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