Modeling the characters

Sonny Duckworth

This is what Sonny Duckworth looks like in the film.

The original Sonny Duckworth character in the film is a mechanical puppet produced from Kjell Aukrust's drawings. The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix game characters are modelled on a computer in three dimensions so that they can move freely and be appreciated from all angles. Creating models like these entails painstaking work and calls for precision, experience and not least the expertise in working in three dimensions on a flat computer screen.

Characters modelled on a computer can easily end up looking lifeless and unrealistic, but the team was committed to recreating the characters with the same personalities and charm that they had in the puppet film. Skilled 3D animators don't grow on trees, and the development company CapricornuS AS had to recruit people from Yugoslavia, the UK and Canada to obtain the best possible result.

Sonny Duckworth

A three dimensional model on a computer basically consists of countless little triangles and squares that all get fitted together to form larger planes - some of which will have curves. The software used to create these models features a number of tools that allow the designer to create different types of planes and then stretch, bend and twist these until they have the right shape. It's a bit like working with a lump of clay, but unlike clay, which you can hold in your hand and easily view from all angles, the model on the computer can be seen only on a flat computer screen. If you study the illustration on the left, you will no doubt see that this is going to be quite difficult when dealing with complex models. For a model like this to be any good, particularly in close-ups, a large number of these planes will typically be required. Sonny consists of more than 220,000!

If you look at a model like this when there is no colour on the planes, it looks as though it is built up like a grid system.

Sonny Duckworth

Because the model has to be able to move, the designer also needs to take account of the character's articulation, i.e. which of its joints need to bend and how far. The characters in the game are created with the same joints as those in the film, precisely so as to achieve the same movements as those of the "originals". (We'll come back to the actual movements in another article).

An important part of the modelling work is to give the characters the correct surfaces. As well as colour or pattern, there are many other factors that need to be considered here, such as reflection, transparency and roughness. Solid experience, as well as a great deal of trial and error, is typically what it takes to get a surface to "sit" right. Each character has a large number of surfaces, including many that people will rarely notice. Because Sonny opens his beak wide when he talks, the inside of his beak also had to be modelled and coloured.

One of the really difficult things to get to look convincing is fur or spikes, something that Lambert, for instance, has a lot of! In spite of this, the game has him looking just like his old film-self, and at least as anxious as when he thinks something is "tempting providence".