Characters Development For Weirdos

Well, I am a bit weird, some say a lot. Developing a character for me is a process which can go on for a while and I thought I’d share. As an example, I’ll be using the heroine of my new series, Fox Meridian, partially because it’s publicity, and partially because she’s had a more complex development than some.

Okay, so generally I have a concept first. The concept comes from something I’ve watched on television, something I’ve read, and quite frequently from some random thought passing through my brain. This has been stewing in my head for several hours, usually more like a day or two. If an idea can’t hold onto my attention for a day, how is it going to hold yours. If I wake up and the concept’s gone, it doesn’t get written down. That’s if this is a primary character, of course. If they’re a secondary or an antagonist their concept will likely flow out of the plot for the story: I need our protagonist’s best friend, the leader of a militant terrorist group, whatever. Fox’s concept is “tough cop with a history, living in the near future.”

By now I’ve got a OneNote notebook set up for the project. I use a couple of tools for managing all the notes and such I keep on book projects. The main one for randomised notes is OneNote (which Microsoft made available for free), but I used to use Evernote with reasonable success. I prefer OneNote’s organisation. Recently I started putting some things into Trello, which is a sort of online project management tool: primarily lists, ideas for future stories, and To Dos go in there. About now I create a OneNote page and I write down my character’s name, maybe who their parents were, and a bit of description. The latter is going to be a rough outline of the character, where they came from, where they are now. I quite often end up changing the details in this as the demands on the character shift. (In Ugly this got changed because I got two characters a little twisted and confused their parents. Always read your notes, people!)

Usually, about now I’m off to my heaving great big graphics computer. I need to know who this person is and a picture is a thousand words, and that. So, I pull up DAZ Studio and start hunting through the pre-formed characters I’ve bought. What I’m looking for as the write shape and skin tone. I rarely use a pre-made model as is for any of my characters, never mind the main ones. Sadly I can’t use ZBrush worth a damn (or draw which would be even better) so I can’t uniquely sculpt a character, but I can sit there and tweak cheekbones, the corners of eyes, the wrinkles on brows. I can take the shape of one character and wrap them in the skin of another, change the eyes, select and colour the hair. Hair really changes the shape of a face and it says something about this person. When I think I have it right I do test renders: like many a WYSIWYG editor, Studio doesn’t quite show you what you get so it’s a good idea to look at the finished result.

Fox - Early Study

This is one of the earliest renders of Fox. At this point she’s a Genesis 2 Female model. Case in point here about the importance of visuals to me: Fox was not Fox until I saw this. I can’t remember what I was calling her. Her name is actually Tara Meridian and maybe that’s all I had, but then I saw that hair and I thought “some kid at school said she had a fox on her head, she split the kid’s lip, but the name stuck, and now she likes it.” So, yes, that’s why she’s called Fox. To date no one has called her Foxy, and if they do we can expect another split lip. (I am going to be accused of making an obvious “attractive woman” reference with this one, but the hair is genuinely how she got the name, both fictionally and in reality.)

Probably while the first render is cooking, I’ll start designing the character. For me “designing the character” has a rather more specific meaning than for some, I think. Out come my PDFs and I start building the character in GURPS. GURPS, Generic Universal Role-Play System, is a pen-and-paper RPG produced by Steve Jackson Games. It’s point-based and designed to work reasonably well with any background. That means I can use it for fantasy and sci-fi characters, and it means I’m not stuck with “you’ve selected the Ranger class and must select one of these abilities at level 3.” No levels in GURPS, just point totals. I largely ignore the point totals, but they come in useful for some things such as education. For example, younger characters should have fewer skills than older ones or those who have had intensive training. A lot of stuff just doesn’t make sense to worry over it, however, so I don’t. I build my character, decide how strong they are, how intelligent, their build…

Oh the build. Backtrack a little here. I used to judge all this by eye, but now I have a tool for DAZ Studio called Measure Metrics. That gives me more measurements for my character model than I could ever want. With the model built and me happy with it, I’ll take down their measurements in OneNote. Yes, I know the cup size on all my female characters, US and UK sizes. I can also tell you their wrist circumference. Fox is a C. I assume you don’t care how big her wrists are.

Back to the character build where I’ll be deciding on how attractive they are, how wealthy, what kind of abilities and skills they have, what kind of faults and flaws. Why bother? Because, while I’ll tweak these stats where I need my character to do something I’d never thought of, or (more likely) I realise they must be able to do something I didn’t put in the build, this character description keeps me honest. Ceri never pulls magic out of a hat without working as long as she needs to do it. Aneka doesn’t survive a plasma blast in one book which should have punched through the armour described in the last (unless the armour has changed). No one buys something in a shop which their character would never be able to afford.

Now, while this is happening, the world is taking shape around the character. (I’ve begun with a world and built the characters from it and it’s never worked. My books have a character focus and the world should fit to them, not the other way around.) I’ll be bouncing around creating more OneNote notes which fill in the background around the character. So, Fox is a ranking officer in a police agency called NAPA: I need to create NAPA, give it form and a rank structure, and layout how their geographical structure works to fill in that one element of Fox’s sheet. She’s associated with a guy named Jackson Martins and his daughter, Teresa, who own a huge conglomerate called MarTech: so MarTech (and Jackson and Teresa later) get designed and described. I need to work out the world’s social status hierarchy so that I have an idea of how wealthy Fox needs to be to support the lifestyle I intend her to have. Building the character helps me to solidify the world they live in.

So, now I know what my character looks like and what they can do, and I have a good idea of their character, at least in broad strokes. The last part, who they are how they behave, how they think, that comes from writing them and I may have to go back to update the stats as I work along. I’ll do more concept pictures to decide on a look for a particular scene and it gives me a sense for the character’s style of dress, or maybe they don’t really smile broadly because their face pulls contortions if they do.

With Fox there was another stage because DAZ brought out the Genesis 3 Female model while I was writing Fox Hunt. Wanting to try out the new tech, I recreated Fox as a G3F and was then faced with whether I like the old model or the new. I eventually went with the new one, so her look changed a little. I actually took the old model and altered it some to create Fox’s mother, so that wasn’t wasted.

fox-face2-17

So this was actually produced to test out some new eyes, but it shows Fox’s new G3F face. The eyebrows have a less pronounced arch and I think the features are a tiny bit softer. I was never happy with the eyes until I found this pair of lovely blue-green peepers. Fox is set, at least until something in a book changes something about her and I need to create a new sheet for her. She’ll get updated over time, as she learns and develops. Characters grow over time and I have plans for Fox, some of which may never happen. It all depends on how her story develops. Can’t wait to find out what happens.

iFox

Patreon patrons can see some more images associated with the development of Fox, just posted on the site. Link on the right. There will be more public posts and concept art coming prior to the release of Fox Hunt on September 8th.

(PS. Took me longer to post this than expected. Hope it was worth the wait.)

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20 responses to “Characters Development For Weirdos

  1. I discovered Daz3d studio two weeks ago it’s fantastic ! They even give freeby.

    • Version 4.8 came out recently (last few months) with a new, optional, rendering engine, IRay. It gives you what’s called “physics-based” rendering and the results are beautiful compared to the older 3Delight engine. It does take significantly longer to produce results unless you have an NVidia graphics card with some real oomph to help it along, but the results are worth it.

      Now, with the addition of G3F, a lot of people who are long-time Poser users are turning to DAZ. This is great for me because some producers who have been almost exclusively Poser users are switching over and making glorious stuff I can use. This makes me happy. 🙂

      • I saw what some of the pro do with DAZ, awesome stuff, too bad my video card isn’t as goood as yours. Wow but some of the elements are expensive.

    • Agreed on the expense, though I have some idea of the effort put into that stuff and it’s often justified. And I can justify my addiction given it’s at least partially for work. 🙂

      If you take a look at their site today you’ll see that Stonemason has a new set out, Chinatown. It’s not cheap, around $30, but the detail on his stuff is incredible. Things like that I have no trouble justifying the spend for because, if I can find a good reason to use it, I know I’ll get a really beautiful render out of it.

      You can find free stuff on sites like Renderosity which may take a little more ffort to use, but can be very good quality. Worth a look.

      • Thanks, I actually agree that the cost is equivalent to the work put in the products. I have never seen better… the fighting pose or paysage are sumptuous.

  2. I expect it would be a huge amount of work, but, out of curiosity, have you considered doing any comics with Daz?

    • Oh yes. And it’s a huge amount of work. Still might happen one day, but I need a couple of skills I don’t have yet, like writing for comics. It’s harder than it looks.

  3. Mister Teasdale, I like how well designed your characters are on the cover of your novels ! That’s why I would like to ask you which kind of elements I should get on the DAZ studio shop. Like you I decided to self publish my work on Amazon or Smashwords. But well, like you know it’s kinda expensive on the website but I won’t be deterred hehe it’s just money. On my blog I have posted the first three chapters of my debut novel “le cercle d’eden” but I would like to be able to visualize them like you do with Aneka and co or with Lily. Should I take programming studies or something else to be able to do what you do ?

    • Difficult, because I spend way too much on this stuff. It’s almost an addiction (but I can stop any time, yes I can).
      Programming is not required. If you feel like educating yourself I’d go with something involving photography, especially lighting. Keep an eye out for photographic magazines with tips on lighting models. There are online courses in using various aspects of DAZ Studio; I tend to find them expensive, but the guy who does the Dreamlight ones knows his stuff. Also, look up a web site called Issuu (online magazine site, free) and search for DS Creative. Issue 15 is out and if you go through all of those you’ll find a lot of tips.
      Starting from scratch, I would pick up Victoria 7. I would suggest (and this is a suggestion) going for the Pro bundle. You’ll get the base model and some clothes, and some poses to kick you off. It’s not cheap, but it’s a significant price break on the individual items.
      Similarly, for male characters, you want Michael 6.
      I’d also suggest getting a good light set. An IRay one because you’ll want to use IRay for renders. Lighting really does magic to a render. There are some tips in DS Creative about setting up a three point light system yourself, and that can work, but people have spent a long time making excellent lighting sets which you can grab up make your renders look professional with.
      Clothing, obviously. A lot of it isn’t hugely expensive. Making clothing yourself is hard, capital H, lots of exclamation marks.
      The other thing I buy a lot of is shaders, but this is one of those things you can take or leave. Good shaders make your materials look good, and if a clothing set has been set up with good UV mapping you can employ shaders to change the look to something you want rather than whatever the texture creater thought of. Unfortunately, you can also end up with a mess, but there you go. DAZ 4.8 came with some basic IRay shaders for things like silk, plastic, metals, and rubber which you can mess around with.
      The other thing that’s useful, you can’t buy: time. Get a model in the editor and play around. Get to know the program, fiddle with all the controls (yes, build that supermodel with legs up to her armpits and breasts like cantaloupes; it’ll get it out of your system), play with lighting, try out the shaders. I learned by doing, mostly. Hints and tips are useful, but trying things out is best.
      Hope that helps.

      • Thank you mister ! And how come you know I intend to create my ideal woman on the studio… am I that transparent ? And thank you for your advices I will take them to heart. But really men are really transparent, hahaha.

      • Yeah, we all have to do it at least once. Then you discover it’s not as attractive as you think. Well, I do, but everyone’s different.
        Once, when City of Heroes introduced some fairly complex character form sliders, I created a female character with maxed out breast and leg sliders, pretty much as a joke. “Ha ha, guy playing a girl that looks like a photoshopped Playboy model.” And she ended up as a serious role-play character with a fairly tragic backstory and became something of a mother character to half the characters in the RP group. And eventually that character ended up in one of my books, Anastasia Kade, the pirate queen. She’s on the cover, still looking more or less how I envisioned her back in the game. Weird how these things turn out.

      • PS. I checked out your blog. I’d love to read more of the story, but my French is abysmal and Chrome’s translate function turns the text into near gibberish. However…

        I note lycans are mentioned. If you’d like to put some in your artwork, try searching werewolf” on the DAZ site. Depending on your needs, Lycaon, MS Lycan, or “The Man Wolf” are probably the best. MS Lycan seemed heavily influenced by the lycans in Underworld. Lycaon is a little more generic. Man Wolf is more of an anthropomorphic wolf. None of them are very cheap, but the alternative is going with a bunch of “creature morphs” for Michael 6 which will end up costing more and probably not giving you great benefit.

  4. Interesting process. Had never considered using GURPS/RP system as a way to track fiction characters but it makes a lot of sense to me. Totally did not need to know about DAZ Studio. I feel another great time suck entering my life. Thanks so much Mr. Teasdale. 😉

    Very much looking forward to reading Fox Hunt. Keep up the great work!

  5. As a general note to the conversation about DAZ and getting into 3D modeling and the thought of spending less money than what DAZ would cost for what may amount to a not so certain foray into a new hobby, there are some pretty good free alternatives out there to play with and see if its something to actually spend a bundle of money on. In specific Ive played around with Blender (https://www.blender.org/) for 3D modeling and Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/) for image editing. Recently Ive used Source Film Maker (available with a Steam account http://store.steampowered.com/) for just general goofing around with the enormous amount of models/props/sets ported from video games or designed from scratch using, quite often, Blender and Gimp.

    The video game modding community has been using Blender and Gimp heavily for many years to make some amazing stuff, and they are totally free and improved regularly by users. Also since these programs are free, so are the community supplied resources such as models, sets, props, and scripts and the authors are almost universally open to their work being improved upon so long as you in turn share and give credit to the source.

    In any case, no matter which route you take, the professional way or the open source way, 3D modeling and animation is a very deep pit to fall into and a good way to lose enormous amounts of time while having alot of fun. Ive fallen in multiple times thanks to Oblivion, Skyrim, and Fallout…damn you Bethesda.

    And Niall, I cant help but hear the X Files theme every time I check Witches and Ray-Guns and see mention of, or just read the words “Fox Meridian” or “Fox Hunt”. If youve put a character in there named Mulder or Scully I will hate you for ever…Ill still buy your books though.

    • Okay… first off, no, to date there is no one even like Mulder or Scully in there. You’re safe.

      As to the DAZ stuff, well, Studio is free and I think it comes with Genesis (not sure, long time since I checked) which you could play with, no problem.
      Blender is, indeed, free, but it’s NOT DAZ Studio, it’s a full-on modelling program. You can do thing in Blender which DAZ doesn’t scratch, and vice versa. Blender’s built-in rendering system sucks bricks through a hose compared to IRay in DAZ. (Yes, I have Blender on my machine too, for modelling, not that I ever get much done).
      DAZ is an image composition program, not a modelling program. If you want to make nice pictures: DAZ. If you want to get into commercial 3D modelling: Blender. (But Maya and ZBrush, and lots of other expensive things are more commonly used.)

      GIMP, yes. I use GIMP for image manipulation. That’s how I build my covers. Photoshop… I keep looking and thinking “maybe it would be a good idea to- HOW MUCH?!!!” GIMP is free and works for what I need.

      So, I do not do 3D modelling (even though I want to, and keep trying to get the time to learn). I build images. DAZ is way better at simply constructing an image from parts and the comparable (expensive) alternative is Poser, not Blender. Blender is a whole, different playing field, for the brave, the adventurous, the people with free time. 😉

  6. Whoops, guess I was a little vague with some of what I was getting at there. Blender is handy if you are brave and want to get into making the models that you use to create a scene or modifying an existing model. To create a scene Ive used Source Film Maker rather than DAZ since as a gamer, the mod communities Ive kept up with support SFM and Blender to a greater degree than DAZ and Poser and its much easier to find various resources for free that you might have to pay for with other programs even if that program is itself free.

    Guess it has alot to do with what direction youre coming from when wanting to get into the world of 3D art. I look at it from the point of view of someone who plays games designed to be heavily modified by their communities. That usually involves at least some basic 3D modeling or modification of existing objects and the use of those models in scene building or animations is a sometimes secondary consideration.

    • The first computer game I was ever heavily involved in was Neverwinter Nights. I got involved with creating and running a public server called Tharcion (hence my login ID) which was fairly popular. I was a programmer, so the C-Script scripting engine on NwN was child’s play to me. NwN used a mod system which let you add custom models and materials to the game so part of the server builder’s job was to compile that mod package and make it available. I never got into making the models back then, though I did commission a couple from one of the community’s better modellers. The weapon of choice in those days was 3DSMax.

      So I’m familiar with where you’re coming from. Been there, done that. That’s cos I’m old though. 🙂

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