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An International Creative Collective coming together for a Fantasy RPG Game

Skye Russell – Sr. Producer, Level Designer &  Environment Artist, Character Designer

Skye Russell

I’m the Sr. Producer, the Level Designer &  Environment Artist, and the Character Designer for TwilightStar: Heart of Eir at Dragonclaw Studios. I am what many would call a wearer of many hats- or crazy! I like to think both. 

When I first joined Dragonclaw Studios, I did so intending to build a community around the games they were going to make, as well as spearhead crowdfunding campaigns and marketing efforts. Though the direction quickly changed. I found myself needing content that wasn’t being produced. I began getting involved in the project directly in Unreal Engine. At first, I was just using Sequencer to create video renders to showcase the game. However, the environments at the time were not what I would call compelling- not at all the direction that the project lead saw for Heart of Eir (there wasn’t an environment artist or level designer on the team).

So for me to be able to create the video renders and screenshots that I wanted to give to the community, I had to start creating environments and scenes- and I like to think I got relatively good at it in quite a short space of time. My skills were constantly evolving and so too were the environments. This process was made easier by the fact my fiancée is a creative writer, she helped craft the story and lore for the game & Twilight Star universe. But even with these developing environments and meaningful story, something was missing- people!

And this is when we discovered the Reallusion ecosystem. I dove right in, and as I did with the environments, I did with characters. Iteration after iteration to better my skills and in turn the characters I could produce with this amazing suite. Soon enough I found myself assisting in the day-to-day management of Dragonclaw Studios, and its TwilightStar franchise, starting with TwilightStar: Heart of Eir.

“The entire Reallusion suite has been paramount to our studio’s success. For anyone looking to add production value to their indie studio/games that allow you to go up against even AAA quality- Reallusion’s suite will really allow you to transform your workflow, game and success. A must have tool for all creatives!”

Skye Russell – Sr. Producer, Level Designer &  Environment Artist, Character Designer

Q: Hello Skye, and welcome to our Reallusion Feature Stories. Kindly tell us about Dragonclaw Studios and your upcoming game TwilightStar: Heart of Eir.

Thank you for the warm welcome and for the marvelous suite of tools Reallusion has; they’ve undoubtedly allowed us to propel our project and our studio to new heights!

Dragonclaw Studios was founded after shifting from modding popular survival games such as ARK, Atlas, and Dark and Light. Under the alias Dragonclaw Modding, we created the Death Recovery Mod, Dino Tracker+, CCTV, and others for ARK. Divine Weapons, DecorNLamps, and more for Dark and Light, and Death Recovery for Atlas. Since then, and a few nudges from developers we had worked with, we took the leap and founded Dragonclaw Studios, which is now is an international studio comprised of artists and developers from all over the world.

TwilightStar: Heart of Eir is our debut title. We’ve often been told we should have decreased our scope for our first title. Still, with years of development and a team comprising of many different talents, we were confident we could create a fantastic experience and take the studio to new heights. In our universe (TwilightStar), each planet’s essence is uniquely established: some can allow their inhabitants to draw power from the planet’s core, some, much like our own, are void of outward fantasticism but are still able to sustain and manage unique eco-systems.

With this, we have sculpted an experience that takes the nostalgic value of the ’90s and early 2000’s RPGs like Star Ocean and Final Fantasy and inject them with the modernity of games such as Dragon Age, The Witcher 3, and Skyrim. Long story short, we call TwilightStar: Heart of Eir a mixed RPG (mRPG). With much to offer, such as narrative-driven story, elements of open-world exploration and interaction, hand-crafted magical settings, compelling characters, utterly original soundtrack, and two combat systems!

Q: TwilightStar is using Character Creator to build out its aesthetically interesting and dynamic character types. What made Dragonclaw Studios decide on using Character Creator for this game project? Could you describe the typical creation process, and using the SkinGen plugin?

In the early prototypes of TwilightStar: Heart of Eir, we had one major problem, depth of character and their quality and visual identity. Once our writer joined the team, she transformed the story, lore and developed characters with depth and exciting personalities. Still, at the time, we didn’t have the technical or financial ability to bring these characters to life. Luckily for us, a great studio friend suggested taking a look at Reallusion’s Character Creator (CC3).

Development of characters before and after, using Character Creator 3

I’ll be honest, I’m not a 3D Artist and especially not a character modeler, but once I started diving into the intuitive software, I realized just how much of a game-changer this could be. Our early renditions of our characters were a phenomenal step up from our placeholder characters in our alpha version of the game.

Character Creator 3 – creation software

I continued to work within Character Creator 3 and iClone to craft and develop our characters, bringing them to life with true identities created by our story writer. Looking at our characters now, and looking back, I’m so happy we found Character Creator. It’s allowed us to take our on-paper detailed characters to visually stunning and believable digital Humans. As we have continued to develop the story and add additional characters we have also been able to use Reallusion’s tools in order to aid this process.

Our typical creation process begins with the personality traits and how the character is intended to interact within the game. At this point, I find reference points from different media, from games to books. The initial creation begins with sculpting how the ‘avatar’ will look, using the convenient sliders within CC3 to adjust the characters’ features and bodies easily. This is also where the Character Creator plugin SkinGen comes into play–SkinGen has propelled the believability of our characters with realistic skin and makeup effects and truly authentic morphs. From blemishes, age-associated detailing, individual identities with tattoos to the more glamorous side of personifying our characters’ personalities with other precise and creative makeup.

Once our character has been designed at its base level, I then experiment with outfits from the Reallusion Content Store and those created in-house to find the perfect fit (pun intended). The sheer number of options gives the ideal opportunity to find what works for the character aesthetically and grants a degree of further individuality and believability.

I’ve also recently re-iterated our characters with some more features Reallusion has brought to the table within their software, using dynamic digital human hair to add that additional fidelity and flair to our characters once again. I, for one, am incredibly excited to see what Character Creator 4 and iClone 8 bring to the table in 2022.

Q: You mentioned that iClone helped you iterated in real-time the character animation sequences. Please share your experience of using iClone and the ActorCore motions, and how much time you feel it has saved you in comparison to more traditional tools.

Dragonclaw Studios has a lot of talented folk within its team; unfortunately, a full-time animation artist isn’t one of them, which has made it quite challenging to create interactive motions, complex sequences, and cut-scenes cinematics for TwilightStar: Heart of Eir. After all, we have some big ideas, and we want to bring them to fruition.

“Reallusion’s iClone software, simply put, has made us take the next step in creating a more engaging plethora of animations and animation sequences within the game. And it can be so much more too!”

Skye Russell – Sr. Producer, Level Designer &  Environment Artist, Character Designer
iClone 3D animation suite

As we do not have an animation artist, nor do I currently have the time to dive into learning (too many hats), we didn’t have access to more traditional tools; we highly recommend iClone, whether you have access to those conventional tools or not, because our experience has been nothing short of incredible. We’ve been able to create sequences by keyframing and taking advantage of the IK system native to iClone, which in itself has been extremely useful. Not to mention mixing existing mocap animations from the Reallusion Content Store to mold the perfect animations.

The recent addition of ActorCore has been a lifesaver; an array of animations split across various genres right in your browser suited our needs in so many ways. Within TwilightStar: Heart of Eir, we have a lot of interactive elements that require precise animations, and ActorCore allowed us to bring those to life in ways we couldn’t dream of before. It’s as simple as selecting the animation you like and exporting it as an FBX, either be used within the Reallusion suite or directly into the engine you are using, in our case, Unreal Engine. Even if you don’t require a robust and complete tool like iClone, ActorCore should not be something you miss out on.

Q: Utilizing the iClone Unreal Live Link plugin has allowed you to connect iClone to Unreal Engine for side-by-side coordination and adjustment. What advice would you give to other indie studios out there who are thinking of using this same animation pipeline?

Utilizing the iClone Unreal Live Link plugin allows us to see the animation sequence, including cameras if you wish, directly inside Unreal in the world you plan to run these sequences in. iClone came in clutch for us and continues to. Creating animation sequences to suit a cut-scene or cinematic, or even in timing for VFX, can be difficult, especially when you also need to consider the positioning from the environments within the game.

We often design our initial animation blockout in iClone and continue refinement. When we are happy with the overall flow of the animation sequences, often including multiple characters, we open up Unreal Engine and iClone side-by-side. With the Live Link plugin, we can have the software talk to one another, and any changes made in either tool are reflected in the other. 

Continuing to iterate on the sequence in iClone and watching it play out live in Unreal Engine allows us to streamline the animation to fit the constraints some environments have. It also gives us some incredible insight when it goes back to character design and development from Character Creator.

I love to send my creation from Character Creator to iClone and from there use the Live Link plugin to directly operate within Unreal Engine to get a feel for the newly designed character in the environment it will be used within. Personally, we recommend this workflow, and although if you’re new to animation, it could present a slight learning curve to how the technologies interact. That being said, it’s only a tiny curve. Once you’ve got it down, it will allow you to iterate concepts and animations sequences extremely fast, saving you overall development time, not just when it comes to importing and exporting. We know it’s saved us hundreds of hours at this point!

“It’s really an understatement when we say Reallusion tools have allowed us to transform our workflow and debut title. They are intuitive, expansive and a MUST for us. An array of fantastic tools suited for all creatives.”

Skye Russell – Sr. Producer, Level Designer &  Environment Artist, Character Designer

Q: Please share with our readers when TwilightStar will be available for download, and what can the community expect from Dragonclaw Studios in the future.

We have a demo on Steam that the community can download and experience for free–and we would love the additional feedback. As for full release, our ambition is to release TwilightStar: Heart of Eir in July 2022.

We really would like to welcome everyone to join us in the Dragonclaw Studios community, too; we value feedback and transparency in development. We would love to have you all be a part of the epic saga that will be, TwilightStar: Heart of Eir.

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