After weeks of planning and work, the project has come to a close. So, how did it all pan out?
Planning and Documentation:
At the beginning of the project, our planning and documentation had promising starts, but it quickly stalled, as a whole it was left neglected as we entered production a bit too soon, meaning we had to go back and finish it. once it was actually completed, it was pretty good. However i never really went back to it further down the line, though it is a bad form to have done that, it did not result in schedule slippage.
Extra Assets were one thing we left far too late, and it resulted in a large impact on time available and general stress. The team pulled through however, and we came out of it relatively OK.
Our initial Concepts were quickly refined within the first day. Our world to create characters for was dragon age and we had a few storyboards to work with. Within the next week and a bit, we had the final storyboard to work with, and it didn’t change too much as production continued.
The team I was a part of was one of the best I have been in. We all got along well, helped each other out and worked hard and called for help when any of us started to get overburdened.
Team members also voiced what they could easily do for the end result, be it ability to work with programs that they had at home and proficiencies with programs that could speed up some stages of production, such as rendering.
Standup Meetings were quick and to the point, and gave immediate insight into any issues and successes people were having.
At the beginning of the project, Roles were assigned very quickly, myself being appointed as a Technical Lead. the other roles in our production were the project manager, a generalist and a creative lead. throughout the project my role of being tech lead was practiced well, as I myself was proficient in all programs we used, with the exception of Mudbox – which was learned pretty quickly. I was also very helpful in assisting team member troubleshoot issues and solve both software and hardware difficulties. Near the end of production, as we began importing into Unreal Engine 4, I was required to lead my team members through importing and rendering animations, and although it was successful, there was not enough time to complete the task.
Other team member fulfilled their roles too, our creative lead was extremely helpful in keeping our characters from appearing out of place next to each other. They also took up creating the final storyboard, alongside our project lead.
Speaking of our project lead, She did an excellent job in managing documentation and asset lists and always gave notifications when documents were updated or had missing team member information.
Creative Process and Pipeline:
Our pipeline was simple enough and as a team we all understood each step. The process began with creating multiple concepts in a thumbnail format and then improving the best concepts until we are left with a final concept, of which we then create a modelling sheet for the next step.
In 3Ds Max, or Mudbox from preference, each team member begins modeling/scultping their character as per their character sheet, with both High and Low poly models. Once both high and low poly are ready, they are baked into a normal map and then the model is textured.
Rigging can be done before or after texturing, though it was necessary it was done ASAP, and ended up being needed before textures as time beared down on the project.
Once rigging (at a minimum) was completed animation work began, gathering reference material and using it to create animations that replicate the storyboards and animatic. Animations were to be made scene by scene, where all team members are given scenes where their character is the primary feature.
Once the animation is complete, it is rendered through UE4, and composited in After Effects.
Did this pipeline work out?
Kind of, as time grew short in supply, the final step of rendering in Unreal Engine was not doable, and instead lighting was tweaked in 3Ds Max to get the best possible render.
How did I do personally?
The beginning stage of the project, drawing up conceptual art to build off, had no real difficulties in completing the work necessary, and the team all kept in contact to ensure that concepts we were developing would fit with each other. As concepts reached finished designs, we as a team were quite happy with all characters that had come up through the process. The art I ended up creating was of decent enough quality that I could work off it, and it overall fulfilled its purpose.
The next step of making the model itself didn’t stray too far from the norm. the ‘new’ item was my introduction to sculpting. While I still modelled the body and armour through 3Ds Max, I sculpted my character’s head, and eventually sculpted details for armour and the characters beard. However, as production continued, I myself began to fall behind slightly.
Technical issues at home restricted when and where I could work on the project, and this was made worse by travel times into campus becoming longer. The model itself was completed a few days behind schedule. the following texturing, baking and rigging steps were also behind by 1 to 2 days. the quality of the model and textures was quite nice given the rush to get it done near the end, and the sculpted details came through nicely in Quixel and greatly improved how the character looked.
However, just as animation begun a critical error came to light – my character was in a completely different scale and used a CAT rig, the bi-product of rushing it to a usable state. Before I could start animating i now had to re-scale my model and rig. Thanks to being desperate to not have to re-skin my model, I tried some blunt methods. First was linking everything to a dummy object and scaling. It worked within 3Ds Max, but not without making frame 0 and 1 completely unstable and crashing any computer when attempting to import it into Unreal engine 4. I tried other methods too, but they obviously failed. The fix came just over a week later, being the ability I managed to look over of copying skin data from one mesh to another. This single issue utterly crippled my progress and severely hampered all projects I had been working on alongside this one.
The Animation stage finally began and the work I had done was not as good as it could have been had I not lost so much time. Our lecturers still said it was some of the more polished animation out of the class so it wasn’t a complete loss. however, the last struggle to render out all scenes in Unreal Engine 4 began. Time was limited and since my model had 5 different texture maps, and over 20 different objects. Since we could only export in alembic for facial animations, this meant it took a fair amount of time to re-apply textures, roughly 15-20 minutes. This added to an already lengthy import process and unfortunately I could not get all of my scenes rendered in UE4 by the assessment date.
What did I take from this?
In dealing with issues I had to confront.
First and foremost – to consistently check every condition an asset might need during a production. This practice could have vastly improved the end product of this project, by double checking all elements that were required for later in production. In this case, that would be making sure, after every stage of making and texturing the model, that all models within the team were correctly scaled with each other.
Time management and dealing with technical issues:
While time management on its own (Regarding allotting time to work on multiple projects and factoring in possible hurdles) is a skill I have a decent enough grip on, the main concern I have is dealing with a technical issue, both hardware and software. In terms of hardware, at home I was having overheating issues thanks to having longer hours of working time at home. this specific issue could not be fixed until my new cooler arrived in the mail, so until then working at home would be constantly stunted and slowed down. I attempted to remedy it by working at university instead. However it proved difficult as computers that used to have required programs no longer did, meaning that the ability to work at uni was determined by whether or not a room was free to work in. this unfortunately did not sync well with class timetable or my hours committed to my job. I do think I could have handled this issue better through attempting a few temporary fixes to my computer, though they may not have worked. Regardless, I should have tried.
In the end, the project went pretty OK. Even though not all scenes were rendered in Unreal Engine 4, i’m happy the project was even remotely finished given the extreme loss of time. Given the severity of that scaling issues effect on the project’s outcome, I am doubtful I will forget how such a small thing becomes the bane of one’s existence, given it is ignored.