Thursday, July 28, 2016


Lately I've been helping my Fiancee with her personal project OniSan. OniSan is a retelling of Beauty and The Beast set in Edo Period Japan. It is also my fiancee's experience as an exchange student in Japan. The medium she has chosen to tell this story combines graphic novels with stop motion. She is in the process of creating puppets that will be photographed and used to tell her story.      

Beki asked for my help with modeling and printing parts for the two main characters, Julia and Oni.  I'll be sharing some of the process I went through to create parts for Oni's puppet here. Hope you like it. 

To start, I was given a set of concepts from Beki for Oni as well as a set of sketches showing the character's armature and how it would fit inside the model. The pieces of the model we would need to print were also detailed in her sketches. 

Oni character concept and lineart by Rebecca Black-Gliko color and rendering by Raul Ramos
One of the biggest challenges to overcome with this project was making sure that my digital models had the right relationship to Oni's armature in reality. The models I created would have to match up perfectly because parts of the armature would need to fit inside molds made from the printed parts.  Other pieces of the armature would have to connect to the prints and fit securely and in the correct positions.

To make sure the digital and real world components would match up, I took careful measurements of every piece of the armature using a pair of digital calipers. I recorded the measurements and made drawings of each part for my own reference. After the measurements were taken and recorded I was able to create each part digitally.

Some of the measurements and scale drawings I made as reference for the digital armature
With each part modeled I assembled a digital version of the armature inside the computer. Completing the digital armature let me to move forward with the sculpt of Oni. Using the armature as a reference point, I could be confident that my model would have the same relationship to the real world armature.   

Digital armature and X-ray view of armature inside body sculpt
Only portions of Oni's body were going to be sent to the printers. Even though the whole body wasn't needed I still decided to model the whole figure. I did this for a couple reasons. First, if we ever needed more of the body in the future we will have it on hand and ready to go. The second reason is that each cropped portion of the body would feel like part of a larger whole even though the rest of the body is absent.  

The printed pieces will be used to make molds that will be cast in silicon with the armature inside.  The exposed parts of armature will be covered with foam that Beki will shape into form. This will give her a base to start making Oni's costume.
 Full body sculpt of Oni and separated parts for print with exposed armature
Oni has six facial expressions. Beki provided me with a series of sketches with all of the facial expressions she wanted. I made a neutral version of Oni's face first. Each facial expression would be created from a duplicate of the neutral face.

Oni Neutral Face
I used layers In ZBrush to experiment and fine tune each expression. If I made a mistake I could delete the layer and start again. I used additional layers to respond to feedback and make revisions.  Using this technique I could easily click a layer on and off and show Beki the changes I made.  Layers also allowed us to pick between versions or combine versions to arrive at a final look.  

Playing around with the Layer intensity slider was a lot of fun. I could see the face transform before my eyes as if it were animated. It was a cool pay off to see when a face was done and really made Oni feel alive.

Oni Facial Expressions
Oni's face is separate from his skull so each expression can be swapped out. The design Beki and I came up with for this is very simple. There's a magnet in the skull and in the backside of the face plate that holds the two parts together. There are tabs on the face plate that fit into keys in the skull to prevent the face from shifting from side to side.  

The ears are also removable using tabs that insert into corresponding holes in the side of the head.  This was done mostly to give Beki room to work on Oni's hair. She can remove the ears and not have to worry about damaging them while she's working. We can also switch out alternate versions of the ears to fit Oni's moods. Fore example, swept back or lowered ears when he's angry or scared.

Oni Facial Replacement Exploded View
As of right now we've sent all of Oni's parts off to the printers. I'm happy to say that this is the smoothest experience I've had printing models to date. Usually I can expect the printer to kick back the model once or twice with errors for me to fix. These pieces gave me no such problems. We've received everything in the mail and aside from a small issue with the fit for the magnets everything has worked out just like we planned.

Beki is in the process of creating the molds for the hands feet and neck and I will get some images up for the printed facial expressions once they've been primed.

Oni Printed Parts
It's been a great experience being able to collaborate with Beki on this project. Oni is such a cool character. I really love his design and getting to sculpt him and print him was so much fun. I can't wait to see the finished puppet come together! 

A special thanks goes to Jessie Kate Patterson for coming onto the OniSan project as Executive Producer. We wouldn't have been able to get this far without her help and feedback.    
If you would like to keep updated on the progress of OniSan be sure to visit Beki's website Cosmic Jingle Art and sign up for her newsletter.

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