Hi everyone! My name is Mike Murdock. I’m a creative director based in the Bay Area currently working on VR and AR projects. I have a background in VFX for film and commercials (compositing and motion graphics work) and I’ve been working in Unity for the last 5 years or so.
My current project is a Unity Game called “Marshmallow Melee” in Steam Early Access, It’s a Toy-Sized Dungeon Crawler with adorable warriors in VR. Sort of Pikmin meets Diablo. LINK
Okay! On to the Main Event!!
Retro sci-fi is totally my jam, so I knew I had to make something rad for this challenge!
I made this piece of concept art about a year ago and thought it would be fun to turn into a real-time scene for the Neon Challenge.
The concept is about an alien species called The Form breaching a facility’s defenses to fight The Aux, a robotic race with TV heads!
Since I’m a one-person team, I knew complex animation was out of the question for the scope of the project. Instead, I focused on a “frozen moment in time” so I could tell a story and lean more on lighting and learning Cinemachine.
I was hugely inspired by the Phillips Carousel commercial and also the Halo 3 "Believe" Ad. They're both amazing films and show how you can drip-feed narrative and environmental information to the audience to keep them engaged.
I’m also a big Kubrick fan, (And 70s and 80s Sci-fi in general). I went with very minimal and geometric shapes for everything . . . stuff that I knew would look great when properly lit and “filmed”. The below shots are all pretty simple to build, but they have amazing lighting and composition.
Like a complete crazy person, I decided to solo this project.
There’s a couple asset store models in my piece, but for the most part, I did all the modeling, texturing, lighting, animation, and Music. I’ve broken up the process into subsections below... there’s also a bunch of updates after the Post Mortem where I go into deeper detail on each area.
The character models were made in Maya and textured in Substance Painter. I also used Maya’s Human IK system to quickly rig them so I could do quick poses and drop them in the scene.
Here's the two Alien Races:
The AUX ::: Humanoid Robots with adorable TV faces.
The FORM ::: An Alien Species with re-configurable pieces. They transform as needed for their current situation. In this project, they can be seen as bipedal monsters and spiderbots that crawl around wrecking havoc. But basically it's made of scaled cubes. Very simple to model.
The environment was blocked out in Maya as well, but I ended up rebuilding it in Houdini so I could move faster and automate most of the tedious work, like UV layout.
I used Substance Designer to make most all the environment’s textures. This was useful for the lighting pass: Because Substance is procedural, I could go back and forth and tweaks specific channels (Like metallic and bump), essentially doing lighting / shading at the same time.
For Lighting, I kept it pretty straightforward: Emissive elements in the scene (like NEON lights, RIGHT?!?!) And then I added pools of light as needed to highlight the characters. I used the Unity Volumetric Lights throughout to soften out the image and, in some cases, carve out character silhouettes.
AW YEASSSS. DAT Volumetric Lighting. Also "The Scream" Munch Reference. Because I went to art school and I'm proving that my degree is useful for conveying emotions.
Post Processing :::
Depth of Field was super important for the narrative. I used it to obscure information and direct the audience's attention. My setup was to use empty Transforms as Focus points so I could nail the focus with Cinemachine.
Initially I had a rough time getting the right depth of field in my piece... It took a lot of iterations for me to find the right settings.
Here's my setup for the post processing important bits! I was subtle with my color correction, although I did warm things up a bit and lift the blacks so the image was softer.
I actually didn’t have a lot here: Mainly just the Computer Console and the Containment Field Generators. They were modeled in Houdini and textured in Substance Painter.
OKAY. WHEW. I wrestled a lot with Cinemachine. I knew I wanted one continuous, fluid camera move through the entire scene. It’s really hard to do that with Cinemachine. Here’s my hack to get it working well:
I dropped a Template camera inside a Unity Transform and then animated the position of the Transform; NOT the camera. (So I now had a moving “Camera Track Transform node”
I created Empty Transforms as focus points to line up with the moment I needed to showcase.
I created all my Virtual Cameras to align with those moments, parented them under my “Camera Track Transform”, and zeroed out their position / rotation.
In the Timeline, I’m basically blending between cameras with the same Transform settings but with different focal points and cinema settings (FOV, handheld noise, Dutch, et cetera)
Whabam! OnePerfectly smooth camera motion across 18 Virtual Cameras
Also: Shout out to Mitch, who helped me with writing a script that flickers the AUX TV faces! YAY CODE ANIMATION! (Code-a-mation?!?)
I’ve been dabbling in electronic music production for a little bit, so this was a good opportunity to play with synthesizers to get that retro analogue sound. I used Bitwig Studio to do my music design. I kept the melody very simple and pulsing. I'm mainly playing with modulation on filters and distortion and automating a few elements by hand. My main Synths for it are Serum and OB-XD.
For the impacts and soundscape: I used the Pro Sound Collection from GameMaster Audio. This was great for sci-fi sounding electric ambiance. I also found a Neon Light buzzing sound that I used in a few places.
I ended up laying the sounds in with Adobe Premiere for the final video. For the Real-Time Scene, I'm exporting the audio back into Unity and dropping it into the Timeline.
I mainly used the Asset Store for Particle FX and Sounds. (In addition to the Required and suggested assets) Here's the complete list!
Post Processing Stack LINK
Unity Recorder LINK
Ultimate VFX (v3.1) LINK
Volumetric Lights LINK
Sci-fi Gun / Flamer LINK
Pro Soud CollectionLink
Universal Sound FXLINK
SideFX Houdini (Modeling: LINK)
Autodesk Maya LT (Modeling Characters: LINK)
Substance Painter (Texture Painting: LINK)
Substance Designer (Environment Texturing: LINK)
Bitwig Studio 2 (Music workstation: LINK)
Adobe Photoshop (Interface Design: LINK)
Adobe Premiere (Final Video output: LINK)
Thus begins my Dev Log: See below for all the details behind each part of the project. Thanks for reading!
UPDATE 9 :::::::: First Music Draft / Polish
THE END IS IN SIGHT!!
I'm currently working on the music score in BitWig, should be done with that soon!
I also figured out my Cinemachine Focus Issue (I needed the post processing script on my template camera) As a result, I redid a bit of my camera work to smooth everything out.
There's also some subtle animation now on the characters so it feels like ultra slow motion and I put a material swap script on some of the AUX warrior's faces so we get a cool flickering feel.
SCORE / Music:
I just got my first draft of the music done, it still needs work but most of the timings are in place. I'm going after a pulsing 80s synth sound. Here's a quick breakdown of the major elements:
I wanted it to sound analogue and gritty, so I'm opening and closing filters a lot and tweaking distortion so the music doesn't become predictable.
To get that pulsing 70s / 80s fat bass, I used OB-Xd and detuned the oscillators from each other to fatten up the sound. Then I'm automating a couple different filters to make the bass sound unstable. I love Metafilter for creating rhythms with the filter cutoff.
I'm using Serum for my high frequency elements. I chose a Saw wave sound to cut through the heavier elements and I'm doing some simple modulation on the WaveTable position to create some movement when I hold the notes longer.
UPDATE 8 :::::::: Wrestling with Cinemachine :/
Grrrrrrr. Cinemachine sometimes does what I want. Here's the current Draft video. Stuff is out of focus sometimes and can be a bit wobbly. My hack for getting smooth camera movements is to animate an empty Transform and then parent all the Virtual Cameras under that and zero out the position / rotation. So I'm basically just blending between cameras with different focal points / FOV settings. Anyway. Seems to do the trick. I've got some temp music in there now that I'll be redoing when I get a chance. Expect an extensive audio post soon!
I also finally got around to finishing the Control panel texturing in Substance Painter. If I have time I'm going to animate the screen graphics a bit. It was fun going back and forth between Unity and Painter to dial in the materials ... especially the Metallic and Emissive channels to make the console design pop
UPDATE 7 :::::::: Camera Animation / Character Posing
I'm about half way done with the camera animation / scene setup! Still getting up to speed with Cinema Machine, so the focus isn't exactly on right now... will fix for next version!!
UPDATE 6 :::::::: The AUX Texturing / Rigging
I was able to carve out a bit of time today to finish texturing The AUX character in Substance Painter. There's still a few adjustments to be made . . . but I'll be ready to start posing all the characters in the scene soon!
Going pretty retro / Simple with the Shapes, with a bit of detail in the normal map to generate surface interest with the lighting.
UPDATE 5 :::::::: The AUX
Character Block in: The AUX
The first alien race is The FORM: A collection of shape-shifters with reconfigurable parts. (See Below in this thread) Their rivals are a TV-headed robot race called The AUX. Here's an initial block in model of the warrior character. I'm keeping the shapes pretty simple since I'll be painting the character in Substance. They should look pretty sweet all posed in the scene. I'm really digging the blocky shapes, it should make for some interesting silhouettes.
Next Step, Texturing and Rigging!
UPDATE 4 :::::::: Control Room + Elevator Shaft
Fly through of current scene
I'm fleshing out the Control room... I decided to go with a golden tile for the walls and ceiling with massive concrete pipes that disperse the generator coolant.
The elevator shaft is pretty simple: It's just a couple curves that get extruded and duplicated to form the ridges.
UPDATE 3 ::::::::
I did a little bit of work on the alien rig today. Figuring out the shapes a bit more,
I also decided to rebuild the scene in Houdini so I'd have better flexibility moving forward. (You can see a human height reference in the middle)
UPDATE 2 ::::::::
I'm getting up and running with Unity's Rendering toolset, so here's a quick test animation of the scene
Containment Field Generator Model / Texturing ::::::::::
Alien Creature ::::::::
I've had this creature idea in my head for a while: It's made up of simple technological shapes. Nearly Indestructible geometry that can reconfigure based on it's current situation. This block-in is just boxes parented directly to the skeleton rig.
I'm still figuring out the look and feel of the technology in this Universe. I'm a huge fan of 70s & 80s scifi designs. I'm going with a geometric motif for all the tech.
INITIAL POST ::::::::
A bunch of block-in stuff!
Starting to block in the Scene in Maya!! The whole cell is made up of a metal alloy. Running ceiling lights help give the cell a since of depth. the red ends are force fields that disrupt the magnetic forces of the alien, so it won't be able to pass through.