Final Submission: Warm Thoughts - A Science Fiction Cityscape
My name is Zachary Fejes, and I am an engineer from Toronto, Canada. I have a deep passion for space, and for several years I've been building trajectory-planning software for the space industry using Unity. I thoroughly enjoy creating assets, animations, and environments, and Unity has given me an outlet to do just that. I jumped into this contest a little late, but I've used it as an opportunity to learn some new things and build something I enjoy very much.
As soon as I read the NEON Challenge briefing, I had an image in mind. I remembered seeing a digital art piece online earlier this year, and I immediately went to work finding it. As luck had it, the artist had done a second piece as a follow-up to the one I remembered, so I had two pieces to work from. They are both works by Pascal Campion, and feature a purple-blue pallet (both are linked below). Despite the cool colors though, I distinctly think of these images as warm, and comforting, and so that's what I set out to capture in my scene.
Through this process, I've made efforts to log my progress regularly. As such, for a full detailing of my work toward my final entry in the NEON Challenge, please see my update logs below, which include video, images, and descriptions.
In brief, my project was broken up into 5 phases:
1. Blocking Out the City (Unity + Blender)
2. Building the Interior and Fire Escape & Camera Shots based on Art (Unity + Blender + Asset Store)
3. Integrating Timeline and Cinemachine, Establish Timeline (Timeline + Cinemachine)
4. Populate Scene, Texture, Animate, and Light (Unity + Blender + Asset Store)
5. Post-Processing (Unity + Post Processing Stack v1 + Unity Recorder)
Assets, Tools, Plugins List
Novel Assets (assets I created for this project)
- Record Player (3D Model, UV Map, Textures, Animation, Script, Materials)
- Tea Cup (3D Model, UV Map, Textures, Materials)
- Tea Kettle (3D Model, UV Map, Textures, Emission Map, Materials)
- Stools (3D Model, UV Map, Textures, Materials)
- Apartment (3D Model, UV Maps, Textures, Materials)
- Fire Escape (3D Model, UV Maps, Textures, Materials)
- Jupiter Skybox (Skybox Material)
- Buildings (3D Models, UV Maps, Materials)
Existing Assets & Tools (assets & tools from other sources)
- Post Processing Stack v1
- Volumetric Lights
- Chalet Style Furniture
- Radio Tower - Low Poly
- 'Unforgettable', by Nat King Cole
- MCS Female
- MCS Female Sci-Fi Bundle
- Huge Mocap Library
- NASA Jupiter Surface Images
- Sci-Fi Spaceship 'Omega Fighter'
- ArchViz Sofa Pack - Lite
- Satellite Dish
- Covered Cars Free
- Extreme Sci-Fi LITE
- Space Shuttle
- Stratos Class Cruiser
- Free PBR Lamps
- Sci-Fi Tablet Computer
- Ornamental Flower Set
- Picture Frame with Photos
- Unity Recorder
- Gimp 2
Update 19: Post Processing Time
Date: January 15, 2018 - 7:09PM
The character is in, the stage is set - it's post-processing time! I'm using the v1 post-processing stack for this - as I don't have time to debug if something goes wrong with the v2 beta. I'm already thrilled with the results.
Thanks to the documentation, integrating the Post Processing Stack v1 with Cinemachine was quite simple. I quickly managed to improve my shots significantly.
I've also taken the opportunity today to add several more ships to the scene - to help make the city a little busier. If I have time in the next few hours before the deadline - I'll try to add more still. The Cinemachine tracks are perfect for creating flight-paths for the ships and since the Cinemachine dolly script is ready to be animated, it made flying the spaceships about easy.
Update 18: Bringing In Characters
Date: January 14, 2018 - 2:45PM
I've just started importing my primary character! I'm going to be using the MCS plugin - a first for me - and I'm excited to get her animated. Having living characters in the scene really ties things together nicely.
Another big lighting and particles pass is done, and the scene is coming together nicely. My upgraded skybox is in, and Jupiter looks better, and is better positioned now - which is great for reflections, and for the final shot of the scene: i'm going to be animating a starship taking off from within the city, flying up, and then upon transiting jupiter - it's going to jump away! I'd love to make the particle effects for that jump myself - but I'm running low on time so I think I'm going to have a look at some magic particle effects that are free on the asset store.
It's also almost time to bring in the post-processing stack! No idea how that's going to go yet, so wish me luck!
As always, please like or comment on this project - I appreciate feedback.
Update 17: Updating Skybox, Lighting, Shadows, the Works!
Date: January 13, 2018 - 9:56PM
I'm going to keep this update short because I'm trying to gun down the remaining big to-do's for this entry to the NEON challenge. I intend to give the best projects here some competition, so I'm pushing through. I've done a lot of work on the lighting, having gotten the hang of the Volumetric Lighting scripts. I've also done a lot of camera-work so that the scene flows better and no shots are truly static - something I'd been intending for a while. I've also been using Cinemachine to help animate the scene. Several spaceships are now flying through the city, and I intend to increase the density of animated components yet.
Some screenshots for now, and an updated video of the scene tomorrow.
Update 16: SURPRISE VIDEO UPDATE
Date: January 12, 2018 - 12:31am
SURPRISE! I took a quick video of the current scene just for all of you wonderful people! As always, feel free to leave me a comment or like the project :)
Update 15: Lights, Camera... More Lights... Even More Lights
Date: January 11, 2018 - 11:02pm
I have begun work with the volumetric light package and Cinemachine, and they are making me SO happy. The quality of my scene has been steadily increasing over the past two days, and I intend to go so much further yet! The progress is incremental right now, so a video update would be quite long and repetitive, but I'll post some pictures for you all for the time being!
Update 14: Jupiter in the Sky
Date: January 10, 2018 - 12:25am
I was finishing up a big feature at work over the past two days, so I hadn't had much chance to work on my Neon submission. However, tonight I managed to eek out a few hours and I am very pleased with the results!
A bit of Blender work tonight (and utilization of NASA's inventory of planetary images) resulted in this beautiful scene which I'm going to use to generate my skybox. This may be apparent based on my workflow to date - but I love creating new assets. Building something, animating it, and scripting it to behave a certain way is really appealing to me, so I'm using NEON as an excuse to build some new things.
Let me know what you think of the skybox in the comments below!
Update 13: Custom Skybox
Date: January 8, 2017 - 9:01am
Happy Monday everyone!
Just a brief update this morning. Last night I spent some time researching methods of creating skyboxes from scratch. I'm going for a particular look and no free skyboxes I've found suit my needs. In a random bit of luck, it turns out it's really simple to make skyboxes from scratch in Blender - which is my go-to modeling tool! After work today I'm going to build out the first version of my custom skybox, and try it out in the scene. From there, I'll tune and it'll go a long way to bring the scene together.
Also - I've started throwing props into the cityscape, and it's getting more lively already! Videos to come tonight or tomorrow.
Update 12: First Video of Scene
Date: January 7, 2017 - 12:38pm
Based on the storyboard I put together last night, I've built out an initial timeline using Cinemachine and the Unity Timeline! I'm going to be updating the shots so that they all have a bit of camera motion as per the storyboard attached below. You can see the first video below.
I also managed to find and resolve the issue I was having with baking lightmaps for the scene. There were a couple of issues with the scale at which I imported my assets, but I've managed to bake a low-res lightmap onto the buildings for now. I threw a dummy material on them just to make sure they would render correctly, and I'm definitely happy with how the first-pass of baking worked out. Once I get the camera motion and smoothing worked out later today, I'm going to move on to adding proper reflections to the city buildings, importing setting up their correct textures, and also adding a bit more realism to the apartment interior.
More updates on the way!
Update 11: Storyboard
Date: January 6, 2017 - 9:27pm
Alright! I've drawn out the rough storyboard for my scene. A lot of slow panning shots to let the viewers take in the scenery and details. Next up, I'm going to get the cameras matching these shots and motions, along with setting up the timing.
Have a look at what's to come!
Update 10: Setting Up Timeline and Cinemachine
Date: January 6, 2017 - 2:36pm
I have been swamped at work so I haven't had much time to jump in and work on my entry over the past few days - but it's the weekend so I'm taking some time where I can get it. I've flushed out the apartment's furnishings, and have done my first pass at lighting the apartment. It'll definitely need some work, but I like how it's going so far.
In other news, I've begun putting together the camera-flow for scene using Cinemachine! I'm basing the scene's timing off of the song Unforgettable by Nat King Cole, which is one of my favorites and suits the mood I'm going for in this scene. I'm only doing the first verse, so it looks like my scene is going to be about 1:40 (M:SS) long. A lot of long slow shots of the scene that we get to relax and enjoy with the great music!
More updates to come over this weekend! Stay tuned and leave a comment below!
Update 9a: Mini-Update
Date: January 1, 2017 - 6:13pm
A big update is coming tonight, but for now I just wanted to give you all a sneak preview! I've populated the apartment interior and it's looking really good. Definitely needs some light and reflection work, but it's coming together. I also built and animated a record-player from scratch - and the record playing is actually going to be the soundtrack for the scene! (It's Nat King Cole's Unforgettable album).
More to come later tonight!
Update 8: Apartment and Fire Escape
Date: December 31, 2017 - 1:51am
Big update today, with 3 WIP videos for you all! (scroll down to see them).
Today I build both the apartment interior and the fire escape in blender, and then updated my scene using them to update the city alignment/scale. With both assets imported into Unity, I'm now ready to start planning my camera motion. I've never done this before so I'm excited to learn how it's done. It's late, so I'm going to keep the text of this post short. I've outlined my gameplan below if you're interested, and below that I've posted the three WIP videos for today. As always, thoughts and comments are welcome!
- Set up cameras and their motion through the scene.
- Storyboard the shots so that I know what to add on the next pass
- Update assets according to the shot requirements
- Import required assets to stage the scenes fully
- UV Map and Texture all custom assets
- Lighting work
- Introduce female character to scene
- Introduce cat to scene
- Introduce particle effects to scene
- Postprocessing Passes
Update 7: Matching the Inspiration Art
Date: December 28, 2017 - 10:09pm
Tonight the city really started coming together. Using the two pieces of art I've posted about before - I mocked up two static cameras in the Unity scene. From there I modified the building layout to approximately match the views shown in both pieces of art. The process went smoothly, which means I can now build out the apartment and the exterior scene in more detail - confident that the city matches my intent.
I've also started playing with the camera's FOV to try and find the right balance for the two key shots. Right now I'm going with a FOV of around 35 for the catwalk shot, and 50 for the inner-apartment shot. Probably going to be modifying this a lot over the next week, so nothing's set in stone.
In addition, the project has hit another milestone: it's passed 100 views! Thanks everyone for checking out this project. I'm updating daily and post a new WIP video nearly every day - so come back to see how it's progressing.
Here's today's update video! Another update soon.
Update 6: Basic Particle Effects + More Building Definition
Date: December 27, 2017 - 12:09am
Last update for the night. I've done some additional definition to certain buildings in the cityscape. I've also determined the areas where I'm going to need more buildings to fill space, and about how high I want the buildings to go. Finally, I've created a fairly simple fog-effect as a template for now, to give me an idea of how it'll look down the road. I think the effect is too strong, but as an alternative I'm going to need to find a way to create some kind of intentionally dark zone below a certain point in my scene. If anyone has any suggestions - I'm definitely open to them!
Update 5: Isolating Building Assets and Staging them in Unity
Date: December 26, 2017 - 10:17pm
I've officially made it into the Unity environment, and I've started to play with the placement of my block buildings. Since most of my shots are going to be down a single long street, I realized that fanning out the buildings with increasing distance lent to this effect well - and it's very likely that I can re-use buildings instead of using all 66 unique blocked buildings that I've set up (which will save a lot of time).
Now that I've blocked it out - I have several ideas for livening up the background (city) of the scene. I think I'm going to make public walkways at certain heights up the buildings, with landing pads/parking zones for vehicles, as well as street lights and benches. I want to make the city look busy, and alive - and the main character is going to be relaxing and taking it all in.
If you have any thoughts, please comment below! I'd love to hear them :)
Update 4: Building Detail and Texture WIP
Date: December 26, 2017 - 5:57pm
Continued work on the building UV mapping and basic texturing last night.
They're not all done - but I'm going to get started on importing them to Unity to block out my scene. Once I'm satisfied with the shape it's taking, I'm going to split the building .blend files up so that I can update them independently.
On another note - I've never worked with post-processing before, and I'm excited to try it out. I've been watching some of the Unity tutorials on the post processing stack they've required for the Neon Challenge, and can't wait to see how they work with my scene.
Last update for now - my submission got it's first like! Thanks to Ray for that ^_^
I'll likely do a follow-up post tonight once I've blocked out the scene in Unity, to give you guys a better idea of exactly what I'm going for.
Update 3: UV Mapping and Texturing the Buildings
Date: December 25, 2017 - 12:42pm
I've started work on UV mapping the buildings and putting together the textures I'd like to eventually use in the scene. There are a lot of buildings so this'll take a while, but I've recorded work on the first two to keep you all updated! I'm going for a glass-heavy look, with a fair bit of variety between the buildings to keep it looking busy.
In the video you'll see I've put in first-floor shops on the two buildings. I'm unsure yet whether or not you'll be able to see them in the final scene, as I'm considering putting fog lower on the buildings to help imply that these are VERY tall skyscrapers. If nothing else, they should add some more interesting reflections between the buildings once I get to post-processing.
Update 2: Blocking out the Cityscape
Date: December 24, 2017 - 12:48am
I've finished blocking out the city - and I like the basic shape it's taking. It's still completely featureless - but it's definitely a start. I'm going to import it to Unity in the morning and make sure that the spacing is right for the look I'm going for - and if so I'll start planning out my scene from there and tune the model accordingly.
Update 1: Blocking out the Cityscape
Date: December 23, 2017 - 11:35pm
I'm going to do my best to log my progress on the project here - and keep it updated regularly. I'm getting my start on the project tonight by blocking out the city. I want the city to be laid out in an organic fashion, so I'm going to base it off of the real map of Toronto. I've begun blocking out the buildings in Blender (my modeling tool of choice) and should have a basic outline of the cityscape put together within the hour.
For any locals, I'm going to base the cityscape off of the Adelaide corridor from Spadina to about Yonge street! I might drop some local sights in the scene - so keep an eye out ;)
This project is based on two art pieces by Pascal Campion (their blog here) which I originally found on pinterest. I want to create a future city scene, but instead of grungy and dark, I wanted to look at it from a different perspective. I want to showcase people living in a beautiful, warm time, still finding time for themselves in a vast and complex world.