Art Direction Change: 2D Anime Characters Going Full 3D!

While working on Infinite Fleet’s much awaited “Trailer 2,” we decided to switch from our originally planned 2D anime characters to full 3D.

Mashing 2D anime images with 3D in-game planets and ships was simply not a consistent look for Infinite Fleet as a game experience. The longer we remained on the diverging 2D and 3D paths, we encountered more visual challenges that took time away from putting content in the game. It was a difficult decision to go full 3D, but the right one.

We also knew that going full 3D would pose new challenges. The difference is that these challenges would be in Unity or other 3D packages, and they would allow us to grow our team in the right direction for future features as we refined the new art direction.

We pivoted quickly and our hardworking art team rose up to every challenge.

We realigned on where creating new 2D art made sense for the project, and that would be in developing looks and in creating concept art for our pre-game lore, the Infinite Fleet Chronicles. This gave us more clear separation so 2D and 3D visuals are represented to support different franchise initiatives.

The look we wanted for our ships led us to explore toon shading with post processing. We knew we wanted to replicate a flatter and more stylized look for the whole game but we needed to strike a balance between our love for 2D anime and the hard sci-fi world we are building. We wanted the world and characters to still feel grounded while also having the look to create the kind of shock and awe from over-the-top anime battles. The end result is a combination of toon lines, soft stepped shadows, a percentage blend of PBR materials, and a sprinkle of texture decals. Then, of course, came the hard part in redesigning all the characters in 3D starting with Alexander Chase, the protagonist of the story.

In the present and into the future, Infinite Fleet’s lore and game will continue introducing you to new and possibly familiar faces. The conflicts, history, and technology have grit and depth, and we wanted our 3D characters to look like they belong in that world. Below is our early sculpted version of Chase in Zbrush.

We made the conscious decision to lean towards semi-realistic proportions instead of exaggerated proportions. Creating Chase in 3D made us revisit all aspects of his design from his age to how his coat collar folded to even how baggy his pants should be. By far, the most difficult choices came down to his head. When we explored hair and facial features we tried many different techniques including realistic hair but did we as a team feel it was a good fit? Not quite.

So instead, we came back to our Pixelmatic roots and created cleaner, more simplified meshes and textures to mimic a 2D style for Chase’s hair and eyes.

The team took what they learned from making our own style of toon shading for ships and applied the same techniques to our characters. The result is characters that look unique and feel like they belong in an epic sci-fi game.

We will have more updated characters to share soon as we continue our iterative process. These other characters will soon be unveiled in 3D, accompanied by some familiar voices!

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