Aaron Sims on the secrets of crafting compelling characters

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The creatures and characters you see in some of the biggest films and television shows are the result of countless hours of design, research, re-design and skilled artistry. Among the most prolific of creature and characters designers is the team at Aaron Sims Creative, headed up by design veteran Aaron Sims.

In recent times, ASC has worked on designs and visual effects for such projects as The Mist, It, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman and Stranger Things 2. To do that, they follow what’s dubbed a ‘Sketch-to-Screen’ workflow involving concept design, key scenes and layout, 3D asset modeling, lookdev, rapid prototyping and previs, rigging, animation, compositing and final rendering.

Sims is going to be talking about that process – and a bunch of other aspects of ASC’s work – at the upcoming CG Futures event in Melbourne on 2-4 March. vfxblog got a special sneak preview of a Sketch-to-Screen futuristic robot project that will be shown at CG Futures, which Sims runs through below.

So, what does ’Sketch-to-Screen’ actually mean? Sims says that it involves “taking a holistic approach towards story and character visualization, helping filmmakers identify qualities, characteristics, and critical questions that are essential to creating an original and iconic character.”

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To get there, artists will look to ask strategic creative questions to help a director look deeper within the character – “its intentions, its purpose within the story,” says Sims. “Our holistic approach to design covers all aspects of a film; characters, wardrobe, key scenes, environments, et cetera, ensures a cohesive aesthetic and integration of all working assets.”

For the futuristic robot Sketch-to-Screen project, ASC actually convened all staff, including artists, assistants and executives, to pitch and brainstorm original story concepts. They came up with a near-future concept in which the human race wrestles with the uprising of advanced A.I. in the fight for control of their freedom and existence.

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“The story follows a sentient A.I. Cyborg who befriends a young rebel adolescent in a harrowing journey to restore order and re-establish peace between man and machine,” outlines Sims.

“We are developing this concept through every stage of our workflow in preparation of our first-ever ‘Sketch-to-Screen’ Studio Masterclass, which will feature in-depth demonstration and training of our immersive workflow. Participants will get a first-hand glimpse of the creative visualization we deploy on major motion pictures, TV, and games with the goal of helping them bring their own concepts to life from script to on-screen debut.”

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Sims says that one of the big challenges of the project was to create a “truly unique and iconic asset amidst a long history of memorable characters, creatures, and especially A.I. We wanted to explore the implications of our current course and how that might reshape the future of our world, the relationships we have with machines, and how we can achieve symbiosis.”

“In regards to the designs,” adds Sims, “working with hard-surface characters, in this case a complex cyborg asset, there are far more moving pieces that need to be designed, modeled, rigged, and animated to create a ‘lifelike’ machine versus a more organic lifeform.”

“We imagined our particular hero cyborg as having been deployed for physical labor and construction and therefore drew inspiration from all sorts of practical textures and materials for farming and construction equipment to advanced space exploration vehicles.”

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Aaron Sims.

It might be a futuristic robot, but, as in all projects, Sims says that he and his designers “always try and ground our characters and worlds, no matter how fantastical, in a foundation of reality with just a twist of something new and novel. We feel we’re on the right track with this concept and character and look forward to sharing it in our upcoming ‘Sketch-to-Screen’ Masterclass.”

Find out more about CG Futures at www.cgfutures.com and to see detailed imagery from recent ASC projects, head to www.aaronsimscreative.com.