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:



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.



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]. 


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!