Bringing the lead character of Kena: Bridge of Spirits to life

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Bringing the lead character of Kena: Bridge of Spirits to life

Ember Lab on the design decisions and techniques that shaped the look of its hero.

Ember Lab is very excited to share our first game with the world next week. In the game, you play as Kena, a young Spirit Guide who travels to an abandoned village in search of a sacred mountain shrine, and who must help the wandering spirits trapped there.

Kena’s original character designs were created by Wanchana “Vic” Intrasombat. He was a close collaborator on our commercial projects in the past, but this time he had a blank canvas and we can see so much of his charming and unique view of the world in all of the character designs.

The first sketches portrayed a very young girl. As the mechanics and story evolved, we realized she needed to be very skilled, and that her work as a Spirit Guide would require her to draw on more life experience when helping the other characters in the story. She gradually became older and more knowledgeable.

Kena was realized in 3D for the first time by Rodrigo Gonçalves. He built the prototype model and later continued to refine and explore real-time techniques for various details like her hair. We also collaborated with Carlos Ortega, who many revere for his beautifully clean 3D character work.

We iterated quite a bit over the course of the project, adding finer textures and exploring alpha card techniques that we had seen in other incredible games before us. For the hair, we eventually found a blend between solid geometry, which could give very clear shapes and catch light nicely, and alpha planes to show the detail of individual hair strands providing some more variation and imperfection. Similar attention would be given to the clothing, adding different fabric patterns and even some worn edges.

We love details like this, and it is something we try to do in all aspects of the game. The wear on her clothing communicates some experience and adventure. The beautiful staff she carries and various ornate decorations on her clothing aren’t loud, but reflect a reverence for tradition and a devotion to a greater purpose.

She is fully brought to life in animation, where much of her personality is conveyed through the way she moves and acts. The scope of the game and story was much larger than our past projects. This presented an exciting challenge in creating expressions with more emotional range and depth, and that had the right warmth and compassion for our hero. With many animations across the game, we created a library of expressions and other details like hand and hair poses. This provided a fast way to refine and unify animations and ensure that Kena always felt inhabited by the same soul from beginning to end.

Giving life to all the wonderful pieces of her character design was important to us, and we put a lot of care into the movement of her clothing and hair. The wind in her hair became an element throughout the game, simply as another layer to invoke the feeling of being in a village inhabited by spirits, or on a mountain peak. While we used physics on other characters in the game, every aspect of our main character was animated by hand.

We hope you enjoyed a closer look at this process. We’ve had the pleasure of working with many talented artists and developers on this project, and we’re excited to see what you think of the game!

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  • Thanks! these are my favorite entries to read.

  • Really enjoyed this deep dive into the art work. Looks amazing and I can’t wait to play! Congrats to you all!

  • Give us a PHYSICAL release!

  • Very excited for this one!

  • I’m looking forward to the sweetest and most sincere project I’ve ever seen.But i wish there was turkish subtitle option.You’re still good 🥰

  • Can’t wait to play this next week :)

  • Really looking forward to playing this.

  • I wish we were getting an art book. This is probably the one game for which I would have loved to see all the concepts and progression. Really excited for this game, though!

  • This game looks amazing! Really can’t wait. Hope it lives up to expectations.

  • I’m beyond excited for this game! I’ve been following it since its reveal, can’t wait to play it next week.

  • I love in-depth looks into games like this. Really enjoying what the PlayStation blog is becoming with these sorts of posts. Celebrating and showing off game development is a lot of fun to read

    Kena is looking like something special. I can’t wait

  • Raya and the last dragon?

  • I can wait til Tuesday midnight!! I’ll just have to fall asleep in class lmaoo

  • I seriously can’t wait to finally play this game next week! :D

  • This game looks great and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I just wish most media sources I frequent hadn’t gone so radio silent on it. Here’s hoping for a good launch, and better word of mouth.

  • I have been following this title since its reveal – and i’m getting more and more excited with each announcement.

    Its such a shame that not many news outlets are covering this. Its for sure going to be a sleeper hit. I really hope the game does well!

    Cannot WAIT to get my hands on it.

  • Looking forward to playing this, but please Sony/PlayStation let’s have more marketing for this……if it’s as good as we all hope, you should be doing sooooo much more for it.

  • I’d buy this game day one…if it was on a disk.
    Why no physical release?! And please don’t do it later with Iam8bit as they are too expensive to import due to brexit. Give us just a nice regular release and a nice collectors edition (with the bloody disk for if you didn’t understand people still like that).

  • Is this game coming out physically on the 20th?

  • I will wait for reviews. The graphics and characters look utterly enchanting but there is hardly anything about the gameplay. It just feels suspicious that the devs have been silent for a couple of months (not a peep of previews or marketing near release besides the photo mode, not to mention the fact that Kena wasn’t even featured in the Sep. showcase back then), and review embargo is on release day? I do hope my worries are for nothing but all that is enough cause for cautiousness.

  • Sorry for double posting but thankfully it seems most reviews for Kena are postive.
    I will wait until the game is on a sale as I already have too many wanted games as it is on my list.

  • I loved the game until i got to the shrine guardian. I enter circle kite, kill him, then it freezes super slow and wont progress. So slo it liek 0.5fps posted a video on youtube showign the bug. no mater how much I reload and start fight again or back track a load, it still does it.

  • THe slow motion bug in the shrine guardian fight is caused by ROT arrows combines withth the slow motion arrow upgrade. Fight him only with staff attack, then when bent over launch rots and use shield blast to defeat. It wont trigger the bug.

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