Recently I was asked by a client to do some character design work, or maybe that should be ‘re-design’ work.
Award winning Film and 3D Animation studio polarmedia had been producing a short corporate animation for a client. The animation was at the polishing phase and the production nearly completed when they ran into a small problem. The production had been pitched, signed off and animated using a LEGO man character, which for copyright, patent and legal reasons is simply not usable. So the re-design brief, was to create a new man character, with the same proportions of the LEGO man; same height and shape so that it would still work with the control rig and all the animation that had already been completed, but still needed to look like a LEGO man as that is what they had pitched to their client with and that the client had signed off on.
A LEGO man that is not a LEGO man.
It is one of those daunting design questions that you sit in fear of, wondering how on earth you are going to achieve such a thing. Like being asked to create ball but it can’t be a sphere.
Never any point on pondering what you may possibly be able to achieve, best to just get stuck in and start at the beginning. What follows is a breakdown of how I personally tackled this and the end result.
Starting at the beginning – shapes and silhouettes
Immediately trying to get away from the trademark LEGO man design, with the perfectly vertical legs and the torso that is tapered towards the shoulders and wider at the hips, I blocked out some very simple shapes leaning more towards a truer resemblance of the human form. Shoulders and chest wider than waist and hips, feet apart rather than together.Straight away F is too close to the upper body shape you instantly associate with a patented LEGO man. The broadening of the shoulder and chest on A-D made the character too overtly masculine, whereas E is a much more subtle broadening and hence chosen as the shape to progress.
Progression of Design E
At this point I am using the original LEGO man head with custom shades, hard hat and back pack already created by Polarmedia and I am solely focusing on the design of the body. Here I have 3 variations on Design E which experiment with different ways to connect the arm at the shoulder, different definitions on the chest and how it catches the light, different pinches on the waist from the sides, different levels of stomach being tucked in, and different depths to the arch in the lower back. The hands have been given added definition to depict fingers to lean away from the smooth design of an actual LEGO man, and in the opposite fashion the toes have been rounded off to move away from the completely square design.
With Design E3 a joint choice between myself and the Lead Animator and production Supervisor at Polarmedia, the next step was to give options on the design of the head. The shades and hard hat had already been created as original designs by the Polarmedia team and were to be kept on the final character. The choice was made to keep this away from something that could be manufactured and infringe on the LEGO design, we would have no neck on the character, instead opting for a game style floating head with a minimal gap.
Here are several head designs created from a simple cylinder (C1-6) and an even simpler square cube (S1-6)It was harder to come to a decision on the final head as we all had different views but end result was opting for C2.
So there we have it the step by step design process of creating a LEGO man that is not a LEGO man, a very fun and rewarding little project to be involved in.