Start of Spring: Explainer Video 1

APPROACH

I spent this week sorting and analyzing my work from the previous semester to see where the common threads were and articulate a direction for my research. I made a list of all the projects and experiences I had, and what I gained from each. The majority of these projects were intended to be technical explorations; I wanted to gain more experience working in virtual and augmented reality to understand the mediums and become more comfortable with Unity. This came with good results, gaining more experience in C# and developing a better collaborative workflow by combining multiple projects in one game. I was even able to take a step towards mobile development. 

While organizing these projects, I noticed many of them had to do with player interaction and how players move throughout a space. In some cases, like the Hurricane Preparedness prototype, the player has the ability to move through a space and interact with objects based on the goal of the level. The VR MindMap project was a purely passive experience with no user interaction. I chose to make this the focus of my video: examining how the interactive nature of VR and AR technologies can be used in an educational environment. From there, I sketched out thumbnails for my storyboards and wrote a draft script detailing the connections made between these projects and my path forward. 

CHOICES MADE

Once deciding the direction of my work, I had a conversation with my classmate Tori about a potential project. She proposed the idea of creating an immersive virtual reality experience for students in elementary/middle school that would recreate a scene from "The Story of Ruby Bridges", the first African American student to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans. The scene in question stems from the photos of Ruby walking up to the doors of the school with protestors shouting at her from across the street. While we're still examining other impactful novels that students are reading today, I have decided to join this project and work with Tori to create an immersive experience giving students the option to move through these scenes at their own pace, exploring the world and gaining more information. 

RELEVANT SOURCES/INSPIRATION

After discussing this project with Tori, we brought it to Maria who recommended looking into some studies on VR immersion and emotion. I have started collecting several studies and books on VR interaction and narrative, one in particular titled "Advances in Interaction with 3D Environments". It makes a point of discussing different methods for wayfinding and navigation through a 3D space, and the efficiency of different manipulation techniques for 3D objects. 

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I also began reading "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which discusses the psychological state of flow. I have only ever heard of this concept in the context of game design, and did not realize this was a much broader theory. The book itself is written for the reader to understand how to achieve happiness. Flow is defined as "...the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter...", and is often manipulated in games to create emotional impact in between high-action moments. This feels especially relevant for the Ruby Bridges project; if the intended goal is to create an educational experience for the student through emotion, it's important to consider how interactivity may interrupt that flow or enhance it. 

CURRENT QUESTIONS/NEEDS RAISED

I'm starting to narrow down what part of "interactive" I'm choosing to focus on, but most of my questions from this week have to do with further defining this in the context of the Ruby Bridges project. 

  • What degree of realism should be achieved for the emotional impact we're seeking? 
  • Would allowing the students to interact with the scene decrease this impact, or draw them away from the narrative? 
  • What specific mechanics would I want to focus on for the scene, and are they appropriate for the age of the students? 
  • What form of hardware would the students be using to experience the scene? A Google Cardboard or a full headset? 
  • If this is the narrative we choose to pursue, which individuals or organizations should be involved to ensure a respectful, accurate portrayal? 

LIKELY NEXT STEPS

As far as the needs of the video, I will be working on recordings of gameplay from my projects and getting footage of the Hurricane Preparedness prototype being played by others on the Vive. I received permission to show footage from the app used for the VR Physics Education Study, so I'll be recording a section of that as well. I will have solidified the storyboards and script this weekend, and will do another run-through in the sound room to start putting my animatic together. 

I will continue reading Flow and searing for more sources on emotion and narrative in virtual reality, as well as immersion. Some of these sources need to be ordered through the library, so I'll be taking care of that and adding them to my reading list. Tori and I will also be having meetings on Tuesdays to work through some of our research and discuss further details on the project. 

Reality Virtually Hackathon!

Earlier this month I was able to attend and compete in the Reality Virtually VR/AR Hackathon, hosted by MIT Media Lab. I registered, was accepted, and started connecting with other participants via a facebook page. Everybody was really friendly and excited about working with VR/AR technology! I saw people from all kinds of fields and backgrounds, from students to industry professionals. About two weeks before the Hackathon, everyone started posting their bios and work experience to see who was interested in working together or finding a team. I spoke to several participants, but one reached out and wanted me to join their team. All they knew was that they were interested in working with the recently released ARKit, and all of the team members were iOS developers. They needed someone from the 3D world. 

So I drove out to Boston for the Hackathon, and that first night we had a brainstorming session. Just throwing ideas around until it stuck. We decided to tackle the problem of Collaborative AR- something that had not been successful in ARKit before. But at the end of the two days, we had it! It was definitely more of a technical challenge than an artistic one, but I made the art assets we used to demonstrate its capabilities and tried to get the team to think on a design process as well as an engineering process. 

The video above was made during the competition to show our platform in action. I'll be creating a more comprehensive video in the next few weeks. 

"Team Two" ended up winning our category, Architecture, Engineering, and Construction, and Best Everyday AR Hack from Samsung! 

Team 2 after the Closing Ceremony

The overall experience was amazing. This group worked well together and was able to solve a problem that opens up a lot of opportunity for developers. I learned a lot from them- I had never worked with mobile development and had no idea what was involved with development for iOS. Or with AR for that matter. The workshops before the event was a great way to get into the headspace of VR/AR development and ask questions about various aspects of the industry. The Facebook group is still alive and I made a lot of connections from the event. I'm planning on attending again next year and maybe trying to go to the one at Penn State as well. 


While I was at the Hackathon, I was also working on a game level for my Computer Game 1 class. This was a team project centered around the theme of a broken bridge. Each of us had to create a level using different game mechanics to get around the bridge. Mine was to collect planks that had washed downriver and carry them back to the bridge in order to repair it. I found, especially during this project, that my scripting skills in C# are improving a lot and I'm starting to understand Unity a lot better. Of course, I still get a little overexcited when building scenes so... even though this was a prototyping assignment I got to play with all kinds of fun settings. 

The next couple of weeks are going to be intense. I have a VR prototype that I'm working on involving Hurricane Preparedness (more on that soon), and an AR MindMap project I'm working on to explore my own process a bit more. Next week I should have a computer game final project in the works as well- not too sure what that's going to look like just yet. There will be plenty of process work to post on here! 

GDEX 2017

I spent this weekend at GDEX- the Game Development Expo held here in Columbus, Ohio! This was my second year attending the Expo, their largest yet. I volunteered in the morning and then was scheduled to show my Roll-A-Ball mod at the ACCAD table for an hour. My volunteer shift ran a little long and I ended up not showing my game, but I was still able to get a semi-functional version complete last week: 

Screenshot of Roll-A-Ball Mod

The idea of the mod was to find your way to the center of the maze, hitting switches as you go to lower walls around the final pickup. However, the lights are off and the only things you have to navigate by are the glow of the ball, the light trail that illuminates the path you've already taken, and the map in the corner showing the entire maze. Scattered throughout the maze are light pickups that illuminate the maze for a brief period of time, allowing the player to see potential paths ahead. 

Screenshot after light pickup. 

There's still a long way to go before my C# skills are considered proficient, but by the end of this process I was starting to get the hang of it. 

This weekend I'll be attending the Reality, Virtually 2017 VR/AR Hackathon in Cambridge, MA. It'll be my first hackathon and I'm excited to meet other people working with this technology in different industries and roles. Following that, I'll be starting development on a Hurricane Preparedness VR game and another small collaborative platforming game in Unity, so plenty of updates to be posted this week! 

Music Mocap and Wrecked Cabin are Up!

I spent today updating my website with the finals from my Wrecked Cabin project and our most recent project: Music Mocap.

This project was my first experience ever with motion capture, and OSU has a fantastic motion capture studio. I wrote a little bit about it in the last post, but we had a great time working with the dancers and I learned a lot about the actual process... especially because I had to get in a suit to do a test capture. 

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Other than Music MoCap, I'm taking a Computer Game class that's really expanding my knowledge of Unity and game design. In the past, my game classes have just given us a few pieces to cobble together and didn't really take the time to go into how things work or why games are designed that way. But now I'm actually learning how C# functions and why it works.

We started just following the Roll-A-Ball tutorial from the Unity website, but now we have to create a mod that changes the gameplay or introduces a new dynamic. I'm working with this idea of creating a timed maze scenario, but haven't quite narrowed down my exact plan just yet. Here's a few pages from my sketchbook, just jotting down ideas: 

Over the weekend I'll be working out the final plans for this mod and getting a working prototype started. With Unity projects in the past I was focusing all of my efforts on asset creation and less on the game itself, so this is going to present a new challenge and experience for me. More updates to come! 

Updates!

It's been about 9 months since I last posted on here, but now that life is settled a bit I can explain what I've been up to and what's happening next! 

I graduated from CCAD in December and immediately began the process of applying to the Design MFA program at The Ohio State University. Between work, moving apartments, and seeing family, I decided to take a step back from animation and assess what my next move was going to be. I found out in March that I got accepted to OSU as part of the Digital Animation and Interactive Media track, and spent the summer working as a Residential and Teaching Assistant at CCAD as part of their College Preview Program. At OSU I also work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for an undergraduate Design Foundations course- it's been fun working in a college classroom, and I've really enjoyed taking a step closer to education and the teaching process. 

I started the MFA program last month and hit the ground running. My current focus is in virtual and augmented reality research, and their potential applications to education and lifestyle. That's... quite a large topic, so I'm hoping to spend the next year experimenting and researching to narrow down my interests. I've already been able to experiment with some new processes in class- we used the motion capture lab here at OSU to capture data for an animated music video. Myself and another teammate used a combination of particles, fluids, and furs in Maya and applied them to the figures. I have not worked with dynamics in awhile and never with motion capture, so this was a fun learning process. I'm posting the full project on my home page soon with the completed video. 

I'll begin posting more project progress on here again and writing a little more about what kinds of research I'm doing for the future. For now I'm just excited to get started! 

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). 

CTNX!

I went on a brief hiatus this past week because I flew to California to attend the CTN Expo! It was my first year attending the expo and my first time on the west coast, so even though I was still getting work done I stuck to Instagram and Facebook for my updates while traveling. I got to meet a bunch of fantastic artists and was lucky enough to get a few incredibly useful portfolio reviews. I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time while waiting around the airport (got some fun sketches below), had some spare time to go see Griffith Observatory. And Thursday before the convention we visited Blizzard's Irvine campus!

The best part for me was getting to be around a lot of people who clearly love what they do. I didn't take many pictures of the actual convention because as it turns out, I'm terrible at taking pictures of events I go to. But it was bigger than I anticipated and I managed to come home with some pretty great prints that I may be doing some practice environments with. 

I tried to do some work in between being at the convention and boarding various planes. Most of it was some more wood sculpts and finally getting my normal maps working properly. I did a hi-res sculpt of my landscape and put it in Unreal just to see what it was looking like, here's the results: 

I won't be able to get into the labs to work on foliage until at least Monday night, so I'm also working on my cabin and getting all the details fixed up for that. Then I can start moving fully into Unreal and putting it all together. I'm excited for how it's coming along though, but deadlines are looming and I'm hoping to have some more filled out screenshots coming in the next few days. 

 

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. 

 

German Village Sketching!

On Tuesday afternoon I wandered around German Village and the Short North with my sketchbook and a few markers, aiming to draw some interesting looking buildings. My goals were to a) draw completely in ink, b) work on my line confidence, and c) try not to look creepy while doing it. My professor gave us a deadline of 15 minutes per building and it would have been easy to just stay around CCAD for this. But I had a great time walking around Schiller Park and sketching these houses. 

Fun fact, if you happen to be in Schiller Park between 2-5pm, there are dogs being walked EVERYWHERE. Good things to know for gesture drawing. 

Those last two houses aren't from German Village. The top one is by Goodale Park and the bottom is an abandoned house by my apartment. I ended up driving around Columbus for 5 hours sketching. What a great way to spend a Tuesday. 

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! 

Spooky Haunted House Layouts

I decided to take a character and environment class this semester because I've spent so long in 3D that my drawing skills began to suffer. But for this environment project we were encouraged to use 3D programs to help with our composition, perspective, and lighting... something that I probably should have figured out sooner but now that I know it, it's changing everything. 

We're supposed to be creating this haunted house, and I tried to steer towards more of a stylized form. I chose a dark cabin in the woods with shapes taken from your stereotypical witches hat. Then I went into 3D and did the most basic of block models, and used Maya's tree brushes to create this bent pathway. Here are some of the process shots: 

I'm really liking what's happening with the outside and I'm really enjoying playing with the lighting. I still have to do an interior which is going to happen tomorrow afternoon, but so far I'm liking where it's going and will continue posting progress as I go! 

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. 

A Break

Time for some good news: I finished my demo reel! It's now on the main page of my site as Environment Reel: Oct 2016. I got some good critique for it and rearranged a few things, and have submitted it for a few possible opportunities. 

Now it's the last day of my Fall Break (and likely the last day I'll have to do absolutely nothing for awhile). Yesterday I tried to step away from the computer for awhile and did some sketching. Not quite my Inktober schedule or prompts, but it was relaxing to just sit and draw what was around me for awhile. 

Sketches of Mr. Otis, the black lab that I was dogsitting this week! 

Unfortunately with my school schedule I've been totally wrapped up in making games but not so much in playing them. Today I dust off my PS3 and spend a few hours as a pirate in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag! 

Reeling It In

So Inktober has gone on hiatus as I've been working the last few days to find time for my demo reel. Rendering in UE4 has been a bit of a challenge and I've spent a good amount of time with Google trying to figure out why something doesn't work. There are a couple of good shots I have from my renders, unfortunately I can't use them all in this reel and keep it under a minute. That's where the trouble comes. I'm not totally happy with what I have so far, but I still have a little bit of time to keep pushing and polish it up! 

I'll post some screencaps in the meantime: 

I've mostly been busy trying to round up models and get them into Unreal, render out a pass, and then get them together cohesively in After Effects. I made great progress tonight, and hopefully by tomorrow night I'll have a new video up on the home page with the renders I've just worked on. 

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.

Inktober Day 5: Sad

And once again I forgot to post on here last night, but here was yesterday's Inktober. I was supposed to use the prompt "Sad" and based on the fact that it was October I started thinking about ghosts. So I did a little doodle on what would happen if Pacman stopped being afraid of his ghosts. 

Tonight I'll be starting to work on my cabin environment, so some sketches and beginning models will be posted on here soon.