Monthly Archives: January 2016

Week 3- I’m still behind schedule lol.

As planned, week 3 has been all about modelling the basics of The Fool’s Room.
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I’ve been working on the floor, walls, ceiling and fireplace (which is still in progress) this week; I guess it’s the boring bit before I get stuck in with the assets that’ll really brighten the place up.

Over the course of the week I’ve made a fair few additions to my Pinterest mood board, as I’ve been researching materials and architecture that would typically exist in a medieval castle. It’s been really interesting, if a little tedious trying to get the room to feel right. I’m relatively happy with where the room is going, and I feel better about it as it improves every day.

As it stands, I mostly want to go back to the wall and floor textures in the future and polish them up to a better standard. Since making the wooden ceiling, I’ve realised that the stone bricks in particular have a very under-developed texture that will need sorting for the final hand-in. Before then, however, I want to work further through my to-do list of assets.

Unfortunately, the late addition of Zbrush to my project means that many assets are taking roughly twice as long as initially intended. I’m about 2 days behind schedule, as seen here;
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I’m still feeling ok about where the project is going though, I’ll just continue working as I have been to try and get back on schedule. I imagine that when I begin work on the assets, some will take less time and others more than I anticipate, and ultimately everything will balance out in the end. If all fails, I’ve given myself sufficient back-up time at the end of the project to complete the dioramas, as seen below in the ‘Milestones’ section of my specification sheet.
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As part of writing up our own FMP specification sheets, we are expected to research existing games that would match the technical specifications of our own work. Initially, the new Legend of Zelda game for Wii U came to mind. However, as it’s not a released title, it would not be possible to find the specs for this game. I instead did some research around Bioshock Infinite, and discovered that I could download the models from the game and inspect them to see for myself their tri-counts and texture sizes. This suited me perfectly, and so the technical specs such as tri-counts and textures for my dioramas will be based on Bioshock; Infinite. I think it has a similar level of stylisation to what I wish to achieve and the models are certainly going to help inform my choices when it comes to modelling my diorama further.

Between now and my next FMP blog post, I intend on completing the basics of the room; that is, the windows, fireplace, and broken wall/floor edges. After that, I’ll be cracking on with creating assets, animations, and sounds to populate the diorama. I’ll be planning my time for that stage of the project when I complete the current one.

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Week 2; Sparkles Sparkles

Week 2 of my FMP has been allocated for concept art and making a start on modelling my first diorama; The Fool’s Room.

I am basing my concept on quite a limited description from Robin Hobb’s books, though the image is very strong in my mind;

I stood in the door and gawked at a soul laid bare. Here was light, and flowers, and colors in profusion. There was a loom in the corner, and baskets of fine, thin thread in bright, bright colors. The woven coverlet on the bed and the drapings on the open windows were unlike anything I had ever seen, woven in geometric patterns that somehow suggested fields of flowers beneath a blue sky. A wide pottery bowl held floating flowers and a slim silver fingerling swam about the stems and above the bright pebbles that floored it. I tried to imagine the colorless, cynical Fool in the midst of all this color and art.

I took a step farther into the room, and saw something that moved my heart aside in my chest. A baby. That was what I took it for at first, and without thinking, I took the next two steps and knelt beside the basket that cradled it. But it was not a living child, but a doll, crafted with such incredible art that almost I expected to see the small chest move with breath. I reached a hand to the pale, delicate face, but dared not touch it. The curve of the brow, the closed eyelids, the faint rose that suffused the tiny cheeks, even the small hand that rested atop the coverlets were more perfect than I supposed a made thing could be. Of what delicate clay it had been crafted, I could not guess, nor what hand had inked the tiny eyelashes that curled on the infant’s cheek. The tiny coverlet was embroidered all over in pansies, and the pillow was of satin. I don’t know how long I knelt there, as silent as if it were truly a sleeping babe. But eventually I rose, and backed out of the Fool’s room.

…a chamber that looked out over the parapets and contained a garden of wonder. I thought of the bright fish swimming in the fat pots, the moss gardens in their containers, the tiny ceramic child, so meticulously cared for, in its cradle.

Upon reading this description, I immediately have an image in my head of a large, bright and fresh space. Birds calling outside the open window, curtains stirring in the breeze. The sound of the sea in the distance, perhaps the occasional sound of the keep below… a horse whinnying, or sword clashes from sparring guards. The room is a tower top room, originally a map room but long since abandoned to be taken up by ‘The Fool’, the king’s young and strange-looking jester from a distant land. The character is shrouded in mystery, and when Fitz, the narrator, enters this room, it’s the first glimpse you get into this boy’s secretive life.

Since the room is a tower-top room, I obviously imagine it having a lot of windows though in my mind it is not round like you would assume. For some reason, I imagine it being a long room. Honestly I don’t know if long tower rooms are even a thing, so I decided to try and make it pretty ambiguous in the final diorama shape. Before I really did any concepting, I took the image in my head and tried to write out things I could imagine being in the scene. I also researched castle tower-top rooms, architecture, building materials, and furniture from a medieval period. I added images to a Pinterest mood board as I went along;


From there I began experimenting with 3D blockouts, trying to find a diorama layout that had a decent composition, read well, and was fully visible from multiple angles. I didn’t want walls and pillars obstructing the view at any point, despite this creating more interesting compositions from certain angles. I made a lot of blockouts, tweaking aspects and then re-importing to UE4 to view as it would appear in the final pieces. This took me about a day of testing, reading about how castles are built, and reconsidering. But I finally came up with something I liked. 

 I took a screenshot of my favourite blockout in UE4, and began over painting. I wanted to create the room first, and think about the contents later. The main concern I had was whether the floor would be stone or wood… In all the research I did, castle towers have wooden floors, understandably so. It’s probably quite a lot easier to build with wood at a height than stone. However, Buckkeep Castle is described as being a great stone fortress with cold floors and dark rooms. It’s part of the reason The Fool’s Room is such a shock to Fitz. I felt I should stay true to the books, and ended up going for the stone floor, but it was still interesting to see how they both looked. I think the stone floor works to reduce the amount of different materials and colours to look at in the making of the room itself, and make it all about the assets and atmosphere. 

Firstly I considered colour. That’s a big thing to me that really brings a lot to an image. I wanted to bring across the airy, magicalness of the room with a soft, rainbow-like palette. I had some art in mind that I find particularly inspiring colour-wise, and so used this to help create colour palettes that I would have never considered otherwise. The art is by Viktor Bykov and an unknown artist that I need to continue trying to name. I used Lighter Colour layers in Photoshop to overlay the colours in this way, and found colour combinations I liked in the results. I really enjoyed this method. With that decided, I then looked at the room concept in front of me and started thinking what would fit in this corner, or end, or whatever of the room in my imagination. For instance, a bed would dominate the space too much for very little impact, so I decided to leave that out. I got together some images of the assets I could imagine in the scene also.

Then it was time to add the assets and colours I had collated to the scene. I wanted this piece to show I can photo bash to create an idea from scratch, on top of it’s obvious purpose of getting an idea out of my brain and onto paper. I was really pleased with how this turned out. I don’t know if it exactly portrayed what I had in my mind, because I had to take that idea and adapt it into a suitable diorama, but I definitely look at it and think yes, that’s The Fool’s Room. I’m particularly happy with the atmosphere- that’s very true to my imagining.

After that I considered all the assets in my scene, what kind of texturing they would require, and wrote it all out so I could add it to my time schedule spreadsheet. This gives me peace of mind, and means I can plan my time much more comprehensively than I usually would on such a large project that I would ‘play by ear’ in the past.

  

I am currently a day behind schedule due to taking the time to Zbrush a texture, and also completing an art test for a job opportunity. I have given myself two days leniency on the current stage of the project- I expect the room itself to be done by the end of next week. When that point comes, I will plan my time for the asset population stage of the project.

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Week 1; The beginning of the end.

This week I set out for myself as a sort of oh-my-God-what-am-I-doing week, and also to make me a couple of style tests. I had vague ideas floating around in my head about what to do, and getting them out of my system was definitely the way to go. I feel like I’m a little more ready on my feet now. Here are the two style tests;Style test Comparison

The simplistic style test was very quick and easy to make, taking half the time of the PBR piece. I really like where it’s going, however I feel that it looks almost too simple, and I don’t think the style would hold up in a larger diorama. The PBR diorama has more to it both visually and technically, and I feel as if it would lend itself better to a lively, animated environment like I intend on creating. Also, the more complex style shows I’m capable of more than just hand-painting albedo textures.

I feel that a simplistic style would be good to use in a personal project alongside my FMP to keep things diverse and have more unusual projects in my portfolio such as the forest gif I created during summer, which has attracted a lot of attention.

There are a few things that I will need to work on to make the PBR style more suitable for my FMP dioramas. Firstly, it’s extremely noisy and in some places confusing to look at. I’ll need to use composition, lighting, colour, and texture complexity to control where the viewer looks. I’ve achieved this better in the simplistic style test. Second, I managed to not use Zbrush for the entire PBR diorama by creating height maps in Photoshop. For some assets, this worked fine but for others they look really strange up close. I’ll need to use Zbrush for some assets. Leading on from that, the worst asset of all is the rock, which would also benefit from Zbrush for the overall lowpoly shape as well as the normal mapped details. This will stop it looking like I’ve taken a blob and applied a flat rock texture to it.

Overall I’ve had a very mixed reception for my two style tests. It’s about 50/50 for which one people prefer. I took my work to Polycount, and 3 out of the 4 people who have replied so far prefer the left-hand one. But everyone else who has given their opinion prefers the right. The main arguments for the simplistic test is that it’s more unusual and would stand out stylistically, and that it’s easier on the eye. I prefer the PBR test because it is more of a challenge for me to create, has more going on, and I think I’ll be prouder of myself at the end. One stand out point against the PBR style is that it will take me longer to create assets, and so I will achieve less. With this and the other considerations in mind, I think it will be sensible to create a marriage of the two.

Though it’s felt weird doing work that doesn’t physically contribute to my FMP hand-in work, I know that I’ve saved myself a lot of long-term frustration. Since finishing my tests, I’ve made a list of things I’ve learned thanks to the work I’ve done this week.

  • Flowers need to be more dense to withstand camera distance.
  • Grass blades will need a quick normal map.
  • Certain assets such as trees, rocks, and table will need Zbrushing.
  • I shouldn’t be stingy on tris.
  • Avoid creating too much noise with leaves, lighting, textures etc.
  • Need to more carefully control lighting to create a focus.
  • Will need dirt ground texture as well as grass.
  • Need to be careful to create ground textures that look ok with grass blades sprouting from them.

I’ve also updated a list of things I need to learn in UE4 and made tracks on finding documentation to help me with those things. I’ve been testing some shaders and animations to speed up the process down the line, meaning I’ll be able to spend more time on the art than fiddling with technical stuff.

Finally, I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 and examining how the plant life was created; I took over 70 screenshots. I learned some really useful tricks that I’ll be testing on trees and flowers that I make. Most striking for me was the fact that the trees in The Witcher, made by Speedtree, don’t just have wavy leaves, but the trunks bow in the wind too. It looks awesome and adds life and diversity to the world. Also, all the trees have a mixture of fixed leaf planes, and ones that turn to face the player as they move so that the tree canopy looks dense from all angles. This is something I wish to try.

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I’ve now created an Excel spreadsheet I can fill out on a per-diorama basis, so next week I can create my diorama concept, write out every asset, animation etc., and then allocate my time over the course of the 5 weeks. This method of planning my time is something I developed over the course of my Style Matrix projects, and I feel works best for me.

So, by the end of next week I intend to have a final concept, and to have started a blockout for the final diorama. From there I can begin creating the finalised assets, animations, particles etc. for the scene.

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The Stone Garden

 

I glimpsed the green-beaded, trailing branches of willows coming into leaf and the rose-tinged trunks of paper birches presiding over a deeply grassed meadow. Beyond I saw the brown standing husks of last year’s cattails deeper in the vale. The lush rankness of the grasses and ferns foretold swampland as surely as the green smell of standing water did. … Before long we came to where an energetic stream had long ago washed out a bridge and devoured the road to either side of it. Now it trickled shining and silver in a gravelly bed, but the fallen trees on either bank attested to its flood time fury. A chorus of frogs stilled suddenly at our approach. … Blackbirds called and early insects hummed. … words seemed to hang in the still sweet air. Then I saw the dragon. … We stared at it, as unmoving as it was. Golden and green, he sprawled under the trees in their dappled shade. He was far enough off the trail that I could only see patches of him through the trees, but those were impressive enough. His immense head, as long as a horse’s body, rested deep in the moss. His single eye that I could see was closed. A great crest of feather-scales, rainbow hued, lay lax about his throat. Similar tufts above each eye looked almost comical, save that there could be nothing comical about a creature so immense and so strange. I saw a scaled shoulder, and winding between two trees, a length of tail. Old leaves were heaped about it like a sort of nest.

This one sprawled in the deep shade of evergreen trees. Like the first, she nestled deep in moss and forest debris. But there the resemblance ended. Her long sinuous tail was coiled and wrapped around her like a garland, and her smoothly scaled hide shone a rich, coppery brown. I could see wings folded tight to her narrow body. Her long neck was craned over her back like a sleeping goose’s and the shape of her head was birdlike also, even to a hawklike beak. From the creature’s brow spiraled up a shining horn, wickedly sharp at the tip. The four limbs folded beneath her put me more in mind of a hind than a lizard. To call both these creatures dragons seemed a contradiction, yet I had no other word for beings such as these.

“I spy at least a dozen of these things,” the Fool announced. “And, behind those trees, I found another carved column such as we have seen before.” He set a curious hand to the skin of the sculpture, then almost winced away at the cold contact.

I was expounding my thoughts slowly to the others as we sat about our campfire that evening. I was trying to work Kettricken’s comb through my wet hair. In the late afternoon, I had slipped away from the others, to wash thoroughly for the first time since we had left Jhaampe. I had also attempted to wash out some of my clothes. When I returned to camp, I had found that all of the others had had much the same ideas. Kettle was moodily draping wet laundry on a dragon to dry. Kettricken’s cheeks were pinker than usual and she had rebraided her wet hair into a tight queue. Starling seemed to have forgotten her earlier anger at me. Indeed, she seemed to have forgotten entirely about the rest of us. She stared at the flames of the campfire, a musing look on her face, and I could almost see the tumbling words and notes as she fit them together. I wondered what it was like, if it was like solving the game puzzles that Kettle set for me. It seemed odd to watch her face, knowing a song was unfolding in her mind.

The word “scale” does no justice to the ornate plates that sheathed its wings, yet “feather” is too airy a word to describe them. Could a feather be made of finely beaten gold, perhaps it might come close to the dragon’s plumage.

Cool shade and trampled grass.

The Fool’s Room

 

I stood in the door and gawked at a soul laid bare. Here was light, and flowers, and colors in profusion. There was a loom in the corner, and baskets of fine, thin thread in bright, bright colors. The woven coverlet on the bed and the drapings on the open windows were unlike anything I had ever seen, woven in geometric patterns that somehow suggested fields of flowers beneath a blue sky. A wide pottery bowl held floating flowers and a slim silver fingerling swam about the stems and above the bright pebbles that floored it. I tried to imagine the colorless, cynical Fool in the midst of all this color and art.

I took a step farther into the room, and saw something that moved my heart aside in my chest. A baby. That was what I took it for at first, and without thinking, I took the next two steps and knelt beside the basket that cradled it. But it was not a living child, but a doll, crafted with such incredible art that almost I expected to see the small chest move with breath. I reached a hand to the pale, delicate face, but dared not touch it. The curve of the brow, the closed eyelids, the faint rose that suffused the tiny cheeks, even the small hand that rested atop the coverlets were more perfect than I supposed a made thing could be. Of what delicate clay it had been crafted, I could not guess, nor what hand had inked the tiny eyelashes that curled on the infant’s cheek. The tiny coverlet was embroidered all over in pansies, and the pillow was of satin. I don’t know how long I knelt there, as silent as if it were truly a sleeping babe. But eventually I rose, and backed out of the Fool’s room.

…a chamber that looked out over the parapets and contained a garden of wonder. I thought of the bright fish swimming in the fat pots, the moss gardens in their containers, the tiny ceramic child, so meticulously cared for, in its cradle.

The Fool’s Tent

 

Yet I glimpsed a patch of bright color on the exposed cliff above the beach. Even as I stared at it, trying to resolve what it was, a figure emerged from it. I decided it was a tent or some sort of shelter. A man came to stand on the tip of the cliff. His black-and-white hooded cloak struggled and flapped around him. The Fool awaited me.

The tent was made from a fabric I didn’t know, some sort of silk perhaps, but so tightly woven that no breath of air stirred inside it. The glow had come from a tiny brazier, set in a small pit dug in the floor of the chamber. The silk walls caught the heat it generated and held it well, while the light seemed multiplied by the sheen of the fabric. Even so, it was not bright inside the tent: rather it was lit warmly and intimately. A thin rug covered the rest of the floor, and a simple sleeping pallet of wool blankets was in one corner. To my wolf’s nose, it smelled of the Fool’s perfumes. In another corner was a small kit of clothing and a few significant items. I saw that he had brought the featherless Rooster Crown. Somehow it did not surprise me. The feathers from Others Island, the ones I had thought would fit in the crown, were in my sea chest. Some things are too significant to leave unattended.

He had a meager supply of foodstuffs and a single cooking pot; obviously he had relied on our arrival for his long-term survival. I saw no sort of weapon amongst his things; the only knives were ones suitable for cooking. I wondered what ship he had found that had dropped him off here, and why he had not supplied himself better. Among his victuals I found a small pot of honey. I took it.

In the dimming light, the Fool’s colorful one was like a blossom cast on the snow. Illuminated from within, the bright panels gleamed like stained-glass windows. What had seemed random designs suddenly resolved into dragons and serpents cavorting.

The Fool had always had the unique talent of creating a small world for himself when he wished to retreat. The tent was no exception. When I had visited it before, it had been charming, but empty. Now he occupied it and filled it with his presence. A small metal firepot in the center of the floor burned near smokelessly. A smell of cooking, something spicy, lingered in the air. Swift sat cross-legged on a tasseled cushion while the Fool was half-reclined on his pallet. Two arrows, one a dull gray, the other brightly painted and obviously the Fool’s work, rested across Swift’s knees. “Did you require me, sir?” Swift asked quickly. I could hear his reluctance to leave in his voice. I shook my head. “I didn’t even know you were here,” I replied.

As the Fool sat up, I saw what had made Swift laugh. A tiny marionette dangled from his hand, with five fine black threads going to each of the Fool’s fingertips. I had to smile. He had carved a tiny jester, done in black-and-white.The pallid face was his own, as it had been when he was a boy. White down hair floated around the little face. A twitch of one long finger set the creature’s head to nodding at me.

One-handed, he opened a small wooden box at the end of his pallet, and took out a cup and a bowl that nested together. From beneath them, he took a small cloth bag and shook herbs from it into the cup and bowl.

He reached for a bright yellow coverlet that looked as insubstantial as the stuff of his tent walls and draped it around his shoulders.

The Fool’s [tent] was a gorgeous, beckoning blossom in the night, and I longed simply to go there.