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Dance Central Sketchbook: Meet Mo & Emilia

Welcome to the first post in a new Sketchbook series dedicated to Dance Central. HMXcj and Thrasher sat down with Matt Perlot, aka “Perly,” the lead character artist on Dance Central to learn more about the diverse cast of characters in game. Harmonix's Senior Writer HMXHellion also joined us and gave some added insight into the colorful personalities of your favorite Dance Central cast mates. Kicking off this series of posts are Mo and Emilia, the first, fully fleshed out characters built for Dance Central.

Over the course of Dance Central’s development, Mo and Emilia were the two characters who remained truest to their original concept and designs. (Some characters, as you’ll learn later in this series, went through multiple incarnations). You've already met Mo and Emilia in game but here you’ll get to know a bit more about their backstory, their original concepts, and the various factors that influenced the way you see and interact with them in the world of Dance Central.

About Perly

Matt "Perly" Perlot graduated from Massachusetts College of Art & Design in 2004 with a BFA in illustration/animation. He just celebrated five years working at Harmonix, having started as a concept artist designing characters for Guitar Hero II. He says his best ideas come to him while on the subway.

Perly on Character Concepts in Dance Central

When we started production on Dance Central, I had some general guidelines to adhere to in terms of character development. First that we would need a cast of eight selectable dancers [four guys, four girls], each with a secondary unlockable outfit. Second, we would move away from the many restrictions associated with character creators in favor of “one-off” character designs. This would allow us to put a greater focus on character personality and style. On the technical end of things, the implementation of normal map blending and extreme elements of secondary animation make the characters more believable, and their clothing movement more dynamic during the choreographed dance routines.

Knowing that we wanted our characters to represent a wide range of archetypes and dance genres, we obviously did a solid amount of research [given our deeply rooted “rock” heritage at Harmonix] related to various dance scenes and clothing trends. However, outside of the real life dance world, a big influence on early character development and, to a degree, the venue design structure was versus-style fighting games. Our "fighters" are the dancers, but instead of cracking skulls, the DC crew are busy cut’n rugs (well, Emilia might still find a skull to crack once in awhile). The fighting game paradigm is something that everyone on the development team got pretty psyched about as it mirrors the competitive nature and intensity of dance. Players who have sunk some time into Dance Central may notice subtler levels of detail in the characters, including facial animation, voice work, and a few hints of their back stories.

Mo & Emilia character profiles

Mo: Promoter, B-Boy, Prankster Extraordinaire

Name: Mo Hobbies: B-ball, battles, hopping turnstiles, chillin' with the boys Interests: Takin' suckers down in battles… just like clothes off a laundry line Favorite Movie: Kung Fu Tales: Legend of the Ghost Warrior Nickname: The King of Flash Blood Type: O+… ‘cause how sure is Mo that he’s gonna whip your butt on the dance floor? Oh, positive. BAM!

Mo was the very first character that Perly and the character team created for Dance Central. His style is influenced by West Coast B-Boy aesthetics, and his colorful in-game ensembles match his colorful attitude. As far as a character archetype goes, Mo is the “promoter” or “messenger” of the DC crew – you see him tagging and flyering for the competition in Dance Central’s opening cinematic. He knows the ins-and-outs of the entire scene in the Dance Central universe, but he’s also, as his voice overs ingame indicate, a prankster.

Perly describes Mo as one of the characters he saw clearly from the get-go. “I’d always wanted a hoodie in-game. I love the silhouette that a hoodie creates – I have concepts through the years of trying to put hoodies on characters in our games” Perly noted, as we looked through early concepts drawings for Mo. “The decision to obscure his face was controversial at first…It gave him a quirkiness that made him feel real.”

As far as the relationships with other characters in the game go, Mo both stands apart and holds the DC cast together. He’s not especially part of one clique, but he is the guy who knows everyone in the cast and what they’re all about. Other characters in-game, like Emilia, have clearly defined rivalries.

Emilia: Sporty,Brash, and Bad Ass

Name: Emilia Hobbies: Boxing, volleyball, competitive dance Interests: Going to parties, playing pranks (especially on stuck-up redheaded know-it-alls), bonfires on the beach… just having fun and living life to the fullest! Favorite Movie: Psycho Mutant Cheerleader Rampage XVII Misdemeanor Arrests: Two. So what? Blood Type: A+, obviously! Always gotta be on top!

As evidenced by Emilia’s player snapshot above, she has an established rivalry with Aubrey, one of Dance Central’s other leading ladies. We talked to Perly about some of the influences behind Emilia’s look, style, and overall aesthetic.

Emilia’s look was inspired by some of what Perly observed at a local gym. “About two years ago I started kickboxing with some guys at work. Emilia very much springs from the look of the 'all-around athletic girls' that we’d meet at that gym.”

Perly elaborated that Emilia is meant to be “naturally pretty” and her overall character and personality are built to challenge conventionally male sportiness while still being naturally feminine. “Emilia’s not really a tomboy in the typical sense, (although she’s not as done up as some of the other female characters), she’s just this really cool, all around athlete.” The hand wraps that Emilia sports in one of her in-game ensembles are reminiscent of the attire that Perly would see at the local gym. She’s also more muscular than some of the other women characters in game, but sets the standard for the average height of the female characters. Her Dance Central rival and foil character is the ultra-girly Aubrey, who wears more make up and has a taller, thinner, build than Emilia.

Like Mo, Emilia was a prototype character in the earliest versions of Dance Central. Perly tells us, “We built her in house first and she was sort of the template for some of the new tech we wanted to include, like wrinkle-blending (how the clothes lay on the character).” For those of us at Harmonix playtesting the game, Emilia was the first full character that we were able to interact and learn to dance with.

Want to learn more about the rest of the Dance Central cast? Keep posted for more character snapshots and sketchbook pieces!