Capturing the villain-esque!


What is the Thumbelina project about?

Antagonists in games have many roles to fill, especially the villain archetype. However, it is important to put a question mark upon rules and guidelines and challenge oneself to experiment on a deeper level. 

Often in storytelling we are met with some sort of antagonist, but specifically when the subject is about villains, there draws a line of how to portray such a character. There are many ways to depict a villain, but they all seem to follow the same sort of guide whenever one has to be created. In games the villain is often seen as the last, final boss, the “one” the game has been leading up to beat, but what grade of satisfaction can it bring, if the villain is downright “flat”. 

A villain is supposed to have a grade of difficulty, narratively and mechanically, and presumably this character has been hyped throughout the game. The aim of this project is to generate new thoughts when creating villains.

Project duration: 4 weeks

The style - Art Bible

Using evocative spaces, my project is set in H. C. Andersen Thumbelina as my story framework and draw upon the already existing narrative. I will be using environmental storytelling, creating my spatial story through four 3D scenes. These scenes will slowly tell how Thumbelina will deviate from the norm, and become a villain. And be used to perspective on how villains could be designed in games, in a hope that game designers will begin to represent all domains of morality when creating villains.

The reason for the saturated, cartoony style is to capture the essence of a fantasy, and use colors to invoke feelings and atmosphere. The colors of yellow and orange are not only to have Thumbelina contrast to her environment, but symbolize and hint of her egotism, fear and danger. Later as she gets used to her surroundings, her colors will change as well to purple, to completely contrast it. The story emphasizes the man vs nature scenario, of not wanting to become prey. Which is why Thumbelina fits nicely into this narrative, since her objective as a villain, is to slowly make it her habitat.

Creating a cartoony style
in 3D Blender

To capture the fairy tale aesthetic, I had to create a lot of custom materials and geometry nodes. From left to right we have:

Scene 1 - The kidnapping

In photoshop

In Photoshop I setup the most important elements and camera angle. So I create a 3D concept space, and set my camera of where I want the scene to be set.

Blender setup

When moving to I begin to model the elements I noted in photoshop, and begin to construct the scene. Here the most important part is the tied butterfly to the lilypad and Thumbelina being dragged away.

In the first scene we see Thumbelina taken away from her lily pad by the beetle, just like in the story, where she maintains eye height and sight with the pure white butterfly. This is to signal her state of being, which is innocence. The colors are blue, to highlight the melancholy and her sensitive, but tranquil being.

Scene 2 - Where the story bends

Planning the second scene

The most important factor here was the skewed camera angle, this was to establish Thumbelina's morality slipping away.

Setup in 3D

The setup here is a bit more complicated. The bird is in 3D in order to cast correct shadows, while the grease pencil are in layers. There's also a volumetric fog being cast in the mole cave.

Here's the final composition. Where we see Thumbelina twisted from the original fairytale. Instead of her saving the bird and escape, she kills the mole and rat in order to protect herself. She leaves the bird to die, since she doesn't want to risk being used again.

Scene 3 - Protecting herself

Planning the third scene

The third scene we return to the lake. The symmetry is playing a key role for her development, which is finding her placement and sending a message that she is deathly.

Setup in 3D

Setting up the scene in Blender, I messed around a lot with geometry notes with the waterleafs and stylized fog. The rest of this scene is particle based, grease pencil and a custom stylized watershader.

Her design changed from the original Art Bible, instead of utilizing the butterflies in her outfit she uses the trophies she gather from slaughtering her enemies. Here you can see bug antennas and bird feathers in her outfit. In this scene she kills the frog that kidnapped her, it is setup in a glorious way with the butterflies flying diagonally from her. Thumbelina in the scene as become more part of her habitat and is now establishing her message of danger.

Scene 4 - A villainess' habitat

Planning the last scene

The last scene is where the rumor of Thumbelina has spread throughout the swamp forest. In this story this is where the people of the same race as her, finds her. The scene is dramatic and contrasting.

Setup in 3D

There is three layers in the setup of this scene. Since the focus is on the villainess, we have a plane underneath surround the upper surface with grass. The second layer is a particle system with more grass, flowers and stones, but which is empty in the middle. The last layer is the butterflies circling around Thumbelina.

Here we have Thumbelina in her villain-esque habitat. When compared to the first scene, you can sense her development into evilness which stemmed from the roots of wanting to defend herself. The contrast from her people is showed in color and body language. Her habitat has now become the swamp itself, where she wanders around with the butterflies.

Last thoughts and alterations

Thumbelina's design changed halfway through from the Art Bible. The reason for the change is because the butterflies in H. C. Andersen's tale is the only neutral party, therefore letting them becoming a part of her wouldn't suit the story world. Instead the butterflies was used to symbolize her mentality throughout the different scenes. This is inspired by African culture where butterflies show us how we can go within ourselves to dissolve old forms and morph, rebuilding and evolving ourselves.

Our star signs has a specific element, like air, earth, fire and water. Thumbelina trancends from having water (sensitive, tranquilent and emotional) to fire (brave, temperamental and independent)

The conclusion of this project was to show how you can create a villain. This project didn't get implemented in a game, but it certainly has the build up. To capture the villain-esqu is not only focusing on a character design, but the environment play just as an equal part for setup and anticipation. To the right is my own chart, of how villains are incorporated in games.