Monthly Archives: May 2016

And there it is; the anticlimax!

Full size FMP images can be found in my K-drive submission or at

After 20 weeks of hard work I have finally reached the end of my Final Major Project, the last project I will ever complete for my degree. *sob* My initial plan had been to create 3 environment dioramas based on the writing of author Robin Hobb in her Realm of the Elderlings series. I had also set myself a stretch goal to create some little illustrations if I had the time. I’m very pleased to say I met all the criteria for my initial plan, however the illustrations were wisely sacrificed to make vast improvements on my dioramas instead. To be honest, I’d expected that to happen and I’m fine with it.

Diorama Collection Watermarked

So there they are! And how do I feel about them? Surprisingly, great. I’d spent so long lamenting over all their short comings and fiddling with them, that when I finally put them together as a trio and watched my finished flythrough, I realised what I’d accomplished. Here’s the flythrough to keep you interested in the imminent wall of text;

I’m so pleased with how well they work together as a trio. I’d arranged the image so that the compositions of the left and right dioramas point into the image and lead your eyes to the middle diorama which has a very central composition. The darker backgrounds of the left and right dioramas also nicely frame the lighter central one. I think the flythough really nicely demonstrates the subtle animations that bring it to life. I really happy with how my final pieces turned out.

I’m most happy with the unique colours and atmospheres I managed to portray for each diorama, while keeping the style and feel of them all very consistent. The style, I feel, is quite unique and attractive too. It has a soft, whimsical air to it, which is exactly what I wanted.

Logo_Dragon Garden Highshot

There are a few aspects that I’m unhappy with, but the list is much much smaller than it was three weeks ago. Setting aside a dedicated length of time to focus on getting critique and acting on it was essential to making my project successful. Many of the things I’m unhappy with are also down to technical limitations or my lack of understanding of software. For instance, the snow on the Fool’s Tent diorama has a lot of harsh intersections with other meshes. I know of a method to fix this but am lacking the technical understanding of UE4 to make the improvement.

Logo_Fools Tent Closeup

I would say I’m least happy with how I handled considering and concepting my second and third dioramas, the Tent and the Garden. My rushing had a knock-on effect on the rest of my project, and I had to battle a little, especially with the Garden, to make my rough concept translate into 3D. It took a lot of redesigning and iteration to get to its current point. I’d reconsider both how much time I put into concepting, and what places in Robin Hobb’s books I’d choose to create if I had the chance to go back in time. I’ve learned a lot about how carefully I should consider scenes for a diorama, for example;

  • The dioramas should all be a similar scale so they work well as a set. I didn’t do this, and though the set looks fine, it would work better if I hadn’t made such a huge diorama for the Garden.
  • Some places don’t work well as dioramas. Again, the Garden was another trip up in this case. Creating something that appears to be in the middle of a forest isn’t going to work as a diorama- it’s the tall trees, lush surroundings, and darkness that make a forest, foresty. You don’t get that in such an isolated diorama scene.
  • Barren places, such as glaciers, are a bad idea for dioramas. It makes for a boring image, so I had to take quite a lot of artistic licence to bring the Fool’s Tent up to a remotely similar visual appeal as the other two.

With the early mistakes I made in the development phases of my dioramas, I made things a bit tougher for myself but I’m pleased to have learned from them. I always appreciate a challenge. There were a lot of challenges I faced and overcame, and I’m really proud I did. I faced the most problems with my Dragon Garden diorama, as you might have guessed by now, from the scene’s composition being all wrong, to everything being too noisy, to having some really difficult assets to create. Talking through my concerns with tutors, and other artists online, really helped me work through some of the concerns I had, particularly with composition. If you look through my older DG posts above you’ll see how much it’s changed.

I’ve learned that in the future I certainly won’t include any creatures in my environment dioramas- they’re not my strong suit! Honestly though, there isn’t a huge amount of things I’d do differently if I were to re-do this project. I’d probably choose different places to the Fool’s Tent and the Garden, or at the very least I’d handle them very differently now I know what works and what doesn’t. I’d probably work quite differently in my asset and material creation too. I’ve learned about things like parallax now, which I would take care to consider from the start because it’s a very useful effect to know. I’d work in Zbrush very differently now that I’ve discovered more suitable workflows too.

For fun, if I were to re-do this project from scratch for the next 20 weeks, I think I’d experiment with different places and with a very different, perhaps more hand-painted style. I’ve seen some great work recently which I’d love to try and replicate myself, such as this completely insane piece of art I spotted recently;

For future projects I intend on experimenting a little more beyond dioramas, before I become too much of a one-trick pony. I’ve made a list of new things I would like to start, for example a Diablo or LoL-style 2.5D kinda thing, which lots of hand-painted cards to create a cool scene, or a set of modular buildings that you would view from a slight distance in a more isometric game. There’s so much I want to do using what I’ve learned from my final major project.

To conclude, I’d definitely say this project has been a success and I’m very proud of what I’ve created. Not only that, this has been my first project where I’ve almost perfectly stuck to my time schedule, which is as big an achievement as anything, as that’s something I’ve always fought against (schedule document can be found as part of K-drive hand-in). The small number of mistakes I’ve made have only motivated me to try and overcome them in future projects. I’ve achieved exactly what I aimed to achieve, to a level that I can be happy with, and I’m looking forward to taking the skills I’ve learned forwards.

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This is it!

So, my FMP is done! I’ve spent the last week and a half polishing my Fool’s Tent diorama, and also bringing the rest of the project up to scratch. I’ll be talking about the whole project in detail in an overall project post-mortem in a day or two, but first I wanted to talk through the finishing touches I’ve made to the Fool’s Tent.

Fools Tent Main

Fool’s Tent final render.

Ta da! The pine tree is back! I’d scrapped it from my Dragon Garden diorama, but actually thought it could potentially work quite well here. It’s not been made from the start to perfectly fit in this diorama, obviously, so it’s lacking in snowiness a little, but overall I’m really pleased with it. I think it aids the composition nicely and also adds more to look at to an otherwise very plain scene.

In the books, the scene I’m depicting is based on a totally barren glacier; no trees, no shrubs, nothing to look at. As time went on I thought I should probably take some artistic licence and deviate from the books a little, adding the tree and some shrubs to bring it all together. There is a point in the books, actually, where the tent is at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea. There is described to be some hardy shrubs and grasses about. So maybe the scene could be from there.

cropped-logo_fools-tent-highshot.jpgThere’s a few new assets in there now. A lantern hangs from the ceiling of the tent, and another one sits at the bottom of the cliff, abandoned next to a climbing rope. There is no mention of climbing cliffs in the book, but I think the point of light gives the viewer more to look at, and can perhaps tell a bit of a story about the character’s gruelling trek across the dangerous glacier.

The diorama overall has a nice fresh coat of thick snow resting atop it now, covering some of the nasty seams caused by intersecting rock meshes. It’s definitely more of the feel I was going for in the first place. Thick, untouched snow just makes the scene feel more… wintery and isolated.


Inside the tent I’ve added some new assets and modified others. The rooster crown tri-count has been brought right down to almost-acceptable, and its got an actual texture now too. It looks a little bit machine-made rather than hand-carved, but I don’t have the time to spend ages making a beautiful hero asset on this project.

To give the tent a more lived-in feel, I’ve added a pair of boots and mittens by the door, though unfortunately I haven’t managed to make a cloak and other clothing to clutter the scene.


Overall, I feel like this scene has definitely crossed the line from in-progress to finished. I was worried I would never feel like it would be done, but with the final changes I’ve made I’m feeling much better even if it’s not perfect. I think my main annoyance, which is a little thing really, is the fact that I can’t have the snow meshes blend smoothly into each other and the rocks. This is because I’d have to have the meshes set to ‘transparent’, but this has the disadvantage of making the meshes shade incorrectly. I had to make a compromise, but I wish I knew of some way to have both. I’m also still quite unhappy with the atmosphere of the tent interior.

Because this diorama is the one I’ve seen the most of recently, I find myself disliking it the most. However, I’ve had a couple of people tell me this one is their favourite. This reassured me that there isn’t a huge disparity in quality between the three dioramas. I certainly think they make an awesome image when all put side-by-side;

Diorama Collection Watermarked

If I were to do this diorama again I’d probably put more consideration into how I would do the tent interior. I have no clue what I’d actually do if I were to re-do this project, but I certainly feel that the inside of the tent has been the greatest failure of my dioramas. A lot of it comes down to the weird shape of the space I’m working with. There are no corners that I can use to make the scene feel cosy, and it’s incredibly difficult to create a focal point that I can compose the scene around because there is always something behind you in the round space. The shadows are also much too dark due to difficulties I’ve had with the lighting set-up.

Additionally, the space being so small just doesn’t work in a game. At a presentation given by Mike Pickton at uni, he mentioned that the doors and corridors are roughly 3x the size they would be in real life. This helps the third-person camera work smoothly, but also makes the scenes easier to navigate and compose. As soon as he said this I realised that that was why this part of my diorama had failed. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.

I’m glad I’ve learned so much on these dioramas, and I’m going to talk about what I’ve taken from this project in more detail in my next blog post. In the mean time, I’m going to be handing in my final project, making a flythrough, and uploading everything to my online profiles. I’m really excited to share my work after all this time!

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Well, I said last week I’d be making some ‘tweaks’ to my Dragon Garden. Turned out to be a bit of an understatement. Things have really changed direction with this one, and I’m glad of it.

HighresScreenshot00033As I’ve said about a million times, this diorama is the problem child of my trio. I’ve been speaking at length with Ben Keeling about this one, and we’ve back-and-forthed a lot.

Paintover from Ben.

He’s made a lot of suggestions and eventually I’ve come to the current product. You might have noticed all the pine trees have disappeared, as they have slowly become more hindrance than help. I suppose it’s good to learn to scrap work, though I admit I’m a little annoyed about the lost time. Never mind!


I still intend on using the textures for some shrubbery around the base of the new large tree (currently go some placeholders in there), so not all is lost. I also want to create some ivy for the base of the new tree, and I need to do some UV modifying to remove the seams you can probably see.


The tree canopy is also currently looking a little messy, so I’m hoping to get some feedback on that and see what improvements I can make beyond just whacking a Normal Thief script on it, which doesn’t help a great deal.


So the main thing I’ve done this week is that big tree. As you can imagine I’ve also done a fair few little things, and an awful lot of rearranging assets in the scene. Finally, I’m feeling almost happy with it. It’s still the weakest diorama, but it’s not outstandingly bad. I’ve managed to keep to my schedule too, and by Sunday I hope to have everything done here, ready to move on to the final diorama next week.


Can’t believe I’m almost at the deadline.

After my blog post last week, I also managed to get the final asset done, the Fool’s Sceptre, and I also made an accompanying jester hat. I think it’s the last little storytelling touch that really makes the scene feel like a place in time as opposed to a little floating diorama-room-thing.


Next week is the diorama that has probably felt the least finished throughout the project. I’m hoping some new snow, assets, sound, and tweaking will bring it up to standard. I’m a little nervous, because there’s a lot of work that needs doing, but as usual I have assets that I’m willing to scrap should I need the extra time on other more important things.

It’ll work out, but I’ll still stress over it.

See you next week for what will be my final in-progress project blog update. Yikes!

Good luck fellow FMP-ers. Can’t wait to see all your stoof.

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Polishy Stuff

1 week of polish time down. It’s been a very productive week working on the finalisations of The Fool’s Room, and it’s really starting to come together now. Here’s how it looks in-game;


All I have left to do now is a new asset I want to put in for storytelling; a jester’s sceptre, and some sound tweaks.

A lot of the changes I’ve made have been quite subtle. I’ve had to deal with a high volume of little finicky things as opposed to full assets and such. On the Monday I lit the candles, added supporting stones to the roof beams and some new ivy, added wood frames to the windows, cut into the chimney breast so it’s not perfectly straight, and changed the height of some of the floor tiles. The white stones supporting the roof beams and the ivy add some nice variation to the brownness of the walls/wood, and the subtle changes to the chimney breast and floor tiles just help add to the immersion of the scene.

The blue/green curtain has also had some loops added so it looks less… polygonal. Jonah had a look at the level and found that really distracting, along with some texture stretching which is also now fixed.


On Tuesday I; made some dirt alphas for the corners, put handles on the windows (no-one noticed but I sure as hell did), added a tapestry to the wall, painted some colour variation into the floor, modified the large central window so it doesn’t look weird, and re-did the basket of threads so it matches the style better. The tapestry is in a position that isn’t visible until you enter the diorama, which rewards the viewer for exploring a little and also breaks up the brownness of the wall.


I managed to bring myself to texture the porcelain doll asset on Wednesday, which I had been putting off for a while. It’s not perfect, and the blankets are supposed to be embroidered with pansies, but I didn’t want to spend ages fussing over such a small detail, especially when the rest of the textiles are very simplistic. On Wednesday I also took a break from the Fool’s Room and had a go at improving the Dragon Garden diorama. It’s been the big problem diorama for this project as it is so different to my other two. The textures appeared too noisy, and the composition just wasn’t working.



It’s still probably the weakest diorama, but after quickly moving around some assets I found I had a set-up that worked much better; the dragon really stood out finally, the colours seemed to pull together for a lovely palette, and the composition is less confusing. With the addition of some shrubbery, a new larger tree for the top diorama section, and some more tweaking, everything will feel much better hopefully.


Back to the Fool’s Room, I started to make some much more final tweaks to the level. I made sure everything in the content browser had it’s materials applied, and I checked that all the textures were sized correctly. Sound went in next- I tried adding seagull sounds and such, because the tower is by the sea, but it was just weird and distracting. I decided to keep it simple with just wind, and the creaking of the window opening and closing. It’s nice to play a game that isn’t silent, even if the sound is the simplest thing. I’m definitely not much of a sound designer though!


A big problem I’d been avoiding was the edges of the diorama, where the tilable wall texture breaks away. Where this happens, I have to try and make the main face of the wall and the broken edges match, or there are some very obvious seams and texture stretches. I spent some time trying to fix this to the best of my ability, but it’s by no means perfect; the normal map on the wall means that even if the albedo matched perfectly, I still get some normal map seams. It’s improved vastly, but if you look closely you can still see some problem areas.

Ben Keeling from CA has kindly been helping me again, teaching me some awesome new stuff and doing paintovers. He helped me improve the wall texture a bit, which had been a problem for a while. The albedo is now more of a flat colour as it should be in PBR, and I have parallax on there, which makes the wall appear more three dimensional than just a normal map allows. He also brought up the lighting as a concern, and since I hadn’t edited the lighting for weeks, I was happy to have some crit.


I liked the softness of my original lighting, but it made for quite a flat scene especially when viewed in greyscale. I may continue to play with the lighting a little, but apart from the final asset I want to make, I’m considering this diorama pretty much done. Looking forward to getting the final renders and stuff sorted.

Next week I’ll be continuing my work on the Dragon Garden, creating a nice tree to finalise the scene and making a lot of tweaks!

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Post Mortem; Fool’s Tent and Polish Plans

It’s Wednesday today, and at the weekend I ‘finished’ my final diorama; the Fool’s Tent. ‘Finished’ meaning I reached the end of the time I’m supposed to spend on it, however there is still much polish work to do.


I’m going to talk briefly about how I feel about this diorama so far, and also what I am doing with my 3-4 weeks of ‘polish’ time.

Overall I’m relatively happy with the appearance of the diorama. I quite like the colours and the composition, and I’ve definitely improved at sculpting rocks for a scene. However, the scene doesn’t hold up as well as The Fool’s Room as a single image- the snow and stars on the background are a little confusing, and high-resolution screenshots bring out all the weird and nasty noisiness of the rocks and snow. You can also see faults such as the snow pile meshes on the lower diorama standing out oddly.

The diorama, as I’ve mentioned before, is also a little underwhelming at face value as a lot is going on inside the tent and is not visible externally. To combat this I’ve tried to go a little over-the-top with atmosphere to compensate and create a more stylised feel. This makes it look a little more interesting and better matches the stylisation of the Fool’s Room. Adding very smooth, clean snow will also add more to the stylisation and match the cleanness of the Fool’s Room. I’ve also got some plans for assets outside the tent itself, as mentioned last week. Adding a climbing rope and lantern at the bottom of the diorama will create a triangular composition to lead the eye around the piece, and the sledge will make the scene appear more lived-in and populated;


The main things I intend on fixing during polish time for this diorama are;

  • The snow, which currently does not look like snow and is unpleasantly noisy and dirty looking.
  • The tent interior, which I am generally quite unhappy with the atmosphere of.
  • The lack of assets.
  • Lighting/atmosphere.

The biggest task for the Fool’s Tent will be creating a fair few new assets to improve the atmosphere and composition. Unlike the Fool’s Room and the Dragon Garden, where I am doing a lot of modifying things and re-doing things, for the Tent it’s very much adding to what I already have. I want to tell a bit of a story with the assets in the diorama, since the diorama itself has little to offer. I’m also hoping the atmosphere will become more believable with the addition of better, smoother snow and improved lighting.


(Left to Right) Purple= PreLighting, Mint= Lights, Bright green= Translucency, Mint= PostProcess

Lighting is a very big problem at the moment, because I’m finding that I have to use a lot of lights to get a nice feel to the diorama, but optimisation is also becoming a real concern, with some awful framerates. Using the ProfileGPU console command to show what the cause of the problem is – lighting and translucency -, is very useful, but there’s only so much I can do before the quality really begins to drop. I’m hoping I’ll be able to fix it up without making further compromises. It’s frustrating, knowing that there are huge open-world games out there which run fine, and I can’t even get this tiny diorama to run properly.

In addition to my other concerns, I’m disappointed with the appearance of the tent because it’s very rigid- looking; all the edged are perfectly straight, and only the fabric moves in the wind. I’d like it if I could make the tent itself blow in the wind, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it, which is frustrating.

This diorama is definitely the one I have the most regrets for. It especially occurred to me the other day that I should have made this diorama and the Dragon Garden much smaller and more intimate. I could achieve this by using cutaways, such as for the tent front. Then I would be able to have the dioramas as all the same scale as the Fool’s Room, and they would appear as more of a set. Unfortunately it’s too late to do any of this, but I’ll be bearing it in mind for future projects.

I’m hesitant to say much more about how I feel about this diorama, because I’m quite heavily relying on my polish-time to pull it through from mediocre to great. I really hope I can work through its faults and improve it to a satisfactory level, or it’s going to look very disappointing alongside the Fool’s Room in particular.

Polish Time

In my initial project brief, I set 3 paintings as a stretch goal for my project. I wasn’t sure from the beginning if I’d ever do them, but thought it could have been a nice addition if I had the time. I’ve decided I’ll not be doing them, instead using that time to very extensively polish up my project to the best it can be.

Naturally the first thing I did on Sunday/Monday before I began my polish/fixing time was to make an exhaustive list of everything that needs doing for hand-in. I collated ideas from critique I had received, things that were unfinished, and things that I wasn’t feeling too great about.


I created a final section for my Excel spreadsheet outlining my week-by-week plans. I intend on spending a week on each diorama, roughly at least. I haven’t rigidly broken up my time like I have for during the making-of my dioramas, because I have no idea how long each task will last. For instance, I’ve worked through my tasks for the Fool’s Room much faster than I had expected, but now I’ll be working on more difficult tasks such as adding sound and texturing which will probably fill the rest of the week.

If I get ahead of schedule, I’ll simply move onto the next diorama sooner- I have a feeling I could use the extra time.

The final week- hand in week- I have left blank for any last-minute panic adjustments, making sure housekeeping is done properly, building the ‘game’, and putting it up on the K-drive, testing, etc. I’d like to have my work on K-drive, all sorted, by about Wednesday so I’m not scrabbling to get everything done on the Friday.

After all that’s done I’ll deal with making a flythrough video. Voila.

I’m feeling good about how I’ve distributed my time and I’m confident that I’ll get everything done. The only things I’m feeling a little apprehensive about are tasks that I’ve never done before, namely adding music and sound, and building the final game. I’m not sure if things that are working fine in-editor will just break, or if all will go smoothly.

I’ll continue to post weekly with updates on my project over the next 4 weeks.

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