Your Buddy – little and green with big eyes and ears
In the latest episode 5 of The Gallery on Disney+, a series that takes viewers behind-the-scenes of Disney’s The Mandalorian, creator Jon Favreau discusses the development of everyone’s favorite character, The Child, known online and in our hearts as “Baby Yoda.”
Here at Wevr, we’re proud to have filmmaker Jon Favreau as a longtime collaborative partner on our forthcoming release, Gnomes & Goblins (G&G). In The Gallery episode 5, Jon shares that, in the process of developing The Child, he had already been “preoccupied with the look of big eyes and using ears for motion” while working with us on G&G developing an enchantingly expressive character we lovingly call Buddy.
Back in 2015, Jon visited Wevr to check out an early Valve prototype VR headset and met with Wevr’s Co-founder and CEO, Neville Spiteri, and Jake Rowell, Wevr’s Head of Interactive and the Director of theBlu: Season1. After experiencing theBlu’s groundbreaking immersion, Jon immediately resonated with the power of the VR medium and quickly became inspired to develop an original IP native to VR.
A few weeks later, Jon came by the Wevr studio with a sketch of Buddy the goblin, who has since become the heart and soul of Gnomes & Goblins.
Starting with those earliest sketches, Jon and Jake collaborated through a ‘process of discovery’ in order to reveal who Buddy was at his deepest core. Jon’s sketch was imbued with a spiritedness that Jake wanted to uphold—the same expressive, enigmatic nature in his 3D, interactive form. Jake got to work and his early 3D design concepts refined Buddy’s proportions, searched out the core physical characteristics that would best suit his character and the feelings of friendship, nurturing, and communion that the character would engender. Buddy became the centerpiece of Jon’s vision, which needed to be magical, entrancing, and irresistible.
First, Jake focused on Buddy’s elemental shapes: his cute, round head and those enormous ears framing curious, exploratory eyes. From his helmet up top, down to a bit of a belly and down to his feet and toes. Accentuating all the details that made Jon’s original sketch so alluring, Jake found that Buddy best drew out those feelings if he was a little less lanky, lower to the ground, a bit more solid and of the earth.
Next, with Buddy’s form in mind, Jon and Jake focused on the physical textures that would reflect the world where he belongs, a place where magic lurks in every nook and cranny. It was crucial to make Buddy feel cohesive in a highly textured VR world. During one of the early meetings, Jon pulled out some clay and started kneading a real-world Buddy model. Seeing this physical manifestation, Jake and Jon felt that Buddy’s claymation look was just right. All the other details, including Buddy’s canvas clothing and the crisp metal of his helmet, all fell into place.
Buddy’s design became the springboard for the design of the whole world, a world embodied with deep meaning. All the complementary structures in his world, down to the tree bark of his home, followed from Buddy’s look. With the subtle greens, the light browns and grays, the whole color palette became about creating a natural setting that is illuminated by inner spirit.
Creating a 3D version of Buddy was one thing—bringing the character to life in VR was another. Jake worked with the animation team through countless iterations of Buddy’s movement. The team developed a groundbreaking AI system with the goal of advancing the believability and responsiveness of digital characters beyond the current state of the art in the industry.
Buddy needed to feel like a living, intelligent, autonomous creature. The procedural AI system governs the way his big eyes follow movements and track objects, lock onto the player’s face, ear movements expressing inner emotions, creating the sense of a deeper character that the player is induced to bond with. Every aspect of Buddy’s personality had to foster that connection, from the way his posture quickly shifts from open to reserved, the way the twitches of his big ears indicate both happiness and nervousness, even to the way he taps his tiny toes.
But it wasn’t until Animation Director and Wevr collaborator Andy Jones (Academy Award winner: Avatar, The Jungle Book) created a short animation clip showing Buddy emerging from his den—eager but hesitating, growing in confidence but alert to danger—that the team truly found Buddy’s spirit as it is revealed through his body language. Those quick few seconds became the animation North Star for Jon and Jake as they continued to refine Buddy’s behavior in the Gnomes & Goblins world.
With Buddy having come so far from the first few sketches, the whole of the Gnomes & Goblins world became, in many ways, an extension of his characteristics. Buddy is the central clue to the underlying meaning of the G&G universe.
Gnomes & Goblins invites audiences to experience entering an enchanted world, a lucid dream, with an enigmatic little goblin by their side who becomes their friend, their guide—Buddy. The character, world design and the affordances of G&G enable an emotional connection between the player and Buddy. We can’t wait to see G&G players bond with Buddy as they get to know him and explore his immersive world.
We’re inspired to hear Jon Favreau and The Mandalorian crew describe how The Child came to life in The Gallery Episode #5. At Wevr, we continue the journey of learning and studying the craft of bringing characters and worlds to life in full immersion. And we’re delighted that perhaps Buddy and The Child are kindred spirits.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be diving deeper into the development of Buddy’s goblin world, as well as their foes, the gnomes. So stay tuned, follow us on Twitter and Instagram here, and sign up for our newsletter on the Wevr website.