Burning Ghats
Updated 2 months ago
Neon Challenge - Final Submission

The Team

Our team for the Neon challenge was made up of two people, Michael Tomkins and Cameron Baker. Michael acted as lead artist and was responsible for all the custom models as well as art direction on the project. Cameron acted as the technical artist responsible primarily for VFX and programming. We are both based in Sydney, Australia and previously worked together at a digital & augmented reality agency: we decided to team up again as we enjoyed working together so much in the past. It has been a great learning experience for us and we hope you enjoy the final product!

Narrative Inspiration

Our project started off being inspired by the great concept art “Smokescapes – The Sentries” by Georgi Simeonov. After some research we managed to link this concept with real world locations for further inspiration. The first location was the ghats of Varanasi, India and the second the fishing boats in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Below are are a series of images that where our main inspirations.

From these images we created a story of a futuristic fishing town that lived in slum conditions. The local fishermen overfished the dark waters lifting crates of fish up the brick clad towers and flying them off to the elite who floated in the great space stations above their slums.

Scene conceptualisation

The scene started off with a few primitive shapes in unity, basic water, and a human model for scale. Then using the "Fbx Exporter" plugin by Unity Technologies we exported the basic geometry into Maya and began to model more detailed meshes around it. As assets where completed they where unwrapped and then pushed into substance painter for texturing then into the scene to see how they looked.
The slums behind the dam wall, the floating space station and the surrounding mountains developed from creative brainstorms as the scene grew!
For the surfacing a lot of the base materials came from the substance share platform and where tweaked to meet our needs.

Production Process

Once the scene was blocked out we learnt Cinemachine and Timeline to start composing the shots. We decided we wanted to tell the story of the fish being caught & shipped into the ghats then lifted up the towers to be transported on flying boats to the space station looming above the slums. Firstly we created all the cameras to frame the shots and we used that as a guide on what assets to polish. The we used the dolly, camera shake and tracking function to control the virtual cameras.
Finally after decided on final shots, we used the Post Processing Stack to add extra effects to each shot such as depth of field, bloom and Ambient Occlusion as well as relying heavily on anti aliasing to improve quality the scene. We also made adjustments to water, sky and light values on a per shot basis. We achieve this by writing custom scripts to swap skyboxes, lights or water materials: these were triggered by the activation tracks in timeline.
Most of this work was done remotely but we spent a few days near the end together to combine all the assets and complete the rendering.

Visual Effects

All of the visual effects in the project were developed during the challenge, with the exception of the water solution. We used Amplify Shader Editor to quickly develop custom shaders for all kinds of effects

Fire was a lot of fun to create. Using a combination of a refraction shader for the heat particles, a noisy ember particle effect and most improtantly a custom UV animated noise texture + vertex animation on the mesh for the flames themselves. Here's a cool resource if you want to know how to do it yourself! Stylized VFX in Rime

Along with fire, we created a custom skybox that gave heaps of control to the artist to create interesting gradients. To go with this we also made a custom fog post process that takes a gradient and colours the scene depth.
Finally to wrap it up, we created a banner and tarp animation shader, a boat wake trail effect and a smoke effect based on lit particles.

Custom Scripts & Motion

To create the boat and ship motion, we built a pathing script to run on both the physics side or the transform side. Physics was required for a custom fake buoyancy script we wrote to give the boats a nice sense of floating. We also created activation scripts to swap out water materials and skyboxes on a per shot basis.

The Asset Store

The Asset store was a great resource for our project. While we wanted to create most of the models and effects ourselves, due to the team size and time limit that simply wasn't feasible so we turned to the asset store.
Besides the aforementioned Amplify Shader Editor, we utilised a couple more packages to help us along the way. Water is a fairly complex effect and we didn't have the time to try and create the effect ourselves, so we turned to the Aquas water solution. The lite package was perfect for our needs as we only needed surface detail and reflections. The Rocky Hills terrain pack helped us quickly layout some background elements and give the scene a great sense of depth. Finally, we used an asset called Urban Slum to help us quickly create the slums behind the dam wall.

Post Production

The scene was captured with the Recorder asset from Unity. After this, a small edit was done in Premier for fade in/out, music and credits.


Overall the Neon challenge was a great deal of fun and an excellent learning experience for us both. Timeline and Cinemachine are both great tools and allow us to achieve the kind of camera and sequencing work that is usually very difficult. It was also an excellent excuse for us to refine our pipeline knowledge, play around with cool effects and create a whole world from start to finish! We hope you like it :)
Assets used on the store
  • Fbx Exporter - Unity Technologies
  • Amplify Shader Editor - Amplify Creations
  • Helped us make the following:
  • Banner and Tarp vertex animation shader
  • Custom Skybox
  • Coloured Gradient Fog
  • Wake Trail Shader
  • Flame Effects
  • Heat Particles
  • Lit Particles for Smoke
  • AQUAS-Lite -
  • Mixamo for Character -
  • Standard Assets - Unity Technologies
  • Rocky Hills Terrain Pack -
  • Urban Slum -
  • Cinemachine 2.1
  • Post Processing Stack v1
  • Recorder

Production Posts

Neon Challenge entry #3
Here is a new update! We have added in boats, new fire and banners! We are aiming to block out the camera animations next to get a feel for our scene but we are going well! Merry Christmas everyone!
Neon Challenge entry #2
So here we are a little further into building the scene (sorry for the lack of updates). I have spent most of my time modelling up details and experimenting with substance painter (one of my personal goals for the project). Then finally at the end added in some lighting changes.
The technical artist on the project Cameron Baker has helped with creating a customisable fog and skybox to help me key in the lighting more accurately.
The next stages will be working on the boats in more detail and beginning to design the shots for the cinematic.
Neon Challenge entry #1
For this contest I am using the concept Smokescapes – The Sentries, Georgi Simeonov.
I have started so far by blocking out the concept art and playing with scale. Here is the first pass.
I have been referencing the Ghats in Varanasi to build up some more ideas. Updates to come!

Michael Tomkins
Art Director - Artist
Cameron Baker
Game Developer - Designer
Georgina Marie
2 months ago
So beautiful! Love this