In 2016, I started the Brickman Basketball Association as a fun way to build a fully integrated character creation pipeline. That's right, it's not just a surefire copyright infringer, the BBA is actually just a dorky way for me to practice executing big-picture project ideas. When I created the first BBA guy, I could immediately picture an entire collection featuring every NBA player ever. Creating photoreal, 3D Lego-like players, jersey and era variations with different hairstyles, equipment and tattoos sounded way too awesome to pass up. It was also prime-cut social media fodder. So that's always good motivation.
The BBA lasted the duration of the 2015/2016 NBA season and was one of my most successful and popular projects to-date. I moved onto other projects and, unfortunately, the BBA was absent through all of the 2016/2017 NBA season. But I'm confident I'll be able to start this up again someday. There are just so many players, jerseys, hairstyles and tattoos I want to make. And considering half the players from the 2015/2016 season have either changed teams or retired, the BBA is already in need of an update.
But until then, I wanted to create a page on my site that walks through some of my process. And as any Sixer fan can tell you, "trust the process."
I knew to create something this vast yet consistent, I would need a single pipeline that I would update throughout the project. I spent as much time keeping the pipeline up-to-date as I did making sure Joel Embiid's hair was adorable.
Illustrator → After Effects → Cinema 4D
Each application had it's own fully integrated toolkit.
It starts with the Jersey
The process begins in Adobe Illustrator where I meticulously recreate the NBA jerseys. I'm a BIG jersey nerd and a huge fan of Paul Lukas and Phil Heckon. They have popularized a dedicated culture of total weirdos (like myself) who notice even the smallest jersey details. Not long after I started the BBA, I was checking Chris Creamer's SportsLogos.net more than my email (Per Phil Heckon's suggestion to me via Twitter). I soon had more NBA graphics assets than most NBA social media brand managers.
As the pipeline developed, so did the toolkits. Each was updated with every player created which made the process easier each time. Elements of an NBA jersey may be consistent from team-to-team, but they vary greatly in design. The toolkit has over a dozen variations for the collar, alone.
The jersey thumbnails are cool little pieces of art by themselves.
The Fun Part
You might be wondering why I use After Effects when it would be simple to go straight from Illustrator to Cinema 4D. The reason: animation. You see, this whole thing was originally going to be an animation project. I even made a couple gifs when I first got going. But as I made more and more players and the pipeline developed, I didn't have time to animate them. But everything is set up and ready to go whenever I want any of these little dudes to move. I even have a court built for them to play on!
Making the faces is one of my favorite parts of the process. It's fun to capture the players personalities and mannerisms with a crude Lego-style face.
"Do you sell them?"
Every player starts with a 3D toolkit I built in Cinema 4D and update with every BBA player created. The first step is plugging all the designs into the toolkit so the Template Player looks more like a real player. Since most of the design work is done, the biggest creative challenge during the 3D step is the hair. I created some of the guys just to make his hair. After the hair is done, I meticulously check every piece so no detail is overlooked. Then I merge that project with a "Photo Studio" toolkit I've developed using Greyscale Gorilla's lighting tools. I'll kick out a render into Photoshop where I give it one last color check and voilà, you've got yourself a Brickman Basketball player!