Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Marco Macaco Character Design

I don't think I'm offending anybody if I say that the Marco Macaco feature (aka Carlo's Casino) is probably the weirdest movie I have ever worked on. At the same time it is also one of the best looking.
Marco Macaco movie poster, 2012
Considering the budget (less than 3 million dollars) it is down right amazing what the team of artists achieved on this project.

With an average footage requirement per animator of 16 seconds (24 feet) a week, the animation is really quite good (not least thanks to the animation director Tonni Zinck). The backgrounds, mostly built in 3D, have been further enhanced by beautiful hand painting, giving this CGI feature a fresh style and unique atmosphere, which easily outshines movies with price tags many times higher.

The movie (released 2012) was produced by the Danish studio Nice Ninja, which also created the feature Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms, released 2008 (back then the studio was called Radar Film).

On this production I was once again entrusted with the task of doing the character designs. Just like on the Disco Worms, some preliminary designs had already been done when I arrived on the project. And this time too, the main character, Marco, had already been modeled in 3D, based on some loose sketches done by the film's director, Jan Rahbek.

Early Marco sketches by Jan Rahbek, 2009.

My first task was to help shape up the existing CGI model of Marco. I suggested simplifying the shapes a bit, taking a more graphical approach to the design, and removing some anatomy in order to make him less human and more cartoony (notes on the drawings are in Danish).

The studio wanted to do a teaser trailer to help finalize the funding for the feature project, so I did some quick sketches of various mouth shapes as inspiration for a simple temporary facial setup.

As we moved into the feature production, we had the chance to make further enhancements to Marco's model. Again the objective was to sharpen the design by focusing on simple graphical and geometric shapes, while removing unnecessary details and the last traces of realistic anatomy.

Final inspirational modelsheet of Marco, 2010.

When Marco's model was finally in place, we needed to build a more detailed facial setup for the feature animation. Drawing on the lessons from the haphazard approach on the Disco Worms, where the individual blendshapes constituted full mouth expressions that were difficult to blend between, this time around a system was created in which each blendshape would only affect a limited part of the mouth. It would then take a combination of shapes to form a full expression, but also gave more detailed control of the mouth, and ensured better blending.

Of course, the expressions still had to be designed as a guide for the modeler to do the blendshapes. Here is a selection of sketches for Marco's expressions:

Here's a screen dump of the final Marco model.

These are some stills from the movie, showing Marco's final appearance. The character modeling was done by Jimmy Levinsky, the rigging by Rasmus Rolfshøj.


Here is the official trailer for the movie (in English). For the Danish version of the trailer on YouTube click here.

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