patchy, hair and feathers that bring a slightly disturbing realism.
Which character was the most challenging and why?
KRIS COSTA: I would say that both the Spirit of The West and the Mayor were challenging in similar ways. The biggest challenge here was the translation from Aaron McBride's 2D concept art to a 3D model, using a very stylized likeness to portray the "man with no name" for the Spirit of The West, and Crash's artwork along with reference of John Huston for the Mayor. The models went through some iteration until we found a sweet spot between realism and stylization. It's the kind of beautiful weirdness that surrounds the whole movie, where you have stylized characters covered with exquisitely detailed and realistic shaders, textures and lighting.
The concepts in general were beautifully weird and translating them into 3D was quite a lot of work, but it seemed like once we reached that goal, everybody felt inspired to push further and that's what we did. On top of this, video reference was used to capture key facial expressions of the actors. Our process was to hand-sculpt these facial expressions using the reference as a guide.
PATRICK GAGNE: The displacement on Bad Bill was pretty challenging because of time constraints. But in a way that helped push me to work quickly by making alphas from the geometry-modeled scales and re-projecting them all over Bill's body. Another challenge was putting together layers of scale sculpts in the maquette phase to get exactly what Tim and Crash were looking for without too many iterations or losing time. ZBrush's layers were a helpful tool for this.
The Rattlesnake Jake maquette was challenging because of his size. We needed to see him posed in his coiling position to assess what was working and what was not, but with his scales as part of the sculpt. To do this I made a quick ZSphere rig to get him coiled and then made a tileable UV map which gave me the ability to quick-sculpt the scales on his body with the alphas. So I was able on the fly to resize the scales, stretch them or whatever Tim was looking for by playing with the value of the tiles, or playing with the UV's in Maya so the normal map extracted by ZBrush was changing in real-time. I remember that being pretty helpful in our interactive sessions with Gore and Crash because we were able to lock down the size of the scales on the fly.
Which character would you say was the most fun? How so?
GEOFF CAMPBELL: Pretty much all of them! Gordy the town drunk was one of my favorite turntables, modeled by Patrick, but there were also Boseefus with his mullet and skin condition, and Mia's elegant-looking one-legged cowboy, Slim. One of the most fun was Lucky.
SUNNY WEI: Lucky had funny short limbs with an asymmetrical face and the bandages from his many accidents that made him so unique and funny. His extremely large eye and head made him challenging. I can not stop myself from smiling whenever I think about him. After seeing him in the shots playing with the gun, this nontraditional character makes me laugh again and again.