moved over from projectspark.com
the original has many images. I will add them later
Hi Sparkers! Welcome to a very special blog post. We’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to bring the Dragon to Project Spark. We always wanted to have a Dragon character in Project Spark, and we knew the community did too! Dragons are amazing fantasy creatures that can easily be the hero of your story or your hero’s worst nightmare. They are a combination of magic, strength, and raw power. In our lore, the Dragon is responsible for Paik’s transformation from lush forest colony into the Noxious Bogs. He has been awoken by the Goblins and is ready to rain fire down on everything in its path!
But how did this dragon go from a simple idea to the most blazing Project Spark character we’ve ever created?
A Dragon on Paper – Concept
We knew one thing – we wanted a Dragon. That leaves a lot of questions. What kind of dragon is it going to be? What will it look like? How large is it? Many of these questions get answered in the concept phase of our content creation pipeline. Our artists put pen or brush to paper and heavily experiment with different styles, designs, and shapes.
In order to jump start the concept process, our artists first do a handful of silhouettes. These get ideas flowing and we generally refer to it as the "Thumbnail Stage." Here are the first few different silhoettes our artists created to get ideas for the dragon down:
During the thumbnail stage we can sometimes go through dozens and dozens of sketches to get the overall size and shape down. You can see how a human character is included and provides a reference for the size of the dragon. Different wings, heads, scales, tails, and more are visible – none of which were exactly implemented in the final version.
When creating a character, the face and/or head are arguably the most important physical features for establishing the intended feel and impression of said character. A dragon is no different. His head will determine if he’s a ruthless treasure-hoarding dragon like Smaug, intelligent and stern like Paarthurnax, or cute and lovable like Spyro. Early on, our artists do character studies, typically first focusing on the head. Differences in nose, jaw, horns, etc. can make a large impact on the full dragon.
Once we narrowed down the head to a particular look and feel that resonated with the team, we began experimenting with scales. Scales are a critical part of any dragon. They start from the head and make their way across the length of the body determining the dragon’s silhouette and profile. Scales can look like shards of rock or plated armor. They can even have swirls on them
With a good idea of the target head, scales, and general profile, our artists can put together a full body sketch that will help us in the next step of the content pipeline – sculpting and bringing the Dragon to 3D.
At this time, we also begin experimenting with colors. As creators in Project Spark, you know how impactful and meaningful colors can be to your audience. All of our assets come with a default color scheme that aims to be versatile and great out of the box. The colors of our Dragon have earthy tones with a hint of the fire it can call to scorch the land and its enemies. They give the effect of hostility and roughness which is exactly what the team was aiming for.
A Dragon with Form – Sculpting
The next phase of the content pipeline gives form to our characters and props. Using the concept art for inspiration and direction, our artists sculpt out the rough size and dimensions of the asset in question using a program like Autodesk Maya. This is called a "Proxy," since it's a rough approximation of what we'll eventually sculpt. In the above image, you can see a dragon proxy being sculpted out of polygons juxtaposed with a human model in the scene. This stage is intentionally rough & undetailed – it’s important to get the overall scale and shape right before spending time filling in the details. It's also great to get this done early for the animation team to start working on the model.
Now, it’s time to start making this Dragon look like a Dragon. In Sculpt v1, you can see the artist started sculpting the upper torso and head. The wings have been removed to concentrate on the main body of the Dragon. It’s already apparent how the head is beginning to match the concept images from the first phase. Layers of details are continually added to bring the rough proxy closer to a Dragon fit for Project Spark.
Once the body is in good shape, it’s wings are added back and sculpted to match the Dragon’s body. We know in our final model the wings will be animating all of the place, and it’s important for the Dragon’s model to be detailed even in the areas where the wings usually cover. When it glides across the map raining down fire, it would be strange for the Dragon’s sides to be flat polygons. If I wasn’t a terrified Male – Peasant Third Person Adventurer, I might stop for a moment an emote a laugh.
Of course, I don’t know of many dragons that are the color grey all around. With a finished model, it’s time to add textures and color to this magnificent creature. With the color palette largely decided during the concept phase, our artists now need to apply it to the model. And finally, we have a 3D Dragon ready to be dropped into Project Spark!
Bringing a Dragon to Life – Animation
If we were actually to drop a dragon into Project Spark after modeling, it wouldn't do much. Well, it’s really cool looking and makes a great statue. I guess we’ll call it a wrap here? Obviously, I jest! Now, it’s time for our animators on the team to go to work and breath some life into this character.
There are a lot of animations characters need just to get started. They need hit reactions (their animation that plays when they take damage), moving-on-land animations (walking, jogging, running), flying animations (slow, normal, fast), a death animation or two when they are defeated, jumping, dodging, attacking…you get the idea. On top of that, we need to add any additional emotes the character supports like taunt or sad.
How can we efficiently add animations to all our characters? In Project Spark, some of characters share the same body type. A good example that might not be immediately obvious is the Yeti, Troll, and Void Corruptor. Because they are similar in size, shape, and appendages – we can use animations across these models. In the studio, we refer to these characters as sharing the same animation “rig”.
The Dragon is not like any other character in Project Spark. This means we had to build a new animation rig just for it. Here’s an in-progress video of the Dragon’s walk animation in the editor:
These are shared with the team and iterated on for a good amount of time until the movement feels natural. The animations also need to match the nature/mood of the character in question (or sometimes, hilariously, not so much: have you tried equipping a beverage bottle to a Troll yet?). As the animators get closer to their targets, they bring the model with its animation rig into their own testing build of Project Spark for some tweaking and tuning.
I remember seeing this video for the first time at an Artist Meeting! The whole team was blown away. This amazing creation that started from an idea was flying above an empty world in Project Spark. It's always a great day to see a new character brought into Project Spark, but the Dragon was something different. We had always wanted to bring a Dragon to life, and we did it. The only thing more exciting was knowing we would share this creation with the community.
After its animations are wrapped up, the Dragon is ready to go! It gets packaged together with other assets to become the content pack, Dragon’s Ascension. This allows Project Spark to understand which content you have available. Dragon’s Ascension is made available internally so we can test the assets and make sure it is in fact ready to go out into the world. This is also the opportunity for the community team (that’s Brian and me) to go hands-on with the assets and get ready to communicate an announcement and release.
And that’s how Team Dakota made a Dragon!