Monthly Archives: April 2016

Feedback. Feedback Everywhere.

Well, I’m starting to feel better about my tent diorama… about time too, since this week was the ‘final’ week of it.

It’s been another asset-creation week, and since some of these assets were a bit more hard-surfacey than I usually make, I decided to have a go at some 3dsMax high-poly modelling. This was quite a new workflow for me, but fortunately I had Jonah the high-poly expert to help me out with how to use chamfers, swift-loop, and turbosmooth properly. I learned so much new stuff (some stuff that I really should have known and I have probably wasted hours of my life without them), and it really put a spring back in my step. The big ones I’ve worked on this week are the ‘closed chest’ asset, and the ‘rooster crown’, which still needs finishing (it’s also currently 15,000 tris LOL). The chest could also use another texture pass.



The crown in particular was a really fun problem-solving experience, and it’s inspired me to have a go at creating some more hero-detailed props in the future. Hopefully the texturing will go smoothly.

After my moping last week, I decided to take the bull by the horns and completely re-do the lighting and tent interior setup. I deleted the post-process volume which was causing more confusion than anything, and went from scratch. I’m much happier with it now, but it’s still not perfect;



The circular shape of the space was causing me to place everything just around the perimeter of the walls without much thought, and so it just looked boring and badly composed. It’s still not well composed, but it’s better; I decided to treat the space as a corner, positioning the two rolled-up mats adjacent to eachother against a wall and creating a cosy sleeping space. Putting the highly detailed Rooster Crown by the door as the first thing you see makes more sense than having it far from the door too. It’s such a huge part of the story that it needs to stand out. I also made an effort to cluster the assets rather than just scatter them. I worked from tallest at the back to smallest at the front, as this always works well to create nicer compositions.

I spoke to Creative Assembly environment artist Ben Keeling shortly after my blog post last week. He’s been so very helpful in bringing problems with the diorama to my attention, so I spent some time working on these things this week. He did a quick paintover for me;

And I realised how boring the lighting setup was on the external area of the diorama, so I re-did it;

cFor some reason, it was very difficult to get any bloom at a distance from the diorama, so I lose that nice aspect of Ben’s overpaint from my work. Still, though, it’s a vast improvement. To make the tent so bright created a world of problems, however. To illuminate the tent means having a very very bright light inside it, but this obviously ruins the interior atmosphere of the tent. Previously, I’d been trying to reach a compromise between the lighting of the exterior and interior, so the tent was showing too dim and the interior was too bright. Creating two different setups that swap out as you move through the diorama was the obvious choice, but I had no idea how to do this, so I spoke to technical boss Dom Mathuse.

It took a while, but we finally had a set-up where the exterior lights fade off as you enter the tent and turn back on as you exit. It’s a little clunky looking, so I need to play about with the fade speeds and stuff, but damn it’s useful! Dom also went way WAY out of his way to help set up a fade to and from black at the start/end of the levels (which is bloody complex, sort it out Epic), and he helped set up the camera speed to so that you don’t just fly through the dioramas at the speed of sound. THANKS DOM (again)!

Like I said I would last week, I also posted to Polycount with my woes. Madwish The Super Helpful resurfaced to do a paintover and give yet again awesome crit. He used an older image but you get the gist;



I love the idea of the rope and lantern at the bottom of the rocky area, even if it doesn’t really match the books, so I’m going to use that and see if I can make some of the ropes on the tent fly freely. I have no idea if it’s possible for me to make the tent move more than it does as it’s split into about 4 separate meshes to get everything behaving as it should, so I’ll probably leave that one.


Literally everyone I’ve spoken to about this diorama feels that it’s a little plain at face value compared to my other two. Everyone mentions adding more assets to the scene, so I’ve started on a sledge that can sit outside the tent door and some walking sticks. I’m not sure if the sledge will be loaded or not though. I quite like the way the skeletal form of it contrasts with the solid red-orange of the tent and white of the snow.

In addition to the things I’ve mentioned above, I also have polish plans for;

  • More thick snow with hopefully more sparkliness.
  • A lantern hanging from the tent ceiling.
  • Pelts on the tent floor.
  • Clothing/gloves inside the tent to match the boots.
  • Perhaps a small shrub of some sort growing at the edge.

I have a lot to do, but mostly it’s just asset additions as opposed to re-doing or editing existing stuff like I will be for the Fool’s Room. Speaking of editing, I also spoke to Ben Keeling about The Dragon Garden. This diorama has become the sort-of problem child of my trio. I really like some aspects, but also it’s pretty crap. It’s going to be by far the big one for polish time, because Ben has suggested I pretty much cut the trees out from the top of the diorama and make a completely new tree for it, kind of like this one;

After making the new tree, which will probably take me a while, I’ll need to re-evaluate from there and probably make further alterations to suit the new situation, and do things such as re-make ivy to match the new tree, etc. Ben also suggested I create some shorter shrubbery too, so I’ll probably have a go at that. I’d rather not re-do so much of this diorama, but time-permitting it’s definitely the way to go to save this diorama, as opposed to making millions of stupid little changes.

In further exciting news, in a few weeks I’ll be doing a lecture at uni on how I created my FMP from early idea to concepts to finish, with tips on time/life-management, interesting environment creation in UE4, composition, lighting, asset-creation and so on. The course leader (I’m looking at you MIKE) decided to call it an ‘FMP masterclass’ so I can feel even more nervous and under pressure than I already do! I don’t know what the turn out will be like since the first and second year have technically already finished uni I think, but hopefully it’ll be worth the effort I put in to creating an interesting lecture.

If you’re reading this, DMU students, please come along. It won’t suck, I promise.


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Not-so-cosy tent.

I’ve been a bit on-and-off this week, but have managed to keep pretty much on schedule for creating the small assets that will populate the interior of the Fool’s Tent.

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As Robin Hobb’s writing says, I want the tent interior to be dimly lit, intimate, and cosy. A totally different world to the exterior. I feel like I am really failing at this, and it’s very frustrating. I’ve been playing with lighting and post-processing to try and achieve something close to what I want, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The shadows are black, which I really don’t want, and the whole thing just has this nasty sepia tone to it;


I mean, I wouldn’t stay there.

I think the noisiness of the tent walls might not be helping too much; though it looks how I want externally, it’s just making the interior a bit overwhelming. I’m not really sure how to continue forth with the lighting, so I will be making a post on Polycount for help. Additionally, to make the tent really pop from the outside, I have to crank up the lighting really high inside and then bring the brightness back down using the auto-exposure post process settings. I think it’s washing out the interior a bit.

The scene exterior hasn’t changed except for a little with regards to lighting. I wanted to illuminate the rocks more, as I’m quite pleased with them and don’t want them to just be totally in shadow. I’ve also added some post-processing tint to make the scene feel a little more purple and less green/blue, which was a bit sickly in my opinion.


It’s very difficult to get good screenshots of this diorama due to the particle effects; in the editor, more distant particles fade out, whereas in a high-res screenshot, they all seem to be rendered and it looks very over the top. In-game there is less particley-ness going on.

Last Wednesday, which I didn’t mention last week, I made a rare appearance at university for a lecture on portfolios from Ben Keeling and Rich Carey at Creative Assembly. I’d put my portfolio forward for a review and they agreed to use mine along with a few other guys. It was great to get some actual tailored advice on my portfolio, and they were so surprisingly positive I genuinely thought they were kidding for a moment. I had some advice on which pieces to chuck out, so I need to get on that ASAP really, along with sorting business cards.

I also talked to Craig on Wednesday, who took a look at my dioramas and ran through what he liked/disliked about them. He really likes the purple-pink flowers in the Dragon Garden, and I totally agree that they really help the piece come together, though I’m still very dissatisfied with it.

He feels that the Fool’s Tent at first glance is very anti-climactic after the busyness of the other two, and I also agree with this. I don’t think the tent interior is going to remotely make up for that either. We talked about the potential of adding ice, which I had considered and mostly written off. In the books I’m working from, there is a dragon buried in the ice of the glacier they are camping on- it’s why they’re there. We feel that, if I had time, I could explore ways of incorporating that to add interest and mystery to the diorama. The most obvious way would be to have it silhouetted in the centre area of the diorama;


Craig’s given me a tutorial on creating an ice shader which I could use should I choose to do this, however I have a couple of problems with this idea; Firstly, I don’t really want to remove the rocks from the centre of the diorama because I’m quite happy with how they look and I spent quite a lot of time on them. Second, this could be something quite time-consuming that I decide to do, only for me to decide it isn’t working. Therefore, I’m going to keep is as something I do later if I feel I can spare the time. I really think it’s a fantastic idea to improve the diorama. I just wish I could feel confident that it would work.

One word; uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

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Externally, this diorama hasn’t changed a great deal. I’ve added some particle effects, improved the existing ones, and tried to add some more trampled looking snow/snow piles around the tent;


Currently I’m not hugely happy with this diorama. I was hoping I’d progress from one diorama to the next, but I feel like I’m just getting worse. Though I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve been producing, I don’t think I’m going to be super proud of my FMP like I hoped.


In addition to the trampled snow and snow piles on top of the diorama, I’ve added some smaller clumps of snow around the lower areas to make the snow appear thicker and smoother. It definitely helps reduce the noisiness, however due to the shader being set to ‘translucent’ to enable smooth transitions between meshes, it means it shades oddly and you can clearly see the differences in the two snow shaders. Not sure what to do about that.

Most notably, I’ve begun work on the tent interior.


I’ve started on the soft furnishings such as bedding and blankets first as I find those really difficult to get right. So far so good though- I’m pretty happy with how they’re going. However, I’m currently very unhappy with the atmosphere inside the tent. I’m finding it hard to create a warm and cosy feel with so few assets to use to my advantage, as well as having a super hard time getting the lighting right. The shape of the tent isn’t helping much either. It’s very frustrating and tiring working on something I so dislike. Also, it’s stupidly complicated just to get a gentle flickering light from the fire and I can’t even bring myself to face it right now. Alsooooo, my fire particle sucks. Alsoooooooo, FMP is really dragging for me now.

On the bright side, I found my sound effects for this diorama this week, and I’ve managed to get the HUD to show my book excerpts now! This was something that wasn’t working and had been bothering me, so on a whim I had another go and made it work first time. 🙂 Hopefully people can go to these and understand some of the choices I’ve made that have previously been questioned. Like I’ve said before, some things don’t translate from written to visual/physical very well at all.


(That clipping on ‘book excerpt’ is fixed now.)

In a bid to make myself feel less apprehensive about modelling all the little assets that will be going into this tent, I spent some time the other day quickly sketching most of what will be populating the tent.

7- Asset Sketches

I’m nervous about modelling these, as I want them to look good without spending too much time on them. I want them to create a bigger picture rather than being individual pieces, however in such a small space with so few assets it’ll really stand out if something looks shit. It’s going to be extremely hard to resist the urge to rush things like I always do. Playing The Witcher 3 the other night, I was looking at some of the smaller assets populating a market, and I realised just how insanely detailed even these tiny things that most people just ignore are. A cast-iron kettle had even the tiniest hammer marks normal-mapped into it. I was stunned. It’s made me realise that I really, really need to work on creating more considered assets in the future- just because I’m working in a stylised manner doesn’t mean I can cut corners.

I certainly can’t expect my work to be as good as that in The Witcher with my time frame and ability level, but I can start trying to add more detail to my assets from now on.

I’m really not getting my hopes up for the overall feel of the tent interior though- I think it’s going to be really hard to nail, and I’ve been realising more and more recently that I’m not as good at lighting as I thought I was a few months ago. Lighting is something I’m consistently picked up on during critique.

I’m now really looking forward to getting FMP done and doing something new. I feel like I’m not learning so much anymore, and I’m ready to move on and practise different things.

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Snow. Lots of it.

As I showed last week, I’ve begun work on my third and final diorama and it’s come a fairly long way, at least at first glance. In practise I haven’t really done a great deal, it’s just the simplicity of the diorama that makes it appear like I have.

I’ve made a lot of (unfinished) particle effects, some snow, a moon (also unfinished lol) and a tent. And I textured those rocks. See, not as much as ya thought, huh? Being able to reuse the rocks across the whole diorama has really sped up the process, and a simple tilable snow texture applied to a couple of shaders for various thicknesses of snow means I covered the whole thing with snow super quick.  

It looks more complex than it is. Each section is pretty much a repeat of the other, just changed to add my normal maps, etc. You can see a few greyed out links where I attempted to add tessellation, but unfortunately it didn’t give the effect I was aiming for despite the tutorial I followed. I had actually followed a tutorial from scratch to try and create the snow, but it was laughably complex and I just ended up doing it myself from what I learned.

I’m relatively happy with the snow but I ideally would have liked tessellation to make the snow really deep. I’m still trying to work out how I’m going to deal with nice deep footprints around the tent. All I can think to do is create a unique footprinty snowy mesh to lay over the top of the rocks. Woe is me, art is hard. The rocks for this diorama I am muuuuch happier with than the dragon garden rocks. They’re not perfect, but they have a nice amount of surface variation and sharpness which I failed to capture last time. Also you can barely see them because of the darkness which is always good. I need to play with the lighting a little and also make the overall diorama stand out a little better from the background though so that’ll probably change.

As you can see from the above shot, the thinness of the snow looks a bit weird, especially with the normal map of the rock showing through the snow.

I’ve been dabbling a little with my other dioramas this week too, particularly the dragon garden which I’ve been feeling iffy about for ages. I took into account some crit from a few people, especially ‘Madwish’ on Polycount, who has been giving me regular feedback from the beginning. Thanks Madwish!     

I’ve deleted some foliage to calm things down a little, and moved the tree roots (which I’ll now need to modify again) that were initially by the dragon’s head to the left, where Jonah felt there should be something happening. This did 2 things; it helps lead the eye around the diorama a little more and makes the area around the dragon’s head less noisy. In my opinion, it helps ease the eye and directs you to the dragon’s head a little more. I also brightened the texture of the dragon by 3 times to add colour to the scene, and again to make the dragon, particularly the head, stand out. I’d had several comments that it had taken too long to spot him.

I’m still torn about the background for both the Fool’s Room and Dragon Garden, but someone on the Ten Thousand Hours Facebook group suggested a radial gradient which I’ll definitely be trying. For now, I here’s a test I made for the Fool’s Room, where I made the background black except for what you see through the windows. It makes the scene feel very much like something from a point-and-click adventure game with their classic dark backgrounds. 

The main reason I’m hesitant about black backgrounds is that I feel I’ll get penalised for bad taste (though I genuinely prefer the black for this and DG), and two black backgrounds will look odd alongside the starry night of the Fool’s Tent. The DG also has less of an adventure game feel, and it’ll just look odd on black when FR works so well.

Ok, I’m getting ranty now so enough of the dioramas. On a completely different topic, I received my grade for the three ‘style matrix’ projects I did at the start of third year; 82%, a first! I’m pleased with my mark, obviously. A greedy part of me wants this to be higher though, always higher, so I’m going to find out what I came short on for future reference. In further good news, I’ve had a couple of freelance job offers which is always super exciting. There’s one I’m definitely interested in but it all depends on timings and so on. I’ll see what happens, but whether it falls through or not, it’s really reassuring that I’ll find work when I actually actively start looking. The job offers are thanks to Artstation, where I set up an account last week. Everyone on there has been lovely and people seem to really like my work! It’s a real shock to get such a good response. I guess I just look at my work and can’t see through all the cock-ups. I don’t know. You’re your own grestest critic and all that.

So yeah. Positive week, all is going smooth. I’m currently on the train to lovely Beverley for the weekend and a break. I’ll be feeling all refreshed when I return. 🙂

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It’s the final countdoooooown.

I can’t believe I’m working on my final diorama already! Fortunately I’m feeling much better than I was when I made a start on the Dragon’s Garden, and hopefully this’ll continue on for the rest of the project. I’m getting much better at taking breaks and feel less of a sense of stressed urgency than I have previously, which definitely helps.

Just like with my previous dioramas, I’ve done all the concepting work this week, and also made a start on the modelling. This diorama had the shortest concepting time of all, mostly due to the fact that I had quite a strong image in my head of what I wanted to create. I did actually try to broaden my design ideas out a little, but I found that there are very few compelling designs that I could create with the environment I was faced with.

The book excerpt I am working from is based on a glacier. As you can imagine, there isn’t really much going on on a glacier in the way of plant life and so on that I can use to my advantage. As such, the diorama is very simple at first glance, with the colour and character coming from the focal point; the tent. The tent will also be explorable inside to give more interest to the scene. In the books, the owner of the tent has a fight with another member of the camp, and so I may add blood stains and signs of a scuffle in the snow. Currently, the way I will deal with the snow is the biggest concern to me; I want the snow to appear thick and trampled, and I’m not sure how to go about this convincingly.

For concepting, I did some sketches first to try and realise the abstract idea in my head;

2- Quick Sketches

I found this quite difficult because I didn’t want to create a diorama that was too big to deal with, but I also couldn’t get a nice composition with a smaller diorama. This was largely because a better diorama tends to have multiple tiers to lead the eye around the scene and to just generally create a nicer composition, but this was near impossible with just snow and rock. From looking at images of glaciers, I knew that it was virtually just snow and ice, and I’d need to twist this reality a little to create even a remotely nice composition. I played with adding a wall of rock behind the tent to create a frame for the tent, but I found it impossible to create a nice silhouette without just making the rock wall huge. Definitely this kind of scene works best as a huge vista with a splash of colour for the tents.

Eventually, though, I came up with a scene that worked quite nicely, and I was pretty pleased with the blockout.


I decided that I would use a large moon as the back plane/’tier’ of the scene, so that it doesn’t end too abruptly beyond the tent. For the shape of the ice/rock, I was inspired by this image in my Pinterest board;

mountain glacier - Google Search:

I liked the triangle created by the snow and rock on the left.

Jonah also pointed out that inverted trianglular shapes are often used to reflect instability, and asked if I was sure I wanted to use that kind of imagery. The answer is yes, as this nicely reflects the instability and turmoil of the main character’s relationships at this point in the books.

Fine art yo.

I then went on to painting my final concept idea for the exterior scene, which went through next to no iterations. I arrived at an outcome I was happy with very quickly.

3- Concepting

I will work out the details of the tent panel designs when I come to creating them in 3D.

I then created a concept for the tent interior using the book excerpt and a list of potential assets I had taken from the book. I also used this as an opportunity to get some painting practise, and had fun rendering the scene.

1- Asset Ideas

4- Concepting Interior

I was careful to imagine how much a man could carry on his back in a large pack, as described in the book, when creating the concept for the scene. I didn’t want to furnish it too lavishly with luxuries despite the characters extravagant tastes. I stuck exclusively to what I could draw from the book.

Since creating the concepts, I have modelled the modular rocks for the base of the scene. I decided to make the rocks modular this time to avoid problems with texture resolution and time. Sculpting 4 detailed rocks is a better use of my time then creating a huge mass of blobby rocks. I’ve also learned about some new brushes since creating the Dragon Garden, and this really helped with giving the rocks the sharpness I wanted.



Next job is texturing them. 🙂 After that I’ll begin work on the ice and snow.

So far I’m pretty happy with how everything is going.

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