Magic Friends

Android/iOS interactive mobile app based around Christmas characters where users can talk with their favorite character from a snowman to rudolf and even Santa himself

I was the lead rigger and Unity 3D consultant on this project where I was involved in the character setup stages of development. I also assisted in integrating the animated 3D character into the game development software in terms of functionality and quality.

  • Model
  • Blends
  • Rig
  • Result
  •  

Giant Creative were in charge of designing and building the 3D characters and scenes for this app after which I would review and begin the rigging process. We had to make sure to keep the poly count to a minimum for performance reasons as this app would need to work on mobile devices. Therefore there were numerous revisions made until certain standards were met for Unity 3D.

During development of this app it was discovered that the game development software (Unity 3D) did not support the use of blendshapes which meant a bone based, facial system was needed instead. A simple scripted procedure was made to reduce the repetitive task of creating this facial bone system for every character.

This facial rigging process worked whereby the rigger placed eight point helpers in key areas such as the corners, center and median areas of the mouth. A small script was then executed that created eight bones accordingly and then connected the rotation of bones to controller attributes. These values could also be scaled if needed for characters with alternative sized and shaped mouths. Once these connected bones were created the rigger could then start the skinning process, making sure that the mouth deformed as required.

Eye Rig

Recent versions of Unity 3D have allowed for blendhshape support which means that future projects will not require the like of this facial bone rig system and normal modeled blend shapes will work.

There were some additional requirements in the rigging of these 3D characters where some of them had accessories or protruding body parts. It wad decided that a dynamic system would assist animators in this case where they can take advantage of a dynamic rig that automates the secondary action of these parts. Some examples are the Snowman’s hat (below), Rudolph’s tail and Santa’s beard.

 

When working in Brown Bag Films I developed a dynamics rig tool that was then offered for public use on their website.  This dynamics tool was then used on top of the existing custom biped rig and had attributes that would control if the dynamics was on or off and the amount of dynamic sway.

 

Dynamics

Another challenge on this project was the setup of the character eyes with moving pupils. Typically 3D characters should be made with perfectly spherical eye balls that rotate around their centered pivot points as they do in reality. If eye shape designs are non spherical, for example elliptical shapes, then the eyes  should similarly be made perfectly spherical, then using FFDs or Lattices (free-form deformation tools)  the spherical eye can be adjusted accordingly to get the desired eye shape. This means that the eye can rotate as it would normally if it was perfectly round and the enclosing FFD cage or lattice controls deforming the mesh into its new form.

 

Unfortunately Unity 3D does not support the use of FFDs as it primarily associated with 3D programs for use in film or animation. From the images below it is clear that the eyes are not perfectly spherical and are instead modeled into the faces of these characters, so they have more of a flattened appearance . The solution for this challenge was to make elliptical  primitive objects that match the shapes of the eyes as closely as possible. Point locators were then surface constrained to these shapes so that the locators followed these contours, therefore following the curvature of the eyes. Bones were then position constrained and orientation constrained to these locators and the pupil mesh was skinned to them. For animation control the U/V positioning of the surface constraint were connected to the X/Z translation of the eye controls, resulting in the following eye movements.

Eye Rig

 

When exporting the character out of the 3D program and into the game development software steps had to be taken to ensure that only the required items were being transferred. In the case of these characters a single hierarchy of skin bones was created to keep all the import bones in one area which makes it much easier to work with as they are all visually connected. Similarly to take advantage of Unity 3D’s inbuilt animation system (Mecanim) the application requires that the bone system is combined into one predetermined hierarchy that stems from the hip bone and branches out as far as the tips of the fingers and toes.

 

Rig Structure

They key to better performances from 3D characters within the game dev software is to achieve as much quality with as little elements as possible. Due to the fact this app had only one 3D character in a very plain and simple environment we could afford to expand on certain usual restrictions such as mesh poly count and minimal bone amounts. The following rig breakdown video shows the rigged character in action with the final series of loopable animations.

 

The promo video below shows how the child can interact with the animated characters as well as how the parents can setup the walkie talkie style interaction that can be setup on paired devices.

 

[krown_alert type=success] To date six MagicFriend characters have been setup and animated with a launch date to be announced shortly sometime before Christmas 2014. [/krown_alert]

 

santa clause 3d character

Darragh Duffy has worked with Giant Creative Ltd as a freelance Unity Consultant and games rigging artist. He has excelled in all the tasks I have given him to date and has solved many of my technical problems over the past 6 months. Darragh is very approachable, communicative and proactive when it comes to his work. His initiative and resourcefulness demonstrates his excellent abilities to bring solutions to the table. He executes his work load with great punctuality and to a great standard. I would have no hesitation in recommending Darragh Duffy and look forward to working with him in the future.

Daniel Spencer

Producer, Giant Creative

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