The Anatomy of a Ninja Turtle

Chris Frechette and Kris Taylor of Red Fly Studio explain the development of this striking new look for the heroes of TMNT: Out of the Shadows.

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Strange. Stylish. Hideous. Awesome. This modern, realistic take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lineup has been called a lot of things. But no matter the verdict, all will agree that it's certainly distinct--and distinction has always been the goal for developers Kris Taylor and Chris Frechette of Red Fly Studio. As Turtles fans themselves, they relished the opportunity to make their mark on Turtles history with a style unlike anything the franchise has seen before. Learn how Red Fly Studio pulled it off.

Before deciding on their designs for the turtles, Frechette and Taylor knew Out of the Shadows was going to feel different. Having experienced the height of Turtles mania in the late '80s and early '90s, both designers decided early on that they wanted their game to have a more mature theme that older audiences would gravitate toward.

The world came first. Their vision of Manhattan was much darker and grittier than what had come before and would therefore need a new breed of turtle. To help find a jumping-off point for this new breed, the pair reached out to veteran character designer Carlos Haunte, who inked the concept art shown above. Frechette and Taylor were floored. Never before had they seen designs quite like this. From the patterns on their skin to the articulate musculature, these turtles could almost be real.

That distinction--that realism--quickly became one of the team's guidelines. They wanted not only for their four heroes to stand apart from the franchise's past, but for each turtle to have his own unique style as well. As Taylor explains, "One of our main goals when we started this project was: if you see one of these turtles alone and without any color identification, you need to know who it is."

"We worked really hard with [Haunte] to develop these shape symbols, which helped define the turtles both mentally and physically. You'll notice Leonardo is a triangle, which is a focused and sharp shape because he's the focused leader of the group. That shape is worked into his physique, his face, and even the angles of his eyes. I think that really helped us get these characters feeling as unique as they do. Now when I see them, I have no question of who's who. They all have their own identities."

Those identities didn't just start and end with Haunte's work; they were just the beginning. Red Fly still had a lifetime of Turtles artwork to draw from. "[In the piece above] I have three versions of Donatello," said Taylor. "The one on the far left is based on the toys and old cartoons, combined with being more realistically defined. The one on the far right was based on [Haunte's] original works. We then tried to meet in the middle with a blend of styles. The piece is all about that transition."

As the designs evolved, the team found its stride in balancing designs old and new, unique and original. The character shapes, skin tones, and sheer grit of Haunte's work was married with the distinct character patterns found in the current Nickelodeon cartoon. In the image below, you can see how Donatello is tall and lanky, while Raphael is a bit shorter and much stockier. Striking this balance was important for the team as a way to honor the franchise's long and colorful history.

"There are fans that cherish the original comics, fans who love the '90s cartoon, and now fans who are into the new generation of Turtles," explained Frechette. "There have been so many incarnations of [the Turtles] that I think everybody has something different they enjoy about a specific look or feel. Having the chance to put our own stamp on these designs--as fans--has been a huge deal for us."

As Turtles fans, the team spent a lot of time sweating the finer details of their designs. Some issues, such as the inclusion of tails, were easier to resolve than others. "We opted to lose the tail," Frechette stated. "Starting out, we said to ourselves, 'Let's go back to the original comics and put the tail back in.' But then, as we were thumbing through some of the older comics, we noticed every time those guys would do the splits, [the tail] stopped looking like a tail…and started looking like something else!"

Eyes were another animal altogether. Some team members favored having irises and pupils, while others preferred the all-white style. "My stance was: it has been established both ways, so there's really no wrong answer here," said Taylor. "But we also wanted to have a lot of story-driven scenes, and eyes are a subtle thing we connect with as viewers. If we went all white all the time, it would make that emotional connection very difficult."

Even so, Frechette was a diehard advocate of the imposing, all-white eyes. Eventually, as Frechette explains, a compromise was reached. "In the Nickelodeon show, [the turtles] have irises and pupils until they get into combat, and then BAM they have all-white eyes. We adopted that style for our game as well, and it really pops. A lot of our environments are pretty dark, so when you draw your weapons and see those eyes pop, it feels really good."

Redesigning such beloved characters is always a tall order, and the only guarantee is that you won't please everyone. Still, the team insists that the challenge is worthwhile. "I think it's a little lazy to just fall back on what's already been done and what has already been seen," said Frechette. "But I think it is important to respect the franchise and find that sweet spot between meeting the fans' expectations and giving them something they eventually grow to appreciate and are glad it happened."

"It was a long process to get to the end," Taylor added, "but we put a lot of work into it, and everyone here is really proud of what we've come up with. We think we got a really good feel for these characters, and we're excited to hear what the fans think about them." You can see these new Turtles in action when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is released on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC this summer.

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Discussion

382 comments
Waynespread
Waynespread

The turtles look awesome. Cant wait to download this!  Just wish they had an option to turn that soul callibre weapon colour effects off. Cant always see and enjoy the combat animations properly with all that colour flashing by the weapons. But maybe its just me.

etryus
etryus

Looks awesome, I hope the  Shredder & Krang are included!

Sablicious
Sablicious

This looks to be the best TMNT game since the 90's .

aamir69
aamir69

Looks like they are Goro's (Mortal Kombat) illegal children. They were one of my all time favorites and Shredder was one of the coolest villians, plus they have a huge line of other characters. Hope they can revive this series

KrazzyDJ
KrazzyDJ

With Nickelodeon's Live Action series ongoing, this game, and the movie next - the Turtles have a good chance of getting back in the limelight !!! 

jubdeidamasta
jubdeidamasta

I like it. Takes me back to the much darker comics.

megakick
megakick

This looks scary!  Go back to the original artwork...

LinkLuigi
LinkLuigi

This is horrifying. No, literally scary. Like Turtles untooned. Don't get me? Look up Kirby untooned. 


I recommend it because I dislike the lot of you.

mobius_basic
mobius_basic

I don’t see all the problems with their looks. I collected TMNT comics back in my younger (much younger) days and they have always had a soft spot for me in terms of nostalgia. I remember when they first came out and I bought the first printings…still own them, buried in the garage in a chest with the rest of my childhood junk I snuck by the wife. In fact my son now loves them and I will watch the new Nick cartoons with him sometimes. Those who say they look weird, there has been several instances and mini-series where they have tried to make the turtles look darker and more “real” if you can really take the whole thing seriously….for sake it’s a comic. The cartoon did the same thing…they went and changed their look to make them more kid friendly. I agree with some of the other comments that the comic turtles were typically darker than their fun cowabunga kiddy TV counterparts. I think the game looks fun and the looks don’t’ really bother me. These guys aren’t very original in their designs and I think some of the old comic fans would agree…they have looked like this in the past. Examples:

From the 80s comics take a look at this version:

http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/202/52900930teenagemutantni.jpg/

klakier82
klakier82

What a stupid idea to mix ninjas with mutants and wildlife....it was a good concept for the cartoon in 90's but not for adult audience. If this will sell copies, maybe there will be a sequel ....TMNT Vs Biker Mice from Mars ..... or maybe Captain Planet game....

JBo796
JBo796

I don't like them.  I hate how their forarms are bigger than their upper arm and their lower legs are bigger than their upper legs.  I don't like how they're faces look.  The dirty, gritiness is....okay, it is a new direction for the turtles, but unfortunately, the whole industry is moving towards this type of art style..so they would have felt more fresh with brighter, vibrant colors.  

magicalclick
magicalclick

I dislike the muddy textures. Why can't they just use simple vibrant textures?

adamomars
adamomars

YYEA they're goddamn ninjasm yet they look like a bunch of roided out douchebags. way to fuk up. TMNT deserve better... could still be a fun game tho

Prats1993
Prats1993

First Michael Bays' TMNT film announcement, and now this. I thought it couldnt get any worse.

predatorGS
predatorGS

Besides the horrid new look, the game doesn't look very promising as well.

macca366
macca366

TEENAGE. MUTANT. NINJA. TURTLES.


It isn't made to be mature, and even if it looks 'mature', its going to be silly. I think a successful TMNT game would embrace the quirkiness, not try to be something its not

CptJohnnyRico
CptJohnnyRico

the final concept of them looks terrible compared to the drawings

ssj2los
ssj2los

It better have local player co-op... if not then its a fail...

USAPATRIOT21
USAPATRIOT21

I am more a fan of the XBOX 720 than of this horrible recreation.

MrUndrhill
MrUndrhill

I think this looks awesome. I get the initial shock at the new look, but in motion the game looks great and that is really what matters. Hopefully it plays well.

DarpSyX
DarpSyX

sorry but I don't know about you but tmnt is wrong!... was good when I was a kid... but this is wrong! lol

LoG-Sacrament
LoG-Sacrament

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

I just don't see how you can make that idea mature, but good luck and cowabunga.

lithus
lithus

ug, they look creepy now.  Like unfinished dinosaurs.

BoxOfPocky
BoxOfPocky

TMNT was a great part of my childhood... but iunno about a game trying to revisit that in this day and age. Especially when you're trying to re-envision them to look like that.. They look kind of creepy.

armagrath
armagrath

You know what it would be great???? a new Punisher Game, the last one was really cool, all that torture and hardcore kills. Yeah, that game could use a new graphic engine and even bloodier killing scenes :)

Zetsuie
Zetsuie

This new look for them is kind of....weird and disturbing in all honesty.

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

I think Sarah Kerrigan will replace Master Splinter, because they all look like Zergs.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

I think I see what they were going for. Off the bat I'm blown away by the concept art, but I think I need time to get used to the in-game models. In full motion, I doubt anyone will be that bothered by the details anyway.

I like what they're doing with the eyes though. That's very cool. Makes me think of Batman in the original animated series. Bruce had irises, but as soon as the cowl went on, pure white. Nice.

keviac
keviac

wow should have just stayed concept art.

Lazy_Marine
Lazy_Marine

notice how the trailer barely shows you the turtles, just flashes and glimpses, that's because the devs are ashamed of themselves. Seriously what idiot thought that was actually good design, the new turtles look like walking turds.


Jaxith
Jaxith

Honestly, I don't see the problem.  I thought they looked weird at first, but I got used to it.  I don't think the end result will seem anywhere near as bad as people seem to think.  In my opinion, it's the gameplay that will decide whether this lives or dies.  The actual look of the turtles just doesn't seem at all off-puting to me.

WayneL23
WayneL23

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l3rvaiGq4A1qzvw5po1_500.jpg

http://img.qj.net/uploads/articles_module2/80042/turtles.jpg

HECK! Give me these: 

http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/tmnt.jpg

http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/8/84077/1774300-nebezial.jpg    (Yes I went there)

Not some weird looking things o_O (seriously what are those things?!?!) that look like they are fighting for their life against diseases that they picked up while living in the sewers. 

Dantk
Dantk

There is no Nickelodeon Live Action series.

pozium
pozium

@JBo796 They look so darn ugly. I wonder if this is a serious turtle game, or a funny one. They said they were following the current series story. If so, you can't have a serious game from that.

sammoth
sammoth

@macca366 Maybe you should look at the history of the TMNT. It was a mature comic with very violent stuff in it. It was that way before the pizza eating cowabonga cartoon.

sammoth
sammoth

@LoG-Sacrament Maybe you should look at the history of the TMNT. It was a mature comic with very violent stuff in it. It was that way before the pizza eating cowabunga cartoon.

Dragorro
Dragorro

@WayneL23 yeah those sewers made them cancer patients who smoke meth.

blazon340
blazon340

@sammoth be that as it may, people know it best as a "pizza eating cowabonga cartoon" its history as being otherwise isnt consequential in how its image is handled in new material, unless they outright state that they are going for that feel. In which case all the turtles would have red headbands not colored ones.

LoG-Sacrament
LoG-Sacrament

@sammoth @LoG-Sacrament The very idea of people running around in modern day New York fighting crime with sticks and nunchucks is ridiculous. That's not even mentioning the whole part about them being turned into turtles. 

Silliness is fine, but I can't buy it as mature. Levels of violence have no impact on that.

LoG-Sacrament
LoG-Sacrament

@jedidave @LoG-Sacrament @sammoth Violence does not make for a "mature theme." Anybody playing the game to see a fantasy turtle's arm get cut off is likely doing so for immature reasons.

And, hey, that's fine. Escapism, entertainment, and all that. It's just not mature.

jedidave
jedidave

@LoG-Sacrament @sammoth Like sammoth said the original was very violent, in one of the original series donotello actually had his arm cut off.