The Dream KeeperBy Jonathan Pearmain
IntroductionFor this project, I set myself the task of bringing a completely original character to full fruition; focusing on effective character design, creative style, and 3D character modelling. Since character design is fat becoming what I want specialise in, I wanted a project that would cover the entire character production pipeline, to discover which section of it I enjoyed the most and wanted to pursue. This project proved extremely testing of my work discipline and motivation, and didnt entirely finish as the completed product I had hoped for. However, it has allowed me to confidently decide to pursue the concept and design stage of character design as the are of the industry I would like to be a part of.
The BriefHere is the brief I set myself for my minor project: Generic Studios is beginning development on their latest game, The Dream Keeper. It is a game aimed at junior school children (ages 7-12). Its platform will be smartphones and tablets, to target the growing audience of school children who either own or allowed to use their parents technology to game. It is an adventure game, with emersion and exploration at its centre. Whilst it is meant to be somewhat scary the child is very much in the role of the hero and the bringer of happiness. The main antagonist of the game is the Dream Keeper, who is the operator of this realm. It is the distribute of dream, both happy and nightmarish. Your job as a character designer is to design final concepts for the Dream Keepers four forms, and realise one of them in 3D.
The PremiseThe player is a young girl who has fallen into the gaps between dreams. It is here that she meets the Dream Keeper. Fascinated by the newcomer, the Dream Keeper becomes increasingly obsessed with keeping the girl dreaming, while the girl is trying desperately to wake up and escape. By taking the girl to various dream-realms and appearing to her in a variety of guises, the Dream Keeper is trying its hardest to keep her asleep and trapped forever.
The worldThe game is divided into four levels: the Connection room and three dream levels, each one representing a common dream for children. In each of the levels the player is trying to find a way to move closer towards waking up. Meanwhile the Keeper has taken on a guise to deceive the player and to try and trap them in dreams forever.
The Connection RoomDreams exist as places of story, accessible to people when they sleep; their minds now free to wander. However, if dreams exist as separate spaces that people must access someone must govern and operate the process of connection. Thus the Dream Keeper. Working like a huge switchboard operator, he monitors the hive of human minds for those falling asleep and connects them to the nights dreams. It is this room that the player has fallen in to. It is a space not meant to visiting, not meant to be seen a purely functional space for the Keeper to work in unseen eternity. Fascinated by this new entity, the Keeper is intrigued and desperate to find out more about the minds he has served for so long.
Early thumbnails for the Dream Keeper
Influence MapsParticularly notable here is the artists use of negative space, or of forms formed by overlap and collision. This is most prominent in the work of Agnes Cecile and Jeff Simpson. The idea opened up many possibilities as to how the Keeper would construct himself - as a fully realised three dimensional creature? Or perhaps an assembly of optical allusion and semi-form volume?
The idea of armatures intrigueD me, since it immediately suggests construction, by either himself or some other ulterior force. It also immediately suggests a way of moving and manner.
The Dream KeeperThe Keeper is the orchestrator of this the realm, its manipulator and authority. He can traverse through dreams easily and instantaneously, leaving ripples of distortion dreamy or nightmarish in his wake. Hes job is to connect minds entering the realm of sleep into appropriate dreams. He is neither inherently good or evil delivering both wonderful and terrifying dreams. His job is solitary, endless, and repetitive people always pass by him in transit, he has never met the creatures whose minds flow through his fingers. To him the player is an anomaly causing much excitement and intrigue to which he doesnt know how to react, but knows he wants it to stay. His approach is rather like Lennie Small petting a mouse. Over the course of the game he has four incarnations: his previously unseen, unbiased form; an interested child; a stern and predatory headmaster; and his original form tainted by a childs fear and anger. The design progress must include defining some recognisable characteristic across each of his forms that captures his identity as the Keeper.
Originally my idea was to have the Dream Keeper as an operator of plugs and switches. But I then began to develop the idea that he himself was the means of connection, like a transitors, with minds passing through him. Defined like this, it bleeds in the design, his only purpose in in having things pass through him - he himself is empty and unable to produce anything under his own strength.
Vacuum TubesI began to feel at a bit of an impasse with the design. A large hole was sitting in the middle of my character - what is it made of it? Whilst I had edged along the idea of a Brothers Quay style construct, I disliked the idea of him look too made, believing it would detract from his being a dream creature. But after rejecting that, I couldnt think of a way to fully realise the character without him losing the wretched, used vibes he needs to give off. So I put the problem at the centre - what if he is constructed? By who or what is not important, but what does it say about his character? If he is a transistor, built for purpose, does he eventually burn out? Does he get rebuilt - or is a new one plugged in? The idea of him being but one in a long line of burnt out Dream Keepers whose existence is lonely and functional completely adds to his character of being hardly sentient and simply numbly operating and following his purpose. Taking on the idea that he is constructed I then began looking at Vacuum Tubes for inspiration, the pre runners to more modern transistors - they gave me inspiration for more design.
Turn AroundThis was my frist attempt at realising the character as a 3D creature. The main critique I heard for this design was the head looked a little odd in comparison with body.
I began exploring some less human looking designs, but I decided that the character needed at at to have a humanoid face to be relatable. I settled on creating a head design that was inspired by the body shape, inverted.
The PlaygroundThe first dream enviroment embodies a childs desire to find a friendly face or empathetic person in a strange place. Playgrounds, with their fun, fenced in areas and friendly colours, are places of safety and to find what appears to be a contemporary in the same situation is comforting. Having glimpsed into the newcomers mind, the Keeper enters them into a world where he can welcome this person to his realm. Initially friendly and accommodating, the Keeper becomes increasingly frustrated with the players desire to wake up, to leave. He becomes more antagonist, clingy, and angry all of which begins to distort both the dream and himself.
Scary Kids Scaring KidsI began exploring the use of scary or unsettling kids in films. One element that really stood out to me was the clothing. Often it is quite mature, nearly old fashioned certainly something you could see an adult wearing; but with some element that is entirely childish and endearing. Damien, from the Omen (Moor, 2006), is dressed and posed as an adult could be, but the oversized jacket emphasises his youth. Esther, the antagonist of Orphan (Collet-Serra, 2009), is dressed very formally and in an old style, but the pig tales and ribbons immediately connote innocence and pleasantness. Another is the emotionless stare. Children usually have open faces that dont worry about concealing or masking emotion - theyre often honest and entirely representative of how theyre feeling. A child with a blank face is unusual and suggests a unexpected maturity and train of thought. Lastly the eyes - either the omission of pupils andcolour or blankness of them. Young children are often not able to hold eye contact for very long; a child that can is immediately threatening and challenging.
As I began to expore the design of the child, I also began to play with how the Dream Keeper would attempt to wear the form - experimenting with portraying him trying to retain form. It gives the impession of a puppet being manipulated. I loved the idea that he wouldnt actually know how a child would move, so his actions would be quite unatural or distorted.
The SchoolAfter being told by the child-Keeper that its going to tell on them, the next dream the player finds themselves in is a school. School plays a huge part in the life of most children, containing many of their best memories, but also some of the most scary, embarrassing, and vulnerable. The shame of having the whole class attention while being scolded, or the ultimate fear of being sent to the Headmasters Office is for many an extremely strong and uncomfortable memory. Here the player is confronted by the Librarian as an intimidating and terrifying Headmaster from whom they must escape.
The Head-MasterThe teacher must be distorted, as seen from a childs perspective. I wanted to design him based on how one might remember their teachers, rather than how they actuall