Visual FX in Videogames



So as part of my training to become better I want to learn a little about VFX in videogames. This is also part of my effort to be experienced in every area of art at Riot Games to boost my shot at an internship. What I like about VFX from what I’ve seen is structured and logical everything is. The breakdown above of the “Sunfire Cape” is very simple and inspiring and by the end of the week I’m going to see if I can produce something similar. The guy that made the video, Jason Keyser, works as a VFX artist for League of Legends and has a few breakdown videos. In the comment section, someone had asked him what would be the best tool to use to get something close to League of Legends and he suggested Unreal Engine 4. Apparently it has a steeper learning curve than Unity, but I’m willing to tackle it for the challenge.

I’m going to be following this tutorial series to teach myself the basics of UE4’s Cascade for particle effects. In this post I’m going to summarise the videos/take notes on anything important I want to come back to.

Here is a document containing a summary of different FX types and particles.

First video is all about terminology for particle effects.

Particle – A point in space that may be assigned attributes/behaviour.

Sprite – 2D plane that will always face the camera.

Particle System – The assets that reside in your content browser.

Emitter Actor – The physical object in a scene that acts as a reference to a particle system.

Particle System Component – I think this is a blueprint…for an Emitter Actor…?

Cascade – The particle editing system inside UE4.

Emitter – A column in Cascade that holds all of the properties for an individual particle.


I saw a tutorial by Dean Ashford and decided to give it a go, here is my first result:

Very basic, but a good foundation to start tinkering with things.



Crafting a Champion – Research for Riot

I recently discovered the Riot Games Internship Program, and holy s*** I need this so bad. I can’t think of any better way to jump-start my hopeful career in concept art, and with the odds against me (at least 6000:1) I’ll have to try and prove myself. So that’s what I’ll try and do.

I’ve decided I’m going to follow the Riot Pipeline for character design and make a champion or two of my own while thoroughly exploring each idea. I’m going to start by reading some different Dev Blogs posted by Riot about their champion process and write about my research here. I’ll link each blog as I read them.

*DISCLAIMER: No images belong to me and are all property of Riot Games*

Developing Dark Star Thresh

This project involves creating a ‘skin’ for a pre-existing character. It starts by identifying ‘Thresh’s’ core idea and how to “multiply that by 100”. They spend some time identifying the reason and personality behind the skin. They give Thresh a purpose and a motive, helping anchor the design.

One of the concepts they enjoyed involved a “cloud of space” emanating from Thresh’s head, but they needed to deem whether it would look as good in game and so they ran tests to confirm it was possible. It took four weeks to lock in the skin’s visual direction, on top of the initial week of brainstorming.

He was initially designed with a red colour palette, but this was changed to distinguish him from his other skin (Blood Moon).

The rest of the article delves in to aspects past concept art, so I’ll be moving on from it and leaving on this awesome process shot of his loading screen splash art.


On the Champion Rework Pipeline

So apparently it takes around 9 months to create a champion of visual update. I’m gonna be doing mine a little quicker…

First Phase: Open ideation phase (about three months). A small team of writers, concept artists, designers and a producer works on this phase, and there are usually about 3 going at once.

Some early Yorick thumbnails

Ok, so there’s not much in this one along the lines of concept work. Moving on…


Narrative Hooks

This article mainly focuses on backstory and behind the scenes plot that goes in to making a character’s background believable and solid. I love this image of “Bilgewater Slaughter-Sheds” which are never mentioned in the game at all but are exactly the type of thing I’d expect to see in the brine-soaked town.

Maybe I could use this as a background for one of my characters…

Leave your bundle of threads loose so the curious can pull on them to find how they tangle together. League of Legends isn’t a single narrative, it’s an existing universe with characters that are anchored to it.

“For the audience, dangling story threads and hooks provide areas of intrigue and speculation, a tiny glimpse of events that hint at bigger things yet to come, or suggest a deeper and richer world history/backstory. They can also function to suggest a much bigger world out there, one that is vibrant with stories just waiting to be discovered. Finally, they also give the audience a chance to voice what story hooks they’d like to see developed, giving the creators a better idea of what they should focus on.”

“The one thing that’s most important, however, is avoiding creating frustration by dangling out a million story hooks that are never developed or followed up. That kind of thing can be irritating, and can have a detrimental effect, not just with the audience, but on the narrative universe as a whole. It can start to feel like there’s nothing behind all those hints and nods – it’s just a facade of depth, with no actual substance.”

There is a balance to finalising stories for closure and leaving ends open for audiences to wonder. That’s the hook. There are some interesting points on narrative in a world on this article, so give it a read. Moving on to something more concept-y.


Jhin Development Process

So this is a lot more of the “meat and veg” type stuff I wanted to get in to, and highlights the early stages of a concept that I crave. The team started with an initial idea, they wanted a champion that felt like you were using an old bolt-action sniper rifle, and wanted to differentiate between this character and the other sniper wielding character, Caitlyn.

Ok so on a side-note I started looking up Caitlyn’s visual update after typing that last paragraph and stumbled on to a freelance concept artist who does a lot of work for Riot by the name of Thomas Randby and some of his work is really awesome stuff.

So, back to Jhin. Bolt action sniper. Robotic Cowboy. Bounty Hunter. These were the buzzwords initially used in crafting him. Some of them were chipped off through the design process.

They thought the term “Deadeye” resonated very well with this new champion. They started looking at the idea that “ever shot counts” as it does with a bolt-action sniper. They implemented an ammo system for his shots before he has to reload, something that no other champion has. The point of his abilities were that even though they had extremely long range, they could also miss (which is not the case with Caitlyn.)

After further playing around with the ammo mechanic, they decided that the fourth shot should deal the most damage from a gameplay perspective but why would this be the case in a real-world idea? That’s when they hit the sweet spot by making Jhin an artist. He doesn’t just want to kill his targets, he wants it to be so perfect that their deaths are his art. He becomes a Virtuoso.

“In carnage, I bloom; like a flower in the dawn.”  -Jhin

After discovering his artistic identity, the team incorporated rose imagery in to one of his abilites and heavily referenced opera in his personality, design and aura. His ultimate ability, aptly named ‘Curtain Call’ has four extreme long-range, high damage shots. And as soon as you enter this stance, a violin can be heard playing as you paint the canvas with blood.

They removed the robot element from his identity because they wanted him to appear human. They invented a mask to cover his face with a calming, confident yet sinister grin. They placed him within a faction of their world, Ionia; a place of intricate design that favoured form over function. Makes sense. This was a true psychopath.

The best part about Jhin’s design is his rifle. It’s actually a four chambered pistol, that he then constructs in to a rifle for long range, paired with the asymmetrical hump on his shoulder to create a piercing cannon. They also gave the barrel a fountain pen-esque nib at the end to emphasise his personality as a “creative”. His colour scheme was that of roman emperors, because “while Jhin’s very much equipped to kill, he’s also dressed to impress.”

With Jhin’s final release, they also released a skin called “High Noon Jhin” which is a nod to the robo-cowboy that inspired his initial creation.

This is the kind of depth I want to go for with my design. Research, themes, tropes, aesthetics, playstyle, factions; everything. I want to take it as far as I can.


There’s a bunch more blogs that I’ve read through and enjoyed but instead of me summarising them you can read them directly here:

Tahm Kench – a large fish demon dubbed the “River King” with quite the mouth on him (In both senses). A personal favourite of mine.

Kindred – a snow white lamb and an ominous dark wolf spirit combo that sew and reap life.

Kalista – a culmination of vengeful spirits manifested in to one form. She throws spears.

Sion – a resurrected juggernaut equipped with a battleaxe and a blood lust. His newly-fitted lower jaw is the crown of a King he slaughtered.

Aurelion Sol – creator of stars, wanderer of galaxies. Narcissist. This enormous space dragon was a leap for the game design team to implement.

Galio – A stone-bound sentinel seeking to supersede strength as a sentient shield. He’s a big gargoyle.

Taliyah –  A weaver of earth and rock, she hails from humble beginnings.

Kled –  A redneck squirrel that rides a lizard.

Ivern – The friendliest tree man you’ll ever meet.

Camille – Her legs are blades.

Enjoy reading these! They’re great insights in to professional storytelling and design.


12 Principles – Character Design

The Twelve *Gods Principles of Animation!

*Skyrim Reference*

Numero Uno – Squash and Stretch

Squash and Stretch is used to apply a sense of gravity to a character, or to show collision. It is done by “squashing and stretching” the character proportionally to the force it is experience, for example if an object had fallen a great height and landed on the ground, he would squash quite a bit. The style of the animation also controls this attribute, as it is important to decide whether or not you want things like metal to squash/stretch. One of the key things about making squash and stretch believable is to attempt to maintain a sense of volume in the character, so ensure that their squashing and stretching is proportional to the parts of them that are squashing and stretching.

Number Two – Anticipation

Anticipation is the build up to an action. If a character is about to throw a punch, they might wind up their fist before hand, perhaps lean back before lunging forward. Anticipation makes an action flow more naturally as opposed to just happening. It takes away that jarring sudden motion and adds an element of realism to the action while also directing the viewer’s eye and where to look on-screen. It allows the viewer to “anticipate” the next action.

*On a side note, the above gif  from Popeye uses DryBrush smear animation which I remember Mike had posted about on the facebook wall before of Elmer Fudd thrashing Buggs Bunny. Interesting technique to show motion blur.*

Numéro Trois – Staging

Staging is the presentation of an idea to make that idea clear to the audience. This can be an action, character, mood or anything that the director is trying to portray. This takes a number of factors in to consideration, such as camera placement, object movement (or lack there of), camera movement, silhouette of the action etc. Staging also works with anticipation in guiding the audience’s eye to allow the scene to flow more clearly.

4. – Straight Ahead and Pose-to-Pose

Straight ahead action is drawing each frame right after one another. It is best used to create realistic motion due to its precise nature. Pose-to-Pose is when key poses are filled in first and then the remainder is filled in at a later point. It is best used when trying to capture more dramatic scenes with more advanced camera movement.

E) – Follow Through and Overlapping Action

This section is two different parts that work together. Follow through is considering how an object behaves once it has moved and performed its main action. It is the termination stage of the action. When a wire antenna on a car is travelling with the car it is curved backwards to imply drag, but is rooted to the car. When the car suddenly stops, the antenna continues to move, bending forward and backwards decreasing its oscillations exponentially over time until it too comes to a halt. The speed at which it does this can indicate things such as the speed it was moving, the abruptness of the stop and the mass of the antenna.

Overlapping action is simply the beginning of one action whilst another is ongoing/finishing. It is used to keep the flow of the actions more natural and keep the audience interested.

VI) – Slow In and Slow Out

Slow In/Slow out is in reference to how an object behaves with motion. For example, a ball rolling to a destination is more believable if the ball slows down over time rather than travelling at a constant speed and then halting. This is an important attribute to consider when attempting to portray the impact a motion might have. This is controlled in Maya through Velocity/Time graphs in the Graph Editor.

(I’m gonna be a nerd here real quick)

Velocity is the speed of an object in a particular direction. When using Maya’s Velocity/Time graphs it is important to understand that Velocity and Speed are different things, as well as Distance and Displacement. Velocity and Displacement are the vector equivalents to Speed and Distance. A vector depends on relative distance.

This means that if I start at a point and walk 5m to the right and then come back to my original starting position, I have travelled a total of 10m, but my displacement from my original position is 0m. Using the same example, if I walk at 2.5m per second to the destination and the same speed back, my speed was a constant 2.5/mps. However, my velocity would change halfway, from 2.5/ms to -2.5/ms showing that I am moving in the opposite direction. This is an important idea to grasp when understanding the Velocity/Time Graphs in Maya and mastering “Slow In, Slow Out.”

七 – Arcs

Arcs reference the natural path an object should follow in order to appear normal. This can range from anything such as a ball being thrown and following a parabolic arc, to the motion of a hand waving. The curve of the arc tells things such as the speed of the object, for example a fast moving ball would travel in more of a straight line over a short distance, in comparison to a slow ball over a long distance which would arc more. If an object moves outside of its motion arc too much then it will appear erratic/unnatural.

∞ – Secondary Action

Adding a secondary action helps add meaning and emphasis to an initial action. For example, a character looking for the source of a delicious smell would swivel his head while looking; to bolster this you can have the character lick his lips and perhaps drool to show how desperate he is to find it. It is important to remember to not overshadow the main action with a secondary action, and also to not add secondary actions where they will not be seen. For example, do not add a “wink” when the character is turning their head fast.

Nein – Timing

Timing is used for two key reasons. The first is to attempt to elicit and emotional response from the audience in how a scene is timed. A character’s death, for example, should have more screen-time and build-up than a character throwing an apple in the bin. The other use is portraying the properties of an object and how they obey physics. For example, a 100 ton weight will fall extremely quickly compared to a feather. Timing is ensuring you don’t lose the audience’s attention.

Decem – Exaggeration

Exaggeration covers a broad range of areas but in its essence it is used to exaggerate an action or idea. For example, in this scene from Tom and Jerry the artist has exaggerated the point that Tom is a “jackass” by literally transforming his reflection in to an ass. This robs some realism from the short, but it was never intended to be strictly real.


((6^2)-25) – Solid Drawing

This is in reference to the skill of the classic animator. It involves being able to understand proportion, physics, depth, 3D Space, perspective and a range of other things that boil down to being able to understand how to draw something as you intend it to be viewed. In John Lasseter’s interpretation of the Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation he has chosen to omit this section due to the technology that has replaced it. This may be true when it comes to actually animating, but I feel that other fields such as storyboard art, concept art and more that this section is incredibly important when attempting to portray an idea or concept.

High Noon – Appeal

Appeal is the broadest area on this list. Appeal does not need to necessarily be a positive thing. For example, an evil person can be appealing as a villain, the audience needs to feel the character belongs in that role by the character’s actions, voice, design and pretty much everything else. Appeal, when it comes to character design, is the same reason why Hugo Weaving usually plays bad guys, or why Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is consistently playing comedic characters. In Hugo Weaving’s case, he looks like a bad guy. His stern face and arched brow just scream “villain”. Whereas with the Rock, it’s a juxta-position to his past career as a professional wrestler and large, muscular body (paired with his charming smile) that allow him to be cast in these roles and fit.


The Design



Collaboration with Gianni

So I’ve been talking a lot with Gianni from second year and he was showing me a viking model that he’s working on as a personal project. We were having discussions, sharing opinions and showing each other various inspirations that we knew of to help further the project. I was talking to him a bit about concept artists and the industry for them and how it’s something I was interested in, and so he suggested that I could help him out with his design and it would help bolster some of my concept art portfolio, as well as give him some cool ideas to model with.

I started by designing some different axe variants. I did some research in to basic Viking axe shapes while taking inspiration from games like Skyrim as well as from Norse mythology. I tried to incorporate things like Celtic patterns as well as viking runes and imagery whilst playing around with various shapes to get something unique but practical. In time I will design further axe designs as well as armour/swords to match the design.

Gianni Axe

After the axe designs, I decided to get stuck in to a quick full-body sketch based on what Gianni had already modelled, with a few tweaks in places. I added things such as decorative bolts, shoulder plating and chain mail, as well as moving some things around to add more practicality to the design. I will further finish this painting in future and dive in to more variations and details on more intricate designs (such as the antler on his head that is not visible at this angle.)


Gianni also was talking about how he wanted to pose the character, and so I threw together a quick sketch of the pose and how it would look silhouetted. Gianni had originally said that he wanted the flag to fly horizontally instead of vertically, however I suggested that that seemed too “elite” for a viking, and that a vertical banner read more as “this is my land” and he agreed.


Below is an image from Gianni’s Artstation where you can find more angles and progress images of the viking so far.

Here is a link to his blog for development of the project:

I’m really excited to really sink my teeth in to this project, and future projects we have discussed working on. It’s great practice for both of us and he’s doing a fantastic job. His passion for teaching himself has inspired me to start my own small personal project.


Current progress of the model by Gianni Francesco De Giuseppe

Gun Crazy – Artefact

For our artefact, we were trying to think of something that would be a good way to represent the film. The film itself did not seem to have much implicit depth, and so we initially were unsure of what approach to take. I suggested that we create an investigation scene from the view of the FBI/Police characters in the film who were often unseen. The group liked this idea and everyone seemed on board (pardon the pun).

This project was very much a mass collaboration from the group. Sarah created incredible stylised portraits and supplied a few props such as the coffee mug, license plate, scarf and tickets to the ball which I added further texture to by tearing either edge with a pin repeatedly to give them that “ripped” effect. Jessica created a lot of police sketches of characters that were made to looks similar to the main characters as well as supplying some photographs found online that looked similar to scenes from the film. The two girls also worked on creating fake police reports.

Michael bought some toy guns and went full Adam Savage to weather them and make them look real. He did a fantastic job. Sarah supplied the map and newspaper headlines (which she pulled directly from the film) and I bought some red yarn. Michael and I pieced the board together using a list of locations and their chronological order Sarah had compiled. I supplied an old camera to add to the FBI look, and we also had a box of half eaten donuts on the table (but they didn’t last long).

A lot of thought went in to which props to include and how they should look. We had to imagine what sort of things would the police be able to acquire that belonged to the characters in the film. The scarf can be seen being dropped by Laurie in the film, the license plate was shot during a car chase scene etc. And so I think that the overall finished product is something that boils down the entire “behind the scenes” portion of the film quite well and I’m very proud of my team for their excellent work.


Links to my team’s blogs on this project:





Sad Bot

After working with Gianni and sitting down to talk with him a few times when I’m in uni late at night, I got inspired by his drive to set challenges for himself to be ahead of the game when it comes to his modelling work. Because of this, I’ve been inspired to start my own personal project to teach myself something new. I was browsing through Instagram one night and found a doodle from an artist I follow called Ching Yeh from Taiwan. I found the  design to be cute and when looking at it thought to myself, “Yeah, I could do that?”. And so that’s what I did. With permission of course:


So this was the little doodle that inspired me to get creative. I thought this would be a good way to familiarise myself with normal maps, UV mapping and programs like Substance Painter and ZBrush. So that’s the challenge I’ve set myself, and will most likely be an early summer project. For the final finished piece I’m going to pose the robot as seen in the original drawing, but I also want to make it fully rigged.


Art by Ching Yeh on Instagram: @chingyeh005

I started with making the basic body and head shapes, as they’re straightforward enough. I’m trying to use everything I know about good topology to try and make it correctly, as well as modelling via extruding instead of creating a new object every time I want to add a small part. Only parts that will move independently will require new objects.

So the first thing I started going in to detail with was the head. This was going well, I modelled the antenna, got the basic head shape down and even made little slots for the visor to retract back with. Then it came to the screen. I thought the screen would be fine, and the first way I went about it was just extruding the face and rounding it, but that didn’t go as planned. Now, there were a few things I could have done to fix this problem, and my solution was unnecessarily complicated but I’m still pleased with how well it worked. I created a cylinder with roughly the same curvature that I wanted the face to have, and put it on its side. I then created a flat plane, and sub-divided it a few times. Finally, I added nCloth properties to the plane and made the cylinder a collider. I also upped the “wetness” of the plane to get it to hug the cylinder closely. After this I froze the transformations and removed the ncloth properties and voile; a perfectly curved plane….that I could have used the curve tool for but screw it, useless innovation.


Using nCloth properties to model the screen “Face”

After toying around with the head a little more I decided to move on to the arms before going in to more detail. Normally I would draw out an orthographic diagram to help me understand the shape and assembly of the character, but this time I just wasn’t bothered and decided to do it in my head as I go. The drawing is slightly obscure in its makeup and so I had to improvise a little when creating the arm. I was attempting to imagine how I would build this if it were an actual robot, with slots, bolts, pivots etc. Below you can see a breakdown of how it has went so far. I’ll be going back to add further detail but it fits together at the moment and functions well so I’m happy with it.


Below is an overall view of the mesh so far.


And here is a render of the current stage. I did have the forearm finished before, but Maya crashed as it is destined to do and I lost some of that progress. I’ll finish that arm, do the legs and then lastly the printer arm and sad paper. Then I’ll focus on the intricacies of the mechanical parts, as I hope to have the visors on the face fully functioning and all limbs movable. Then I’ll take it to ZBrush to add imperfections and teach myself Normal Mapping, and finally in to substance painter to add scratches, rust and other subtle tidbits. I’ll keep updating this blog as I go. I’m looking forward to finishing this project and expanding my toolkit a little.


Head Modelling

So, Head Modelling.  In this post I’ll basically run through my research, process and experimentation with this project. Let’s start at the beginning. My partner is Alistair, and this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good, because he has a very defined head shape and allows me to see clearly how to form my model. It’s BAD because his head is so well-shaped that it kind of just looks like a default head shape tool. I began working in Maya, as opposed to a sculpting software. This allowed me to get a decent understanding of head topology and shape before going nuts with digital clay. I was following this tutorial:

In the beginning I used my reference images to create the basic shape, and I think that I got the lower facial region to look decent. Then as I got fed up and finished the rest of the scalp and forehead it became a Star Trek character:


(This version is included within the submission)

It was at this stage I decided I needed to take the head to ZBrush, so I added a neck and exported it as an .obj file. After quickly learning how to basically navigate ZBrush, I started playing around with the head. The results were…interesting:


I even ended up with a version that looked like Voldemort from Harry Potter.


Eventually I got a shape and level of detail that I called finished. Had I more time, I would have liked to add finer detail. I had also lost the “Alistair” in the sculpt, which I tuned up a bit back in Maya.


While transferring back to Maya, I knew that I would lose the sculpt detail. I’d been sitting in with Gianni from second year a lot and learning about sculpting and topology from him which is how I found out about Normal Maps. I decided to give it a go using some tutorials:

This was the result of my normal map attempt (below). It looks less flat, but the details are in the wrong places and jumbled so I must have done something wrong. Still, something to play about with over summer.


The normal map looked really off, but I could see levels of depth in the skin. This was included in the submission file.


Then it was time to start topology. I had seen Gianni do this on his other models and this was my first time getting really hands on with it. I realise I could have used the mesh from my first maya model as the topology on this head but I wanted to re-do it properly. The relax tool became my best friend. I looked up several references for this, and was shown a good example by Becca:





A progress image

Here you can see the Before and After topology:


I didn’t want to try an ear because I was running out of time, a project for another day.

I realise that there are most likely a few problems with this such as (well, the ear or lack there of) and maybe a few poles that could have been avoided. I used reference and advice from Gianni on where to position a lot of the poles that would cause problems for animation.

This was the final result:

*Pic of final render*