Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden is hosting an exhibition with the French artist Auguste Rodin, who is considered the father of modern sculpture and best known for the masterpiece “The Thinker”. In connection with this DICE were invited to talk about character creation in a digital space.

After an introduction to give a bit of background of our work, Madina Chionidi (Character Artist), Per Haagensen (Senior Concept Artist) and Emil Nilsson (Animator) participated in a panel together with museum staff and sculptors.

“Sculpture is one the highest forms of art so I’m very humble to be here. Digital sculpting is actually not that different from normal sculpting. The differences are that you can save and undo of course – and you have unlimited amount of “clay” when working digitally,” Madina Chionidi said.

“What’s good with computers is that you don’t have to wait for the clay to dry,” added exhibition designer and sculptor Olof Lundström. “When you do physical sculpting you avoid details and focus on lines, while you can focus on the details when you work digital.”

“There are also a few shortcuts available when working digitally. For instance, you can create one side of a face and then use an automatic mirror function to get symmetry. Then you make it slightly asymmetrical through changes to one side of the face or body, to make it more natural,” said Madina.

“I work almost purely digital in my profession, with digital painting and digital sculpture. I do however use pencil on paper now and again to get the ideation process started. The software we use allows you to start sketching in 3D right away, which is great. It used to be a very technical process to create 3D models, but now you can just start when you have inspiration,” Per Haagensen explained.

He worked on the main illustration, called key art, for Mirror’s Edge™ Catalyst.

“An important factor was how to portray Faith’s physicality, her skill, confidence and attitude in a dynamic manner, without her looking like a martial artist or super hero,” Haagensen elaborated. “When I set out to sculpt her for the Key Art, aside from the realistic aspects of her appearance, more than anything it was to convey the pose with enough action, tension, and interest to make the audience curious about who this person is (if they didn’t already know from the first game). She also needs to appear more mature than in the first game, so there was some work on getting a focused look on her face, maybe even some concern about the situation she is in.”

Olof Lundström noted that Rodin was very modern for his time.

“He had a collection of arms that he tried out, almost like digital sculpting in a physical 3D way. He felt forced to do not real and exaggerate as that was the custom back then.”

To exaggerate is also a challenge when making the characters go from sculptures to come alive through animation.

“When creating movement you have to adapt to the player’s expectation,” said Emil Nilsson. “When you’re going to jump in real life, there is an anticipation of the jump when you get ready, but in video games you press a button and expect to jump instantly. That’s a challenge for animation and we have to exaggerate movements to emphasize them, much like Rodin’s sculptures.”

Even though game developers and artists use modern digital tools there are classical art techniques and teachings that influence the work.

“Life drawing at DICE was the first time I drew from looking at a real model,” told Madina. “I believe it helps me become a better digital artist, and I want to study “real arts” more to grow in my profession.”

Close up of panel

“I think most artists working digitally on a successful level have had training in classical techniques,” added Haagensen. “Even so, since we are still working with a real brush/pen in our hand, applying the same motoric skills that any other artist uses, practice is king to mastery. Life drawing, master studies, technical anatomical studies, and perspective training still applies to everything we do. The techniques I use for painting and the knowledge I carry from that has made the transition to digital sculpting fairly painless, much due to the artist friendly interfaces of more recent 3D sculpting tools.”

“For animation, we rely on both modern technology as well as older learnings like the 12 principles of animation,” said Emil Nilsson. “We use professional 3D animation software and a lot of motion capture, but also mirrors and film to use our own movement as reference.”

Among the audience questions were one about realism and how games can change perception.

“When I went to the actual filming location of Endor at Redwoods it felt like a video game and that I’ve already been there before even though it was my first time visiting. It was later in the production of the game so I had already seen the environments digitally,” Madina explained.

To round off the panel talked about what kind of creative work they do in their spare time.

“I enjoy creating art featuring weapons, using a lot of 90-degree angles and perfect shapes,” told Madina.

“In my spare time I like to focus on more fantastical topics, more ethereal subject matter, and so on. I also find it very creatively reinvigorating to make music,” concluded Haagensen.

The lecture was a collaboration with Nationalmuseum, l ’Institut Français de Suède and DICE.

The Rodin exhibition is on show until January 10, 2016.

Faith on screen