Weeks 1-2: Sightlines, Airports, and Liminal Spaces

Year 2 is now off and running! 

Most of my energy over the past three weeks has been focused on the first project of the year: a five week team effort for 6400. The same project that produced the MoCap Music Video last year. 


Our team was told the due date and to make something... very open for interpretation. My team includes two 2nd year DAIM students (Taylor Olsen, Leah Coleman) and one first year student (Sara Caudill). We eventually settled on creating a VR experience based on liminal spaces, specifically taking place in an airport, with the viewer losing time and identity as the experience goes on.

Liminal spaces are typically said to be spaces of transition, or "in-between"- a threshold. Common examples are school hallways on the weekend, elevators, or truck stops. Time can feel distorted, reality a bit altered, and boundaries begin to diminish. They serve as a place of transition- the target is usually before or after them. The sense of prolonged waiting and distortion of reality is what we intend to recreate in this experience. By placing the viewer in the gate of an airport and observing the altered effects around them, such as compressed/expanded time, we will bring the viewer into our own liminal space. 

All of our team members had an interest in working with VR and with games, so I looked for environmental examples of what might be considered a liminal space already existing within a game. The Stanley Parable sets the player in an office building by themselves, seemingly at night, which contributes to the odd feeling of the game- you never see another human, and the goal is to escape. The presence of a narrator and instructions (despite the player choosing whether or not to follow it) prevents this from being a true liminal space, but I feel that the setting itself creates a strong nod in that direction.

Silent Hills P.T. is much closer to the feeling we're getting to. The player constantly traverses the same hallway, though with each pass the hallway is slightly altered. There is minimal player identity, the passage of time is uncertain, and the player is constantly in a state of transition looking for the end. 

Sightline: The Chair became an important source material for us. Developed early on for the Oculus, the player is seated in a chair and looks around at their environment- one that constantly morphs and shifts around them. The key point is that these changes occur when the player looks away, and then are in place when the player looks back. This is an element I very much want to incorporate into our game. It really messes with the flow of time and creates a surreal feeling. Importantly, the player cannot interact with any of the objects around them- they must simple sit and wait for the changes to occur. 


From there, we met as a team and began planning out the experience- interactions, the layout of the airport, how time would pass, what events would be happening. An asset list was formed and placed online, as well as a schedule for development. We wanted to make sure everyone on the team was learning new skills they were interested in, and teaching others the skills that they have. Sara and Leah focused on visual and concept development- the color keys, the rhythm of the experience, etc. Taylor worked on finding reference photos, and began modeling the 3D assets we would need for the airport. 

For me, I spent the last few days focused on modeling the airport environment and beginning some of the interaction work in Unity. Based off of the layout we created in the team meeting, I was able to finish the airport shell and start working on some of the other environmental assets- a gate desk, vending machine, gate doors. 

I brought those models into Unity to start working on developing some code. Taylor made the chairs for the gate, so I placed those and got a basic setup going. 


I began working on some Audio scripts to randomly generate background noise and events- an assistance cart beeping by, a plane landing, announcements being made, and planes taking off/landing. That's about done, and I'll be posting an update video soon with the progress made.

The current problem I'm having is the script to change items when the viewer isn't looking at them. I found GeometryUtility.TestPlanesAABB in the scripting API, which forms planes where the camera's frustrum is and then calculates if an object's bounding box is between them or colliding with them. Is the object where the player can see it? I can successfully determine that an object is present, but when deactivated to switch to another GameObject, the first object is still detected and causes issues with the script I've written to try and swap it with another. I got it to successfully work with two objects, but three is revealing this issue in full force. I may try instantiating objects next instead of just activating them- either way, this test has allowed me to learn a lot about how Unity determines what's "visible". 


This weekend, I'll be continuing to work on this sightline script for the camera and hopefully finding a solution. I also have several other environmental assets to model, and will begin textures for the ones that I already have completed. On Sunday I plan on posting a progress video of the application as is. We still haven't decided whether to use the Vive or attempt mobile VR, something that I've been especially interested in. Alan suggested letting the project develop organically and then make a decision near the end- I'm leaning towards the Vive for this currently for the familiarity and extra power, but on mobile the player is forced to be stationary and lacks control. More thoughts on that soon. 

Cabin Finals!

Yesterday morning, at around 5:15am, I rendered out these final stills from my cabin environment project:

Initial concept by Olga Orlova

I was pretty happy with how this environment came together. This was my first time attempting a large scale project in Unreal by myself, and I learned a lot from it. I did run into some technical issues with the foliage and lightmaps. I'm going to have to do some research and actually try to understand lightmapping because it was really killing my final build and I just had no clue how to fix it. Even with those issues, I feel that I was able to get fairly close to the initial concept. I plan on going back and texturing the environment to really complete it for my portfolio, although for now I'm going to render out a flythrough of the landscape to show it off in its current state. I'll post that here when it's ready! 

I've also got an idea for a personal project I'll be starting during the Holidays involving some tiny landscapes... more on that soon. Graduation has opened up the ability for me to start making my own art for a little bit and I'll be taking full advantage of it! 



Cabin Moves to Unreal and 3December Begins

Finals are ramping up here at CCAD, and all my projects are starting to hit the end stages of production. Last weekend I started building my world in Unreal Engine 4 and getting the basic features laid out and working. 

Overall I'm really happy with the layout and the lighting, and I've had some good results with the water. I'm using packs from the UE4 marketplace to fill out the mass foliage and for the water spray effects around the rocks. 

I did run into an issue with the cabin though where it imported without smoothing groups and looks pretty funky, so I'm going to have to go in and fix that and some of the UVs. The normals are doing weird things right now. But once I can get that fixed, I can move some of the smaller world detail stuff into the scene- some scattered rubble and wood, various personal effects, maybe some signs and a few other basic structures. I just want to really build out this hero area and make sure the rest of the level within the colliders is still worth exploring.

I'm also participating in 3December, where you're supposed to be doing something in 3D every day and posting it on social media. Because of my schedule for finals I've only posted 3/6 days so far, but I'm getting more consistent. Last night I sat down and sculpted something just for myself- I haven't done that in a long time. I sketched out a character for my storyboarding final earlier and had such a fun time with it that I spent an hour sculpting his head: 

I was pretty proud for sticking to my self-induced time limit and making something that was just entertaining for me. I'll be posting the rest of my 3Decembers on here as they happen, but for other updates check out my Instagram (@abbytheturkey). 

Landscape Improvements

On Tuesday I went in and worked on my landscape for my river cabin scene (I need to name that soon... working on too many cabins!). It felt really blobby and just needed the finishing touches. Here's what the comp looks like together now in Maya: 

This is a slightly lower res version that I put into Maya to retopologize, which will be happening over the next day or two here. I'm working on modeling the plane parts of the cabin for tomorrow and finishing up the wooden support assets for the cabin. Really try and get this thing grounded in the landscape.

For the foliage we'll be learning Speedtree in a few weeks and I'll have to look into getting that river system up and running. I ordered this book, Botany for the Artist, to help me get an idea of what type of plants I should be looking at. Plus my plant knowledge needs a boost anyways!

Cabin Progress

These updates are a little late- I was volunteering at GDEX this year, the Game Development Expo for the midwest. It's hosted in Columbus and I helped out as a presentation room attendant. Afterwards I got to walk around and see what other game developers are doing in the area, and was really surprised at the variety! CCAD also had a booth at GDEX and was showing Project Sphincter to everybody- I got to watch people play our game level, and actually really like it! That was pretty great, honestly. 

On Friday I made some more progress on my cabin, using some of the plank sculpts in ZBrush to start putting together a rough pass of all the wooden parts of the cabin: 

So this is a little late, but my next two milestones are to block in some rocks in the environment and model out the plane (minus the engine detail). I'd also like to go in and fix my landscape for the level. Those brushes I downloaded to do the planks also have some great landscape tools, and I'd like to get that going more realistically. If I've got some spare time in between all of that, I plan on doing some physics tests in Unreal just to see what I could do to get some water flowing in the level. 


Sculpting Wood

I've hit the part in my cabin environment where I get to start sculpting some final assets, starting with some varied wood planks for the cabin itself. Initially I started these with the intention of them being roof shingles.

These three planks took about 2 hours total. I used Michael Dunnam's wood brush set combined with another wood brush set by Jonas Ronnegard.  

I still have a ways to go and I'm working on creating the main planks for the house. The three roof shingles I completed have new topology and are ready to go. By Friday I should start building the final cabin with these planks! 

Cabin Progress

I've finally been able to come back and work on this project, and it's going to be dominating the majority of my time for the next few weeks. Here's what I've got on the cabin right now: 

I'm going to go ahead and solidify my terrain and then start making assets in ZBrush to get final models going. The goal is to have a rough final cabin for next Friday, then start focusing on the machinery in the plane and the cloth. 

Cabin Blocks

I started block modeling my cabin for the environment concept I'm working on- just a few screenshots here to show what's going on.

Most of this was just about figuring out what goes where, and modifying the desk so that it made sense. I was planning on doing an interior for this house but I'm still not sure if that's something I want to pursue or if I want to find another way to work on some props. I added a cave system to my revised layout in Unreal so I may just add some excavation equipment to give the idea of exploration and preservation. Maybe add some tents in a clearing off a little trail.

Next step is to add the plane in and do a basic simulation to get the canvas on top of it. Then I can go into ZBrush and start adding in some of those nice woodgrain textures and smaller details inside the plane.

Quick Sculpt!

I did a little ZBrush demo for Family Weekend at CCAD! It pretty much just involved sitting in a room and answering questions or letting people play with ZBrush for two hours. I ended up working on a bust of Sir Patrick Stewart. The Next Generation has been my show of choice these days to use as background while I'm working.