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