This week, I’ll be taking you through the early stages of Mkali’s Mission – from brainstorming ideas for the sequence and building the characters’ backstory, to sharing my learnings from discussions with industry experts. Sit tight, it’s going to be a fun one!
At the start of the project, I knew I wanted the 3D sequence to feature the following three components; a strong female character (Mkali) and her wolf companion (Suluwo) performing various locomotive actions using the powerful character creation tools in Maya; a snowy and mountainous environment using 3ds Max’s worldbuilding and asset creation toolset; and an explosion, avalanche, and flying snow to demonstrate the breadth and versatility of Bifrost, specifically its MPM solver, aero solver, and particles system. From there, I began to write out the screenplay of my sequence, shot for shot.
With the concept of the project nearly complete, I set up a meeting with the 3ds Max and Maya product teams to discuss what a typical 3D animation pipeline entailed. As a first-time CG supervisor, I was lucky that everyone on the call had been in the animation business for most of their careers, and at many different levels. I knew that getting advice and feedback from them would be critical to the success of this project.
Meeting with the 3ds Max and Maya product teams.
As I explained to them my vision and concept for each shot, I gained a lot of insightful information and was given valuable feedback. A few questions that stood out to me were: “Who is the character? Why is she there? Where did she meet the wolf? Why is she blowing up a bunker?” These were questions I didn’t realize were important when creating the sequence. From this discussion, I realized the significance of building a backstory before working with artists. The more information I could provide them about the characters, the easier it would be for them to use their creativity to give personality to the heroes and detail to the environment.
And so, I created Mkali’s backstory (which I had a lot of fun working on!). Here it is for your reading pleasure – enjoy!
Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, and incidents are the products of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
From a very early age, Mkali (Ma-kay-lee) had a strong and almost unnatural spiritual connection with nature and animals. The first 6 years of her life were joyous as she was surrounded by the love of family, friends, and the incredible people of her small village until an imminent threat known as the Loyalist Brigade began imparting distress and horror across the nation. They eventually rose to power and ruled through fear, intimidation, and tyranny.
When Mkali turned 13 years old, tragedy struck when her village was attacked by the army of the Loyalist Brigade as they believed an uprising against them was starting from within. Most of the village people were killed in the attack - including Mkali’s mother, father, and sister. Mkali was one of the few lucky ones who managed to escape.
Truth be told, there was in fact an uprising in the works, but it did not originate from an isolated group. What the Loyalist Brigade did not know was that there were multiple coordinated groups working to form this uprising. Collectively, they called themselves The Liberation. Anyone who managed to escape the terrors of the Loyalist Brigade were taken in by The Liberation, including Mkali.
Mkali was never the same after the murder of her family. She burned with anger and trusted very few people. Though she was grateful that The Liberation had taken her in and raised her, she would never allow herself to open her heart to another human again. The thought of losing another loved one was unbearable. She would rather live without love than relive that pain again. She had also gained immense empathy for any victim of the Loyalist Brigade and dreamed of seeking vengeance one day.
Within The Liberation, she was trained to become a warrior and a very powerful soldier. She became physically strong and was skilled in many forms of fighting including martial arts. She also became an expert in weapons. Her most powerful strength, however, was her mind. She was brilliant and she was fearless. While she was emotionally devastated by her dark past, she still embodied warmth and kindness.
When she turned 20 years old, she found a badly wounded wolf pup in the woods who had lost his mother and wolfpack. She took the pup home and nursed him back to health. She and the wolf found a connection and bond that caused her heart to feel something she never thought she would feel again - love. She named the wolf pup Suluwo (Soo-loo-woo).
As Suluwo grew up, he became Mkali’s loyal companion - always by her side. He also grew to be much larger than the average wolf, making the two of them a powerful team.
While The Liberation continued to expand and mount an uprising, Mkali became a scout, searching the land for Loyalist Brigade bases and bunkers, all while seeking to help victims suffering from the evils of the movement.
I want to give a big shoutout to Chip Weatherman, TJ Galda, Steven Roselle, and especially Patrick LeMay and Mark Tanner on the 3ds Max and Maya teams who continue to help me with this project today. While this project still has a long way to go, I have learned so much from them already and wouldn’t be as far along without their support and knowledge.
Look out for my next blog post on the search for artists, coming soon!