WHO IS NEO
Neo is Echo's friend in the film, a hamster with a secret that gets revealed during the second day of school. He is based off hamsters and guinea pigs. His name comes from the idea of something new, as he is Echo's new friend in a new world.
Neo's design uses more blockier shapes to show strength and solitude, though because of how big Neo will be in relation to the other classmates and especially Echo, Neo will also be slightly clumsier and unsure of how to deal with his size. Neo is also meant to act as a symbol of two different worlds altogether--the normal planet we live on, but also a different place altogether. Because of this, Neo has a horn on his head that a regular hamster would not ordinarily have. It is because of this differentiation, that Neo tries to cover it up with a bandana for the majority of the film.
While Echo's color palette stems from galaxies and space, Neo's stems from traditional hamster colors with a slight variation. His defining color is orange, though earlier iterations of playing with how the colors fell on the face led to it's final placements.
I didn't do as many iterations of Neo from a concerting standpoint because I felt that I needed to understand the character in 3D and how the forms would play. Because of that, I jumped fairly quickly into Zbrush and just began with getting the head together. An early test was posted to twitter last year. Getting the proportions of the body was actually harder than getting the appeal of the face. When I returned to the project a few months later I enlarged the eyes and fixed the eyebrows.
Neo's body was trickier to figure out, specifically around the legs. Hamsters and guinea pigs have puffier legs without much separation between them compared to, say, how human legs have a clear separation from the legs to the torso. Originally, I had the legs more spread out and separate from the body, but a rework of the legs allowed for the puffier to show more with the legs standing out as separate. This will prove to be some more legwork (ha) on the rigging side due to figuring out the placement of the knees.
Placing them with the outlines drawn over shows the change in the character overall.
Neo's headband is a key part of his character in the film, as it hides his horn and insecurities. I played around with different bandana styles before settling more on the knot being at the front instead of the side. Having the bandana at the side made Neo look more like a pirate. Having it on the front, however, allowed me to play more with the potential for secondary animation once in the production phase.
As previously stated, Echo's color palette would have more orange and natural tones compared to Echo's blue skin. With the addition of having a shirt, however, I chose red to keep the color palette analogous overall. A detail that was hard to figure out was the pattern on the shirt. I wanted something that could be abstract enough to have a connection to space without overtly giving the gag away. At first, I went with stitched squares as I was playing with no real thought behind them. They didn't give much to the character from a narrative standpoint, however, so I did another pass and came up with the idea of a graphic star that shows up through the roughness map on the shirt, similar to a shinier material on a piece of clothing. That alongside the addition of faded constellations on the star was enough for me to draw the connection visually but not enough to take away from the final reveal of the horn later on. When it came to texturing the eyebrows, I took the same approach as I did with Echo's hair with an anisotropic map as a base. The final result came out better than I anticipated and reads fairly well. Neo's final texture results can be found here alongside Echo in Unreal for scale.
Neo's character approach showed nothing new in my process beyond exploring the bandana and narrative decisions behind he character. Having the legs be lower set in the body will prove for a challenge in the rig, but given that Neo won't be doing a lot of walking, the legs are not as much of a priority as the head and facial expressions will be. Additionally, Neo's hands will have up close shots, therefore it was important to have good topology and edge flow in that area so that no odd deformations will be visible in the final render. I'm excited to move forward to the rigging phase with him!