In video games, it is a challenged to create any type of winged flying creature, but this did not keep us from creating a dragon character. The main focus when modeling Fafnir was his wings.
Creating the Wings
From the start we knew that we did not want to have rigid wings. So, when designing the character, we kept ideas in mind on how to solve this issue. Here are the steps we took to create realistic real-time wings.
When modeling the wings, we made sure to have both sides of the membrane and not a thin plane that is mirrored on the two sides of the Y axis. By having both sides you are able to later apply materials that will give the wings a realistic translucent effect to the membrane. By only having a plane this effect is lost. On the down side it is much challenging to create the weight map. Note: The wing membrane is its own material.
To rig the wings, we studied many videos and images of both bat and bird wings. This gave us an accurate reference on how the bones in the wings should be placed to recreate a certain movement and rotation of the bones. The most challenging part of this step is to correctly map out the weight maps. We had to continually fold and move the wings to see if the weight maps were correctly created. This took a lot of patience.
For the animation step, we took a slow-motion film of seagulls and copied some takes of the wing movements onto the dragon. We used seagulls since the wing shape is like our dragon’s wings, and they can do many elaborate movements that would be useful for the dragon.
Once inside Unity, we created two very important things. One is a special material that would let light pass though, turning the wings translucent. Allowing only the veins to show. (The veins are on a secondary detail layer in the material.) And the second important component is a physics code that is applied on the membrane, making it elastic with a cloth like effect. Without these two very important components the wings would look stiff and not soft like a bat’s wing.