Development Blog

How Were Anime-Style Avatars Implemented? An Interview With 2D and 3D Designers!

How Were Anime-Style Avatars Implemented? An Interview With 2D and 3D Designers!

Greetings from the Holoearth Management Team!

For this installment we talked to 2D art designer Oguro-san and 3D designer Nara Sayaka-san!

We asked them all about how they took the avatar concept design from Masaru Sakamoto – a pioneer in the anime industry – and implemented it in Holoearth, including what they struggled with and how they solved various challenges, how the teams communicate effectively, and more.

Interviewee introduction
Position: 2D Art Designer
Date joined: February 2022
Industry experience: 12 years

Nara Sayaka-san
Position: 3D Designer
Date joined: June 2022
Industry experience: 13 years

To start, do you mind telling us about your professional experience and why you joined the Holoearth development team?

Oguro-san (hereafter Oguro): In my case, I happened to be seeking advice from an acquaintance who works here when I was looking to change jobs, so he told me about the project and suggested I apply.
To be honest, at the time I still only had a vague idea of the metaverse as a place where people get together with VR sets in a 360 degree virtual environment to communicate, and I thought the avatar design would be relatively simple. But after seeing images on the company’s website and reading more it became apparent the goal was to create a metaverse in an anime-style world, which I found really interesting and decided to apply.
I also read on the recruitment page that the team was looking for core members, so I thought I’d like to challenge myself on a project creating something from zero to one in an environment that I had never experienced before.

In the interview the producer showed me a bunch of materials and explained what he is looking to achieve, and I thought, “Wow, they’re really trying to create something amazing!”

Nara Sayaka-san (hereafter Nara): When I was thinking of changing jobs, considering how busy my previous position was I was torn between whether to look for something stable in a mass production environment, or something in its developing stages.
Right at that time I started hearing a lot about Holoearth, and it made me want to work on a new project again and challenge myself to see how far I could go with the experience I had built up until now.

What made you choose the Holoearth project over challenging yourself at another company?

Nara: With a game company that has an established history they already have a solid foundation for development workflows, but in the case of Holoearth all of that was yet to be put into place. So, I chose to join the team since it would be really rewarding to contribute to what Holoearth is trying to build from scratch.
I was intrigued by the metaverse since it is a genre I haven’t worked on before, and because this project is being developed by a non-gaming company, so it is a great chance to really challenge myself.

Now then, tell us what each of you is responsible for in the development of the avatar system.

Oguro: I’m on the 2D team, where I oversee designs for clothes, hair, faces/expressions, and other things related to the look of the avatar.

Nara: I work on the 3D team and am responsible for the entire process from avatar specifications to managing the visual style.

Oguro: Our workflow is to decide on a design direction with the producer and planners, and once the design is created we bring it to the 3D team. From there, the 3D team considers the avatar development specifications and whether the design can be implemented or not.
For designs that can’t be implemented, the 3D team advises us on what kind of changes can be made to accommodate, and we make the appropriate adjustments. 

Nara: For the 3D team, with the avatar development it is imperative to meet 3D specifications to ensure quality, and so we check the designs as they are provided to make sure the specifications can be met.
Instead of just modeling a character concept design as is, we interpret and create a 3D model that ensures quality as an avatar system that players use, with individual parts for eyes, hair, etc., that players can customize without running into issues.

Oguro: Definitely. We cause a lot of trouble for the 3D team (laughs).
But, I’m certain if we don’t design according to such detailed parameters then the end result won’t be an avatar feature that gives players the satisfaction of having a high degree of freedom. So this has been a great experience that I look back on as positive despite the mistakes we made along the way in the development process.

Nara: Thanks to sticking so closely to those specs we were able to make high-quality models. Without that we would have run into all sorts of difficulties, such as the model just not looking right, so I think the 2D team is quite amazing for creating great designs under the strict circumstances.

Oguro-san, what kinds of challenges and creative solutions have you dealt with in the avatar design process?

Oguro: For starters, since we received the original base design from Sakamoto-san we decided we didn’t want to stray too far from his style.
So, I constantly consider what Sakamoto-san would do while placing importance on Holoearth’s own style as well. Aiming to achieve both is quite a challenge.

▲Avatar concept designs by Studio TRIGGER’s Masaru Sakamoto

What part of the design process in particular has been a challenge?

Oguro: The face has certainly been the most difficult. Particularly the eyes, which need to maintain the essence of Sakamoto-san’s style in consideration of his concept sheet and past work, and not look strange when combined with other parts of the model – such as not breaking the whole thing when this pair of eyes is combined with this hairstyle.

What were some challenges you faced in bringing the designs from the 2D team to 3D?

Nara: There was a lot we wanted to do and express with the model, so we made a list to prioritize, starting with the parts that would most affect mass production and then creating necessary specifications. This process took a lot of work.
There were times when the 2D team’s priorities conflicted with our own, so took the time to create a guidelines for avatar costume production.
The costume guidelines are rules for restricting the range of costumes that could be created, in order to reduce clipping between costumes when combining tops, bottoms, and other items.
▲For designs with tight-fitting tops and bottoms, many iterations were required to see how tight they could be made without clipping

Oguro: We continued this for nearly a year and a half (laughs). But, if we hadn’t been this particular about specifications then we couldn’t have guaranteed high quality of the avatar. Thanks to Nara-san laying the groundwork we were able to design within specific guidelines.

Nara: I appreciate the kind words. I’m really thankful we were given the time to establish that foundation.

It seems like as a team you aren’t afraid of rapid prototyping. Now the model appears a lot more sophisticated than when just starting out.

Nara: The base model did actually change. At first we were thinking of going with this [alpha model], which we bolstered and also changed the costume guidelines for.
▲Left: first alpha model, Right: current model

Oguro: When I joined, the alpha model was already completed and I thought, “wait, it’s already finished!”, but as we worked on finalizing the specifications we realized the alpha model wasn’t compatible with them and decided to start again from scratch.

Nara: We went into the rebuild with a drive to make something stellar together. Because of this, in the end we received lots of comments from players that the avatar is really cute, so I’m glad we did it.

Oguro: To add to the difficulty, whenever something changes with the base model, the animation must be changed as well. This will have an impact on the gameplay as well, so it really ends up being like a complete restart.

I think a lot of developers will hear that the base model needs to change and think, “are you serious!?”   

Nara: The animation team was also quite surprised (laughs).

Oguro: I realized just how difficult the avatar system was, since it had to be designed and modeled to accommodate a great variety of clothing, hairstyles, and other elements.

Nara: Since the 3D models of the hololive talents have already been well-received around the world, as a benchmark a high bar for quality was set for Holoearth’s avatar system.
In order to meet this standard it was necessary to change the base design.

How was the player reception when the pyramid-shaped avatars were replaced by the human avatars?

Oguro: First of all, it was a huge relief to finally reveal the avatar system to everyone.
Looking at the response from players, there are so many comments that the avatar is cute or of high quality, which has been rewarding given all the effort that went into it, so I am happy about that. On the other hand though, it feels like we now have even higher expectations to meet.
While receiving praise such as how the avatar looks, I also hope to hear more comments of surprise along the lines of, “Wow, you can do that!?”

Nara: I was really happy and motivated to see people complimenting the avatar’s visual appeal. The original character designer, Sakamoto-san, even customized his own avatars and shared screenshots of his creations with expressions just as if he had drawn them.
We took care to create the avatar such that it will still look good even when the facial expression is stopped mid-movement. A screenshot Sakamoto-san posted was taken right in the middle of the avatar’s movement, so I was pleased to see he thought it was appealing and that our attention to detail came through.
But just as Oguro-san said, it isn’t enough to stop at this point, and instead I want to aim for staying one step ahead of the competition in terms of anime-style design.

▲The team strove to make sure photos would look good even in mid-motion

Oguro: The entire team is working to achieve the producer’s vision whereby Holoearth has a real anime look to it.

Nara: In the future there is a plan to implement a day and night cycle, so I hope players can take beautiful screenshots at any time of day.

Being able to enter and really immerse oneself in the anime-style world is quite important.

Oguro: When I am immersed in an anime, I find myself thinking, “What would happen if I existed as a character in this world, in this one scene?” My goal is to make that kind of immersive experience possible with Holoearth.

Nara: I feel this is the best part of the metaverse – I want to create an immersive experience where people feel almost as if they’re living in that space.
▲Oguro-san made the character depicted in the sign displayed on Alternative City’s fashion shop, ALTERMODE

As opposed to other more general metaverse platforms, Holoearth needs to give a sense of realism to things that don’t really exist, including things such as demihumans and characters with animal characteristics, but in an anime-style world. This seems like a really difficult task, so what are your thoughts on it?

Oguro: That’s right. In particular, the development team is interested in creating demihumans and theriomorphic characters. While we aren’t completely sure whether we can implement this at the moment, in the event we do I would like to create a foundation to really express them.
I’d like to create cool fashion for these various races, such as gothic fashion for demons, and so on.

Additionally, even with the talents there are plenty of races in their designs and I’d like to include that in the world building. It would be great if players feel like they can be something similar to their favorite talents. 

There are plenty of games set in fantasy worlds where players can become something else, but probably not really where players can also enjoy fashion and daily life.

Oguro: This is something I’m interested in drawing, so I’ve sent various design proposals to the producer.
▲Character design proposals by Oguro-san for the hololive Alternative web manga, Yamato Phantasia. Similar design philosophies are being discussed for potential future use in Holoearth as well.

Nara: Oguro-san and the producer have pretty close communication.

Oguro: Holoearth is something new and innovative that needs to be built from the ground up, so if we don’t work closely together then cracks might start to appear. So, myself, the 3D team, and really the entire project team works closely with the producer, which I think is a great thing.

Nara: I like that it’s an environment where we can casually approach each other to discuss things.

Thank you for the insights. The avatar design and development is mostly led by the 2D and 3D design teams – something not really seen much in the past.

Nara: It’s pretty much up to us.

Oguro: It’s my first time working like this (laughs).

Nara: Thanks to being given this responsibility, I was able to incorporate the 2D and 3D designers’ perspectives into things like making the model’s silhouette attractive and improving its style.

Oguro: I haven’t seen such a flat work environment where we can make our own proposals that get accepted into the process. We have to set our own deadlines and overall work-life balance, and we are responsible for making sure we follow through with these proposals – which may increase the workload some but it is a lot of fun at the same time.

Nara: There were certainly very busy periods, but we decided on the quality we wanted to deliver by the deadline so we were all really motivated to see it through to the first avatar release.

To end, please leave a message to our readers!

Oguro: Holoearth is a project with an incredible amount of potential. We realize this means causing some inconveniences and making players wait a bit on development, but we hope everyone comes with us on the journey as we release a variety of updates that exceed expectations.

Nara: I hope to continue making an avatar system with great attention to detail that everyone can enjoy using to customize their own avatars. The avatar system is still being worked on along with Holoearth overall, so definitely create your Holoearth self and enjoy the world we are creating!

*The features and other items not currently implemented that appear in this interview are not guaranteed to be officially added, however, these are currently being investigated and discussed by the development team.