80s Cassette Futurism Apartment - Character Production Part 3

Making Of / 01 September 2021

This post details my process through Module 11 of my BA in Video Game Digital Art in Birmingham City University. 


Using GitHub

For this project, we used GitHub as versioning software as we wanted to ensure we were following industry practices. We implemented a system whereby if someone wanted to make changes to the scene, they would make a new branch to make modifications. This could then be tested before merging with the main branch, meaning that we were less likely to run into issues where problematic changes get pushed to the branch that everyone pulls from.

Pictured below is a slide from a presentation I made that was distributed internally within our team, explaining the process.


Unreal Engine - Setting up the Scene Setup

Whilst working in engine, I felt that the space we had planned out was far too large to represent an apartment that two young people could afford to live in. Having also had an environment artist leave the team, we decided to rescope and rethink the space. Together, we came up with a revised floorplan that much better reflected the cluttered, cosy look we wanted to achieve. Emily then built this in UE4, and used some asset packs from the Unreal Marketplace to populate the scene with smaller clutter items.

Unreal Engine. 2021. Edith Finch: Edie Room in Environments - UE Marketplace. [online] Available here

Unreal Engine. 2021. Edith Finch: House and Common Areas in Environments - UE Marketplace. [online] Available here


In the old floorplan (1), the walk from the kitchen door to the sofa (marked with a pink arrow) was unrealistically large. The new floorplan (2) felt much more practical.



Unreal Engine - Setting up Characters

I imported my characters into the new scene. Using Alembic grooms within Unreal meant that I could use the built-in hair shader, which looked far better than hair cards.

To follow best industry practices, I ensured all of my imports followed the team's naming convention, and that they were organised with sanity in the content browser. I also made sure I only applied material instances to meshes, and not master materials.



Naming convention is [Artist Initials]_[Character Initial]_[Asset type intitials]_[Asset Description]

So HM_M_MI_Body is Holo Moon - Melissa - Material Instance - Body


Mixamo - Animations

Originally, including animations was a stretch goal, but I was able to achieve them for the project.

I created a rig for each character using Rigify for Blender, but sadly ran into some technical difficulties getting these rigs to work with Mixamo animations. Thus, I had to use Mixamo's own auto-rigger.

It was very tricky to find animations that worked well with Melissa's draping sleeves. They didn't deform in a way that I liked, which was quite frustrating.

I selected some animations that would fit, and imported them into the scene. Finding animations that would work well with the characters interacting with the environment required some creative thinking, for example, Melissa's animation in the kitchen of the final cinematic is called "using a fax machine."



I imported these chosen animations into Unreal, and positioned them in the world in ways that make sense with the environment.



Unreal Engine - Switching to UE5

With the recent release of UE5 Early Access, we had toyed with the idea of creating our scene using the new software. We felt very strongly about being able to say we have used such a revolutionary program to create our work. However, we were very aware that this would mean that any problems we had might be difficult to resolve. Therefore, after the scene had been created and was stable, I ported it into UE5 to test it for robustness.

Thankfully, it was a seamless swap over. The new lighting system, Lumen, made our scene look beautiful, and pushed the graphical fidelity we were looking to achieve. I played with some volumetrics and particle effects to give the scene some depth, and set up the lighting to look as realistic as possible.


  






Unreal Engine - Shooting Clips

After everything was fully imported and we were all happy with the lighting setup, we prepared to shoot the clips used for the cinematic.
Emily and Jack developed a new storyboard, and researched how to use the sequencer in Unreal to shoot movies. With their guidance, I recorded the clips we needed in UE5. This was a very lengthy process, as clips would take a while to render out and there would inevitably be a small problem in the videos that meant they needed tweaking and re-shooting.

I then handed these off to Emily and Jack, who compiled the cinematic with music and titles using Adobe Premier Pro.


Final Renders - Blender

To create my final renders, I wanted the deformations on Melissa's clothing to be accurate. I was unhappy with how they looked when she was just rigged and posed, and realised that to get the level of detail I wanted, I would have to re-simulate her clothing using Marvelous Designer in the new pose I had chosen.

To achieve this, I had to find a pose I liked (I again used Mixamo for this), then create an animation from her default A pose to this new pose.

I then had to export this animation as a point cache, and import into Marvelous Designer. Upon playing this animation, the clothing fell into folds that made sense with the pose. This set me back, as I then had to re-UV and texture her clothing, but I believe it was a necessary step to achieve the renders I wanted.

I used Blender for these final renders, taking advantage of the compositor to achieve subtle postprocessing effects.

Props in scene are Megascans assets



  


  


  


  



  The final cinematic is below, showing our collaboration as a team across both Environment and Character art disciplines.

Please enjoy!



Back to Part 2

80s Cassette Futurism Apartment - Character Production Part 2

Making Of / 01 September 2021



This post details my process through Module 11 of my BA in Video Game Digital Art in Birmingham City University.


Melissa - Generating a Metahumans Basemesh

Much like my process with Edie, I began with a base mesh from Metahuman Creator.



Melissa - ZBrush Sculpting

I took my base mesh into ZBrush for refinement. I noticed that whilst Metahuman Creator had a large body type available, it was difficult to add weight to the face to reflect the body size. Thus, I made a lot of changes to the face of the base mesh to ensure that Melissa looked cohesive as a whole.

I also altered the body to reflect how it would look wearing jeans, as they would pull in around the stomach. This was important to generate clothing well later on.

I felt more comfortable with adding skin details on Melissa, as I had already practiced whilst creating Edie. It was here that I realised that although Melissa was originally a stretch goal, she would likely be produced to a higher standard simply because I had learned from the process of making Edie.




Melissa - Marvelous Designer

I took Melissa into Marvelous to create clothing. I felt more confident in the process this time, but realised that as the jeans are over the top of her other clothing, I would need to create the jeans in full and with as much accuracy as possible. This was a lengthy process, but I am pleased with the result.

When looking at cardigan patterns of the era, I found that Dolman sleeves, with characteristic deeper cut arm holes, were popular. I conferred with my team to see if they were comfortable with adjusting the concept and they were positive about the proposal.

My main inspiration was the following pattern:

Tillyandthebuttons.com. 2021. Make It Simple: It's the Bertha (Lovely Bertha) Cardigan!. [online] Available here [Accessed 29 July 2021]. 


Melissa - Hair Creation

I planned on using the same Blender Hair Tool addon to create Melissa's hair, but after attempting to use the same process, realised it would be very difficult to create her hairstyle effectively.

I looked into other options, and found that hair particles could work. I first tried creating a groom in Blender, but again, found I could not get the results I wanted.

Next, I found a workflow that involved sculpting hair segments in ZBrush, and aligning hair guides along those segments to create a groom using XGen in Maya. Whilst the process worked, I yet again could not create the style that I wanted to the standard I desired. At this point, I discussed concerns with my team that the particular style I had concepted was not something I could do with my current skillset to a standard that would look good in the cinematic. I rethought Melissa's hairstyle using my previous research, and found a style that worked and that was possible to use in Unreal as an Alembic Groom.

Below, image 1 is my initial attempt using Hair Tool to generate hair cards. Image 2 is my XGen groom, and image 3 is the altered hairstyle we agreed on.



Melissa - Texturing

Melissa's bright, fun clothing was a pleasure to texture. I again focused on fidelity, and tried hard to get the textiles looking realistic.

For her skin, I wanted her to look like she cares about her appearance more than Edie, with more refined makeup. I imported my cavity map from my ZBrush high poly sculpt to use as a height map for the extra skin detail.




With both of the characters ready, it was time to set them up in engine.

View Part 3 here

Back to Part 1

80s Cassette Futurism Apartment - Character Production Part 1

Making Of / 01 September 2021


  

This post details my process through Module 11 of my BA in Video Game Digital Art in Birmingham City University.

This Module is the production stage of my Final Major Project, where Emily Evans, Jack Degville, and myself worked as a group to create a 3D apartment environment in UE5. I was the sole character artist in the group, and I decided to create two characters to sit within the shared apartment.

Our environment setting is in 1985, but within an alternate timeline where technology has had a boom, without optical media being invented. Our two characters, Edie and Melissa, share a run-down apartment in New York. The girls are not wealthy, and Edie does what she can to tinker with technology and create fun gadgets. Melissa enjoys fashion, and creates her own clothes in her room to keep up with the latest trends on a budget.

Our final aim was to deliver an engaging video that showcases their day to day lives.


Edie - Generating a Metahumans Basemesh

Not long before we began the project, the Metahuman Creator Beta became available. As an aspiring character artist, I wanted to ensure I was using all of the tools available to me, so I used Metahuman Creator to give me a base mesh to work from.

I spent a good deal of time on this step to make sure I was getting my generated mesh as close to my concepts as possible.




Edie - ZBrush sculpting

Following this, my next step was to import the exported mesh into ZBrush. I altered the base mesh to fit my needs, and created my own normal and displacement maps by adding fine skin detail on a higher subdivision level using alphas, and exporting via ZBrush's Multi Map Exporter. Unfortunately, this process deleted Edie's rig, but I felt confident I could create one later on in the process.




Edie - Marvelous Designer

My next step was to create clothing for Edie using Marvelous Designer.

I quickly realised that I needed to learn more about how clothes patterns work to be able to make convincing garments, so spent a great deal of time at this point looking into pattern design and how that can be applied to Marvelous Designer.

Some resources I accessed were:

Madehow.com. 2021. How clothing pattern is made - material, making, history, used, steps, product, industry, machine, History. [online] Available here [Accessed 30 June 2021]. 

Youtube.com. 2021. Daniel's MD Tutorials. [online] Available here  [Accessed 1 July 2021]. 


After exporting my garments from Marvelous Designer, I added some additional creases using ZBrush. I find that whilst Marvelous excels at  getting an overall shape for folds, more inticate fold detailing is best added by hand. I used a low particle distance during my Marvelous export to get as much detail as possible, as my aim was to make a high-fidelity character for a cinematic, as opposed to a character that would be performant in a realtime game setting.


Edie - Hair Creation

To create Edie's hair, I decided to use the Blender Hair Tool addon by Bartosz Styperek.

Gumroad. 2021. Hair Tool for Blender. [online] Available here [Accessed 11 April 2021]. 

The addon generates hair cards based on a guide mesh, allowing the user to alter parameters to dictate how the hair falls. I ultimately did not use this method for the cinematic, but getting experience with such a powerful tool was valuable. I would later decide to go down the route of using an Alembic hair groom as it looked better in engine and allowed for easy physics simulation.


The below video shows the different layers of hair cards used. Getting them to not intersect with each other was very difficult.



Edie - Texturing

I then took Edie into Substance Painter for texturing. As my goal was to achieve a high fidelity, I focused on getting the skin and textiles looking as realistic as possible. Edie is someone who is messy and distracted, which I aimed to reflect in her clothing dirt and makeup smudges. Importing Edie's cavity map from my ZBrush sculpt gave me extra detail on her face pores.

I used a boot mesh from an external source, but textured them myself.

CGTrader. 2021. Dr Martens 1460 Boot | 3D model. [online] Available here [Accessed 20 July 2021]. 






At this point, I generated some renders of Edie for my portfolio that can be viewed here. Creating these renders made me realise that deformations may not work entirely as planned in the main cinematic and that I would have to spend a lot of time refining them.

I then moved on to creating my second character, Melissa.

View Part 2 here

80s Cassette Futurism Apartment - Character Pre-production Process Part 2

General / 17 May 2021

Environment Paintovers

I was very eager to place the girls within the scene to get a glimpse of them in their habitat, so I then created some paintovers on screenshots of the scenes my colleagues had created.

Getting to come back together as a team and see how our work could interact with each other was an extremely rewarding experience, and it was at this point I began to feel hugely encouraged by our progress. Doing this was not only gratifying, but it allowed us to confirm that we were creating a project that was cohesive as a whole.


Kitchen by Emily Evans


Lounge by Katy Templeton


Balcony by Katy Templeton


  

Concept Photobashing & Previs

Using the reference image library I had amassed and screenshots of my Metahumans, I created final character concepts. This helped me to nail down textiles and see how the characters will come together as a whole in a more real sense.

This was much quicker than hand drawing concepts, and is definitely the route I will take from the outset in the future. I also feel it lends itself better to the realism I aim to achieve in this project.


Amazon, 2021. Black T-Shirt. [image] Available at: Amazon [Accessed 7 May 2021]. 

2021. Cuffed Jeans. [image] Available at: Heddels Website [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 

Fashionstore2021, 2021. Shoes. [image] Available at: Fashion Store 2021 [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 

Glamour, 2013. Winona Ryder. [image] Available at: Glamour Website [Accessed 7 May 2021]. 

Isstock, 2021. Flannel shirt. [image] Available at: Isstock Website [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 

Zalando, 2021. Acid Washed Jeans. [image] Available at: Zalando Website [Accessed 6 May 2021].


Soft Sheen, 1987. Hair product advertisement. [image] Available at: Image Link [Accessed 30 April 2021]. 

Etsy. 2021. Womens mohair sweater knitting pattern pdf ladies slash neck | Etsy. [online] Available at: Etsy Shop [Accessed 26 April 2021]. 

Etsy, 2021. Belt. [image] Available at: Etsy Shop [Accessed 9 May 2021]. 

Forcast, 2021. Turtleneck. [image] Available at: Forcast Website [Accessed 7 May 2021]. 

Golfgarb, 2021. Purple Sweater. [image] Available at: Golfgarb Website [Accessed 17 May 2021]. 

Runner's World, 2021. Shoes. [image] Available at: Runner's World [Accessed 17 May 2021]. 

Shopbop, 2021. Jeans. [image] Available at: Shopbop [Accessed 7 May 2021].


  My last step was creating previs models using projected image textures. Doing this helped me get some experience with addons I plan to use, which was extremely valuable. I have tested porting these into UE4, and plan to put them into my colleagues' previs environment to give us a better overall previs than the paintovers I created previously.




Borrowed Assets

Below are the assets used that I did not create myself.



Unreal Engine. 2021. Digital Humans | MetaHuman Creator - Unreal Engine. [online] Available at: Unreal Website [Accessed 16 April 2021].

CGTrader. 2020. Dr Martens 1460 Boot | 3D model. [online] Available at: CGTrader [Accessed 10 May 2021]. 

Sketchfab. 2019. New Yorker Shoe Sneakers White 3D Scan - Download Free 3D model by grafi (@zdenkoroman) [122f8b0]. [online] Available at: Sketchfab [Accessed 12 May 2021]. 


Full Bibliography Link

80s Cassette Futurism Apartment - Character Pre-production Process Part 1

General / 17 May 2021


This post details my process through Module 10 of my BA in Video Game Digital Art in Birmingham City University.

This Module is the concept stage of my Final Major Project, where Emily Evans, Jack Degville, Katy Templeton, and myself are working as a group to create a 3D apartment environment in UE4. I am the sole character artist in the group, and I decided to create two characters to sit within the shared apartment.

Our environment setting is in 1985, but within an alternate timeline where technology has had a boom, without optical media being invented. Our two characters, Edie and Melissa, share a run-down apartment in New York. The girls are not wealthy, and Edie does what she can to tinker with technology and create fun gadgets. Melissa enjoys fashion, and creates her own clothes in her room to keep up with the latest trends on a budget.

Our final aim is to deliver an engaging video that showcases their day to day lives.


Organisation and Planning

Our first priority was to ensure we had a solid base plan to keep us all on track through the module. This flowchart to shows how we wanted to approach the module as a whole, and how we planned to ensure all of our individual goals were achieved. We tackled each coloured "chunk" as a team before moving on to the next one, meaning we could deal with any questions or concerns before moving on. This promoted a strong foundation for our project, and kept all 4 of us in the loop with our realistic expectations of each other.


 Emily then created a time plan for us to individually communicate what we were working on at any given day, meaning we always knew what anyone was planning to do on any given day and if we were available. I found that I usually really struggle with planning and visualising time, but having somewhere to simply allocate time to a task helped me tremendously.


For myself, I created a simple kanban board to track my progress on assets. As I completed steps in my pipeline, I moved the corresponding card along the board. I will continue using this through production.


I then completed a risk assessment to help deal with any issues that may come up ahead of time. I had the plan to complete pre-production on both characters this module, but going forward into production, I will ensure character 1 (Edie) is completed before progressing on to character 2 (Melissa). This is because my goal is to ensure my work hits our target fidelity levels, and if I am working on two characters at the same time this may mean that both suffer.


We all set out our pipelines, and began researching any new methodolgies we planned to employ. For me, this meant testing Metahumans and a Blender plugin called Hair Tool. This was important to make sure we knew how much time we would take at each step of production.

I found that whilst Metahuman Creator is a great resource for creating base meshes, it does not allow enough freedom to reach your desired end product, and a great deal of facial sculpting will be needed afterwards. Body options are also very limited at the moment.

Meshes from Metahumans
Unreal Engine. 2021. Digital Humans | MetaHuman Creator - Unreal Engine. [online] Available at: Unreal Website [Accessed 16 April 2021]. 


I used these links for assistance with Hair Tool for Blender:
https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rRkOVL

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/A91Bbq

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jtn5uD9C7X4&list=PLF7d5qsiFIFhAUyXcNekrWK692Y44eaAF


Image Gathering and Reference Building

For my first phase of research, I gathered many images and sorted them into categories. 

Edie (references on the left) is more of a grungy, edgy girl, and Melissa (references on the right) is a girly seamstress with a fuller figure.


I then narrowed these references down to the ones I felt showed a cohesive picture of how the girls would look and express themselves. I found that going through this process of removing references as I worked as opposed to adding them was a great way of answering questions and problem solving, with minimal effort. Instead of needing to go and seek out additional references that fit a niche, I could simply eliminate images that did not fit well.

Edie


Melissa


Beginning concept

My next step was to begin photobashing the faces of the characters.

I selected parts of the face references I had gathered which I liked, and used these to put together some quick visual ideas and check that the faces would fit together.


I then drew up some quick hair variations and asked my team for feedback.

Here, my group liked hairstyle 2 for Edie.


  And they liked hairstyle 3 for Melissa.



My next step was creating our two girls' base meshes in Metahumans. I then used this tool to quickly iterate through some additional ideas, such as hair colours, eye colours, and makeup I painted on in Photoshop.



  


  


  

Meshes from Metahumans
Unreal Engine. 2021. Digital Humans | MetaHuman Creator - Unreal Engine. [online] Available at: Unreal Website [Accessed 16 April 2021]. 



  Clothing

To start the process of clothing concepting, I relied heavily on my references to generate some ideas for each of the characters.

For Edie, my team liked outfits 2 and 5.


For Melissa, they liked 3 and 4.


  I took the chosen ideas and generated variations of them.

As a team we already had a solid idea of Edie's clothing style in our mind, but for Melissa it seemed much more difficult, and I was unsure how to convey the 80s bright and peppy style. This resulted in me producing more colour ideas to try and pin down what would work well in the world we were creating.


  


At this point I felt the hairstyles were a problem, and went back to the drawing board to re-generate styles that were more accurate to the era.

We had all chosed hairstyles that we personally liked the most, but they weren't of the era and sat at odds with the environment.

For Melissa's hair I did extra research into African American hair trends of the time to ensure accuracy, using sitcoms and advertisements from the era to inform my designs.
  


  


Upon researching textile materials, I found that the design on Melissa's cardigan was not accurate to the 80s at all, and used vintage knitwear patterns to drive me to rethink her clothing.

Below are all designs which did not make the final cut, but which I shared with my team for feedback and problem solving.




  Melissa's final clothing concept uses a combination of some of these ideas, with both mismatched colours and patterns on her cardigan.


Levi's, 198X. Turtleneck. [image] Available at: Retrowaste Website [Accessed 26 April 2021]. 

n.d. Pastel Washed Jeans advertisement. [image] Available at: Image Link [Accessed 26 April 2021]. 

Patons, 1984. Women's Vintage 80s Ladies Sweater / Jumper | Etsy. [online] Etsy. Available at: Etsy Shop [Accessed 26 April 2021]. 

Soft Sheen, 1987. Hair product advertisement. [image] Available at: Image Link [Accessed 30 April 2021]. 

Etsy. 2021. Womens mohair sweater knitting pattern pdf ladies slash neck | Etsy. [online] Available at: Etsy Shop [Accessed 26 April 2021]. 

Nike, 1980. Nike Poster. [image] Available at: Flickr [Accessed 30 April 2021]. 



Edie's final clothing design did not deviate from my earlier plan, but her new hairstyle helped unify her design and stopped her from looking too modern for the setting.


Van Halen, 1984. Van Halen 1984 Tour Logo. [image] Available at: The Mighty Van Halen Website [Accessed 26 May 2021]. 

n.d. Doc Martens. [image] Available at: depop [Accessed 28 April 2021]. 

n.d. Acid Washed Jeans. [image] Available at: Essential Kids Website [Accessed 29 April 2021]. 

n.d. Flannel Shirt. [image] Available at: Scissortwists Website [Accessed 29 April 2021].

Continued in Part 2!