Friday, September 30, 2011

Felicia Day's TALLIS costume

We were in the middle of shooting the Guild's "Game On" music video when Felicia pulled me aside to share some exciting news. She had just worked out a deal to write and star in a web series based on BioWare's hit video game, Dragon Age. She was overflowing with ideas, and asked if I would come on board as Production Designer to help her bring the cyber world into reality.

I knew the game. I knew the depth of the art. I knew the extent that the game developers over at EA went to in terms of detailing their worlds. I knew that taking on this project would mean that I would be leading my art department into the real life equivalent of storming Kirkwall. This was not creating a few fantasy scenes in a web show. This was not The Guild Hall! This would be building an entire world from scratch. But it was too exciting an opportunity to not jump in with both feet.

Photo 1: But I had one unusual condition. It was expected of me to create sets, and props, and monsters. But I wanted to design Felicia's costume. I knew her character would be at the center of everything, and I wanted to work together with my friend at attempting to create something legendary.

Photo 2: It was truly an honor to be able to design Felicia's costume for the web series, but it was a life long dream come true to have that design be integrated into the actual Dragon Age game! I could hardly believe it when we got the news that our additions to the DA world would come full circle to end up back in the game. And the most exciting part of the whole experience is that the DLC version of Tallis is not merely influenced by my creation, it actually captures every last detail I put into it, even the subtle stuff I didn't think anyone would ever notice. It's the most amazing thing I have ever seen!

Photo 3: Here is my first sketch of Tallis. It was a quick marker rendering I did on a plane coming back from San Fran! When I first started working on the Tallis costume, there were three major aspects I wanted to capture: First, that Tallis would be believable, second, that Felicia would look sexy as an Elf assassin, not bulky or stiff, and lastly, that she could actually move in the costume. Felicia was going to be doing a lot of her own fighting, and I didn't want the design to restrict her.
In the Dragon Age: Redemption lore, the character of Tallis is an Elf, but raised Qunari. I wanted to reflect the aesthetic influences of both races in the costume. I chose leather for the main material, with small cast iron details, and wove Qunari symbols into the patterns. I studied a lot of BioWare art work, and worked closely with the game developers to make sure I stayed within the style of the world they had created.

The only major change in the final design from my first sketch was the removal of the "tortoise shell" shoulder and knee pads. I really wanted to do something radically different from anything else in the game, and wanted to hint at Tallis's back story. But I guess it ended up feeling TOO uncharacteristic for the DA universe, so we changed to the leather pads, woven in Qunari patterns, that you see in the photos above.

Photo 4: Felicia and I agreed early on that the Tallis costume had to be very form fitting. From my experience working on super hero movies, I learned that there was only one sure way to make body armour fit perfectly, and that was by creating it around a full body cast. So, much to Felicia's dismay, I covered her in pounds of organic impression material called alginate. This is the same stuff a dentist would put in your mouth to make a mold of your teeth. It takes about 5 minutes to dry, and becomes very rubbery.

Photo 5: The alginate is too flexible to support itself, so a rigid backing of plaster bandage needs to be applied. Unlike a medical cast to hold a broken bone in place, this is done in multiple sections, so that it can be separated to let Felicia out!

Photo 6: As I mentioned, I needed a FULL body cast! So after we were done with the torso, I molded Felicia's legs...

Photo 7: And then her arms...

Photo 8: And finally, her ears for the Elf ear appliances. I bet Felicia can't wait to do all that again some day!

Photo 9: After the body casts were removed, we created a positive body form by fiberglassing into them. Here, Bryan fuses the two halves of Felicia's legs together.

Photo 10: I poured 1630 urethane into the alginate casts of Felicia's ears, and then used soft Leisure clay to create a base with keys. This made it easier to mold the finished ear sculpts later. These ear form bases were treated like sculptures at this stage, and got silicone molds made of them so I could cast solid versions to actually sculpt the elf ears on.

Photo 11: When the base forms were complete, I used roma plastalina to sculpt Felicia's Elf ears. BioWare sent me the 3D assets of Dragon Age II Elves, and their ears were definitely larger than the typical "elf"tips you buy at a Halloween store. I really wanted to honor all of the game's designs, so I tried to balance the size of the ear between the in-game characters and Felicia's proportions.

Photo 12: I went with silicone appliances for Felicia's ears. The material is significantly more expensive than foam latex, but it offers a translucent quality that looks more like real skin. I figured it would be worth the cost to make the lead character look amazing. This was the test pair that was run to see if we had a good color match. They were a little light, but the application was a valuable test, and served another purpose.

Photo 13: Felicia and I went to one of BioWare's scanning facilities in the early stages of Dragon Age: Redemption pre-production. I applied the test ears so she could get her head digitally scanned to create the Tallis DLC.

Photo 14: Then it was back to the shop. I used more roma clay to sculpt all of the leather armor onto the body cast. Even though I wanted the armor to look like it was constructed from woven leather, with cast iron fixtures, it was easier to sculpt it in clay and create the appearance of an intricate design.
Photo 15: Using my initial drawings as a guide, I sketched in some pencil lines to have Felicia sign off on how "revealing" her costume would be. I then layered up the clay, and roughed in the patterns.

Photo 16: It took a few days of sculpting to create the "woven" look, and then I spent some time etching in all of the leather texture. I went a little more intense than I would for a statue or toy, so that the texture would survive the multiple processes the costume still had to go through, and would be able to create contrast in the painting procedure.

Photo 17: I spray glued a layer of cellophane plastic onto the shoulders of the body form, then built up the shoulder pads in clay over that. I intended the shoulder armor to slightly overlap the body armor, so ultimately the three sculptures would need to be molded separately. The cellophane film allowed me to gently lift the finished shoulder pads off the body form for molding.

Photo 18: You can see the cellophane more clearly here. I was thrilled when a certain name brand decided to make "Party Colors" plastic wrap. It's really helpful in situations like these, where regular clear wrap might just disappear on you.

Photo 19: Here's a shot of the back sculpture for all the cosplayers! I decided to let the foam torso armor just end between the shoulder blades, and cover it with a real leather strap with an actual adjustable buckle so the costume could be tightened. This ended up being the right decision, as on set, it was this strap that held Tallis's daggers in place when she wasn't chopping people's heads off with them!

Photo 20: When the sculptures were finished, it was time to make molds. The bodice was done as a two part silicone matrix mold with fiberglass jacket. Sound complicated? It's easy one you get the hang of it. If you want more detail on how to make one, check out my January 17th 2010 blog post: The Clara Mommy and Me cookie jar! (I swear, not everything I do is Guild related!!!)

Photo 21: The rest of the body armor was done a little differently. Foam latex is a tricky material to run, and it can be very sensitive to molding materials. Formulas have gotten more substantial over the years, and I have Mark Viniello, the best foam runner in the industry. But it's always good to take the safest bets, especially when you don't have a lot of time for R&D. Foam runs best in stone molds, and is most problematic in silicone molds. If you have an intricate surface that you feel needs to be captured in silicone, the next best alternative is to have the back half of the mold in stone, giving all of the foam's moisture an easy way to escape.

Photo 22: The wrist guard was done the same way as the shoulder pad, but for an additional reason. I sculpted this piece to slightly wrap around Felicia's arm, so in order to mold it in it's true form, I ended up with an undercut. The silicone hero side allowed the undercut stone arm form to "pop" in, without damaging the mold, or the foam when it was pulled out.

Photo 24: Once Mark delivered all the foam pieces, the tedious task of trimming all the seams and patching all the small air bubbles began. Here, Red 5 preps a shoulder pad. You can see that there is spandex on the underside. This was laid in the mold before the foam was injected, so a permanent bond would be created, giving the piece more structure and durability.

Photo 25: While the foam was being prepped for painting, I went to visit Shawna Trpcic, who designed all of the other mind blowing costumes for Dragon Age: Redemption. She and amazing leather artist Antonina Grib created the under structure for Tallis's costume, including custom made leather pants! Antonina also crafted the leather belt and boots. Here, she measure Felicia to make sure everything will fit perfectly.

Photo 26: No, your eyes were not deceiving you! Felicia Day does not wear matching socks!!!

Photo 27: The Tallis costume was very close to completion. I sculpted the last few details, such as the "cast iron" belt buckle, hood clasps, and the emerald for her choker. This was cast in a tinted polyester resin and polished out. I then painted the sculpted finding silver, and we glued it to leather strap.

Photo 28: Then the painting began. I used a rubber marler paint, which was designed to silk screen images on balloons. It's oil based, so it layers and blends nicely, and supper stretchy, so it won't crack or tear when the foam latex moves. I went with an earth toned color palette, predominately green, both because it felt very Elven, and went well with Felicia's red hair.

Photo 29: Leather is one of my favorite painting schemes. It's always just so much fun to use color to make a fake object look like it was constructed out of real materials. Tallis's brown leathers were all painted with four basic steps: medium reddish brown base, dark brown shadows airbrushed into the creases, mustard brown highlights dry-brushed over the textured surface, and light brown highlights sparingly dry-brushed on the corners to simulate wear.

Photo 30: All of the green leather started with a medium olive base, then deep green shadows on the underside of each weave, followed by a mustard green dry-brush over the texture, then a mix of the mustard green with some of the light brown for the corner wear. I added an additional layer of a VERY dry-brushed medium reddish brown, just to help tie it into the brown leathers, so the costume had a symmetry to it.

Photo 31: Here's a shot of the finished wrist guards, along with a sneak preak of Tallis's trusted daggers.

Photo 32: The costume was finally all assembled, including the hood Antonina created. In the end, this was the hardest part of the costume to get right. My original drawings had a kind of "Doctor Doom" look to them, with a peak hanging over Tallis's face in a way that fabric doesn't really want to do. But this is Hollywood, and it's all about doing the impossible to create the best image possible. After a few tests, different materials for an under structure, and a few alterations to the shape, Antonina nailed it, and Felicia looked like she jumped right out of my marker rendering!

Photo 33: There's no business like show business! The completed Tallis!

Photo 34: So that's how we put together the Tallis costume. Once again, I had an amazing adventure working with the beautiful and talented Felicia Day. I hope we have created something together that will excite people for years to come.

I loved every moment of bringing this character to life, but what I look forward to the most is seeing all of the incarnations of Tallis that the Dragon Age fans create. I am constantly blown away at the enthusiasm and accuracy of which fans have re-created Codex costumes for conventions, and I hope that Tallis takes Felicia Day cosplay to the next level. I've already seen a few, and the show hasn't even premiered yet. We truly have the best fans on the planet.

Be sure to follow me on twitter, @gregaronowitz, and subscribe to this blog for more information on how my Dragon Age art team turned BioWare's fantastic world into reality!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Guild: Clara One Shot Dark Horse Comic

If you stop by your local comic shop today, be sure to add DarkHorse's THE GUILD: CLARA one-shot to your pull list!

After the enormous success of the Felicia Day penned THE GUILD mini-series, which focused on Codex and the forming of her guild, DarkHorse Comics announced that the origin story would continue with a follow up series of one-shots, each centering around a different member of THE GUILD.

The stories give us a peak into each guildie's past, showing what their lives were like before the adventures we witness in the live action web series THE GUILD. As if the characters weren't already rich enough on the show, Felicia piles on details as only she could to make every quirky, socially awkward panel bring the guild closer to your heart.

Even more amazingly, Felicia pulled in talents from the show to add a completely authentic layer to the creation of the comics. It is already very rare that you can enjoy a multi-media franchise where the all the material is actually produced by the creator of the property, but Felicia took it a step further and included GUILD cast and crew in the writing process. Jeff Lewis co-wrote the one shot for his character, Vork. GUILD director Sean Becker teamed up with Felicia to bring us Bladezz's rise to douchiness. And GUILD producer Kim Evey added her wild sense of humor to co-write the bizarre past of everyone's favorite ice mage/bad mom: Clara.

I had the honor of painting the alternate cover for the Clara one-shot. It was so fun to collaborate with Kim and Felicia once again, in a totally different art form. I hope THE GUILD comics keep running, I'd love to paint a few more of these!