it's been a whirlwind a couple of weeks for me personally on the work front but it's also been an exciting time for a few properties full of iconic character designs that I really appreciate the thing about them is I realized why I'm sort of lumping them together mentally despite the fact that they aren't that related I'm talking about Toy Story 4 recently released in theaters the remake of Crash Team Racing nitro fueled and the reveal of banjo kazooie for smash DLC what ties them together though and what nuggets of character design insight can we glean from them ok so obviously all three of these things are recreations or continuations of things from the late 90s am I just excited to revisit favorite things from my childhood well of course Toy Story was I think the first film I ever saw in theaters and my parents and I rented a PlayStation 1 from Blockbuster for a weekend and played Crash Team Racing non-stop and I always loved the banjo kazooie designs and aesthetic playing them at friends houses but it's not just Brooks and nostalgia that threads these three things together nostalgia is an engine firing at full speed today few franchises from the last few decades have yet to feel the churn of new installments reboots and remasters in character design we're often very concerned about what gets updated or changed with new iterations and entries in a franchise after all characters are designed for a purpose and if the context and purpose changes from a 16-bit sprite moving sideways on the screen to a third-person view in a 3d world that purpose has fundamentally changed this is always the point where a designers metal is tested what will they add or take away what things will get complicated or remain preserved what's so interesting about these three franchises though is the jump isn't from 2d to 3d it's from 3d to 3d two-dimensional drawings have been around for hundreds of years and the cartoon or comic as we know them have been around for at least a hundred Disney perfected a certain formula for appeal as we know it in 2d animated media and it's been refined over time 3d as a medium however is much younger Toy Story was the first 3d animated feature film and these games were each on the respective to 3d home consoles not only is 3d a young medium it's a volatile one it's progress has for a long time been inherently tied to computer power and software becoming faster and more optimized the character designers on each of these projects was working under intense limitations back then they needed to turn low poly counts of triangles into round appealing characters with banjo they used all the resources they had to create spherical shapes and supplemented with bold colors and shading maps that drew attention away from the polygonal edges crash was just a big triangle boy triangles all over with a character like Bo Peep there's more power available since her appearance is pre-rendered instead of real time but limits to the overall geometry mean that most of her facial features are painted on any material that has the appearance of fabric like the sleeves are simply geometry given a fabric texture and then deformed where possible realistic cloth physics were still aways away thus the use of a rigid hoop skirt that can hang outside any place that would normally react to body movement and it instead has a subtle squash and stretch as she moves from a narrative perspective to Bo Peep is far from an integral character she interacts with woody a few times but doesn't need to be highly expressive and mobile to accomplish her purpose within the story now while 2019 gives a return to form for all these characters things haven't been completely silent on all fronts Bo Peep received minor updates in Toy Story 2 crash went through multiple iterations through various installments of new games and banjo kazooie received an odd redesign that lacked appeal and seemed to be made for gamers in their adult years that wouldn't be caught dead playing something too cute while some of these decisions are subjective it does show what could be done when updating a character to fit their newer limitations sometimes a little too easily designers will default to making the character simply more realistic as though the only thing keeping this cartoon bear wearing yellow shorts and a backpack from being a realistic grizzly was the hardware limitations of the Nintendo 64 there is a place for some additional details like these we've seen the materials and textures of things like often surfaces on Mario and the more recent toy story characters getting increasingly realistic the lego movie led a lot of people to think that it was actually stop-motion animated instead of meticulously computer-generated with high-definition scratches and surfacing but it is important to know what the intention of the original designer was if you looked at the banjo kazooie n64 model and literally interpreted its sharp jagged edges you may actually literally translate that into extremely square shaped language throughout the redesign the conceit of what if it was real is just not as clever as where sometimes led to believe more potential detail does not mean we have to translate simplified designs into something more realistic as I've mentioned before while it is impressive and different something like The Lion King remake is by no means an improved or better version of the original film that's why I really have to sing the praises of both the bo-peep upgrade and the smash version of banjo details have been added to enhance the expression and fidelity of the characters but not necessarily make them more realistic and I think that's important both Eve gets something of a Disney princess treatment in order to be a bit more expressive I don't have a problem with the changes here as it was necessary for her to carry more dramatic and emotional weight for Toy Story for even the textures and topology around the creases of her hair appear more like handcrafted porcelain she's also given dimensional eyelids overtop the eyes and a bit more appeal in the structure of her face mostly through an increase in the diameter of her eyes more interplay between the hair shapes a slight drop in the position of the nose and a larger overall head the changes are executed really well and I'm sure that for the majority of the movie-going audience the change isn't even recognizable you either need a fairly good memory or a recent rewatch of the original or a side-by-side comparison it seems like with updates to characters like this whether it's from medium to medium or an increase in what's possible like 3d the goal isn't to improve or redesign simply for the sake of making something new or more clever or especially not more realistic it's to find the fine line between updating to fit a current context and the characters resembling the the way that you remembered them back then banjo does this as well for the key art render the bear and bird follow in the footsteps of old rare renders of the characters with updated fur and geometry in game Sakurai translated the classic shapes of these characters into rounder similarly appealing silhouettes one detail that I appreciate is the hair flew on banjos head in game being a sort of round teardrop which reads perfectly well at a distance and it also echoes the hair shape on kazooie's head now both banjo and Toy Story follow a design aesthetic that's not too dissimilar from that classic Disney style so how do things fare for crash in the game well all things considered this is a faithful update to the character but for better and for worse it actually comes with some caveats see there's an inconsistency to the character since the beginning promotional art and in-game versions of the character have extremely different facial features and structure it actually starts to make sense that crash was redesigned so many times on his trip between development studios there are problems with the original crash plus as we've talked about before a crash is designed to be modern and trendy not classic and so the context of modern changes with time the side effect of this is that both of the promotional art and in-game versions of crash seem to have been updated up rezzed remastered independently of each other they to each take the next logical step in disparate of paths from the original in-game and promotional art sometimes crash is almost all orange lanky and thin with streamlined features in promotional art the taper of his body is much more extreme his mouth and lips are distinctly constructed separate from the body almost like a muzzle the shape and even perspective of the muzzle changes wildly and his hair eyes and eyebrows changed constantly removed of that though the transition from old 3d to new 3d is handled nicely those hard polygonal edges actually make an appearance in strategic places the best analogue that I can make is to the hard angled character designs of the Madagascar series rotating a character like polar shows hard edges around the muzzle but plenty of rounding in other places they've also utilized a small amount of fur texture to the characters the it makes sense to add it too which makes for a graceful transition between old hard polygons that appeared fuzzy on old CRT TVs and newer resolutions that leave less to the imagination the approach seems to be a rather literal remake of the original and it works twenty years later what was once a modern set of design principles has circled around being oddly nostalgic now that the remakes of the better crash games to insanity notwithstanding are out I do really hope that we can find some sort of middle ground with crash the restrictions of the ps1 just aren't there anymore times have changed too and I think it's time that crash was boiled down and redesigned once and for all to find a place amongst the classic characters without losing his edge I've made alternate takes on crash in the past that I'd love to revisit sometimes but I think the core crash design just needs a little more polish and for the love of all that is good some consistency hand your artists one model sheet to work from I'm begging you okay that's all the time I've got I got to get back to beating entropies lap times and Crash Team Racing nitro field on my playstation for 3ds you can keep my forage burning over on patreon where I have some really exciting changes planned soon and you can keep up with me at bagel denizen on instagram twitter and twitch thank you so much for
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I’m talking about Toy Story 4, recently released in theaters, the Remake of Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled, and the reveal of Banjo-Kazooie for Smash DLC. What ties them together, and what nuggets of character design insight can we glean from them? What can we learn about the process of updating old 3D characters?
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