Animations & Models

Completion Date:

Abandoned Sci-Fi Factory

Rendered in real-time in Unity, this abandoned scifi factory was designed with the focus of creating a high quality environment

Software

Autodesk Maya LT, Unity

Substance 3D Painter, Affinity Designer

This university project began with creating a visually captivating and realistic 3D environment, utilising real-time rendering software. With an emphasis on achieving both aesthetics and performance, the project's objective was to craft a compelling experience guided by a narrative-driven theme. By immersing the development process in a cohesive and engaging storyline, the project aimed to maintain focus and deliver a captivating result. To meet the assignment's requirements, attention was given to high-quality textures and the effective implementation of post-processing effects, all while ensuring a smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second. Additionally, the project entailed using sculpting tools to design three high-quality objects that could be optimised into lower-polygon models, balancing visual fidelity with performance efficiency. A modular approach was adopted to create the factory pieces, allowing for flexible placement and layout design possibilities. This modular design facilitated adjustments based on feedback, ensuring a dynamic and adaptable environment. With interactive elements and including a player character to explore the scene, the project held the potential for application in gaming contexts.

Real-time rendering is a technique used in 3D, commonly associated with video games but increasingly utilised in the visual effects industry, as evidenced by its application in productions like The Mandalorian. The key advantage of real-time rendering lies in its ability to render and display 3D scenes live dynamically. This allows real-time interactions and changes within the scene, granting users and players immediate feedback and responsiveness. In contrast, traditional rendering methods employed in animated films necessitate lengthy rendering processes, wherein any alterations to a scene demand the complete re-rendering of the entire sequence. The time-consuming nature of traditional rendering can hinder efficient workflow and creative exploration. However, with the real-time rendering approach embraced in this project, a game-specific environment was designed, enabling seamless and uninterrupted gameplay, offering players the invaluable benefit of immersive experiences without noticeable delays.

3D breakdown of the environment including wireframes and shading layers
Reflective presentation on the development process of the Sci-Fi Factory

The narrative behind this environment tells of a spaceship that voyaged from planet to planet, diligently collecting local livestock for processing in its butchery factory. However, when the spaceship faces an accident in its interstellar journey, it leads to its abandonment after a crash on a jungle planet. This dramatic backdrop focused the scene for a visually stunning and immersive experience for a player. With the theme and captivating backstory firmly established, a collection of concept images was curated using PureRef. This canvas of images conveyed the design's essence to fellow peers. Among the artwork, a particular image stood out, which portrayed a crack in the wall, vines weaving their way in, and beams of light filtering through. Instantly drawn to its potential, this scene was chosen to capture the player's attention. The main directional light was thoughtfully directed through the crack, complemented by strategically placed smaller light points delicately scattered throughout the environment.

After the concept images were collected, the next endeavour was to identify the individual assets required for the environment. Compiling a comprehensive list of necessary elements proved vital for the project's success. More assets than initially portrayed in the concept art were added to this list, including sounds and particle effects, all skillfully put together to elevate the final vision. An original concept sketch emerged quickly with the asset list, capturing essential details to be incorporated into the scene. Drawing on the inspiration of the reference images, a blocked-out environment was designed, offering an initial glimpse into the final product. Although inaccurately scaled, this early iteration showcased the rough positioning of high-priority assets, setting the stage for an intricate and iterative design process.

... Abandoned sci-fi factory first sketch layout
... Blockout in Unity based on sketch layout

A breakdown video is the primary goal for this project, as it would showcase the development journey. Every stage, from the very inception of the concept artwork to the block out and finally showing the environment. Render passes will show the essence of the design through each stage. The creative process will be laid out, from clay objects to wireframes and textures, revealing the transformation, with and without the influence of post-processing and ambient occlusion. Additionally, a section of the video will showcase a player navigating through the immersive environment, interacting with doors, and showcasing the diversity of footstep sounds resonating on different materials.

The early stages of designing assets for the environment posed a challenge as the final layout remained undecided, despite the initial block-out. Thus, a strategic decision was made to create the assets modularly, allowing flexibility in rearranging them to form entirely new scenes. Embracing the core principle of modular design, the assets were intended to be constructed to align with the power of 2s, such as one by one, two by two, four by four, etc., for seamless grid-snapping and simplicity. However, one pivotal oversight emerged during this process: the initial platform model was designed at 2.25m by 2.25m, veering from the simplicity of 2 by 2 meters. Adhering to modular design principles, the platform should have aligned with the power of 2s to maintain consistency throughout the environment. Central to the environment's construction were two main sets of modular kits. One kit was a comprehensive railing system comprising diverse modular components: solid straight beams, curved beams, sloped beams, T-section beams, and expandable hollow beams. This kit presented infinite possibilities for rail arrangements, forming an essential environmental building block. However, a few created pieces, such as the curved rail, were left unused in the scene, highlighting the potential inefficiency of the kit approach. Another modular kit featured a functional air vent system comprised of a 1-meter tunnel, a corner piece, a T-section piece, a solid cap, and an air vent cap.

... Hook railing kit in Unity
... Air vent system in Unity

Crafting textures remained a vital aspect of the asset creation journey, achieved using Substance Painter. The brush painting feature was deployed to paint individual details on textures through various alpha brushes. The environment predominantly featured three primary materials, each meticulously detailed: a rusted blue sci-fi metal, a rusted silver metal, and a gritty, dusty rubbery leather. This consistency in the art style and individually painted rust and dirt patterns ensured that each model bore a unique essence, sidestepping the risk of art fatigue. To further prevent art fatigue, a technique was implemented of rotating and repeating platform assets to break the monotony of texture orientation. This subtle but effective strategy minimised the chances of noticeable repeating patterns, elevating the visual appeal of the environment. Unity played an indispensable role in this project as MIP mapping, a highly effective optimisation technique, generated smaller-sized textures, deftly swapping out high-resolution 4K textures for lower-resolution alternatives as the player moved further from the model. This seamless transition ensured optimal performance and a captivating user experience.

The scene's interactivity was created with two key focal points. The freezer unit contained player interaction, with its door opening and closing. The pivot point was thoughtfully positioned at the door's hinge centre to ensure precise door movement. Subtle but impactful one-second animations brought the door to life, featuring a different motion for the door handle during the opening and closing phases. The blinds on the windows were designed with a simple transform-rotate script, ensuring a smooth and continuous looping motion independent of any door animation, underscoring the environment's dynamic and immersive ambience.

Reflecting on this environment project, valuable insights were gained, offering opportunities for future improvements. Enhancing sculpting abilities would be a focal point for the next environment, enabling better bakes and elevating the overall quality of assets. While the technique of baking rocks proved enjoyable, its potential should be harnessed to a greater extent across various assets within the environment. An underutilised feature was the emission on the top room lights, which had the potential to add a captivating flickering effect, complementing the abandoned atmosphere. A lesson learned from this oversight is the need to set up individual lights on their materials to enable seamless control over their activation and deactivation. Improvements in performance optimisation would further enhance the scene's appeal. Configuring back faces, frustum, and other culling settings more strategically could significantly impact performance. Implementing Level of Detail (LOD) techniques for assets like spider cobwebs would ensure optimal visibility without sacrificing performance. This approach involves swapping a low-poly 3D model to a simpler 2D plane when the player is at a distance where intricate details are not easily discernible.

The lighting when creating a cinematic environment is important as while the streams of light pouring through the wall crack added a satisfying touch, overall lighting could have been elevated to achieve a more immersive cinematic experience. A deeper understanding of Unity's lighting system, particularly Unity's URP lighting, is essential for future environment projects, enabling the creation of more visually striking scenes. Staying updated with the latest versions of external packages and tools is a crucial lesson learned. After creating this environment, it was realised that an old version of Unity's' third-person controller that didn’t include footstep sound effects was used. While the system that was custom coded worked similarly to the newer version, the custom one cuts off the sound of the previous footstep when the new one plays, which is most obvious when running. Despite the areas for improvement, the result is immensely gratifying, showcasing newfound skills and expertise in modelling, texturing, and optimisation.

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