Monday, 5 May 2014

Apotheosis - The Wordiest of Blogs (Evaluation)

I'm taking this directly from my design document, but considering this is supposed to be evidence for my development, I feel it needs to go here as a rounding off.  It's not very exciting, just saying.

Looking back at my project, I am happy with it.  I’ve worked steadily away on it since the beginning, and I feel that it shows.  That being said, I do have some reservations with it that I wish I could have either addressed earlier or had more time to fix.

                Primarily, my main concern is scale.  Although I knew keeping my environment small was important so I didn't overstretch myself, I had always entertained the idea of having something large and expansive to traverse through, with lots of surprised in store.  I have to be reasonable in that the scale I imagine is likely impossible given how much I had to learn to achieve it in the process, but it’s still something that I feel would have been nice.  Toward the end I felt a little frustrated that my level would move forward in huge leaps, and then slow down whilst I spent ages fixing and building things.  Although this was very much necessary, I wish I could have expanded into my extended scope more.

                I also feel somewhat unsure about level population.  Although I made a lot of different assets, I knew I wanted to tell a story without cluttering the scene.  That being said, I look at areas like the temple front and feel that it might have benefited from a little more set dressing – although I’m not sure what I’d put there.  A large part of my decoration involved large wall paintings, so there was still plenty of visual interest.  It just felt like I could have maybe taken the environment further if I had more time – making small statues to stand on the corners, for example.

                Speaking of statues, I feel that my statue could have worked better.  I’m pleased with it in that it’s my most detailed sculpt ever and I also learned a lot from producing it, but it has been riddled with so many problems and doesn't look as good as I would have liked it.  Although I have finally fixed the seams on the shoulder, there are still other visible seams and the baked lighting is a bit muddy.  I’ve also spotted a lot of anatomical errors – the ridge of her nose, for example.  I really like the silhouette, but I feel that if I had more experience, the execution would have been a lot better.

                Of course, there are some elements that, as far as I know, seem to be out of my control but are frustrating.  From the beginning of the project I've been plagued with strange blue-green blotches on my lightmaps, particularly on anything light.  They appear seemingly at random and on anything of marble colour.  I've asked around for solutions but it seems to be par the course with UDK, which is a pain.

                For all the negatives, however, there are elements that I really enjoy within my environment.  I’m a big fan of the lighting set up, especially within the temple hall.  The candles and many glowing elements really pull the ambience together, giving me the air-thick-with-magic feel that I wanted.  In general, I feel like the ambience has been achieved, especially after putting in sounds.  I feel I’m communicating the feel I was going for to begin with – reverent, powerful, slightly imposing.

                I’m also really pleased with how my paintings integrated with my environment.  Since the level change they’ve taken up a much better place in the chamber, and they provide both a source of interest and also decorate the temple in other ways – through the relevant particle effects and lights I’ve added to them.  I’m also very pleased with the animations – although I feel I could have pushed them a lot further with the time given, and I also wish I’d put a zoomed in, blurred version of them behind the full shots in the flythrough, I’m happy with the outcome.  It’s something I never thought I’d try and really challenged me in my approach to planning a painting, whilst still being fun.  It also gives you the ability to view your image from a different angle as well, which makes creating it all the more fun.  I’m really glad I gave myself the opportunity to implement illustration into it.

                In terms of story, I’m not entirely sure how much comes across.  Part of the problem that had been holding me back was my dedication to the personal project I was springboarding off, and as a result it hampered my creativity since I was considering how possible it would be within the world.  However, after changing it I decided to go with what visually and creatively felt right, and if I wanted to incorporate story elements later on then I could fit them into something that already existed and gave me a framework to work with.  However, even though I did this – having an altar, the huge murals on the walls that (at least, to me) tell the story I had come up with, evidence of the characters in the environment, I feel like it didn’t come across as well as it could have.  Alongside this, the fashion elements and decadence were hard to put in when the majority of my time was spent on the environment.  I feel like if I had spent more time considering that side of things, it might have been communicated better.  However, considering how much my concern with story had dragged me down to begin with, perhaps it was for the best.

                I’m also not sure how art nouveau my painting felt.  There were definitely elements that had a Mucha feel – my stained glass windows, my paintings, the swirls and flowers that adorned a lot of the assets – however I feel like it didn’t come across in the physical architecture as much.  After spending a while on the first pillar, I realised that making elaborate, intricate environment models constantly would be a huge time sponge, as well as giving me less room to work with in terms of hand painting.  Although it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time, I simplified a lot of the complicated architecture I had concepted so that I could get things done.  Looking back, I’m glad I did, even if I didn’t quite achieve the delicacy and poise that I was originally going for.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure whether they would have worked well together anyway.

                All in all, I’m really pleased with this outcome.  I’ve worked hard at it, learned a lot whilst doing so and pushed myself.  My flythrough is something I’ve been wanting to try for a while – setting shots to music – and it’s been well received.  I’ve developed my time management skills and remained diligent for months, and although I found the beginning to be very tough and emotionally draining, pushing through helped me create something I’m proud to put my name to.  It’s a great note to end the course on and I feel it’s pretty representative of my art style.  Ultimately, it’s not been easy, but I’m really happy with how everything has come together.

Apotheosis - Still Fixing Things

So I've spent a good amount of time trying to fix my statue lightmaps, and it's got to the point that I've just had to accept it might be broken for no reason.

I've had issues with the model for a while now and no matter how much lightmap stitching, texture checking and repainting or light rebaking I do, it doesn't change.  It's not smoothing groups.  It's not normal maps.  It's just not working.

 The strange thing is, it seems to have got exponentially worse these past few days.  Maybe I'm noticing it more, but I definitely didn't see that big black splotch on the skirt until recently.  The most frustrating part of it is that the shoulder seam is viewable from very up close, and sticks out like a sore thumb.  There isn't a seam there in the lightmap since I stitched it together, and in 3Ds Max the model has no sign of it with the diffuse or the normals, so something must be breaking elsewhere.

I've noticed they seem to be getting worse depending on the angle they're viewed from.  From certain view it can get a lot lighter or darker.  With this in mind I've applied a flat normal, and it seems to get rid of it from certain angles, but not in others. The black blotch on the skirt is there all the time though.

Also I imported this and this happened.
Update - so I stayed up silly late last night and started detatching bits of the material here and there - IT'S THE SPECULAR.  WHAT.  Apparently this can happen if the faces are flipped?  Either way, I don't have time to shift everything around but if I edit the diffuse texture I can paint the lighting in myself.

Update - essentially, it seems that staying up late and struggling for hours is pointless.  The specular was what was causing the problem - apparently this is due to flipped faces and UDK not liking this.  However, considering how late in the day it is, I don't have time to shift everything around.  It's not a seam problem with the textures - the faces themselves not coping with the specular  With this in mind I've removed the specular and have edited the diffuse to mimic the highlights the specular creates.

Update - the black splotch on the dress turned out to have two faces welded underneath it, so it looked fine but was actually broken.  I really should have checked for overlapped faces earlier.  However, it's gone!



Sunday, 4 May 2014

Apotheosis - Flythrough Done!

It feels incredibly strange to type this, but my flythrough for my level is complete.  Since my computer is slow and rubbish, I had to get it done ahead of the Tuesday deadline as we don't have access to the labs.  This means I'm going to spend today and tomorrow tweaking things, adding sounds and doing admin, but the fun bit is pretty much complete!  I'm really pleased with how this has all come out - please watch in HD!

Also, here's a few choice shots -

I'm gonna get some more directly from the level rather than my rendered screenshots from my video since it's hard to get a well composed shot of the statue or the mountain range otherwise.  Moving cameras are a bit awkward and I'm no videographer, so I'll get some more together, alongside fixing a few things, and have them up by tomorrow.  Right now I just have to push through with my design document, which I'm sure I'm making too in depth considering all of my process is on my blog.  It's so close to all being done!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Apotheosis - Build Times and Finalising

So, it turns out there's a bank holiday on Monday.  There goes my plans of putting together my flythrough then since I won't have access to labs.

I've pretty much decided to tackle my flythrough tomorrow and just spend the extended weekend doing admin and fixing things that wouldn't be visible in the video, but would be an issue in the level.  It's frustrating that I've lost a significant chunk of time, but what can you do.

My main concern recently has been lighting build times.  They've been escalating to unhealthy levels and I've had to stop building the lighting at home since it was causing my computer to crash.  I tried building production lighting as an experiment and it seemed to take unending amounts of time, which was concerning.  However, after some lightmap resizing and finding an asset that had accidentally been set to 'use emissive as static lighting', I've massively reduced the build time and it all looks exactly the same.  It's a huge relief!

With this in mind, I've only got a few bits and pieces left to do (and then everything after that is admin work, box ticking and fixing).  I want to play around with this complicated lava shader and see what I can do, make the custom light shafts a bit more interesting and make a carpet.  It's not a lot, but it'll keep me busy.

Honestly by this point I'm holding off on posting anything until the final renders are finished, considering it's so close to the deadline.  Just another update on how things are going.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Apotheosis - One Week Left

I'm not panicking.

What is happening.

Something is wrong.

I've been expecting this mania to overtake me but so far it's not happened.  I've been plugging away at this for so long that I seem to be immune.  I was expecting to be nothing short of a mute mess by this point but it's not coming.  I'm just making more lists and getting on with things.  I am broken.

This all being said I've got a slightly manic energy to get the last lot of stuff done.  I've revised my 'must have, should have, would like' list since I've completed the majority of stuff on there, but it seems to have grown exponentially since I last did it since I've noticed extra stuff that needs fixing or improving.  This isn't too bad though since it actually gives me stuff to work on.  I hate not being busy.

I've finished all of the animated painting clips for now - it's not as drastic as I would have liked but they take a lot of time to produce and only really provide about 40 seconds of footage in total.. although that doesn't sound so bad when I type it out.  I've learned a lot and it's really exciting - I can't wait to expand on it when I have more free time and can paint my images with animation in mind.

I've also been doing a run down of all of my textures that need specs and normals.  The benefits of hand painted sometimes mean it's less of a priority since the detail is all in the diffuse, but I want to make sure that I'm taking advantage of extra space if possible.  I'd rather make sure I'm not missing anything.

I also spent the weekend making more little assets to populate the temple with.  I've been wanting to make some scholarly bits and pieces for a while and I finally got to make quills and ink wells, stools, tables and bits of parchment.  Plus I fixed some things!  Exciting.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Apotheosis - Slow Computers and Painkillers

T-minus thirteen days!

This all being said, it's never too late to learn new things.  I've been messing around with the puppet rigging tool in After Effects so that I can get things animating a little better.  Since my PC is acting up and won't bake lighting in UDK without crashing and the third year labs are shut, I've pretty much decided to spend the next couple of days building up my selection of video clips at home, as well as making some cute particle effects.  I swear I can never go back to one screen again.

I've also given myself another fake appendicitis thing because I've eaten so much chocolate.  So I can't really walk to labs anyway.  Mmm painkillers and misery.

Anyway, I'm super excited to get on with the video stuff.  The puppet rigging thing is actually pretty simple, it's just that every tutorial I look at has ten minutes of waffle before getting to the one button you click to make things work.  Here's another fuzzy test video -


I've also been getting my teeth into triggers in UDK - I wanted for a while to have a midpoint in the centre of the temple that lit up and made a bunch of particle effects when stepped on.  Since I want there to be interactive elements, I've worked out how to trigger emissive maps as well as particle effects and lights so that this circle lights up when stepped on -

Since I'm rubbish at geometric stuff I've used a pattern from Full Metal Alchemist as a base, and filled in my own designs.  I'm not sure if this is allowed or not though, I'll check.

Either way, I can't wait to get more triggered stuff in there.  I've got a few maps that have emissives on for just one asset, so I'd love to put extra glowing detail on them to make full use of the space.

Also, I've finally fixed my window problem!  Since adding an outside I've been having problems with opacity - the blue will pop in without warning and suddenly let you look through.  It's been frustrating to try to get rid of.  However, if all else fails, check and uncheck boxes until something works!


Apparently this button fixes it.  I have no idea why, but ticking this keeps it from clipping through and also retains all the tasty light shafts.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Apotheosis - Murals

As some of you may have noticed (readership of maybe three people), the front of my temple has huge, glaring expanses of marble at the front of it.  Since I like any reason to get back into Photoshop and I thought having stronger storytelling elements would be good, I decided to put together some wall engravings that would tell the basic plotline to my story.  Of course, it doesn't make a great deal of sense to anyone that hasn't had me talk at them directly about it, but at least it's interesting visually.  I'm curious to see what people who have no context will make of it (or even be capable of reading it in the correct direction).

I lerped together the black and white image and the marble wall texture, with an alpha to blend it into the rock and a normal to give depth.  I'm really pleased with the result!

I can't wait to get the lighting baked once labs are open again, and to get into the last polishing elements.  It's been a weird few days - I've had a migraine for three days solid since Friday and so today I took a few hours off to sit in the park and read (even though I nearly got my head caved in with a cricket ball) in preparation for the crunch.

With all of this in mind I'm hoping to get the last few vital parts checked off within the next few days, as well as getting some more animations finished.  Two weeks!