In terms of collaboration for the project, it was an chaotic experience as in the second half of the project. There were issues with having a consistent deadline as the team members were in different stages of development as well as everyone having personal circumstances that further caused issues with keeping to the same deadline.
Originally the idea was to have a small area outside the blacksmiths which was the area assigned to me during the project’s first stages. The work in the group was split between different areas rather than with different tasks, that way we would be able to learn unreal engine’s variety of tools and also cover more ground with world building and modelling.
When deciding on the sub-theme, we all put down different ideas for what we wanted to work on and we also arranged a meeting to discuss this with members that weren’t able to contribute at the time.
After being given our main theme (Blacksmiths) however, we all decided it’d be interesting to work with feudal japan. As historically, we were curious about the difference between the western and eastern interpretations on blacksmiths as well as the story that we could build up from the themes.
The plan was to only make an outside forge, but due to the lack of space we were sharing between me and another team member; so instead I’d work with the outer area of the forge. This decision also allowed me to have more creative control with the large space I was given.
In order for our area tasks we’d have to work around the blockout. These blockouts were created by Damien to give a better understanding on how our project would be laid out:
However, due to the difference in deadlines I had decided to finish the outside area so the other team members would also be able to work with a completed set of the area whilst still giving them a large enough space to work with. I told this new plan in a meeting which allowed everyone else to focus on their 3D asset work.
Once I finished my piece of the project, I sent off the file to the team members for them to work on their own spaces. This way they’d be able to work around the area that was given to them whilst still keeping in track of my personal deadline.
Damien has created the building itself for the project and so now two other team members are planning on working from the inside and parts of the outside whilst Damien works on the outside forgery surrounding the building. Here are some examples of the inside area of the blacksmiths which was created by one of the team members: Brannon who created the particle and lighting effects, as well as adding their 3D asset into their scene.
In terms of working as a group, it was the main difficulty we faced during the project especially with the setbacks. We managed to solve them through working with different deadlines and on my end, giving them a space to work with.
Our group’s main strength was our creativity, we were able to brainstorm many story and visual ideas together online and in-person. We had many different inspirations that could work into our landscape together and we’d try to bring up as many ideas as possible.
We also had a strong plan on interweaving our 3D asset projects to the environment as well as a visual objective to work towards when creating our world.
If we were to choose any other theme, it’d either be corruption or infection. There weren’t many discussions on choosing another theme than Feudal Japan but if we were to choose either other themes we would work with a makeshift blacksmith that was created by a survivor only for it to be destroyed by the infected, a similar story to our project.
To further improve in my part of the project, I would set the project in a much more darker environment rather than in the morning as the lighting for the landscape would drastically change the tone of the story we were telling.
For the landscape, I would’ve also added more blacksmith weapons and armory around the environment to create a more chaotic area. I’d also add more destruction in the area such as adding fire particles and destroyed items such as walls or objects. I could’ve also added more blacksmith items in the empty space but this would’ve limited the creative space the other team members would’ve had and potentially make the area feel more cluttered.
For the environment as a whole, the landscape would’ve been placed better in a larger mountain / forest area, surrounding the landscape I worked with. This way, the environment would’ve been more claustrophobic and set in a more realistic area. In the future, I want to be able to have the grass and foliage be fully rendered across the landscape. This was more an issue for the video as certain areas would only be fully rendered if I was close enough with the viewport camera.
In conclusion, this group project taught me that communication is vital when it comes to working with the same environment. Our group is able to creatively come up with ideas but executing it as well as time management and planning is an area that we struggled on to work with as a team. Despite the setbacks we faced, we managed to push through the project by setting different deadlines and giving each other different places to work with, giving us an idea on how we’d tackle group projects and communication in the future.
At the beginning of the project, I started to set up the outside area using Unreal Engine’s environment and foliage plug ins. The template I originally used is the empty map so I was able to have a blank slate and experiment with the environment block-out much more easily.
Here, I was experimenting with the different tools that the landscape mode provided, messing with the brush radius for the sculpting, smoothing and noise mechanics. These tools were used to create the mountains surrounding the area as well as the hill structures.
This was one of the more difficult areas to work with as the lack of shaders and lighting made it difficult to understand the heights of the different areas in the map.
However, when I added the objects into the blockout, I was able to understand how to edit the layout even more as I was able to build around some of the assets I also placed these items into the blockout to get a better understanding on the areas and how much space I could work with.
The large area near the Sakura tree area is where the blacksmith building would be placed. The blacksmith building will be created by one of the team members in the group.
Afterwards, I added another layer known as the dirt path. This made navigating through the environment narratively more noticeable as the initial intention was to provide a linear story to the area.
In this screenshot, you’re able to see the difficulties that I intially faced as the grass layer was overlapping the dirt. To rectify this, I left some areas of the grass untouched but took away most of the noticeable parts using the smoothing and erase tool.
At this time, I started adding more objects around the environment such as the stone lanterns, a way to understand the scale of the landscape. The main difficulty I had with this process was finding a suitable size for the stone lanterns and the fox statues as I didn’t want them to set an unrealistic proportion so I tried to make them slightly bigger than the statues, this way the lanterns would feel physically intimidating despite emitting a warm glow.
Part 2: Populating the landscape – Composition work
After adding in the textures for the ground, I started adding in foliage such as rocks, dead leaves, flowers and bushes around the landscape. The main idea for this composition was to visually show the chaos and the flora taking over an isolated but beautiful landscape.
Originally, I scattered lots of different debris across the map, especially in the first area but it became too cluttered and disorientating. So instead I just added trees around the landscape and reduced the amount of debris. This also allowed more subtlety to the destruction of the land narrative-wise.
In the environment, I added lots of flowers to the area because I was having difficulty with grass length and so the ground still felt flat. However, the flowers helped with this issue by adding some more volume and variety to the grass layers. The shrubs and bushes help elevate that.
Afterwards, I added some blood splatter decals to the ground and some of the objects and structures. This was the finally add the horror element to the environment as well as to emphasis the chaos and juxtaposition between the beauty of the flora and the horror behind the oni’s attack.
For this, I used different decals and overlapped them on certain spots and objects to create a more vibrant effect. However, much like the debris, I tried to limit the amount of blood in order to not lose it’s visual effect.
Afterwards, I added some extra props to the scene because I wanted to shift the focus of the project back to the blacksmith theme.
Assets such as the helmets, statues and tower bell are part of the main theme due to their importance in their narrative. That narrative being the generational destruction of the blacksmith’s livelihood and family as well as the decay surrounding the blacksmith’s work.
Once I adjusted the extra props, I added them into the environment, the helmets being in different parts of the map.
Here are a couple examples of beauty shots of the finished arrangement.
Part 3: Feedback and Improvements
When I got some verbal feedback for the environment, the main concern were the steps from the first area as the scale for the stairs were seen as too large in comparison to the second set of stairs in the next area.
So as a simple fix, I was able to reduce the size of the stairs as well as the railings. This, however, also meant I had to create a steep area near the top of the stairs. This was due to the clipping issues I faced when creating a gradual slope.
There were also some lighting issues I faced with my assets, before rebuilding the lighting the first time. My peers had pointed out the error message as well as the ‘preview’ text affecting the lighting. So I had to rebuild the lighting every time I wanted to add any new objects or if I edited them and restart Unreal Engine to get the full effect.
Ontop of this, once I built in the lighting, I ran into the issue of the stone lanterns not being lit up anymore, however I left this in as contextually this area is set in the early morning. Perhaps they were snuffed out during the attack?
Part 4: Implementing the 3D asset into the environment.
I added lanterns and a large pool of blood along with a helmet near the stairs and the mask in front of the tree to indicate the powerful supernatural horror that surrounds the katana.
Unreal Engine had some trouble importing the katana’s textures. After troubleshooting, we’ve discovered that the gradient for the blood (in the base colour texture map) potentially wasn’t recognised by unreal properly so the textures looked choppy.
The chains on the tree were individually placed around the trunk as I couldn’t find an chain asset that would perfectly wrap around the tree trunk. So instead I made a custom chain link using a chain asset I found. The custom chains were one of the hardest parts to assemble as the chain’s would either clip through the trunk or become too lose to hold the katana together, however after experimenting with the chain linking, I was able to build around the katana.
For the lighting, I added a small red spotlight to the tree mainly for dramatic effect as the lanterns weren’t emitting enough light to make the katana stand out.
Part 5: Beauty Shots
These screenshots were created using Unreal Engine’s High Res Screenshot function. These shots show off the final product of the landscape I worked on. ( Some of these screenshots may have been included earlier as examples in the post )
Part 6: Video
Originally the plan was to have a character exploring the world as the main outlet for the video. However, there were some technical difficulties setting it up, its main issue being scaling. So instead I provided a 2 minute video with the camera and immersive view showcasing the entire world and the different areas. This includes a better look of the empty space for the blacksmith’s building.
In the video, I show off the three separate areas of the landscape I’ve built. The first area introducing the world with a tori gate, inviting the viewer into a different ‘world’ spiritually. However, the debris surrounding the stairs and the gate suggests the tranquility of this place has already been broken.
The fox statues are made of metal, they stand proudly as they were made by the blacksmith, their positioning resembles a symmetrical format as they are meant to impose a dominating stance over the player. It’s perfect appearance, however, is tainted by blood, much like the white marble stairs. The dark red on the statues showing clearly on the marble replicates the main story’s theme: destruction as the colour theory behind the contrast implies a more darker force took away the peace.
It’s also clear that the blacksmith’s home was built from the ground up from rich materials as they take great pride in their work.
In the second area, the true horror starts to appear, the blood and violence become more apparent with more debris and blood splatters surrounding the areas. I had some empty spaces such as near the bell tower and some flora around to give the player some breathing space. However, the aftermath becomes more apparent with the helmets lying near the pools of blood.
In the third area, nearby the blacksmiths, the katana is chained tightly against a sakura tree. Underneath is an Oni mask and surrounding the tree are different lanterns that have fallen down into the pools of blood, emitting a red glow. The small area is meant to give the player a claustrophobic feel whilst the harsh lighting is meant to intimidate them. The placement of these assets are also meant to suggest a ritual in sealing one of the demons, therefore the seals attatched to the katana and the chains.
The final area is the empty space for the blacksmith’s building. I gave the team a large area to work and experiment, adding another a well asset as a contribution to their work.
For environmental design, we were given a group assignment that mainly focuses around creating different spaces in an isolated environment. For this task, we were given the main theme “blacksmiths” and so decided to go for the sub-theme “Fedual Japan”.
As an individual, I’ve always been interested in the visual aesthetics and the cultural and historical meanings behind Japanese folklore, more specifically on demons (most commonly called “Oni” – a type of “Yokai” which is a class supernatural entities and spirits in Japan) and the various techniques used to exorcise them. This inspiration would also play a large role for my Hero asset in 3D asset design.
So we decided on a visual narrative for our Environment which goes as follows:
“we’re planning on setting up our blacksmiths in the aftermath of an demon invasion, The blacksmith’s area will show signs of damage and wear and tear to suggest that the residence is long gone but something was possibly left behind.”
We also decided not to produce an incredibly gory set piece however there will be signs of a struggle throughout the environment for narrative purposes (blood splatters and smashed items etc.).
For set design inspirations, I created a pinterest moodboard for all of us to contribute to: this included old Japanese building structures ( if we ever wanted to model the outside of the blacksmiths ) and different Blacksmith’s equipment as well as japanese blacksmiths and weapons that would’ve been created around the edo period.
When designing my area for the project, I originally planned to have a small plot of land to work with for the final product.
However, due to personal circumstances that affected my other team members, we decided it’d be best for me to work on a much larger scale so they’d work around the project as the main blacksmith’s building wouldn’t be done for a while. So I started working on a design I could make for the outside area. I started off with finding outside inspiration which I found from doing photography.
After gathering a couple of photographs, I was able to come up with two mock up designs for the area that I’d be sculpting as well as potential assets that I’d use in the scene.
These are the main two designs I created, they have a similar layout but I wanted to be able to replicate the isolation surrounding the area. The trees would have added a foreboding tone to the area but in terms of rendering, Unreal Engine would find it difficult to render lighting with large amounts of trees in the area. So instead I went for the alternate design, the hilly area which provided more flat space to work with which would make it easier to add larger structures into the scene.
I also wanted the ‘katana’ area to be a part of the travel up to the blacksmiths so I gave a more small but dedicated area to it near the blacksmith’s plot. Originally in my work, I was going to have broken down walls as part of the environment but difficulties with unreal engine prevented me from adding them. So instead, I created more debris in the surrounding area.
My main game inspiration for these designs comes from a game called Yakuza Ishin which is set within the Bakamatsu period, ahead of the edo period however still relevant as they still used traditional structures at that time. I would like to use some of the smaller details in the areas as well such as paper lanterns and possibly wooden signs as well as implementing wooden structures inside the blacksmith’s home.