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Mei (from studio Ghibli) is the cute protagonist from the wonderfully crafted 2-D world of My Neighbor Totoro. When we think of this movie, we think of beautiful artwork, bright colors, and the pure childlike imagination of Hayao Miyazaki portrayed effortlessly into film. Miyazaki films are famous for their classic and unparalleled animation technique, and studied for their fusion of both Western and Japanese styles. The stories that they tell are lauded as some of the most heartfelt and magical in the world. Studio Ghibli films have captured the hearts of audiences all over the earth, and continue to be celebrated to this day.
A user by the name of d8DS posted shocking new work to the forum at ZbrushCentral.com, unveiling 3-D modeling work of Mei. The artist did so as a challenge posted by the community at cgtalk, a forum for the congregation of digital artists. In this “hard-core modeling challenge,” participants were tasked with creating 15 different expressions based on a character of their choice. The expressive little girl from Totoro was the perfect model for this task.
d8DS explains his process: “[I] sculpted [these images] from basic shapes and retopologized [them] subsequently.” An aspiring artist or 3-D modeler can view his process from Genesis to finished product here. The skilled 3-D modeler seems to start with simple wireframes and, like clay around a core, sculpted the pixels into a cartoony manga-inspired character, plump and filled with life.
The emotions depicted were neutral, hatred, happiness, enjoyment, enraged, confused, sad, pleased, scared, angry, tired, shocked, worried, in-love, drunk, and silly. Some of these, as they are not the expected expressions by Mei, are… interesting to see on the little girl’s face. It’s amazing how a deft artist can take something as innocent as a studio Ghibli character and manipulate it to show such clear and poignant emotions.
On ZBrushCentral, d8DS’ work was applauded — but after his initial posts, the artist disappeared from the semi-public. Though many have tried to get in touch with the modeler, he has been almost entirely unresponsive since the first major publication several years ago. It’s a shame, as fans of both Pixar-style animation and studio Ghibli were hoping to see more works centered within the Ghibli universe.
Some have speculated that since Ghibli decided to start blending 3-D animation into their 2-D works, 3-D modelers have stopped trying to re-create fan versions of their intellectual property for fear of copyright infringement. As several have noted, Japan has much stronger character and idea copyright protection. We can only hope that this is not the case, and that instead d8DS is working from his own corner office in the heart of Ghibli Studios in Japan!