This inspiration project was not only a first for me, as I had never completed an organic character model before, doing robots almost entirely prior, but its was also a chance to give a friend’s art style some love, expanding their character universe and expand my skill set all at the same time.
The starting point for this inspiration project was Polaris Nadya’s Time Spirits. The easiest way to learn about these creatures is to log into VRChat and join the Time Spirits world, but for now I’ll try and give you all a brief on what a Time Spirit is.
A time spirit is essentially a human soul in the afterlife, guided by two guardians and left to travel time and space as they please. These souls don’t look like humans, however, instead taking tiny mouse-like forms, with mostly a black appearance apart from a certain color on the outer edges of their body, and their bright white eyes.
Polaris has actually made quite a large community based around the Time Spirits, having tons of lore herself, and many people creating their own fan-characters! So, loving the idea of these Time Spirits, I wanted to create my own, but I also wanted to put my own spin on the idea to make it unique. So the process for the Restless Soul began!
I started with a very rough sketch in Aseprite (a pixel art program I use) and looked at as many references as I could find and drew a proportional sketch for them, from both the front and the side (this is also the very first time I had ever used the size of the head of the character to measure the height and width of the character, and it made it sooooo much easier to model)
As you can see, this was a very rough design, but being that the character is mostly the same color anyway I didn’t need to get extremely detailed, and as you can see some of the details, like the hair, didn’t even make it to the final model, in favor of being truer to Polaris’ art style.
With these two sketches in place I then took to Blender and started modeling!
I started with the head and the scarf area first, as I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d end up making the head a separate model from the rest of the body with the scarf being the seam or if it would all be one cohesive character model. In the end, the body and head were all the same model (mostly because the scarf wasn’t going to cover up the seam where I had wanted it anyway) but from looking at some poly modeling clothing tutorials they said that it was a possibility so I wanted to leave it open as long as possible.
Now having a head and a (colored!) scarf, it was time to begin blocking out the body! Using the reference sketches I had made previously as background images in Blender, I quickly modeled out the body’s proportions. Having the outlines to go by in Blender helped out a ton, especially with the stomach area, getting the widths right.
I then experimented with the cuff for a little bit, trying to make it look more realistic, but it added too many vertices.
(hence why I didn’t make the final cut)
It was then time to add in some color! I had to UV unwrap it in a very specific way, as I wanted the ears, eyes, hands, and legs to be on their own UV islands. Then I started painting the model to add color! Blender has a nice painting tool for painting right on models, it’s not perfect but for the look I was going for it actually works great! I definitely wanted my character to have a red theme, so I took two different shades of red, one for the legs and ears and one for the hands, and blended them in so they fade out to black the further away from the extremity you are. (as you can see, it’s very organic painting so the legs don’t match up exactly, but it’s an organic character that’s fine).
After this, it was finally time to set up the avatar’s armature! this rig follows the basic skeleton for VRChat, a humanoid unity skeleton, simply missing one chest bone. I began setting it up…
And tested out the bone weighting by doing some posing! Most of the model look great, there were just a few things missing… Like fingers! You can see I’ve added them in here. And because this is supposed the be a spirit interacting with the real world, I wanted his fingers to look sort of detached, as if they were not supposed to be there. Hence the skeleton-looking fingers.
I have a package for unity called Dynamic Bones, which allows certain bones on a model to be affected by in-game physics, sort of giving you a wobbly cloth effect if done right! I wanted to use that on the scarf, so I needed to have a bunch of bones in the scarf that physics could affect. I added them and edited the bone weighting a bit (before this the scarf had simply been bone-parented, meaning it didn’t deform the model at all, so I had a decent amount of clean up to do at the start.)
I wanted to do the same thing for the ears too, so I added some bones to the ears, and the avatar was complete! I exported it to an fbx and headed into Unity!
Now, being that this was an inspiration project, I wanted to do something with it’s textures to make them look close to the way the spirits did in-game, but also wanted there to be a big difference between the two species to differentiate them. Time Spirits have an emissive texture on their colored parts letting them send off a glow in-game, and I wanted to replicate that, but I also wanted my character to have an outline, so I searched the Unity Asset Store for a free shader that would help me do that. In the end I found the MK cartoon shader’s free version did exactly what I wanted, as well as giving me some other features I didn’t even realize I wanted, like cell shading and that nice glow! You can see the cell shading best around the face, where a light gray rounds out the top of the face, and also on the scarf, where you can see that gray makes the creases stand out.