Design Spotlight | Michael Greenwood on his ‘Gumplings’ character designs

We caught up with Art Director at The Mill, Michael Greenwood on his submission to the latest Design Weekender 'Gumplings'.
Work March 31, 2020

‘Gumplings’ by Michael Greenwood

Talk us through your latest submission to the Design Weekender

I’ve been making a lot of my own character designs over the past couple of years, mainly for toys. I used to work as an animator and generalist for a long time and wanted to get back to my roots with this test, hopefully to develop it further in the future.

My goal for this project was an artistic one, but also a technical one, transferring all my old 3DSMax rigging and animation knowledge over to Blender. I wanted to create something fun and energetic, with a contrast between two characters. Hopefully it’s clear just through movement, that one is the older, heavier Gumpling with his young kid who is full of life and energy. I have a 4 year old daughter and I’m often in this exact scenario!

What was your thinking behind creating ‘Gumplings’?

I had seen ‘Zog’ by Magic Light Pictures, and had loved all their previous work. The thing that stood out to me with the dragons in Zog though, was that they used separate limbs from the main bodies. I’ve done this sort of thing before but only with flat shading (so the deformations are not an issue), and I noticed that the dragons were able to be posed in very dynamic ways where there were no restrictions on where the limbs join the bodies. Usually with conventional CG characters, it’s almost impossible to move the limbs’ bases around freely without very ugly deformations and you can end up compromising your poses.

When creating fat characters, this is an even bigger problem so I thought my new design would be the perfect opportunity to test this out.

To test the technique, I modelled a quick character that was not intended for animation, just to see if the separated limbs would work. I was very happy with the result. As you can see in the below example, the geometry just has separate objects that appear joined in the render. The next step was to apply this to my Gumplings characters.

As you can see from this breakdown, I am able to position the arms and legs wherever I like around the main bodies of the characters. This allows for so much freedom in posing and keeping clean silhouettes.

I built the limbs set away from the main body as this made the skinning process much simpler. I then built a controller into the rig to attach the limbs back in the right place to begin animation.

How does this submission relate to your usual style?

My style has always been very cartoony, I like simple shapes combined in an appealing way. My Gumplings characters are a step towards bringing animation back into my designs.

Tell us about something that’s inspiring you right now?

I’m always inspired by seemingly simple design, I think this allows the viewer to interpret the work in their own way. I love kawaii Japanese design, favouring dots or lines for eyes and clean shapes for mouths, keeping the design minimal.

You can check out more of Michael’s work on his Instagram @michael_greenwood_art


Watch The Edit: Design Weekender | March Edition to view the edit which includes Michael’s ‘Gumplings’