Second Year

The Scientist – Animated Short

Click this image to view an online 3D-Preview:



The Task

For this task we were assigned groups and asked to create a short animated film around 40 seconds long with the theme of Bravery. My team consisted of Myself, Viola, Tobias, Molly and Emma.



At the beginning, we were stuck between deciding between two ideas. The first idea was the tale of a Sci-Fi group of soldiers that were infiltrating an alien base to retrieve their fallen comrade (a teddy bear). In order to escape, one of them had to sacrifice themselves do destroy the base and allow the others to escape. In the end, it would be revealed that they were actually just children playing in a park.

Initially I was against this idea for several reasons. Firstly, having so many characters to create and animate would have been a large workload. Secondly, having such a complicated plot to fit in to roughly 40 seconds would be quite a challenge. And lastly, I’d already made an extremely similar animation during A-Level and didn’t feel like taking on the same idea twice.

Regardless of this, some of the group was for the idea and so we contributed seperate chunks of a storyboard and I edited together a rough animatic, seen below:




After we gave a brief presentation with the class, got some feedback and had another meeting, we had decided that the Scientist idea might have been more viable.

The plot was this:

A lone scientist in a desolate, radioactive city is the only remaining life in the area. It had claimed the lives of all he knew and cherished, and he vowed to dedicate his remaining time to inventing a machine that would bring the area back to a liveable form.

After a large number of failed tests, he is angry; frustrated. He slams his desk and fumbles a picture of a young girl which he then picks up to put back on his desk. Upon placing it back, he discovers a small part on his desk that he believes may be the answer to fixing his machine. But in order to do this, he must venture outdoors in to the wasteland in order to repair the machine. In the end the effort takes its toll as he collapses and dies from the exposure. Beside his still hand, sprouts a small plant; his bravery was not in vain.


For visuals and plot devices it fell under influence of films such as Wall-E and I am Legend.


Image result for Wall E scenery

Screenshot of Wall-E


Here was the initial animatic I had done. This animatic served several functions; it helped us iron out the story, gave us a sense of timing and my scribbles functioned as a rough concept for locations within the scene. Here was the result:




My Role – Creating the Character







This character was sculpted by 3D Character Artist Josh Singh. He hosted a panel at the ZBrush summit one year and performed a demonstration of how he makes these characters which I found to be extremely helpful:



I had previously purchased a tutorial from Marc Brunet about modelling a 3D character and the pipeline he follows, however he begins by using a humanoid template with retopology he’d already made so rather than beginning in Maya I wanted to start in Zbrush to allow myself more freedom while sculpting. The only downside to this would be having to spend time retopologizing later on, but oh well.





I started by stretching some clay in to a rough body shape, even though it looked lumpy. I then kept adding subtools and sculpting further details until I got to a stage I was happy with. Here was the step-by-step:




Sculpting the moustache was fun, and I tried a few different versions with varying degrees of bushiness. We had decided the plainer looking one to be the most effective.




So here’s a closeup of the finished sculpt:





Next stage was the topology. I tried looking at a bunch of references to see how it should be done properly.




As with most of my projects I wanted to shoot for as low poly as I could, and rely heavily on texture for the detail. I used ZRemesher for the head and boots since they would not be moving much, and Jack had informed me of the “curve” tool you could use to define some sort of structure of ZRemesher to follow. The main body and hands were done manually. Here’s a look at the finished version:


Curves in ZBrush





Obviously I had an unnecessary volume of mesh in the boots, which would have been fixed had I done it manually, but I wanted to get the character finished at this stage. Also, even though I prefer to work for real-time rendering, since this would be done in Arnold I had to add supporting edge loops for harsh edges where I had some more excess. In spite of this, I still kept the character at roughly 7k polys which I am pretty happy with.

Here is a comparison between the Sculpt (right) and the Low Poly (Left):



The Texturing


So the next stage involved using a few steps from the tutorial I had mentioned earlier. This also served as practice for when I was making my Deer Project where I use similar techniques. I hope to keep practicing this pipeline and making it my regular workflow.

I’m not gonna go in to detail about the process since I already discussed this in the Deer project post so check that out if you’re interested. I learned from John Hannon about a program called xNormals which was good for baking maps and decided to get it. Although it looks like it was made in the 1980s, it does a pretty damn efficient job. Here was the tutorial I checked out on how to use it:



Here was the Ambient Occlusion bake I created as well as a look in to my UV Map layout:




I also had a Bent Normals bake but I lost it.. it was used for top-down lighting.



There was some problem with the texture leaking and so that needed to be fixed, as well as a bunch of areas where the shadows crunched due to mesh collisions in the baking.

Here was my first stab at creating the texture which went through a ton of drafts before the final version.




So obviously this was just some flat colours and some minor shading on top, after a bunch of edits, changes and paintovers, this was the final texture:




There were a lot of things to clean up, smooth and correct. I tried to bring out the colours in the jumpsuit and accent the wrinkles. I actually learned a bit more about colour theory from doing this and feel like these exercises have improved my knowledge of colour.

There are still somethings that require cleaning up, and I would have liked to add a few more details to add complexity to the design but for now this functioned as I wanted it to.

Here is a turntable of the finished character:


giphy (7).gif



Other Assets


I also did his Geiger Counter in a similar way, only I started in Maya.


giphy (2).gif





I was very pleased with the Geiger Counter in particular, as it had a very stylized vibe to it, similar to Blizzard’s aesthetic.

Now, it wouldn’t have been a project I’d worked on unless I tried my hand at some VFX. I kept it simple, just a little radioactive barrel with a glowy green cloud emanating from it. The pose was done using the rig Viola had done which worked very well. I’ll just post a screenshot as I’m sure you’ll get the jist of the movement just from it:





I had also created some land for the surrounding exterior, just something rough in ZBrush to simulate terrain. This ended up not getting used in favour of a more built-up background Viola created.

Terrain Land_Diffuse

Generator modelled by Viola


Setting the Mood

After the character and other assets were finished off and finalised, the next stage was to address the issue that our scenes had no textures. I wanted to try and do a few of the main objects in the scene closest to the scientist. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances we were down 3 Team members at this stage of the process. Viola had taken on the task of completing the 3D Previs which she did a fantastic job of with some very interesting VFX.

Viola had arranged the assets provided by the others in to the interior scene which looked good. None of the objects in the scene had been UV Mapped yet so I began to do that so I could apply some textures using the same method from earlier. These maps weren’t done correctly due to time constraints and as a result they only function as I needed them to; they don’t look pretty or organised but they work.

Here was a shot of some of the models I had textured:



Room set-up by Viola, assorted models by Team, Textures by me.


For the rest of most objects I used simple AiStandard shaders with tweaked values. At this stage I wanted to try a render. We knew we weren’t going to have time to render this animation and so I rendered a frame to replicate the vision of the giant orange monitor from the beginning. I am very pleased with the result:



Render with Photoshop touch-ups I did to capture the mood of failure

Here is a side by side comparison of before and after photoshop (Is this what compositing is?):



And here was the finished Pre-Vis by Viola:


Link to my ArtStation

Reflection on this module:


This module was surely a step up from last year’s work. I feel like I’ve really found the area I enjoy and hope to continue to develop this over the next semester while I begin to search for a placement. I’ll do this in order of projects:


3D Environment Task – Space Vikings:

For this Task were allowed to choose our own teams. I was in a team with Dermott, Jack and Glenn and they were great to work with. This project in general is a very fun assignment as we don’t have to worry about several stages of pipeline and can focus mainly on concept and modelling. It’s also great to have complete creative freedom over our choice, and although I would say I specialise more in characters, this task was still enjoyable for me since I was a part of a good team with good workers.


Walk Cycle/Body Mechanics Task:

This task was personally less enjoyable for me since it was a little more technical than creative. I don’t dislike animation, and if I’d placed more of a focus on the task I feel my results would have turned out a little better but I would say I was more focused on the environment task at this stage. I still believe it is a good project and teaches key skills, but it was probably more beneficial to others than myself.


Personal Project – Mythical Deer Sculpt:

This was by far my favourite part of the semester, and I’m just sad I didn’t get to spend longer on it. I feel like I learned so much by getting to explore something I was passionate about and it was of great benefit to me. I’m going to try and put some of my passion from this project in to future projects and also produce other works like it in order to bolster my portfolio.


Animated Short – The Scientist:

The good part about this project is that I was able to work on the main character and help develop the plot and idea. And I know this assignment would have been very enjoyable under different circumstances, however due to circumstances with different team members we ended up with a larger workload dispersed over a smaller team so ultimately the final result suffered blows to quality. In saying this, I feel like I learned what I needed from the project and to bring it to a more polished stage would be more of a nuisance than productive and so I’m satisfied with the work I have done and will possibly find the time to polish a shot or two for showreel purposes. In short; Good Assignment – Unfortunate circumstances.


Really excited for Semester Two!



Personal Project – Deer Sculpt

Click the Image for online 3D Preview:



The Beginning


Drawings by Mehdiaouichaoui on Instagram


Originally, I had intended for this project to be of a human character for the Riot Games creative contest 2017 which I will hopefully get time to do after deadlines. But for this submission due to time constraints I decided to run with a Deer sculpt I had already began. Above is the image I used as inspiration for my project by Mehdiaouichaoui on Instagram which I got permission to use. This would be my first full stylized creature sculpt and I am fairly happy with how the ZBrush sculpt turned out. I started to learn some new tools and got to practice a little more with the software which is always a good thing. I took some design liberties and changed a few aspects while also being influenced by a Pokemon sort of style. Here is a turntable of the finished sculpt:



I knew from the beginning of this project that I wanted to achieve four key things:

  • An appealing, stylized creature sculpt
  • An animation and game-ready topology (6k polys or Below)
  • Create a hand-painted style texture, similar in style to League of Legends
  • Have some element of real-time VFX added to the creature

These were the goals I had set myself for this task. In this post I hope to describe the areas where I succeeded and those where I could have done better, and highlight what I learned from each experience.


The Sculpt

This will be a fairly short section as there’s not much to say. This sculpt is my first proper go at a full character and I’m very pleased with the result. After a brief chat with Michael Lilley I began playing with the hPolish and Flatten brushes to get those sharp stylized edges I wanted. I utilised different subtools to create the assorted pieces of the deer, utilising asymmetry when appropriate to create a more appealing design while staying true to the concept.




Creating base geometry to work off of is still overall my hurdle to get over at this stage and I hope to try the “ZSpheres” approach next time. For now I’m satisfied with this sculpt.




Retopology for Real-Time Rendering

This part of the project proved to be exceptionally more difficult than I had initially anticipated. I ended up redoing most of the retopology 3 times to get to a point I was happy with. Below are my first and final versions:



As you can see from the re-do, I tried a lot harder to greatly reduce the polycount. I had to use seperate objects for the points on the fur due to different density requirements however I hope to find a better way to cope with this in future as the seam can appear quite obvious when the light hits it. I hope that texturing can remedy some aspect of this flaw. The final polycount ended up being 4280.

A main reference I used was the official in-game model of ‘Xayah’ from League of Legends as well as a fan art of Sejuani. Here are the real-time previews of both references (Click the images for the previews):










I also looked at this Baron Nashor skin in League of Legends to understand more complex geometry. I was initially perplexed by the amount of triangles in these works as we were always taught to avoid them when possible. I asked my lecturer about this and he advised me that they are ok to use when not in the path of distorting mesh and that I should avoid long tris as they often distort textures.


Worlds Baron Nashor




I would say that while I consider 4k polycount to be a success, I worry about the lack of defined loops around the limbs and how this would affect movement. I already mentioned the clipping of separate objects and I would also say I could have saved a punch of polys by deleting hidden faces behind the fur that aren’t seen. This would also save on UV space which I’ll talk about in a bit. Other than these flaws I’m fairly happy with the result of the topology and I’m happy with the low-res.

On a side note, I was wondering why when I imported the model to Unreal/3D Coat that all of the edges were very hard and this gave the mesh a low quality look. Apparently pressing ‘3’ in Maya only gives a smooth PREVIEW and doesn’t actually smooth the mesh, so I had to smooth the mesh before exporting to fix this.


Creating a Hand-Painted Texture

Again, this goal was inspired by League of Legends. Really, I’m just using this project as a warm-up for attempting my entry to the Riot Games contest on Polycount. Hoping to enter both the Character Art and VFX categories. Anyways back to the texture. I’ll start with the UV Mapping. Here was my layout for the deer (everything combined to one object):




Immediately I can point out a few flaws. My major regret is not keeping the limbs attached to the main body as this created very harsh seems in the final render. There are also several loose “bits” of some of the mesh and this was because they were causing a lot of tension and distortion on the parts they were attached too. Overall this doesn’t affect the texture that much but it’s still workaround I hope not to rely on in future. Finally you can see from my bakes that some parts of the texture contain duplicates (such as the mask being on the fur UV as well as having its own standalone). This is due to the objects overlapping and I hope to find a fix/workaround for this in future.

A while ago I purchased a tutorial from Marc Brunet on about creating a game-ready model with hand-painted textures. In this tutorial he overlays aspects of Ambient Occlusion, Bent Normals and Normal maps to create a greyscale texture to add to. He also uses 3D Coat for touch-ups.

The Bent Normals green channel is used for an easy fake top-down light. The Ambient Occlusion is used for general shadows and detail definition and the green channel of the normal map is used for highlights on creases and such.

I also looked at his tutorial on Youtube about colouring from greyscale using Gradient Maps in Photoshop and used this to play around with colour palettes for my Deer.



Here is a look at my combined greyscale bakes:




There are some cleanups to be done to this before it is finalised. Here is also a view of my layers where I’ve set up my gradient masks so I can mix and match colour schemes on my deer:





The Gradient Editor for the ‘Twisted Purple’ colour I tried


Below I’m gonna post a gallery of the different colour schemes I tried. Some worked better than others, but the overall theme I was going for was Ethereal/Celestial:



Initially I had started with a Deer coloured hide, but this realistic colour took away from the mysticism of the creature, so I started looking at more divine colours. That’s where the rich mixes of reds, whites and golds came from; but these felt too Christmassy. My girlfriend also pointed out that it would be better to have the large antlers as a dark bold colour to stick out better. When trying to dodge the Christmas look, I stumbled on to an ethereal palette that made the deer look ghostly. My flatmate James also suggested I give the deer an underbelly colour which is where the gradient came from on the last palette. In the end my favourite two were the last two but overall I went with the blue one as the red felt too overpowering. This meant I also needed to tweak the vfx I had done from the original golden yellow to a cyan effect which you’ll see soon.

One thing I love about this method of texturing is the amount of detail you can preserve with a low mesh. This is a 4K Texture since it’s to be featured as a main piece however if I was adding it to a game as a background character a 2k map would probably work better (I Think?). Here’s what I mean with the detail on the Deer’s back muscle being preserved:



The next stage would be to go on and paint detail, refine highlights and add colours until it feels like a more finished texture, however right now I’m putting that on pause due to time constraints. I’ll hopefully get the time/motivation to finish the texture at some point but for now that’s where I’ll leave it. Calling the texture a semi-success for now, however the UV seems from earlier still bother me immensely.



Greyscale shading with Gradient Maps colouring


Real-Time VFX (I LOVE this part)

So since beginning this project I knew I wanted the orb between the antlers to emanate some form of mystical aura. I kind of just made it up as I went along, using some techniques I had learned before as well as teaching myself some newer ones.


Orb and Glow



The first part is fairly basic. I have a mesh emitter that spawns the orb (which is just a duplicate of the orb from the model) and another that spawns the glowy orb that pulses and changes colour over its lifetime. There is also a scrolling texture over the orb but its very difficult to make out with this colour so I may delete it.





This emitter is another mesh emitter that has a comet shape that surrounds the orb and is rotated to tilt up. The mesh then has a scrolling material with a fading alpha that gives the ring effect. When UVing the model I only UVd a quarter of the mesh and then duplicated and rotated to make up the other quadrants. This allows them all to project the same material which is key to getting the simple ring. Below is the node connections and texture used for the material. Stacking the textures in different channels saves memory space.



Sprite-Sheet Embers



This was one of the parts that I learned the most, for two reasons which I’ll get in to. The first reason is learning to make an animated spritesheet and play it as a particle. This was done in Photoshop with random chunks I made with the lasso tool. I saved each as a separate image and then used a program called GlueIt to merge them in to a 2×2 spritesheet. This could then be plugged in to a flipbook node in Cascade (UE4s FX engine) which animated it. However, there was a problem that arose after this step which led to the second thing I learned. Every particle being spawned was changing frame at the same time and they were all showing the same frames. This made the particles look rigid and less random so I wanted to fix it. After some hunting, I discovered my solution lay in plugging a ‘Particle Random Value’ in to the timer that changed the frames order and start times. These are helpful little bits that I’ll definitely be using again. Partly blogging them so I can look at this if I ever forget how to use it.



Material Node Editor





The Particle



And there’s the final particle to rest above the boy’s head. Pretty happy with how it turned out and definitely learned some new things. Also learned how to spawn a new burst of particles after the death of another, but it wasn’t applicable to this particle. So yeah, learned a lot.


Bonus: Destructible


Last thing I learned out of curiosity and no real relevance was how to make a destructible mesh. It’s actually really easy; like clicking a checkbox more or less. Here’s a quick clip of the boy shattering after I smash my face in to him:



[Add Render of Deer with VFX]

Click here for my ArtStation

Black Shamrock Research Task

Applying to Black Shamrock

The Company

A local studio I hope to apply to for my placement year is Black Shamrock; a Dublin based company in Video Game Production with a focus on the RPG genre. The company is backed by and does work for Cyanide Studios, a French company founded by 7 ex-ubisoft employees. The projects they’ve worked on (and shipped on Steam and other platforms) include Of Orcs and Men, Blood Bowl II and Styx: Master of Shadows, as well as one currently classified project in the RPG genre. All of their projects so far involve orcs, fantasy and interesting beasts and characters so I am very keen to intern with this company and hopefully be a strong asset to the team.

Meeting the Team

Back in October I had the opportunity to meet and chat with the CEO of Black Shamrock, Olivier Masclef, on his visit to our campus. I was able to chat to him about my skills and a potential internship for next year. When I had mentioned my interest in VFX he mentioned that it was a valued skill to have, and so I made sure to include some in my Showreel for this assignment. Hopefully I can create a few more projects before I apply to add to my reel. Olivier gave me his card and told me that when I’m applying to mention that we talked. I also connected with him on LinkedIn the following week and he had said to me that to contact him if I’m going to Dublin at any point and he would see about getting a tour of the studio arranged, so I definitely hope to find time for that soon and get to meet some of the people I would hopefully be working with.

The Opportunity

Very recently, the studio has updated their job listings page to include a line mentioning that they are in the process of creating an internship application form and that it will be finished by the end of January. Olivier had mentioned that they had hoped to grow their team vastly by the end of 2018. As well as this, they also have listings for a concept artist, environment artist and character artist, and so hopefully I can showcase my strengths in these areas and be able to assist in filling those gaps.


Quest for Knowledge

NI Games at Queens University

Me and a few classmates had attended an event at Queens where we were able to chat with a few members of the games community in NI about various topics covering different aspects of animation and 3D art production for games. This was a good opportunity to hear some stories and advice from people in our desired field. We met with Kevin Beimers of Italic Pig who I had previously chatted with at a Toody Threedy in October who talked to us about his award winning Indie game, Mona Lisa. We also were able to chat to a fella from SONY based in London who was working on an impressive looking VR shooter. Getting to chat with these guys and find out a thing or two about pipelines, and also discussing freelancing, was a great insight in to how things work.

Industry Talks in Conor Lecture Theatre

A bunch of us attended some talks from Industry professionals from different backgrounds the other Friday. Some of these talks were overwhelmingly inspirational. Some of the projects these people had worked on, and some of the innovations they were attempting were fantastic. It was amazing to be able to hear these people and their advice for us as developing artists. The talks lasted around 6 hours and sadly due to time constraints we were unable to hear a speaker from Billygoat Entertainment which was who I was looking forward to hearing the most unfortunately. However, Alec said he would attempt to reorganise to get him back in to do a talk in the future, so hopefully we can have even more time to hear what he has to say. One of the major pieces of advice I want to take from those talks is: Yes, study well and work hard to achieve good grades and do well in your degree. But, have fun! Do your own projects, learn new things. Teach yourself things that will broaden your toolkit and make you more than a cookie-cutter animation student. 80% of my showreel is made up from my own projects and teachings and that is a number I hope to maintain and expand upon.

I would love to have more events like this in future if possible.


Teaching myself ZBrush

Helpful Tips – Learning as I go:

Symmetry – Transform > Activate Symmetry. Choose a world axis (X for Down the Centre)

To create a seperate sphere for eyes, Toolbox > Subtool > Append > Sphere.

You can position the ball, selected the subtool and go to Subtool > Duplicate. Then Move the new eyeball and merge them to the same mesh and activate symmetry to sculpt eyes.

Basic Brush Uses –

  • Build Clay: Adds Clay to the sculpt (Holding Alt removes clay)
  • Smooth (Hold Shift): Levels out a clay surface
  • Dam Standard: Creates sharp indents (like scoring marks)
  • Alphas are the shapes of the brush. The white area of an alpha gets used, and they adapt to transparency. Eg. using a gradient fading circle brush will apply a soft brush.


Helpful/Inspirational Videos

Speed Sculpt of Heimerdinger from League of Legends.

Step by Step of Heimerdinger and Singed.

Dynamesh – a tool that allows you to create a clean grid topology over distorted sculpts.


First Sculpting Attempt:

There are some problems with stretched mesh on the shoulders and lower cheeks as well as the ridge above the eye. I’ll have to research how to properly utilise dynamesh and zremesher to keep a clean mesh to sculpt on in future. I’m pretty happy for my first sculpt, took around 40 minutes.

Also figured out how to make a progress video: