In late december I found myself without a job after 4 years working as a level designer for Ubisoft. It was time to do something creative, from my desk at home. It was also important to sharpen my skills. I had not touched Unity since 2010!
Without any experience making cinematics in Unity, I had to spend the first days learning about Cinemachine and Timeline.
We are only tow guys in the team. Sound and post-unity video editing is done by Elias Fuchs, sound and music designer.
The First Few Days
I took relevant courses on Udemy in Unity, starting off with a basic lighting tutorial and how to make a low-poly scene.
Other online tutorials in Cinemachine and Timeline came in handy.
Pondering the concept and browsing concept arts ... my mind arriving in a desert oasis on the distant planet Trident Prime ...
A concept art piece from Anton Fadeev, official artwork for Duelyst (the digital collecitble card game) inspired. That inspiration laid the foundation for the world that begun to take shape in my mind.
The BattleDroids pack on asset store was something I grabbed early on and they settled the sci-fi theme for me.
On the planet there are droids of two opposing factions. Order of the Trident (white) and antagonists, Sons of Tornado ( black), bandits of the wildlands.
The Second Steps
Now I had some training, and a clear concept of the scene, even an idea of the story.
Working on my lap top was like working in the desert without water, your visor full of sand. I tried to optimize the lighting, following official guides, but the scene ended up looking like crap. I fought the Lighting Settings gods, and eventually aquired a new rig and GPU (GTX 1060).
I had longer synopsis, but as time was running away from me, I had to cut it down to a realistic scope again and again. Along the way, I discarded additional concept art I had gathered for parts of the scene I had no time for. I was even killing the protagonists, all but one ...
The Sons of Tornado were almost upon the droid that fled over the dunes on Trident Prime - Samor, a brother of the Order of the Trident. They were catching up, but Samor had spotted a weapon power up, - a Fallen Tear. The tear was a gift from the Dune Sky God and a deadly weapon in the hands of a true believer like himself.
The oasis whispers [rumors - ed.] said a Tear could kill a Daddy Tornado, but that was yet to be proven.
Samor quietly prayed and approached the site of the Tear ...
With the Storm in the Back
Thanks to low poly, I could scale all models as I wished without really loosing that much quality. A scaled up droid seemed legit, as long as I kept it in the background, like the giant in the official concept arts for the challenge.
I felt confident enough with Cinemachine after some tutorials and found that normal virtual cameras with Follow and/or Look At targets did most of the job.
Working in low poly also allowed me to scale the environment models to almost any shape I wanted and they would be ok-ish. Now with only a few days left to deadline, the level designer in me felt the urgent need to replace all the placeholder rock models in the scene with actual nice ones that were ment to be used for desert cliffs. But the artist and storyteller in me was already lost in the creative pulse, or the FLOW, so I spent the last two days working only on the animations of the droids, setting up the cameras - and telling the story in the best way possible with as little (and low poly) assets as possible.
The Desert Sun and the Fallen Tear
In retrospective, I spent way to much time on the lighting settings, but also learned a lot. I settled on deffered lighting and mixed (realtime/baked) directional light source (the sun). There is also an area light behind the rocks to the left.
The Last Day of Thunder
I did the final touches with camera effects and lighting settings in between tweakign the cuts. I modified (or rather, I slaughtered) a low poly camp fire to create the blue fallen tear that Samor would find.
Dust storm fx from the standard assets came in handy to make the lit-up fog as seen in Anton Fadeevs concept art.
In the last minute I changed the albedo color of the rocks to brown from grey. When the scene and video was done I turned off Unity and spent the evening with the sound guy, my fellow gunslinger, Elias Fuchs, who did the music part. Instantly, he found a western-track from Ben Hanssen.
A final thought? Well, now that the story is there, the level can be made into a playable prototype. Maybe another movie as fan art for Duelyst. The level designer in me wants to go loose on more low-poly assets and create a vast scene a player can explore in first person.
The Trident Order has nothing to do with the Duelyst game. But both are awesome.
The last droid of the Trident Order embraced the Fallen Tear and absorbed it with a silent prayer. Where the Order had failed, the planet, Trident Prime, had prevailed.
The Father Tornado and the droids that commanded him - known only as the Sons. They were no more.
Samor wandered on across the Dune, with a new hope in his heart.
No more madness. No more.
DEV DIARY - WIP LOGS
[Day 30] Final post processing and lighting settings. Some tweaks to the clips. Ive been using normal virtual cameras so far, but set up a dolly track for the cut where the Sons are killed.
Update: results with the dolly track were not good enough, so I settled on a still camera instead. I lost some focus effects and camera animations due to errors (mostly my own ones).
Update: The music is done and synced to the cuts.
[Day 29] I finsihed the shots and animations. Now I have only one day left to finish it up with details in the scene, tweaks here and there, the final post process.
[Day 28] Some tests with lighting. Felt like a step back.
[Day 27] New rig up and running. Got the first character in place and the first two cuts.
Next step is to establish the giant, Daddy Tornado.
[Day 20] Need to set up my new rig today. The plan is to setup characters in the scene, their animations and complete the camera shots. Today and tomrorow. There is no time.
[Day 11] Way behind schedule - issues with lighting. Basically my laptop is crap. Ive tried t reduce baking time, but got crappy results instead and STILL have 10min+ baking time.
[Day 6] New scene, but slighlty behind
[Day 2] Freestyling - New clip
The latest video.
Worked on terrain, background, detailed props. Added a low-poly water. Added a house on pillars. Willl cut that later.
[Day 2] Freestyling
I have a collaborator on Audio - music and sfx, one of my closest friends: Elias Fuchs. He will create the music track.
[Day 1] Freestyling
:: [Dec 17-20] Day 1-4 ::
Freestyling in Unity plus learning.
Udemy Unity courses on low-poly modelling, anmations and similar.
Tutorials on Timeline, Cinemachine and Post Processing Stack.
Make the Schedule plan, list all the Asset Store - assets used (done)
IF there is time, make a storyboard draft on paper and scan it. Add to the article.
:: [Thursday-Friday, Dec 21-22] Day 5-6 :: MOCKUP ::
:: [Tuesday - Wednesday, Dec 26 - 27] Day 10-11 ::
Scene and lighing.
:: [Dec 27 - Jan 4] Day 11-19 :: SYLVESTER ::
I will see the audio guy.
Browse assets store for final props, replacing any placeholders. Think Sci-fi.
Will share the link and gather feedback.
:: [Friday - Monday, Jan 5 -8] Day 20-23 :: CHARACTERS ::
Note to self: Youve got 2 working days to implement the characters and tweak the camera shots acordingly!
Replace placeholders with the character models and setup their animations. Time-lapse of this.
Record and upload before sunday night. GET FEEDBACK from ppl!
:: [Tuesday, Jan 9] Day 24 :: AUDIO ::
Add cameras and animate them.
Add the music track.
Tweak the lighting and mode to go better with the music.
Record and upload. GET FEEDBACK!
:: [Wednesday-Thursday, Jan 10 -11] Day 25-26 :: FINAL ENVIRONMENT ::
Dont touch the cameras again until Thursday night earliest!
!! SCI-FI and TRUE TO CONCEPT check !!
Sci-fi details must be in the scene, not only the characters.
Possibly high tech or just weird stuff such as the power-lines on the rocks in the original concept art.
Final pass on terrain and props.
Consider the feedback from sunday and monday and iterate. Timelapse record.
IF there is time, I do the extra geometry for the village houses and add to the scene.
Record and upload before Thursday evening. Ask for feedback.
:: [Friday, Jan 12th] Day 27 :: POST PRODUCTION and ARTICLE ::
The assets and characters in the scene are LOCKED DOWN. Dont touch them.
Final pass on post process. Timelapse / progress screenshots.
Write the article and upload videos, images.
Share the link. Time to ceate some buzz!
:: [Sunday, Jan 14th] Day 29 ::POST PRODUCTION final ::
Tweaks to shots and camera effects. Settings in Post Processing Stack must be final.
Update the blog before sunday evening. Create some hype in other channels.
:: [Monday, Jan 15th] Day 30 :: FINAL ARTICLE and SUBMISSON
Write the final article.
IF there is time: Final touches on post-production based on the sunday evening feedback.
Video recording (final) in 1080i (or p?)
Upload final to youtube (may take time!)
Final submission before midnight.
Breakdown list of any custom assets or external stuff thats not from Asset Store.
Music track: Ben Hansen - Sci Fi Western Music - "Junk Yard Wars" (Royalty Free)
What do I use?
Post Processing Stack
Standard Assets (Effects for camera nd some VFX like Duststorm)