Chicago has always been a character on its own in Paradigm Shift. So, when I embarked on creating an animated version of PS, it meant I needed to bring the Windy City to life as well!!
I started with Kate’s apartment building. Using photos I had taken as reference, I modeled the architecture by hand, and then used my photos for the textures and materials.
Next, I needed to create a version of the back alley where poor James Wilson meets his untimely end. Using a model of the El tracks I modeled while creating the cover to The Art of Paradigm Shift, I built up a street scene based on the backgrounds in the opening scene. To create the buildings, I created modular sections of walls with various windows, doors, and brick colors which I then copied and pasted in various patterns to quickly build up the street. I then added various details to the buildings that would be closest to the camera. The cars are free models downloaded from SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse.
Lastly, I needed to create a 3D version of the Chicago skyline. To achieve this, I ended up using something called “procedural” buildings, which were automatically generated using a set of modular building pieces, kinda like LEGO bricks. Thanks to a tutorial by Kammerbild on YouTube, I developed a customized engine that could quickly generate new buildings of any size by plugging in the height, width, and depth, and customize the look by swapping out vertical and horizontal stripes. I can even turn the lights on and off at random. By using a couple of different sets of pieces, I could build up the entire skyline and have enough variation to create a useable matte painting that I then pasted into the background of my sets.
Curious about how I created the animation of Kate’s werewolf transformation? I’ve made a video that goes over the process I used to make it happen!
If you’re still curious about some of the technical details, and want to learn how to do something like this yourself, here’s some links to the tutorials I used:
First off, I used DAZ Studio’sGenesis 8 Female model as a starting point for Kate. Let me underscore that I did *not* model this starting figure. DAZ’s amazing artists did all the heavy lifting by creating that model. Since I had no idea how to create my own character rigs when I started this project, using a pre-rigged figure like Genesis 8 was a logical starting point. What I did need to learn was how to create “morphs” in Blender that could be used on the model.
Of course, this meant learning to edit the model in Blender. Now, in this case, I wasn’t starting from scratch. I’m an experienced 3D modeler, and have been working in 3D on and off for over 25 years—just mostly to create sets and architectural models. Character modeling is new to me, and I did have to learn Blender’s interface. This tutorial series from Blender Guru is the one I used to teach me the basics of using Blender’s modeling interface:
The key to making the transformations was to make sure all the parts of the model lined up up between forms. For instance, the polygons that made up the nose in the human model had to directly correspond to the polygons that would become the snout. In this case, it was my knowledge of anatomy that was the key skill. Whether you’re learning to draw or learning to model in 3D, there’s no substitute to learning the basics of human—and in this case, canine—anatomy. I had already thought through all this long ago when I designed Kate’s transformation for the comic:
If you want to see more the design of the werewolf transformation, you can find ALL of the sketches, sequences, and details in my art book, The Art of Paradigm Shift. You’ll also find tons of art, sketches, and tutorials in there, too!
Editing the textures for the Genesis 8 model was pretty easy. I just had to find the location of the original image files for the model in my DAZ library, copy them over to a new folder, and then create new ones in Photoshop. It also helped to have the UV Map templates that came with the model for free (downloadable for free from DAZ from your account’s asset library), which I used as a guide to draw and paint the new texture maps. Child’s play in comparison to drawing comics! 😉
(This link only works if you have an active DAZ account.)
If you want to learn how to export a finished character out of DAZ Studio into Blender, I recommend using the DAZ to Blender Bridge. It’s pretty powerful, and will even export out all the morphs and modifiers that will keep the figure’s shape while moving. It even creates a rudimentary rig you can use to animate. It’s not as versatile as Blender’s built in Rigify armature, though. I recently found a great add-on called Rig GNS from 22722 Studios that will convert DAZ to Blender’s default armature to a Rigify one, though. It’s a paid add-on but worth the price in the amount of headaches it saves! I’ll definitely be using this as I move forward with new animation projects.
But this series called “Introduction to Rigging” on the Blender Studio site (requires a subscription, sorry) is the crash course I used to do a deeper dive on how rigging works. Don’t worry, though! You don’t need to be an expert rigger to start out!
The first full test animation of Kate using Blender. This was a “proof of concept” that showed me that making an “anime” version of Kate was entirely possible!
The answer is 3D. While I would dearly love to see Paradigm Shift animated in a traditional hand-drawn style, the truth is that it is far too labor-intensive for me to do by myself. Perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to work with a studio full of professional animators to bring that dream to life, but in the meantime I’m relying on a tool that is much more accessible to me: the amazingly powerful, FREEl open source animation program BLENDER.
The trick was creating a version of Kate that could actually be animated in the first place. Creating and “rigging” a 3D character is really complex process. And frankly, it’s still not one that I could do from scratch. Thankfully, this is 2023, and there are a TON of resources out there for someone who’s just starting out.
In this case, I turned to another free program DAZ Studio, which has been offering fully rigged 3D human characters for FREE for over a decade. I ended up modifying one of their Genesis 8 Female models to create Kate. But it was a fairly long learning process. In fact, I when I first started out, all I wanted to do was see if I could make a more “human” version of Kate that would be able to transform into her werewolf form.
DAZ3D’s Genesis 8 Female—This is the model I started with. I learned how to export this base mesh out into Blender. After making changes, I’d then import them back into DAZ to test them out on the rigged model.
Modeling the werewolf form in Blender—I had modify the mesh by pushing the individual points around to create new shapes. The trick was I couldn’t add any vertex points to the model, so it would become a clean “morph” back in DAZ Studio.
Once I had a working werewolf transformation up and running in DAZ, the next step was to figure out how to make Kate look more like an anime character. I started by looking (and purchasing) a few anime-esque character mods for the Genesis 8 model, then it was back to Blender to fine tune them into a recognizable version of Kate.
“Human Kate” test in DAZ Studio Partially inspired by playing games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Horizon Zero Dawn, I wanted to see what Kate would look like in a more realistic form when I first started this process. But ultimately, I decided making an anime version that was more true to the comic would be more fun.
Early “Anime Kate” test in DAZ Studio This was using a character called “Catara” give Kate bigger eyes and more seed-shaped anime head. This was about 35% of “Catara” head shape on the morphing slider.
Modeling Kate’s head in Blender. In addition to sculpting Kate’s anime face and werewolf form out of the Genesis 8 model, I also had to learn how to model her hair!
This whole process took about two months. I spent the first month or so figuring out how to get the transformable version working in DAZ Studio, then another week or so to make the “anime” version. Then once I got her moved over to Blender using the DAZ to Blender Bridge, it was a couple of weeks to create these test animations.
I’m making the very first Paradigm Shift animated short! Go ahead. Watch the trailer. I’ll wait. 🙂
I’m calling it Restless Sleep, and I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to be working on it! I love comics, but I can now tell you that I love making animation even more. This project has me firing on all cylinders in the best possible way by bringing all the skillsets I have to bear on it—writing, design, illustration, 3D, computer & programming skills, video editing, and music!
Bringing my characters to life through animation has been a lifelong dream, and now I have the time and technology to actually do it! It all started when I started poking around with Blender during a fit of writer’s block, and with the help from free and paid models from DAZ Studio, before I knew it, I had a fully posable and transformable version of Kate, just begging to be brought to life! And even better, using Blender’s powerful shader engine I could make her look like an actual cel-shaded cartoon.
It’s about 7 minutes long, including a werewolf transformation sequence I’ve always wanted to see animated. I’m currently in the final stages of post-production on the film. I’m hoping to have it finished and ready to release this summer. Where and when are still up in the air, but there will be an online release at the very least.
In the coming weeks and months I plan to give you some behind the scenes looks into the creative process behind bringing Kate and friends to the screen!