Judges Reviewing
The Prodigal Daughter (Final)
Updated 4 days ago
A Cosmic traveler returns to her cold, but beautiful world.

"The Prodigal Daughter" - Rod Ellison - Neon Challenge Final Submission


Hi, I'm Rod..At the moment, I'm a team of ONE, and my Unity experience has thus far been building AR and VR experiences for a large financial company. Largely, that has meant keeping the cool effects to a minimum in favor of functionality. This 'Neon challenge' provides a welcome opportunity to get some experience with the post processing stack, Cinemachine and Timeline - all things I haven't used before. It's also an opportunity to use some of the very cool Asset Store items I've bought over time, and to also see if I can use other (free) items to create a realistic scene.

Narrative inspiration and Scene Conceptualization for the challenge.

I'm a sci-fi buff, and loved all of Georgi Simeonov's conceptual art which seemed (to me), to have an interesting mix of cold and warm futuristic, but seemingly harsh settings. I kept going back to a few of the images here..
The huge 'walls' and towers in the conceptual art intrigue me, like immense gates to some bigger location beyond..High altitudes, and snow/cold settings aren't anything I've attempted before in a scene. Tribal symbols seem alien..Lots of Steps, angular flat surfaces throughout seem to contrast against mountainous backdrops. These are all elements I'll incorporate. One thing I think Unity does a great job with particle based fire and smoke, so will try to take some of the conceptual art concepts and use fire as a lighting element.

I'm a trekkie at heart.. and love the idea of first-contact, or extra-terrestrial arrivals, so an arrival will be a big part of my submission...ultimately, my scene will be about a grand entrance, a homecoming, an arrival to a place high in the mountains, but with a harsh, snowy backdrop.

Scene Conceptualization: My plan is to go with a large mountainous environment and hit the large structure ideas from the conceptual art, while trying to make it feel harsh and cold. Gaia/CTS (two assets I purchased from the store), will play a role in setting the larger background snowy and harsh environment, but my plan will be to augment with other things (particle effects for snow and smoke, volumetric fog) to try to convey an atmospheric setting. For scene objects, I'll tap into the Asset store or sketchfab to populate props/actors.. I'm big on audio, so I'll try to reinforce mood with blizzardy sounds, folie and other sci-fi sound effects. Some creative use of virtual cams and timeline through Cinemachine and Timeline editing to convey a curiosity/cautious feeling for pace. And..Post Processing to further refine a dramatic mood using color, lots of attention to DOF, and Bloom to create a more sci-fi atmosphere.

Resources used in the project for the challenge.

Core tools: Unity 2017.3.0f3, Post Processing V2 Stack (Free), Cinemachine (Free), Timeline (Free)
Other tools: Unity Particle Pack (Free), Unity Volumetric Fog (Github/Free), Unity Default Playables (Free), Unity Recorder (Free), Blender (Free) and Gimp (Free)
Asset Store and other resources:
  • GAIA
  • CTS Complete Terrain Shader
  • PA Particle Field
  • Allsky3 Cubemap backgrounds
  • Bird Flock
  • Library Data Unit
  • Space Suit Girl
  • Free Snow Mountain (Free)
  • Fantasy Rhino (Free)
  • Luminaris Spaceship (Free)
  • Low-poly Scifi buildings (Free)
  • Yughues Free Metal Materials (Free)
  • Sci-fi evolution gift pack (by Epic Stock Media) (Free)
  • Audioblocks (background sounds). personal subscription..
Personally created models:
  • Snow mound
  • Platform
  • Angular Fire pits

Pre and Post-Production Notes:

Pre-Production tasks
1. Review conceptual art, understand the scale, environmental and feel depicted (e.g. cold, harsh, warm, inviting, expansive, intimate, etc.) Pick out the interesting focal points that resonate. 2. Develop a premise for the scene - what could be a story within the conceptual art brought to life. 3. Break down the story into major sequences. 4. Think about the actors that may need to fill the sequences - including terrains, and key scene models. 5. Think about some of the props or items that might be needed to augment each sequence. e.g. smaller models, particle effects, special effects, audio effects. 6. With a general plan on the environment, story, flow and major items needed, get started in Unity. 7. Establish and iterate terrain setup to give the scene a backdrop. 8. For each sequence, block out primary actors and develop some prelinary animations to choregraph the sequence flow. Stage a few preliminary cameras to get an idea of views (wide angles vs closeups). Some preliminary Timeline and Cinemachine pieces here. Introduce and play around with choices in background music to try to reinforce the feel and pacing of the sequence. Lots of iteration until the pacing and views seem correct. Similar to music, this is also a good time to play a little with post processing, or at least think about volumes and overrides to change DOF between cameras. 9. Once a sequence blocking feels right, let imagination flow and dive in - Establish specific lighting elements in the sequence (points, spots, etc.), find asset store items that can fill props and other augmenting items (particle effects, audio effects, etc.) If whats available just wont suffice, then brainstorm through some alternatives. Possibly detour into tools like Blender to model something, Gimp if theres a need to create or adjust a texture, and in some cases - look for a creative way to take an existing asset and tweak it via scripting or animation (e.g. UV animations, etc. ). 10. As the props, animations, effects in the sequence are solidified, switch gears back to the cameras to refine and iterate each view. Lots of post processing tweaking to make sure everything looks great. 11. Move on to other sequences and do the same.. 12. After all the sequences are done, and flow together looking decent, obsess..and tweak.. Complete audio refinements, background soundtracks and folie
Post Production Notes:
After this challenge, it's hard to imagine doing any future project without minimally Post Processing.. but also Cinemachine and Timemachine if camera cuts of any kind are needed at all. I've more to learn with each, but with this challenge, found it pretty easy to pick up the basics fairly quickly. Here's my final real-time scene Timeline. Timeline let me sequence everything so easily, from intro fade-in to credit fade-out. Cinemachine wise, I created a camera sequencing grouping in Timeline to manage approximately 16 difference Virtual Cameras - a combination of different Dolly Track, Dolly Track with Cart, and Tracked Group cameras, along with simple Virtual cameras using follow targets. While I had a main camera post processing configuration, almost all of the virtual cameras had their own unique processing profile to override certain values (different DOF, Bloom, Chromatic Abberation, and Ambient Occlusion settings primarily.)

Post Processing value is pretty self-evident. Here's a before shot - everything is crisp but there is no focused definition. I purposefully dimmed the scene a bit to provide a night-time setting, which creates challenges in focusing viewer attention without having lights all over the place. And without lights, there is no mood.

After Post processing applied, and in particular - DOF, and Bloom make this key part of the scene come to life. The emmissive light textures came to life with Bloom, as well as a good spread against the Volumetric fog which helped to create atmosphere.

I used a few Post Processing VOLUME overrides with blends to ease a Virtual camera into a specific setting (this one at the very end of my scene).

Lastly, the free Github Volumetric Fog. A major player in my scene. I used it to thicken up the 'atmosphere', like rolling mini-snow clouds to compliment the snow particles from PA Particle field. It did have a fairly large FPS hit, but without it the scene felt a little unconvincing. I used tube-lights over some areas of the main path to highlight. I love the power of this component, but feel I'm still a rookie in using it. Lost more than a few days playing with parameters to dial in the settings I like, and still think I could have made the scene look even better

Project log

Checkpoint 1D 9H

11th (and last) update. The main actress finally showed up to the set. The Space Suit Girl is a fantastic looking model on the Asset store - with a great texture, animations and a script to control her Visor, and facial expressions. Getting her to transition from the transport of the Luminaris space ship, before heading into the last scene was a challenge. I ended up creating an object and trigger/enable script from the Timeline so as to re-parent her so the remainder of the walk/run animations worked correctly. I ended up having quite a bit of complexity in terms of animations (not intended), to get her to meet up with the Rhino pup to play out the way I wanted to. That ended up being the major part of this last update's work over past week.. But it's done and I'm happy with the result. My Post Production notes at top will reflect some aspects of how Cinemachine, Timemachine, and Post Processing we're used.. At this point I can't imagine NOT using them in future projects. The Final result:

Checkpoint 9D 3H

10th Update. There be Rhinos! I'm a fan of creator Maksim Bugrimov, who has some really killer models on the Asset store. I kept looking at Fantasy Rhino, which caught my attention with it's built in animations and stark colors (great for PP bloom!). Coupled with some audio, i tried to bring it to life. My plan is to have a smaller one (almost like a pup) come out to greet the returning traveler/daughter. One thing I got into a bunch was the Volumetric Tube lights, to bring out certain areas of my stormy snow-wind. This last week (for me), and probably last update before submitting the final will be all about completing the story with the daughter character and a bit of animation. My plan is also to incorporate some additional Cinemachine Dolly tracks, with Clear shot, and probably a few final touch ups with Color grading as well. An update with the new Rhino:

Checkpoint 11D 3H

9th Update. Started tackling some of the items 'behind' the big wall. My main character is still MIA, so I've been working on a bit of animating the elements in the scene around her. Found this very cool Asset store model (Library Data Unit) for a whopping .99 cents, that I think makes a decent landing pad for my spacecraft, not to mention it has a very cool built in animation. I've reused the Low Poly buildings and the round platforms I'd created for many of the structural items behind the wall, including the main walkway. I was toying around with the idea of using Aquas water for the lake, but ended up trying to go more for a harsher 'frozen' effect. The Virtual Cameras for the second half of the scene need much more work, and in combination with getting the main character in, and animated - will likely have me going up to the wire for the submission in this last week. I'm planning to utilize Cinemachine's Clear shot with multiple cameras to add more variety of angles and closeups - right now, I feel I'm too wide angle heavy. One thing I did add since last update was Post processing Chromatic Abberation. I'd not used it til now, but I do find it to give an interesting slightly colored blur to the sides of the screen. I also utilized some of the Unity Default Playables for screen fade and lighting blends out. Pretty cool. May look into creating a Audio control playable (if no one has already), to more easily control volume fade in/outs.

Checkpoint 15D 1H

8th Update. Spent New Years Eve working on the scene. Several items added or changed. Have incorporated Volumetric fog from Github to try to add some thicker atmosphere to the scene. I found the need to switch some of the Volumetric fog settings when switching virtual cameras, so I created a simple class to hold different values for the Fog which I could switch out to the main camera by having Timeline activating different objects holding a copy of different settings. In some places I like the fog to be thick, in other places only a hint..
Forgot I'd long ago purchased "Bird Flock", so added a flock of wild crows as well. They are pretty cool, giving some extra life to the scene. I've gone a bit nuts with the Unity Particle Pack. Its all over my scene now in the form of Snow mound drifts, fire, smoke, and heat distortion.
A while back I also watched a very cool training vid showing how to use cloth physics to make a flag. Even cooler is the trainer provides the package for free. A little 'gimping' to change the flag textures to match a little more to some of what I see in the Georgi Simeonov conceptual art shots.

I cracked out Blender as well to model up an angular 'fire pit' that popped into my head. Not the greatest but it's functional.
My plan is to start working on what I'd like to have 'behind' the wall this week. That's going to be all Water to fill in the big hole..Need to add a few more props as well to complete the scene. I'm tossing the 'Low Man' Character out for now, in favor of bringing in another main character that allows for kind of a different, simpler story. We'll see how that goes..

Checkpoint 19D 15H

7th Update. Have incorporated PA Particle Field, an asset store item I got a long while back, into the project to facilitate snow. I like it's approach of creating a bounding box which recycles a fixed amount of particles. It has a turbulence control as well. It's attached to my main camera, so there's snow effect at all times... I also added the very low poly Lowman as the Alien, and am trying to animate some transparent noise texture UVs to make him look 'cosmic'. I'm intending him to stand taller than the other characters to eventually go in.
Reusing an old script I had which animates the skybox. It's subtle, but at least makes that clouds look like they are moving slightly. The script is here:
using System.Collections; using System.Collections.Generic; using UnityEngine; public class RotateSkybox : MonoBehaviour { public float SkyboxRotateSpeed = 0.5f; public float SkyboxRotationValue = 0.0f; IEnumerator RotateTheSkybox () { while (true) { SkyboxRotationValue += Time.deltaTime * SkyboxRotateSpeed; RenderSettings.skybox.SetFloat ("_Rotation", SkyboxRotationValue); yield return 0; } } void Start () { RenderSettings.skybox.SetFloat ("_Rotation", SkyboxRotationValue); StartCoroutine (RotateTheSkybox ()); } }
Also added an 'intro' to the segment, just to ensure crediting where due :) My plan is to have a fade out to a 'credits' closer as well to list all the resources used. Here's the latest with the additions above.

Checkpoint 22D 12H

6th Update. So much to do yet.. but learning a lot so feeling time completely well spent.. I've drifted a bit on the story I'd originally envisioned but the central concept and environment remains the same.. I'm learning and incorporating Cinemachine Tracked Dolly cameras, and animating their paths. Needed some platforms on the big wall, as well as snow mounds - so dabbled in Blender to try to create a few props.. some preliminary results:
My modeling skills are a bit sketchy I know.., I could probably come up with better, but for now...

The platform for the main wall was a pretty simple structure, and Yughues Metal textures comes to the rescue to give it some weight.

More iteration with the Post processing stack, finding that 'Grain' gives a softer, movie-like effect. I keep playing with 'Color grading' as well.. was finding my previous videos to be a bit dark.. lots of tweaking since. I've got some ideas for the characters and props to populate the still-stale world, and lots to do in terms of particle snow, and fog yet - which I think will further bring out realism.. A current, limited camera change test video.., no characters yet...

Checkpoint 26D 1H

Fifth update. Working on some elements of the second section, mostly what will be stuff that happens around the large expansive 'Wall'. Several ideas yet to implement for particular lighting and particle effects. Added some audio elements but more tweaking to do. Have also started playing around with Post Processing Color grading..

Checkpoint 29D 1H

Fourth update. Got a little more into Timeline over the past day, and ran into some technical challenges. I'd split out a few timelines to run separate (Intro, Main Scene, and Credits) but tried unsuccessfully to have one Timeline end trigger the start of another (using animation events). Didn't quite seem to work.. Researching, it seems like everyone is waiting on a future update of Timeline to include "Timeline Events", but there are some workarounds..This will be something I may return to, but for now, I've just put all of my sequences in one master timeline..
Also finding - that as good as asset store oriented trees and grass may be, getting a more realistic 'convincing' scene similar to 'Neon' working with them at any level of closeness is tough.. To compensate, I find myself using Post Processing DOF with some Virtual Camera movements on the larger actors/props, so attention doesn't focus too much on the more billboard'ish nature of the leaves/grass.
Have incorporated and re-purposed some buildings in the Low-poly Scifi buildings from the asset store, to become part of the large 'wall' I'm making. I replaced the asset's textures with some metal textures from Yughues Metal Textures pack to get a different look. A few simple cylinders to make pipes, also metal textured up...

Checkpoint 30D 12H

Third update. I returned to dig deeper into GAIA, and CTS Complete Terrain Shader. My initial slap together, click the default button approach worked, but I quickly ran into trouble getting the terrain to paint what I wanted, and where.. You have to think about the textures you want to setup, their elevation ranges, etc. to get more out of it, but I do think it looks a little better.
Went back for more review of the training videos for Cinemachine and Timeline. New virtual cameras now going in everywhere! Loving the power with these tools. Developed a few ideas for what kind of audio background should play. Added a few more free items from the audio section of the asset store and started plugging these into timeline.. That got me into a whole detour into using the Audio Mixer in Unity. I love that thing, and a particular set of features (send audio from different channels, and duck volume). I've never done a tips/training video, but I've attached a new video update if anyone's interested.. Kind of also gives a view of how my graphics are framing up..
Found a cool spaceship that will serve my purposes for the traveler.. The Luminaris spaceship was a nice (free) asset store find..

Checkpoint 33D 3H

Second update. Ventured into Cinemachine and Timeline today to get some preliminary experience. I've been back and forth through the Unity training content, all of which is good, and I've still got a lot of figuring out to do, but for this update, have spent a few hours getting two CM virtual camera's into the timeline, each with slightly different post processing volumes to get some change in Depth of field.

Checkpoint 34D 7H

First Update. Kicking things off with some early sculpting with Gaia and CTS tools to create the world... Incorporating a background skybox from Allsky Cubemap backgrounds. Still thinking about how to do the 'weather' extremities I'd like to have, as I don't have assets that do that and those in the Asset Store are a little more than I want to get into at this moment.

Rod Ellison
Staff Engineer - Programmer
Rod Ellison
2 months ago
Staff Engineer - Programmer
It's done! Going to miss this project, but learned a TON in using the tools (Cinemachine, Timeline and Post Processing - and Volumetric Fog as well).
Rod Ellison
3 months ago
Staff Engineer - Programmer
Yet another name change :), This project seems to be steering me, instead of vice-versa.. I have a few asset store characters (particularly a female character) and a large Pet, in mind to try to finish this..
Matthew Murchison
3 months ago
Technical & 3D Artist - Artist
Definitely, Narrative is one area I know my own work lacks a little bit. I look forwards to seeing your final submission!
Rod Ellison
3 months ago
Staff Engineer - Programmer
Matthew MurchisonI like a lot of the submissions, but yours has a much greater sense of story than any I have seen yet! Great work
Thanks @Matthew Murchison!, Yes, I think it'll be about 2-2.5mins when done. The challenge is stretching my skills a little, ultimately am finding this to be a good op to get some experience with all the tools. Hoping that a few weeks of polish in a few areas of the story will help when competing against those doing more of a pure "Neon" highly detailed area.
Matthew Murchison
3 months ago
Technical & 3D Artist - Artist
I like a lot of the submissions, but yours has a much greater sense of story than any I have seen yet! Great work