Every Subject of The Empire appreciates looking good and staying healthy. Enter: The Barber.
Barbers provide the grooming essential to properly express one’s station in society, from the common tousle-haired labourer to the impeccably coiffed lady & waxed-mustached gentlemen of the highest Order. Their duties do not end there, for they are Industrious and Enterprising as every Upstanding Subject aspires to be: barbers also provide the preventative medical care required in the rugged life of frontier colonization. (Bleeding, leeches, bleeding and leeches, you know.)
Developing the Concept
So we’re given the role of the barber in Clockwork Empires and it’s a bit of a weird mix, part grooming and part highly dubious medical care. My job is to figure out how the art team expresses this visually.
Begin with the cliched image of the barbershop quartet: It’s what we all know through various media and it evokes a jolly image to offset the rather grim blood & guts of the medical side, to say nothing of what Sweeney Todd has attached to the image of the 19th century barber. Of course tapping into a bit of that grimness works too: the visual design of Clockwork Empires has indeed a cheery veneer with something sinister lurking beneath.
Everything starts with Google Image search. Well, not everything. But most things, and I do try to never pull the first image I see for any one thing as that’d look a bit cheesy.
Right, there we go. Barbers. Now, there’s a matter of class — in the sociological breakdown of Clockwork Empires these barbers are artisan craftspeople who may take on a managerial role if lower-class labourers are assigned to their implied work-party (someone needs to sweep up hair and wrangle leeches, after all). This means that barbers are middle-class characters and so they get blue as their primary costume colour. But I want to slip in a touch of that red because it feels traditional and it signifies the blood that might splatter about if a shave is a little close or if a Healthful Bleeding operation is being
hastily efficiently performed.
Modeling the Barbers
From here, I write up a ticket (and a bunch of other internal documentation I talked about in a post on art direction from back in January) and we pass into the realm of Joseph, our character modeler. We have a ton of human characters already modeled over the course of the game’s development and this previous work provides a great base for creating new characters by modifying the textures & geometries already created. A shirt is a shirt, it may just like a bit of tweaking, is all.
Joseph had a look at the character concept I passed to him and concluded that the barbers would be fairly simple to build from the sailor models & textures that were, in turn, built from a version of the lumberjack models & textures which were, in turn, probably based on the original common labourer and … you get the idea.
You can see here also that we attempted a version of the barbers with red pinstripes on their shirts but found that when viewed at a very small size, as will be common in a game of Clockwork Empires, the pinstripe pattern created a lot of jittery visual noise. It looks good in the render because it’s a very nicely anti-aliased render. If you get the same thing moving around in-engine at lower settings, it’s not so good. Plus I had concerns that the bow-tie would match the colour of the pinstripes too closely. You win some, you lose some.
Note also, if you review the final models compared with the concept art, that Joseph made the gold/brass buttons of the shirt aligned on the center axis of the model. This mirroring saves texture space — and time.
To the right, by the way, you can see flat versions of various character textures: lumberjack in the upper right, sailor in lower left, pinstriped barber in lower right, and final barber in the upper left. These show just one skin colour variation but as noted in a previous post, we have four variations for each and every body and head model.
Everything Else: Rigging & Animation & Environment
The job isn’t done yet, however. Joseph needs to pass the finalized model over to Mr. Triolo for rigging and creation of any custom animations to be used by the barber and the barber’s
victim customer. (It’s sheer coincidence that I assigned a deadline to the “death by head falling off” animation sequence today, I’ll have you know.) We also need tools for the barber (notably the razor, which is done, and the jar of leeches, which is not). And the barber chair for victims customers to sit in. And a barber pole to attach to the outside of their shop. And … keeping track of all of this is what design docs & asset spreadsheets are for! Having cleverly brought this text back to my favourite subject, that of the Importance of Bureaucracy – a fact which every Upstanding Subject of The Empire appreciates – I shall leave the rest of the barbers’ story for another time and another blog post.