Including Disabilities in Daz 3D Assets

a collage of characters and poses for wheelchair users

Here at Daz, we offer realistic assets to artists that mimic real life and blur the line between fiction and reality. In doing this, it’s important to create characters, props, poses, and more that normalize every part of life, including the difference in abilities from person to person. Inclusion is important to us at Daz, but even more important is getting it right.

When we released our first two Genesis 8.1 characters, Victoria and Michael, their detailed character backgrounds featured new aspects: Victoria is deaf and uses hearing aids, and Michael uses a wheelchair. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Who were these characters besides being people with disabilities? And what did that mean?

Kirsten Sharp, Head of Content Production, has been a wheelchair user for 30 years and competes on the International circuit for Wheelchair Tennis. She says, “People with disabilities are the largest minority group there is, yet they are also one of the most underrepresented.” She’s thrilled to work for a company that not only recognizes this but makes an effort to do something about it! We want to ensure that with any character release of any group, we gather as much information as we can to accurately depict them. We started with Kirsten and local advocacy groups, and then we turned to our promo artist community. 

We are grateful to Ava (also known as Zeddicuss), Stephanie (SBibb), and all the others involved for their hard work in making this project not only possible but better than we could have imagined. We’re also grateful to Corinne, another one of our promo artists, for her feedback and thoughts.

The Interview

We (virtually) sat down with Ava, Stephanie, and Corinne to hear their different perspectives in undertaking this great task to include different abilities in the Daz 3D Store. 

What was your approach to creating assets for this project, and did you find part of the process challenging?

Ava: When creating both wheelchairs, we wanted to convey a feeling of happiness, joy, and spirit. We really wanted to portray a wheelchair user having a fun, amazing day, whether it is hanging out with friends or having a bright future as a wheelchair basketball player. We wanted these sets to make people smile, and hopefully we managed to achieve that.

It was very important to us for the wheelchair models to be as accurate as possible and the poses to be realistic and natural. We did a lot of research and worked closely with the Daz team to ensure that the products reflect what we all had envisioned.

a render of Michael 8.1 sitting in his wheelchair

Stephanie: I’m hard-of-hearing and have worn hearing aids since I was in first grade, so this was a unique opportunity for me to apply my own experiences to what I do as a PA. This was a joint project where I created the hearing aid poses, and Sixus1 Media created the hearing aid models.

I offered feedback on the preliminary designs and showed him my own hearing aids through video chat to point out the little details that aren’t as easy to see on general reference photos, such as the tiny tube inside the in-the-ear hearing aid that allows for air to funnel into the ear and the tiny speaker.

While waiting for the hearing aids to be modeled, I worked on the poses. I paid attention to what I did in day-to-day life with my hearing aids, such as putting them on a nightstand before bed or checking to see if they needed to be cleaned when the sound was a little odd, and I thought back to previous experiences I’ve had. I wear in-the-canal hearing aids now, but I used to wear behind-the-ear hearing aids, so I considered how I would have held them or taken them off. One of my favorite poses to make was the one where the hearing aid is squealing and is unceremoniously being yanked off and glared at. (I don’t recommend yanking out your hearing aid. But squealing hearing aids can be quite loud.)

Once I had the models, I made final adjustments to the poses to make sure everything was in place, and Sixus1 Media prepared hierarchical versions of those poses, which showed me how to set up a more user-friendly way of placing the hearing aids in conjunction with the poses. Personally, I’m quite happy with the results! I hope the poses are versatile for other projects as well, like characters wearing earbuds.

a closeup of Victoria 8.1, one of Daz's first characters with a disability, wearing her hearing aids

What does the representation of different abilities mean to you?

Corinne: I think it’s a recognition of the reality that many people live with. When we think about inclusion, what comes to mind is more about gender, ethnicity, age, etc. All of them are important, of course, but it seems to me that disability is often a forgotten child regarding inclusion causes.

Stephanie: For me, I feel like accurate representation shows that there’s been some care and thought put into the work that has been created. It shows value in being aware of the different abilities and how they influence the lives of the people they impact.

Michael 8.1 and his friends playing basketball in sport wheelchairs despite their disabilities

What inspires you to create diversity in your work?

Ava: We have always had a passion for art and feel everyone should have the opportunity to be creative. When creating art, people share a part of themselves that can be very personal. We believe it is important for everyone to have the right tools to do that in the best way they can.

Corinne: Well, art is often about sending messages and reflecting our reality, and diversity is part of that. It’s also a way to be different, original, and stand out from the crowd. It opens interesting possibilities when we transpose these concepts into genres like science-fiction, steampunk, and fantasy.

Stephanie: I am fascinated with exploring different cultures, different people, different settings, etc., and I enjoy learning about the things that both make different populations unique and what brings everyone together under a common ground. I want to portray that, and it’s something I’m interested in doing both as a 3D artist and as a writer.

Victoria 8.1 enjoying a concert

How do you feel that inclusion should be tackled by companies, and how do you feel the release of Victoria and Michael’s disabilities achieved this?

Ava: We think Daz did a fantastic job with this release. Michael and Victoria’s disabilities were portrayed in such a powerful and positive way, and you could feel the love that went into that project by looking at the art. We think it would be a good thing if more companies would tackle this in the same way.

Stephanie: I think tackling the larger aspect of inclusion is going to differ from company to company, depending on what they produce or provide. If a company is trying to be more inclusive of people who use wheelchairs, they might consider how easy it is for someone using a wheelchair to reach shelves, if the doors are wide enough, if the sidewalks are clear of debris, and, in a restaurant, if there is enough space between tables. 

In terms of being hard-of-hearing, things like adding captions to videos or transcripts are very useful. Captions are also super beneficial for someone trying to learn a new language, whose computer speakers might not be working, or are in an environment where they can’t use sound. On the 3D modeling side of things, adding captioning to video tutorials and instructional videos or having a PDF with a transcript can be a good addition for usability. (Another thing to consider would be including different populations in advertising, instructional videos, and artwork.)

By including things like hearing aids or wheelchairs in everyday, common settings, and by making those models available to the general 3D artist, it makes creating inclusive images more accessible and helps to add to a sense of familiarity. For someone who is a member of the included population, it’s really cool to see accurate representation. For someone who is not, it can reduce the strangeness and increase awareness when done well.

With the release of the latest Victoria and Michael figures, including hearing aids and wheelchairs as an everyday part of their lives can help bring awareness to a larger audience within the Daz community. From that, it can filter outward as people within the community create art with the new models and assets and share it in their own circles.

Corinne: There are different aspects to this question. There’s that of image and publicity where featuring people with differences in general is a good step forward for awareness. The way that these differences are presented is also important. In the case of Michael and Victoria, the characters are depicted as successful, trendy individuals whose disabilities are a difficulty that they turn into an opportunity, and while it is an important part of their identity, there is also a lot more to them than that. I think it’s important to go farther than stereotypes when we decide to embrace causes like this. I liked that Michael and Victoria were presented as being active parts of a regular campus as I saw it as a way to promote/endorse mixity in society.

Behind the scenes, there is also the aspect of diversity among employees of a company that is as important, if not more, than the question of public image. Because so many Daz activities take place online, contributors can come from almost anywhere in the world, and the kind of work that Daz offers can accommodate atypical schedules, working from home, and working from various places. All of these lower the difficulties for the integration of people with different backgrounds.

Michael 8.1 in a university setting

If you yourself have a disability, how do you feel we need to move forward by recognizing this in our efforts for inclusion?

Stephanie: I think including disabilities in artwork and the Daz store as everyday, normal things is a viable next step. For example, a promo in an environment set can include a character who uses a wheelchair grabbing lunch, or there could be superhero poses with one of the characters wearing hearing aids. The disability isn’t the focal point, but it’s present.

When it comes to wearing hearing aids, it’s an everyday part of normal life for me. I don’t usually think of them as a disability, though being hard-of-hearing does come with occasional challenges. In general, I put my hearing aids on in the morning, and I usually don’t think about them again until I’m ready to take them off at night. An exception might be if a battery dies, if the wax guard gets clogged and needs cleaning, or if I’m going to go swimming since they aren’t waterproof.

Featuring characters with disabilities in everyday situations is a good start. And having the assets to reflect this makes it easier to create those images.

Ava: I don’t have a disability myself, but my aunt is a wheelchair user, and I am aware of the struggles a person and their family can face. We believe that by creating positive associations with disabilities, we can remove the stigma around the issue and more people can feel like they belong. The Daz community is such a versatile space, and that is what makes it so special. We should continue to celebrate that.

Corinne: Before the release of Michael and Victoria 8.1, I had never told the people I worked with at Daz as a promo artist that I have used a wheelchair for over 20 years. It’s not because it’s something that I wanted to hide, but the work had always taken place online with written communication, and the opportunity never came up before that. So it was like doing a mini coming-out. 😀 

Good ways to favor inclusion are showcasing product features and collaborators like you’re doing now, incorporating characteristics related to diversity into your products (while remaining versatile from the end-user’s point of view), encouraging more collaborative work and more discussion despite the digital nature of many of our interactions, and taking the risk to release products that may not be mainstream, or even popular, but that carry important social meanings.

a female and male character putting on their hearing aids

What would you like to see more of in the future?

Stephanie: From Daz, I’d like to see more bundles and themes focused around underrepresented or not-yet-represented populations with special attention to detail when it comes to researching for accuracy. Having more options to choose from is especially nice because then it makes it easier to be inclusive.

Corinne: I would love to see more original concepts that integrate social concerns into creative and versatile products. A blind character that turns into a were-mole at night? An alien veteran suffering from PTSD whose dreams come to life into fantastic sleepwalking episodes? A bipolar, mother-earth-like, gaian spiritual being? There are super creative people at Daz that could come up with awesome original ideas. And I would love more high-res animal figures! There’s never enough of those, and diversity applies to other life forms too. 😀

Each of you shared so many profound thoughts and awesome ideas for how we at Daz can move forward and include even more underrepresented groups in our art and store. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. We hope everyone, whether an artist, writer, or other creative, will take some time with us to reflect and set goals to learn about these groups and represent them authentically in our work.

To see Victoria and Michael 8.1 living their best lives, check out the following bundles:

If you’d like to see another behind-the-scenes look at Victoria 8.1, be sure to read our interview with Birdie, the tattoo artist behind Victoria’s custom tattoos!

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