At GDC earlier this year, Blizzard animator David Gibson held a panel on the creation of Overwatch’s cast. While the panel focused on the entire 21-member roster, Gibson spent much of his time focusing in particular on Mei-Ling Zhou, the 31-year-old climatologist. For Mei, his influences were Zooey Deschanel from New Girl and Amy Adams’ character Gisele from Disney’s Enchanted.
Gibson joined Blizzard last year as 18 of the heroes were completed, but the Defense class was missing its final launch character. The way Gibson describes it, writer Michael Chu, director Chris Metzen, and the artists talk about the characters they need, followed by their origin story, personality, and abilities. Once things have been fleshed out and their origin stories have been established, that’s where Gibson comes in. He joins the conversation to figure out where to go from there.
“For her, the stuff we really wanted to see was that she’s a nerdy scientist; she’s shy, she’s younger than all of the other characters, she’s outgoing. But what I took from that conversation was that she’s not 100% confident, she’s unsure of herself…she’s positive. But she’s not yet a strong, confident superhero.”
The first thing Gibson does once all that information comes together is talk to people in different departments, from concept artists to designers so he knows what everyone’s thoughts are. If there’s a trend, it keeps him on track for how the character should be. He even goes so far as to ask for little details, like the coat flaps or the tubes on the gun. Second, he checks for limitations or restrictions in terms of gameplay or design. For example, due to the rig of her cryo gun, she couldn’t be able to pull off any crazy flips.
Finally, Gibson gathers information and examples from the team that reminds them of the character that he’s working on. He says that it “helps me stay aligned with the team”, and for himself personally, the references he has needs to have a feeling that he likes. Beyond the two aforementioned women, his references include Rapunzel from Tangled and Alex Dunphy from Modern Family. He paid attention to cute girls with glasses, taking note of how glasses fall on girls’ faces, where the hair goes, and what happens when they smile, all of which went into Mei.
“Rapunzel is innocent and so appealing, but not dumb or anything. It’s just like, ‘Oh, I want to spend time with her'”. Given the love for Mei that’s been shown so far, it’s safe to say that Overwatch fans definitely want to spend time with her.