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The Arrival
Updated 2 months ago
The Arrival - Neon Challenge: Making-Of
Hi! My name is Tobias Watzl, I am a student at Stuttgart Media University in Germany. I like digital painting, creating 3D models and programming. I have been working with Unity3D for a little more than a year now and I am very happy about participating in this challenge!


As the Theme for this challenge is "A New World" there are two options: either there is a new world or we have to create it - which leads to the process of terraforming. The basic concept for my entry is a spaceship that arrives at the currently terraformed Mars. I was inspired by the board game 'Terraforming Mars' that I recently played with friends and an article in the National Geographic Magazine. The realistic approach for terraforming a planet like Mars is quite slow and would last around 1000 years. So what would Mars look like when it has been terraformed for about 500 years? When arriving with a spaceship, I imagine seeing 300m high terraforming towers standing on the dry and barren Mars surface surrounded by a small island of grass and maybe even some trees. Near to the towers, there are little ponds of water and small plants growing around them. The atmosphere is still very thin and the temperature is low. You might see little robots walking around and planting to help Mars become a greener place.
tldr: Realistic Science Fiction / Mars / Terraforming in Progress / Spaceship arriving


Sketches When creating an animation, I first start with some really rough sketches to get an idea of the perspective and maybe the colors. In this case I had the whole sequence in my head, so I started with a rough storyboard.
As you can see the concept is quite rough: A Spaceship passing a terraforming tower and entering a crater with a city in the center. There is plenty room to get some side stories (such as the planting robot) and different shots. It was only a little help for me to think about this sequence.

Blocking Before starting with the real models and the animations and other details, there is another step I usually take: Blocking is basically using a cube or other primitive objects as dummy for everything. This is a very fast technique to see what perspectives work for the shots, how things need to be arranged, and to get an impression of how big things are. In my example, I needed a plane as ground, some cubes as mountains, cylinders for the towers, spheres for some greenhouses and the torus for some craters on the Mars surface.

Camera Movement and Timing When the basic concept was finished I used the same setup to arrange the camera movements. You'll need a bit of time to get an idea of the camera movements work and how the shots need to be timed (unless your cutting on the music). With the timeline window it is pretty easy to see all cameras and to manage and fade between different shots. In total I used 14 cameras (in many cases there is a camera at the starting position and another camera at the ending position of my dolly move). Yes, I know there is a dolly option in Cinemachine but personally, I like the workflow of using two camera better - maybe because I'm used to it from the 3D softwares I had to deal with in the past years.

Modeling For my project I created a few custom 3D Models as I wanted to have something original:
  1. Terraforming Tower
  2. Spaceship
  3. Greenhouse
  4. The PlantBOT
  5. a few buildings
As I nearly missed this challenge I did not have much time for unwrapping and aligning the UVs for texturing. Instead I used a custom triplanar shader for the Buildings to get rid of this problem.
The Terraforming Tower
For the terraforming tower I started with a cylinder and modified it a little bit. I added some greebles from my library and the tower was ready to go. During the process of making the animation the tower evolved. The first version was very basic but during the time I added more and more details to it. In the final version I also added some lights and a particle system for the mist.
First I thought of super greenhouse gases that are blown out at the top but then I decided to turn everything around and make the tower blow water/mist out on the ground. The fan in the upper part of the tower now blows the air to the center of the tower where some complicated things happen and magically water and minerals are blown out to help the plants growing.

The Spaceship
I wanted the spaceship to look like a cargo ship. No fancy details such as guns, no shiny colors nor cool shapes. Just something that can transport tons of material to Mars and back to Earth. I reused some architectural models and made a basic engine from a cylinder.

Greenhouse Greenhouses usually have glas windows - that's what I wanted to do first. I played around with the material and found this copperish red/orange reflection material. I liked it very much and it looked like material the NASA might use as well, so I decided to go with that.
The greenhouse is basically just half a sphere with tubes along the geometry. In addition to that I added some silo like elements to make it look more interesting.

The 'PlantBOT' While creating the scene I imagined what technology there could be used; of course some spaceships and some robots. So I created the PlantBOT: a robot that walks around on Mars on his own, planting plants day or night helping Mars to get a bit greener. The PlantBOT design was done within a few sketches.
I added fake logos to make the robot look more realistic and more interesting. There might be companies in the future specialized in terraforming other planets so... "Terra Corp" sounded like a pretty obvious name to me.

Terrain and Lighting
For the terrain I used the build-in Unity terrain. The modeling is pretty easy and straight forward. The difficult part when it comes to terrain is findig great textures. There are many great sites out there to get some (free) textures. I usually use since they offer 3D scanned textures that look really great. Another great resource for all space and planet related stuff is the NASA website. They upload all of their images and even some 3D models from planet surfaces they scanned. The Jupiter in the background (I know technically it is way oversized but it looked cooler than a tiny light in the sky) for example is an image from the NASA site.
For the terrain in my project I used basically 4 different textures:
  1. Rock
  2. Sand/Dirt
  3. Moss
  4. Grass
The vegetation was pretty simple in my case: I only needed some grass and one tree model. The grass is from the Blacksmith Environment Pack and the tree from the Standard Assets Environment pack.
I tried several lighting setups and also the atmospheric scattering from the Blacksmith Environment Pack but I was not satisfied with the outcome. Everything you see in my video now is a slightly modified standard skybox and the fog option enabled. With some more time there might be the chance to get a nice atmospheric scattering effect in this project.
There are only a few animations in my scene. The most important one is the ship flying towards the base and another ship leaving. Other than that there are some smaller animations like the rotating elements inside the terraforming towers and the flashing signal lights. I made the animations with cubes way before the final models where created and later used the cube as parent and disabled the Mesh Renderer. The more complex animation was the walking PlantBOT. Yet it was only one step, the plant action and everything again and therefore quite fast to do.
Post Processing
The last step is the post processing. I will have a more detailed explanation of how I used the post processing stack in my project below so for now just keep in mind that I activated the post processing stack right away as first thing because I like shiny reflections and bloom dirt textures. Activating it in the first place offers you the possibility to find some nice camera angles in order to get nice flares and lens-dirt-effects. Post Processing Stack in the editor view rocks!

Using Cinemachine and Timeline

Cinemachine is a very nice tool to make some cutscenes for games but you can basically use it to animate everything. For example: I used it not only for the cameras but also for the intro and outro texts on the canvas. I think the timeline is very easy to use if you have experience with video editing software. For this project I used 10 tracks. The possibility to create recorder tracks is very nice. It helped me a lot to export only specific parts of the animation - for example as gif. But I noticed the playback was noticeably slower when the recorder track was enabled even when the recording did not even start. Sadly the recorder does not record the audio so I had to add it back in when the video was rendered.
On the first track, there is the canvas animation. It is basically a black image and some text fading in and out. The second track is the base animation of the spaceship flying around. I created the animation with a cube in the Blocking Step and only reused the position for the final spaceship model. The most used track was the third one: the camera track. As mentioned above, I used 14 cameras but less shots since I faded between them to get smooth movements. On the fourth track, there is the music track. It is nice to see the waveform, when cutting the shots. The next five tracks are used for some extra spaceship animations, like turning the engine on and rotating the ship before it flies away, and the PlantBOT movements. The last two tracks are the recorder tracks.
As I mentioned above I used two cameras to create a dolly effect. A very nice feature would be if there was a button to align the current selected virtual camera to the editor view. There is an option like that for the dolly but not for the 'normal' virtual camera.
As cameratype I mostly used the 'track target' option and for the opening shot the 'follow' option. In some cases I used the normal virtual camera without any tracking. It looked kind of boring so I added the medium handshake with values of 0.5 to all still shots.
To achieve a more cinematic look than 16:9 I added a CinemaScope (21:9) ratio option to the Recorder Script. Of course you could do that in an extra video editing software but as in this challenge no editing was allowed (except for the music) this was a nice workaround.

Post Processing Stack (v2)

I used the Version2 of the Post Processing Stack since I had minor problems when using the v1. There was flickering at glowing textures I could not get rid of.
There was one global volume which had the AmbientOcclusion, Motion Blur, Bloom* and Color Correction on it. On some cameras I had a different profile to get the Depth of Field right. Using different DoF parameters on cameras can produce a nice focus pull (in my case the one from Terraforming Tower --> PlantBOT).
Ambient Occlusion is very neat - except for when used in combination with low angle water scenes: the coast line will be very dark. For this reason I added an extra post processing layer to all cameras with low angle water shots where the ambient occlusion intensity was reduced to 0.
*Bloom: Be careful that you don't use Bloom with different dirt textures in different profiles on the virtual cameras. In my case it crashed multiple times and merely removing all other Bloom Effects than the one in the global helped to get rid of the error messages.
Color Correction was the last thing I focussed on. I quite liked the look of everything so I just tweaked the contrast and some blue values to get rid of the 'washed out' sky.

Assets used from the Asset Store

  • Cinemachine
  • Post Processing Stack(v2 - so technically from Github)
  • The Blacksmith: Environments
  • Standard Assets
  • Recorder


  • 'Restart' by digitalR3public (, Creative Commons)

Thank you for watching! Feedback is welcome!

Tobias Watzl
3D Artist - Student
Tobias Watzl
2 months ago
3D Artist - Student
Farrukh AbdurGreat work Tobias. Good luck :)
Thank you, Farrukh! Good luck to you as well!
Farrukh Abdur
2 months ago
3d Artist / 2d Designer - Artist
Great work Tobias. Good luck :)