Updated 3 years ago
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Neon Challenge - "Aftermath"
Well, as I was uploading with only minutes to finish, I got the above message. So, looks like all that time was wasted. I'll upload the actual final piece at some other time. It was definitely fun making this but luck wasn't on my side as usual.
Hey folks! Here's my entry for the Unity Neon Challenge, which I'm basing off of the provided concept art piece "IITA - Aerials Among the Cliffs," by Georgi Simeonov. This is my first contest entry of this sort.
I'm an art director (and sometimes mograph artist among other things) working in women's fashion. I've been using Unity in a hobby capacity for about a year now I guess. It provides a creative outlet for me that I can still enjoy instead of feeling like I'm "working" even more. (Anyone who has spent a few decades in advertising probably understands.) I started really getting into environment design a few months ago after I discovered Cinemachine. The possibilities it presented coupled with the ease of use captured my attention and imagination. Naturally, seeing this contest announced, I figured it would be a great incentive to get me to finally finish something.
I chose this scene since its sun-soaked landscape and makeshift architecture immediately said "post-apocalyptic" to me. Those themes were a staple of my childhood during the Cold War and the possibility of bleak dystopian futures full of radioactive mohawks and outdated technology were a constant.
My day job encompasses a number of fields from print design to motion graphics to illustration to IT. However, I'm no coder... at all. Unity and the Asset Store have given me opportunities to make things though that wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago due to not only my lack of coding skills but my lack of time. So, I use the Asset Store a LOT! Maybe too much for my wallet but hey, everyone has a vice, right?
So, without further ado, here's the breakdown of my process...

Production Process
Despite being an illustrator, I rarely sketch out concepts prior to execution. I tend to have very vivid, clearly defined scenarios in my mind and begin working off of those, embellishing things as I go. Sometimes this is linear and sometimes it isn't.
With this scene I had an immediate and clearly defined idea of a post-apocalyptic civilization living on the scraps of the past. Maybe that's due to my exposure to the Road Warrior series as a kid and equating any sort of desert/waste scene as existing within a harsh dystopian future.
Cinemachine and Unity afford fantastic opportunities to quickly prototype and visualize complete concepts now. I wanted to utilize that ability in the same way the ADAM series had, building a narrative that was rich, detailed, compelling and also open-ended.
A full detailed day-by-day log of my process is available below in the WIP section. These abbreviated steps list the shots and elements I added as well as the issues encountered.

World Building
I began working from the concept art image -- and embellishing that scene, adding to both the ideas and the scene. My initial ideas involved a scout of some sort witnessing an event unfold from the cliffs. Building further on the concept art I added an outpost in the distance built from the husk of a wrecked ship. The ship would be the target of some sort of rival civilization/clan/tribe who had access to advanced but cobbled together technology.
I literally began building a chunk of the world this story takes place in with a terrain asset that required little to no manipulation. Setting up my world involved quick look development thanks to the Post Processing Stack v2, Enviro, Amplify Color, Beautify and AllSky. This let me quickly establish a mood and color palette to work within.
After tinkering with Cinemachine's dolly tracks and getting to know that feature better I began skipping around the "world" and building other parts. I have experience in video and film and appreciate things like slow jib and dolly shots, which Cinemachine allows now. This was perfect for establishing a long introduction shot that panned down over the ruins of a beach house and revealed a lone radio beacon-tower. The towers are used by the wastelanders to alert them of incoming attacks from the hostiles using the cloaking bombers.
In hindsight, the scope of this world became vastly larger than I had previously intended. To fully embellish it would have taken me a few more weeks probably but the current level suffices for the initial release.

Opening Scenes
I spent a great deal of time on the opening scenes and the initial bomber run. While I was pleased with the final outcome, I do think access to more mocap animations would definitely have enhanced my opening scenes with the wastelander scout.
I encountered some bugs here with the FBX animations and the rigs on the MCS characters, so some shots were positioned to hide the twisted ankle caused by a bone issue.
Some of the textures were lacking full PBR functionality so I began taking them into Bitmap2Material and converting them into full texture maps. While I intended to do this with everything, the time needed was simply too much so only some of the props have improved texture maps.
Next, I added Vegetation Studio and CTS to increase terrain fidelity and add life to the surroundings with a variety of dead grass from -- and dead trees from -- The rendering improvements from both of these assets vastly added to the realism of the scenes without affecting performance.
Drilling Station
My initial idea had grown to a concept where the bomber's presence triggers radio frequencies that alert a character sleeping in a shack much further away. The character is awakened by radio interference, runs out, jumps in an old ski lift and descends to the drilling station below to ascertain the situation. Due to time constraints I ended up not fitting these shots in and opted for the scenario to play out at the drilling station itself.
I added a Buggy asset that the wastelander scout would arrive and escape in later on. I wanted it to appear as realistic as possible and used the Unity Standard Assets controller, pointing it at waypoints and “filming” it via activation lines. The physics of the controller added quite a bit of unpredictability of course and I had to modify terrain in certain areas to keep the buggy from crashing over during jumps and flips.
Working back to the aerial shot from the beginning, I expanded it to include some cliffside structures and a makeshift bridge from the cliffside to the aerial. The final cliffs were composed of rocks from the Advanced Rock Pack and scaled, rotated and re-textured to better fit the surroundings.
Shipwreck Outpost
The shipwreck outpost under attack represented the target of interest for the bomber. Initially I was including an anti-aircraft turret here that would be firing flak at the bomber but due to time constraints again I ended up deleting this element. The ship itself was also producing some culling issues as small parts of it began to pop up even at close range. Shadows were fading in and out or not showing up completely. I replaced it at the last minute with a similar ship from the Apocalypse Pack. Due to time constraints I ended up not including any scenes from this area.
Performance Tweaks
I implemented Mesh Combine Studio to improve some performance with batching and found a considerable increase in both framerate and batches. I still encountered terrain detail "popping" into view in the editor playback but noticed later this wasn't visible within recorded video from the Unity recorder.
My greatest issue seemed to be simply underestimating the time required for certain things like tweaking the MCS animation, perfecting the dolly track shots and getting the buggy shots and driver smoothed out. With no documentation on some assets I wasted precious days just figuring out things by trial and error.
I ran into some problems with Cinemachine virtual cameras tracking the bomber and despite some tweaking of settings was never able to fully alleviate that. Further experience with Cinemachine will probably allow me to overcome that. I also had a bug where Post-Processing files attched to Cinemachine cameras would vanish when opening the project each time. Sometimes this occurred on some cameras and sometimes it didn't.
A Time Dilation track added to the timeline for a slo-mo shot of the buggy as it leaped over a dune caused the Unity recorder to hang and add thousands of garbage frames to the output file. Strapped for time, I deleted the scene despite how great it initially looked.

Assets Used

The immediate availability of a wide range of resources via the Asset Store is what made this project possible. From the terrain to the shaders to the characters, almost all of this was composed of items from the Asset Store. I was lucky to already own many of the post-processing and image management assets such as Beautify, Amplify Color, AQUAS, Ultimate VFX and CTS. I was fortunate to also have acquired a number of assets during the Black Friday Sale and the Mega Sale at extreme savings.
Advanced Rock Pack
Alloy Shaders
Amplify Color
Apocalypse Pack
Apocalyptic Shacks, Props and Structures
Apocalyptic Wasteland
Assault Mech
Bird Flocks
Buggy v1
Car Dust Trails
Creatures (pack) Vol. 3
Dry Trees
Extreme Wastelands Pack
Factory v1.4
Mesh Combine Studio
Modular Scaffolding
Monster Beetle
Morph Character System Female & Post Apocalypse Pack
Necro's Bone Box
Next Gen Soft Shadows
PBR Autumn Bush
PBR Desert Landscape
PBR Dry & Dead Grass
Rocks Pack
Rustic Grass
SF Fighter RK6
Skaia Post-Apocalyptic Music Pack
Station v1
Sci-Fi Stealth Effect
Simple Waypoint System
The Old Dry Horror Trees
Vegetation Studio
Ultimate VFX

WIP Logs

Work In Progress Log #10 - January 13-14, 2017

This was the final stretch and I burned the candle at both ends all week, working til around 2-3 A.M. most nights tweaking shots, adjusting vegetation and other elements.
I unfortunately came in to this Friday evening...
Adjusting and fixing problems took up most of my time and trying to get elements like the buggy and its driver to match up was a bit of headache.

I had neglected some important aspects like hair until the last minute almost and had to purchase an MCS hair pack for my characters. Unfortunately it presented a problem with culling and like the arm bands on the scout, was popping in and out of some shots. I had to research a solution which worked partially but didn't solve it entirely.
Constructing the bridge for the main aerial scene took a significant amount of snapping modular pieces together. Due to time constraints I wasn't able to fully build the surrounding structure to the level of detail I had envisioned but for the current shots it would suffice.
During a test shot I noticed my pervious shipwreck model has major flaws with parts popping in and out as the cameras approached. I replaced it with a less complex model but ultimately didn't get to include this area in the final short.
Because time was running out I knew I needed some sort of large structure to house the mech and provide a decent shot. I quickly grabbed the Factory asset from Tirgames and included it in the scene, building some structures around it and making it look as much a part of the surroundings as possible.
And finally came the truck-mech. While I had really wanted to make it a central part of the short, time just didn't allow and I had to leave the final scene as a very open cliffhanger/filler sort of solution.
I hope to come back to this project at some point, embellish it further and finish it to the degree I originally intended.

Work In Progress Log #10 - January 13-14, 2017

Rushing towards the deadline, major work was done on the intro shots, the wastelander scout scene and the dune buggy scene today.
I added the cloaking shader to the bomber also. I had been building my own but due to a lack of time, I had to purchase one from the Asset Store. The PBR functions of the cloaking shader don't seem quite up to par with the Unity Standard Shader, so I actually only used it briefly and in a sun flare to hide the color discrepancies.
Much of the time was spent on getting the dune buggy dolly shots just right and I added a time dilation playable but discovered the Unity recorder hangs on rendering those, adding about fifteen minutes of blank footage to the output file.
Not having time to experiment with that function I was forced to alter the scene as the buggy leaps a dune and races toward an outpost to warn others of the incoming bomber.
Here's a quick render of the current state. The final drilling outpost scenes, the truck mech and the shipwreck outpost will be finished tomorrow.

Work In Progress Log #9 - January 8-12, 2017

With the last days approaching I worked on refining existing elements and still adding others. This week I added characters, vehicles, more structures, trees and other elements.
This wastelander scout is a Morph Character System female with some Mixamo animations applied to the Third Person Controller. The buggy is an asset that I rigged the Standard Assets vehicle controller to (after a lot of trial & error) and applied waypoints and dust particle systems to as well. The suspension script it came with produced a nice realistic bounciness when the buggy traverses sand dunes in the opening shot.
I attempted a variety of methods to animate the character via Timeline but there are some limitations with Humanoids it seems (or according to older forum posts.) This is why many of the shots don't show the actual ground/character height relationship as she was actually walking straight into the ground. Using a separate null object to parent her to didn't suffice either so I resorted to simple cinematography tricks.
I also spent a considerable amount of time on the "star" of my scene, the Pickup Mech. Combining the Pickup Truck & Assault Mech assets from the Asset Store into a single rigged asset took a bit of trial and error in Blender. The final result was close enough to what I wanted in wastelander/salvaged aesthetic.
In-engine looked pretty decent.
With the deadline slightly over two days away, I've still got to add quite a bit. Lots of work but the result will be worth it!

Work In Progress Log #8 - January 5-7, 2017

I began what I thought would be the completed introduction this weekend but ended up scrapping my Cinemachine dolly track and waypoint after encountering a number of issues. Prior to this I added further detail to the terrain with some Substances, added new bushes and tested a few dead trees. vegetation.
Higher normal values gave the terrain more detail and character. I also adjusted the scale of some of the shanties since it was off.
Most of my time ended up being spent on tinkering with Cinemachine dolly tracks and waypoints for the bomber sequence. I encountered an issue with the terrain abruptly "popping" into view during jump cuts in the timeline if the shot involved a wider angle. Adjusting terrain details, baking large occlusion culling maps and other techniques didn't seem to help. The sun was also showing a render delay on animated objects when jump cuts occurred. Constantly moving the waypoints and dolly track was consuming a lot of my time as well since I was using one large track and path for the bomber. I decided at the last moment to scrap both the dolly and waypoints and opt for smaller tracks with separate instances of the bomber that would be called during the timeline as I jumped between shots. On accident I ended up having my jump cuts focus on the sun, which resulted in some nice shots with less render delay.
After recording some test footage I noticed the render issues with the sunlight at least didn't show up in recorded footage.

This last week will involve finishing up the intro bomber run and cloaking scene, painting the truck-mech, adding the final bomb blast, adding characters, adding audio and tweaking textures and other fine details.

Work In Progress Log #7 - January 3-4, 2017

Didn't have a lot of time this week to add much to the scene but I began working on the fuel outpost/drilling station located on the cliffs. I added structures from the Apocalyptic Wasteland asset, Apocalyptic Pack asset and Drilling Station asset.

Things will need to re-positioned, re-textured, etc. of course. More props and further terrain modification as well.
A couple of test Cinemachine rigs and some fire particles from the Ultimate VFX 3 asset were set up for a test shot.
With only a week to go I'll need to finish up most of the elements this weekend and tweak everything throughout the week.
Next up, the wastelander truck-mech and actual humans to populate the world.

Work In Progress Log #6 - December 31, 2017
I fleshed out some more of the intro with more detail in the ground textures via some extra Substances and added the stag beetle that's a minor player in the scene. Enviro kept bugging out when I re-baked the terrain textures and I wasted quite a bit of time on fixing the terrain but it works for now. I'll probably increase the detail in this spot even further since it contains a closeup.
I also added a derelict remains of what may have been a beach house. This is there the first shot begins with a wide horizon and pans down to the house. I'm considering adding some bandit-ravaged corpses hanging from the rafters if time allows.
I also made a simple ragged banner in Photoshop and attached it as a cloth object to the aerial/radio beacon. I added a few other concrete structures in the background and some debris as well.

And finally, after tinkering with a bunch of Cinemachine cameras, dolly tracks and timeline lengths, the opening shot came about. More fine tuning to come of course but this establishes my very first part of the story.

Work In Progress Log #5 - December 23, 2017

I had some new ideas for how the scene would open, from the viewpoint possibly of a wasteland survivor - maybe that of an insect traversing the sands as the bomber was passing overhead and the camera began to follow.
Using rocks from the Advanced Rock Pack and concrete structures from the Apocalyptic Wasteland assets I built another point of interest in the scene further from the shipwreck outposts and the cliff sides. This would be where the scene opened, with some insect trying to just get by as the story unfolds.
I also tried another LUT with a more orange palette and a new skybox.

Work In Progress Log #4 - Decmber 19, 2017

I didn't have considerable time in the past couple of weeks to work on this with my day job. I did get to start re-texturing some of the assets and added the Alloy shaders to the project after I discovered it had been open sourced. I set about taking the albedos for some assets into Bitmap2Material to get a full range of maps so I could get better results with Alloy.
The result was better metal and roughness on objects like the bus, the corrugated metal and the bomber. Adding CTS to the terrain and Vegetation Studio for the grass and other objects added a considerable touch of depth. I also added NGSS to the scene for softer shadows.

Work In Progress Log #3 - December 8, 2017

I didn't have much time to work on the project today but I did take some time to re-texture the bomber in Substance Painter. I wanted a much more worn, junked-out look since the technology in this world would be scrapped together remnants. Substance makes it easy to import pre-existing maps and add non-destructive modifications on top of them then export new, higher-detail maps. I added rust, dings, scratches, and dust buildup along with some changes to the metal/roughness values.
The end result in Unity, with boosted emissions ended up looking pretty nice.
I was beginning to envision a scene where the bomber makes a strafing run coming out of a cloaked state, so I began tinkering with a shader in Amplify Shader Editor as well. I knew I needed something involving a grab pass and followed the steps outlined in the tutorials provided by Unity earlier this year.
Still needs some further tweaking and effects like de-cloaking, but it's doing what I wanted. I'll also add some heat distortion to the engines. I was making a shader for that as well but there's some existing solutions in an explosion asset I have which may fit better.
I also began to set up an outpost at the hull of the shipwreck which will be further fleshed out. This is the target of the bomber of course and it's constructed with pieces from the Apocalypse Pack from Maksim Bugrimov. The textures will need to be improved and other props added to build up this inhabited area/harvesting effort that's going on within the shipwreck's hull.
Is it a cultivation spot, a sanctuary, a pit stop or a recovery effort? Whatever it is, the bomber is trying to disrupt it. And a scout on the cliffs will witness the event as it unfolds.
Next I added an anti-aircraft turret. This will need to be "junked up" as well in Substance Painter. It will be firing flak as the bomber strafes the outpost.

The terrain is looking relatively drab up close so I'm going to need to spice things up with rocks, vegetation and further texturing with CTS.
More details to come!

Work In Progress Log #2 - December 7, 2017

I knew I wanted an opening scene (or part of it) to involve a flying dolly shot across the expanse of this landscape to establish some scale and setting for the viewer. As I originally stated, I considered a bird but I'd need a rather expensive model of a bird of prey for that so I opted for something different: a spaceship model that would be modified by me to appear as some sort of post-apocalyptic flying machine that may or may not have space-faring capabilities.
I also wanted to establish some other factors visually in the basin via decaying vehicles and inhabited structures that might allude to a previous war. Adding the ship put everything in a more advanced technological context for whoever populated this world. So, for starters, I added a small crashed ship prop (Crash-landed Ship from Paladin Dog) out in the basin. It would be one of the items I'd go back and re-model and re-texture probably.

For structures and other items, dilapidated building materials like rusted metal, posts, pipes, etc. were going to be needed a-plenty so I got Apocalyptic Shacks, Props and Structures from Ten Ton 3D to cover many of my props. I added a few to the aerial structure and it immediately made a difference. I'd go back later and modify them further to build catwalks and support system leading from the cliffs to the tower.

Also, I wanted to add a huge shipwreck to the basin to further relate some scale and time passage. Besides that, I had an idea of including a small settlement area around the hull of the shipwreck. This settlement would immediately enter the narrative of the scene in the opening because it would be a target of the incoming bomber. The shipwreck was part of a huge assortment of items from the Extreme Wastelands Pack from Vertigo Games. There are tons of props, vehicles and other items in the asset and it was on sale, so I figured it'd be a perfect addition.

For the bomber I went with the SF Fighter RK6 from CGPitbull. It's a really nicely done little ship that I can go back and add some effects to like engine exhaust, weathering effects and makeshift desert "enhancements."
t was already making for a nice setup and adding context.
My next step was setting up a Cinemachine Dolly Camera and testing how to animate the bomber along its strafing run. Initially I was trying the new Cinemachine Dolly Cart but ended up using the Simple Waypoint System asset to animate the bomber along a path and let the dolly cam follow then blend to several other shots. The above shot would include a human scout at some point.
Tweaking the dolly speed, position and the waypoints for the ship took some time. I tried Auto Dolly for the camera but preferred other styles of tracking and framing. The scene will require more angles and more tweaking among other things but the clip below is a rough test.

Not too bad for a few hours of work in a couple of days but my ideas were starting to really expand. Specific characters were already forming in my head and a complete opening scene involving a frenzied scout, who was awoken by radio garbage, and trying to signal an outpost that danger was incoming.
More to come!

Work In Progress Log #1 - December 3, 2017

I wanted to emulate as much of the concept art as possible but expand on it as well as if the scene was merely a frame or vignette from a larger work that involved a complex world and story. My first step was finding a quick terrain that looked complex enough for me since I find my attempts at manually creating terrain result in what seems like giant landmasses of dough or painful reminders of Bryce 3D renders. I went with an inexpensive terrain asset, "PBR Desert Landscape" from Banjo for my base to build from. When I start a scene I usually add my standard "toolset" of assets that includes Beautify, Amplify Color, AQUAS and the Post Processing Stack. I'm using the latest version of the Post Processing Stack in this so I can experiment with volumes and Cinemachine, which I also added to my toolset.
Straight out of the box, it's a nice terrain, with the details and topology I wanted to use.
Next I needed a skybox and some color grading. I work in a sort of haphazard trial-by-error method, so I dive right in setting up my mood and color from the beginning. Allsky is my usual asset for skyboxes and I went with a bright sky suitable for a desert.
For atmospheric scattering and sunlight I use Enviro, which recently added directional volume lighting. The difference was nice enough that I decided to stick with Enviro and forego the scattering code from the Adam demo. I added some simple AQUAS water as well since it seemed there was some sort of tide-pool, lake or other water body possibly in the concept art.
Next up was adding some rocks. I used one of the free Manufactura 4K rocks assets from the Asset Store and scaled them to fit better within the scene.
The color and texture wasn't what I wanted though, so I tried some various Substances from Allegorithmic's Source.
Ehhh...still not what I wanted. So, I did some editing in Photoshop of the original albedo maps of the rocks.
I also made a quick prototype of one of the aerials/towers in the concept art in Blender then textured it quickly in Substance Painter with some basic rust materials. I added some metal plating and rusted barrels at the base of the aerial from the super inexpensive Station v1.0 asset (it's .90!)
I tend to work far ahead in my mind so I already had an idea that this scene would involve a civilization near an evaporated coastal area. Of course that's a good opportunity for some birds, which I had in the Bird Flock Bundle asset. I went with seagulls and added a flock. Not too bad.
I decided I wanted the scene to begin at a bird's-eye-view and fly through the wasteland. So, I began tinkering with Cinemachine a while on dolly tracks before testing an actual bird in the scene.
Definitely not quite the level of detail I need right now for a bird that might be close up but it was giving me further ideas. A detailed bird model with the articulated and properly rigged wings/feathers is pretty costly so I I'm holding off on that for now.
Following the concept art, I wanted a humanoid standing at the base of the aerial, maybe signaling to someone far in the distance as the bird flew by and the camera changed.
I'm definitely no modeler and definitely not adept at making characters or rigging them, so my next search involved finding some models.
Searching through assets and looking at more concept art I started getting other more elaborate ideas involving an entire decimated cityscape, shipwrecks, wasteland hermits, petroleum refineries, mutants (or aliens?) and junkyard mechs.
My next installation will involve these additions!

Assets Used

  • Cinemachine
  • Post Processing Stack 2
  • Amplify Color
  • Amplify Motion
  • Amplify Shader Editor
  • Beautify
  • Alloy Shaders
  • CTS
  • Vegetation Studio
  • Enviro
  • Simple Waypoint System
  • PBR Desert Landscape
  • Apocalyptic Shacks, Props and Structures
  • Apocalyptic Wasteland
  • Extreme Wastelands Pack
  • Bird Flocks
  • AllSky
  • PBR Dry & Dead Grass
Fancy Ferret Studios
Art Director - Artist
Ugur Ister
3 years ago
10 years+ Unity Developer mobile, desktop, XR
Great rusty wasteland and i think you should totally release this mech car walker as mod item for fallout since i have to walk around and blast things with it now!
Art Director
Blair RenaudThis is great. Nice to see a rusty wasteland.
Thanks! Post-apocalyptic scenarios were my favorite as a (strange) kid.
Blair Renaud
3 years ago
CEO/ Director
This is great. Nice to see a rusty wasteland.
Beautiful work here. Kudos.
3 years ago
Art, Animation and Code
Looking good. Great write up.