Around our office, we have little cartoon characters that represent the people who work in our office. I’ve designed some and some have been around for a while now. Every person at Untold has their own character printed on their business cards, but last Christmas we went further. I got the chance to transform each 2D character into a real-life plush doll! Although we’re a digital agency, understanding of how digital design translates to real materials is increasingly important as 3D printing becomes all the rage, so I took the time to show you what it takes to create 3D dolls the hard way. By hand.
This project would have been infinitely more challenging and time consuming if not for two things: 1) I already had 3D models of all the characters so I had a reference to see them from different angles. 2) Most of the characters have a design buddy — where they share a body-template but with small variations to distinguish them. So, I could figure out the pattern for Ron Edelen, our skinny and tall Executive Creative Director, then tweak it slightly to make Mark Conachan, our equally fit Creative Director.
The first step was to get screen grabs of the models from front, back, side and top making sure they all stayed relative in size to each other. Then I printed the character and used tracing paper to figure out my pattern. When using a reference like this to get a pattern, make sure to give yourself extra space, don’t just trace around the body. These shapes have depth so when a wider arm is sewn and stuffed, it’s final width will match the original reference.
Larger, more dimensional shapes — like each character’s head — will need more thinking than simply tracing the shape. Ron’s head is wide and deep on top but narrow and pointy at the bottom. The darts shown in the pattern will give the head that depth at the top but allow the bottom to stay shallow.
Check out Ron’s 3D pattern above compared to the similar body shape for Mark.
Translating a 2D design to 3D is always a little tricky — whether 3D means digital 3D or a plush doll. Figuring out how I was going to handle their hair was probably the trickiest part. In Maya, I had just given them a flat plane, knowing that when it was rendered it wouldn’t matter. But a plush doll would look weird with fabric sticking straight up out of its head. I had to think about what it would look like if this were real hair while also trying to keep the silhouette of the original design.
Check out the results: