Mustachioed Lorenzo D. Harvey

President HarveyRecreating and bringing to life historical characters is intimidating. What did their voice sound like? How did they speak? What were their quirks? What was their sense of humor? There are a million-and-one things that could play a role in how we write the dialogue for a historical character, especially one as important has Harvey. Dialogue is one of the most important features of a character. It brings the player in and helps the player relate to and understand the narrative. So how do we give a voice to Harvey and the rest of the cast?

The work begins in the UW-Stout archives, a place where the Digital Humanities students are getting quite comfortable with. Step one is usually to approach Heather Stecklein, the ever-busy archivist, and ask her what kind of content the archives is holding related to the characters we are interpreting and recreating. In Harvey’s case, this means many large boxes of papers, books, files, photos, and articles–good news for us.

The most time consuming portion is the collection and analysis of source material. If we want to create a convincing Lorenzo Harvey, we have to read his papers, speeches, and reports. We have to read the biographies written on his life and pin down his personality and characteristics. After getting really comfortable with his peculiarities, the verbs and nouns he used as well as the structure of his language, we can begin to write.

But we can’t just turn to the sources that surround Harvey and stop there. We can seek reference from other people from his time. Particularly useful to us are audio recordings. The catch is that there really are not many audio recordings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. But since Harvey was regarded as a very serious, accomplished, and stately man, listening to presidential speeches might not be too far off the mark. From these audio recordings from Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft, we can learn the cadence and manner of speaking. These will help our voice actor recreate the mustachioed Lorenzo Dow Harvey.

All of these elements are drawn together to create the Historical characters you’ll encounter in Harvey. 


Many Programs, One Product

What are we using to make Harvey? The game engine that we are using to compile Harvey‘s virtual environment is Unity. Before they find their place in Unity, though, our characters, animations, and models spend countless hours incubating in many other programs. The programs under the hood of Harvey are Autodesk Maya, 3D modeling and animation software; ZBrush, a 3D digital sculpting and painting program; Adobe Photoshop, for texturing and image creation; and Quixel Suite, a program that helps to create more realistic looking textures.

We’ll start with Maya. If you take a look at our first post, you’ll see an exterior image of Harvey Hall and a model of the library. These models were created using Maya. In case you missed it, here is another example. This is the 4th floor of Harvey Hall.

Art created by Sarah Benson

So this model looks great, but that is definitely not what tile floor looks like. Enter, Adobe Photoshop and Quixel Suite. We use Photoshop to add textures to the model and make the details in a process called UV mapping, which is essentially transforming a 2D image into a 3D model. During its creation process, the model is broken down into a 2D image, which is then overlaid with a UV map that supplies all the textures. We also use Quixel to help give our models texture and create the illusion of depth when you’re really looking at a flat plane. All of this information is then brought back into Maya before it can finally be exported as a .fbx file and dropped into Unity, where it finds a home in the game.

ZBrush, like Maya, is used for 3D modeling. Z-Brush is a lot better with organic curves and models than Maya is, so we use ZBrush for our character modeling. Here’s what an in-progress ZBrush character can look like.

Art created by Kalan Tix

After the character is modeled in ZBrush, it is brought back into Maya, and brought down in the polygon faces. This model is using millions of polygonal faces, which cannot be used in our game because there is simply too much information. Sadly, this means that we usually have to say goodbye to all of those very smooth lines and curves because Unity can not feasibly render a model with millions of polygons in real time. We also bring the models back into Maya because our animators use it to make our characters walk, talk, and dance.  Here’s an example of how a ZBrush model is handled in Maya. There’s much fewer polygons here, making the model easier for Unity to handle and render.

Art created by Kalan Tix
Art created by Kalan Tix

After models are created and textures are mapped, we let Unity–and our game mechanics team–take it from there.

The Inspiration and the Art

For this post we’ll be discussing Harvey‘s character art style, some of the choices the artists have made along the way, and also the inspiration behind those choices. Because we have many artists working on the same project, we had to decide on a general style to work with, and more or less standardize it for this project. The first step was to cast our nets into the waters of already existing games and animated films. The art team came back with dozens of possible styles and scenarios, but–more or less–the first two images shown below depict our inspiration in a nutshell. The first image is a shot from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is an animated T.V. series, and the second shot is from a game called Back to the Future, developed by Telltale Games.


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We chose to build from these styles for several reasons. We wanted a style that we could use to create a character in a relatively short amount of time but also something that looks semi-realistic and something that can still portray facial animations and emotion effectively. The decision to create simpler, more stylized characters also helps to keep the characters in Harvey from becoming dated as game development technology moves forward. Next, you’ll notice that the eyes are a bit enlarged. This will help our animators bring out facial expressions and emotions more effectively. The above examples mostly influenced how our artists created eyebrow shape, nose shape, the chin, and hair.  The chiseled nose and chin gives the character a distinct style and clear definition while simultaneously keeping the model simple and easy for the game engine to render. The hair is handled in chunks for the same reasons. Keeping those features in mind, the artists moved forward onto the concept art for Harvey.

An example of concept art is shown below. The man featured here is the star of the show, Lorenzo Dow Harvey. We anticipate that the player will have a good deal of interaction with Harvey.

Concept art created by Kalan Tix

Moving on from concept art, then, the artists began to create and model generic background characters. These are characters within the game that the player will see from a distance, performing daily activities like reading, walking around in the halls, chatting with others, sewing at a sewing machine, etc. We don’t expect the player to have very much up-close interaction with these background characters. The model shown below is finalized for the most part, but it is still basic enough that the artists can go back and change certain features without too much hassle if necessary. Keep in mind that this shot was taken before the animators could get their hands on the model to really bring her to life with a casual wink and a smile.

Model created by Kalan Tix

We’re Sprinting! (in spite of “no running in the halls”)

Hello, and welcome to Virtual Harvey Hall! We are now well underway and fully into the swing of things. Harvey is a game, or virtual environment, created through the collaborative work of UW-Stout’s Design 373 class and the English 495 Digital Humanities capstone students. One of UW-Stout’s most historic buildings, Harvey Hall, is undergoing renovations and is also approaching its centennial landmark. The mission of our game, Harvey, is to accurately recreate Harvey Hall, known as the Home Economics building at its creation, as it was in 1916. Our game will allow players to explore Harvey Hall in the past! Users will navigate important parts of Harvey Hall circa 1916 – 1970 in order to learn more about it’s rich, interesting, and well-documented history. It is a trip into the past of Harvey Hall that explains its legacy up until the present.

The end creation of this Virtual Harvey Hall project, a game we are just calling Harvey, will transport the player back in time to 1916, when the building was first created. After the intro cut-scene and storyline opener, the player will then have the option to explore other time periods. The design doc has been finalized, the preparations are in order, and it’s all Harvey all the time.

The development of this project is organized by short sprints, and we are now wrapping up Sprint 2. The sprints are designed to push the project forward, one big step at a time. Our teams have very concrete goals and hard deadlines to meet by the end of each sprint date. At this point we have begun to do some play testing, and we are starting to implement objects and characters into the environment.

The environments and hard surfaces team is already churning out some really compelling content, and the characters and animation team is in the process of bringing the halls to life. For our first post, and Hello World debut, we’ll be sharing some early art and renderings of a few of Harvey’s environments.

Aerial view of Harvey Hall

Check out the aerial view of Harvey Hall (the one in the right corner if you’re unfamiliar).

Now check out what the artists are working on!

Art created by Jake Mairet

In Harvey, the player will navigate first by interacting with a 3D diorama, much like the early render you see above. You’ll get to twist and turn this diorama before settling on a room you’d be curious to enter. Select a room, click on it, and run wild exploring the building. An example is the library. We’re very excited about our early renderings. Take a look at the side-by-side comparison.

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Art created by Zack Pasterski

The walls and objects appear flat and gray for now. We’ll be working on textures and colors soon! Other rooms we have cooking are a textile room–featuring some high-class objects, the theater, the main entrance, and some hallways.

Stay tuned, and let us know what you think!