Techland's Katarzyna Bech, Dominik Wasienko, and Dawid Lubryka have told us about the character creation process behind Dying Light 2, talked about designing main characters and secondary NPCs, and shared some information about animations.
My name is Katarzyna Bech and I'm the Lead Character Concept Artist at Techland. I joined this company almost 6 years ago to work on Dying Light 2 Stay Human. I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw and my specialization was Industrial Design, but I always knew that creating games would be my dream job. I have an older brother, so games and fantasy books were always something important in my life. I got my first job in Techland as a Junior Concept Artist and ended up as a Lead. I also got an opportunity to develop my 3D skills at Techland and now I’m also creating 3D models, which makes my work even more satisfying because I can translate my designs into actual in-game assets.
My name is Dominik Wasienko. I am a Lead 3D Character Artist. My adventure with Techland started almost 7 years ago. It was quite a fun story as I was posting my character models on one of the Polish 3D forums dreaming about a job as Character Artist. One day I was approached through a private message on a forum by one of Techland's artists and asked if I would like to meet with them to talk about potential roles. That was a dream come true for me. To be honest, I was quite nervous feeling it might be now or never for me getting to the industry, and thankfully I was hired by Techland as a Junior Character Artist.
Currently, our Character Team consists of 7 Character Artists, 4 Concept Artists, and a Technical Artist. They are all very talented and skilled. But what is most important for us, we are all like one big family together. We actually like each other and we can always say what’s on our minds. People here are very helpful and always ready to share knowledge.
Character Goals for Dying Light 2
The main idea behind Dying Light 2 Stay Human's art direction was to achieve the vibe of the Dark Ages but with a modern twist. We approached it by keeping shapes of some elements inspired by the Dark Ages like cloaks, small capes, hoods, and tunics and tried to translate them into pieces that can be found nowadays.
For example, if we use a hood, we make it as part of a sweatshirt hoodie or waterproof jacket, when it's a tunic – it's made out of a large t-shirt with graphics on it, banded with a belt. A very important part of designing characters this way was to apply modern materials like plastic, nylon, military fabrics, etc. The other way around – if we have characters wearing mostly nowadays clothing, we added some accessories like belts, bags, and holders made out of leather, ropes, or linen.
This way of thinking is also represented in archetypes of factions that we have. The Peacekeepers with their code based on honor and rules remind us of medieval knights. They also wear armor, use melee weapons and helmets, but all of it is based on sport/military weapons or hand-made out of rifled metal. Just to have a balance between modern and historical feeling and still keep as much realism as we could. That part was for sure the most tricky, not to fall too much into one of those two directions. Having those rules in mind, we could design any character that was needed from the narration/gameplay side.
The process of creating characters in DL2SH was divided into productional steps. It looks similar whether it’s the infected's design or that of humans. First, we get a narrational brief about a specific character, or from the gameplay team if it’s an enemy. We usually work closely together to make sure we are on the same page and that we know the core of it. For that, Concept Artists read the brief, talk to the story team when they have some questions, collect references, and sketch first ideas. The best is when they depict different approaches, but still fitting to the description.
We collaborate closely with 3D modelers, so they are always in a loop and can react in every stage of the design if something is undoable or will be problematic. When the direction of a character is set, we finalize concept art with details, reference boards, and additional assets if needed. The next step is creating a 3D model and textures.
Designing Main Characters
We usually start designing story characters by getting familiar with the description from the narration team and doing good research. We look for different images connected to our art direction and the archetype of each character. Sometimes it takes most of the time to get the right inspiration, each image leads us to another to get our imagination to the next level. We spend a lot of time depicting different ideas on concept art with iterations that lead us from a wide spectrum of different proposals to one that works the best. I think that the thing that makes our main characters unique is the overall idea of the Modern Dark Ages in the apocalypse world and this mix is not seen in any other games.
We also usually make sure that the main story characters’ attitudes and backstory are represented in visuals and individual elements. For example, we thought that Lawan would need some cool graphic or other symbols that would tell something “between the lines” about her. So, we came up with an idea of an embroidered patch on the back of her jacket that depicts a special kind of flower – Epiphyllum Oxypetalum. This plant blooms only at night and it's called "The Queen of the Night" so we thought that this would be an interesting metaphor for her as an aspiring Nightrunner. Her strong and independent nature led us also to pick Rosario Dawson as an actress to play her role.
The Production Process
With NPCs that are background or just non-main characters, we used clothing, hair, and add-on systems. First, we had to design all of those elements for having an overall idea of the look of the whole factions like Peacekeepers, Survivors, Renegades, and bandit survivors. Each group has a unique feeling based on clothing, graphics, and accessories but also different vibes on their faces. Having that direction in mind, we could design each dialogue NPC based on meshes that we created, but highly connected to the story of each character and mixed in the most visually appealing way. We always had some new ideas about what elements we could add to our system that would fit different characters and at the same time give them more characteristics. That very systemic approach allowed us to create in total almost 1400 unique character models that can be seen in-game.
Regarding main NPCs – crucial for us was to make them unique and stand out from the less important characters. So our main heroes were all modeled as fully individual characters with their unique designs.
We also developed a player clothing system that allows players to wear basically any outfit they want. The outfit is split into parts such as bracers, gloves, torso, headwear, pants, and shoes and each of those can be exchanged for visually different models, and you create your own unique outfit. When we are producing 3D assets we go through standard processes such as high poly modeling, low poly, texturing, and in-game setup.
We also developed an in-house character editor integrated with our C-Engine which allowed us to build full character models from a library of available assets.
To support the whole idea we took our time working out the character clothing system, which allowed us to mix together a lot of different parts. For example mix one jacket with different pants, different add-ons, materials/colors, etc, different faces, haircuts, etc. On top of that, we developed a scanning team pipeline of heads creation which allowed us to build a really big library of faces that we have available to use in-game.
Currently, we have 200 unique head models, and thanks to our systemic approach we are able to basically mix every head with a different one, which gives us an enormous number of possible face visuals, and at the same time doesn't cost us any additional memory resources.
Our approach translated even to hairstyles. Our haircuts are mostly built from systems, which means we don't use unique haircuts models too often, as our system is built from different parts like fringes, ponytails, base shapes, etc. This way we can build a huge amount of unique haircuts without having any issues performance-wise.
When we had everything established, it allowed us to assemble any new needed character in an extremely short time. It is one of the things that we are very proud of how it worked out.
Clothes and Accessories
For asset creation, we used tools like ZBrush for high poly modeling, 3ds Max/Maya/Blender for low poly preparation, and Substance 3D Painter as our main tool for material preparation.
For clothes modeling, we are using Marvelous Designer, which is a really cool software that helps to achieve very realistic and high-quality clothes, mixed with hand sculpting in ZBrush, because our post-apocalyptic setting in Dying Light 2 Stay Human requires clothing to be more destroyed and worn out. When it comes to head modeling we mix hand sculpting and scanning as mentioned previously. We feel that artistic input is still essential to achieve a charismatic look that meets our expectations.
Our approach to mixing Motion Capture and Keyframe animation is very flexible. Traditionally for first-person animation, it makes more sense to use keyframe animation, and that was our main approach in Dying Light. In the production of Dying Light 2 Stay Human, we found methods to mix motion capture with keyframe even for first-person view. This came with our direction of making the protagonist feel like parkouring humans, not just a floating camera. Therefore not just hands but the entire body is animated and that’s where motion capture is very handy.
We had parkour masters captured like David Belle and we used motion capture to analyze and extract what is essential to feel great in the first person, to make it believable but also understandable for the players in FPP. We treat Motion Capture just as a tool to achieve our goals faster and in more consistent quality so we mix and match it wherever it is useful. On the other hand, the area where keyframes are still needed is to enhance the abilities of infected and even some humans – very powerful attacks, huge leaps, some iconic hit reactions – those needed keyframe treatment to feel powerful enough. Another area that uses keyframe animation is prototyping, it’s just much faster to quickly animate and iterate without the need to record body performance, thus allowing us to work faster in the early stages of the production.
The biggest challenge was to create this previously mentioned mesh system from which we built our characters and still make them look unique and cohesive. Dying Light 2 Stay Human is a big open-world game with a lot of NPCs, different stories behind them, attitudes, factions, etc. Our goal was to deliver Dying Light 2 Stay Human for new and old-gen consoles, so of course, we couldn’t have each character made from scratch with unique meshes. A wide spectrum of different elements of clothing gave us quite a good playground for totally different characters. From a concept art point of view, it was challenging to reuse existing elements in totally different ways. That was our biggest challenge, but also the biggest success in terms of design and development. Those systemic and technical restrictions were sometimes a real test of our creativity.