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Saturday, September 7, 2019

September 7th 2019 - First Character Sculpt

Finishing up the introduction to sculpting course in CG Cookie for Blender. This is my first ever time using this tool and I can see it being pretty useful for creating characters. However, I'm pretty bad at it at the moment and will need quite a bit of practice to get better.

My first Sculpted Character in Blender - Melvin
Here is how he is supposed to look like:

Melvin from CG Cookie

Thursday, September 5, 2019

September 5th - Just married & Update

My wedding is over and my wife has now moved in with me. Life is starting to settle down and trying to establish a new routine. 

I've looked over the courses in CG Cookie and it's definitely going to help in learning how to make better characters in Blender. Just the recent course I did focused on creating a character head and learning what makes for good topology and general modeling theory was already super useful.

With character creation as the focus, I've selected a bunch of different courses that I think will be good for me to complete. I made a quick estimate at the number of hours needed to go through all of them and if I can keep a steady pace I might be done by mid October. I'm hoping by the time I've gone through all of these courses I'll have a fairly decent knowledge foundation on character modeling. Here is a list of the courses I'd like to complete. 

  • Fundamentals of Digital Sculpting in Blender - 3 hours
  • Introduction to Retopology - 3 hours
  • Introduction to Hard Surface Modeling - 6 hours
  • Creating a Jellyfish - 2 hours
  • Sculpting the Wrangler Game Character - 6 hours
  • Introduction to Character Modeling - 12 hours
  • Modeling Realistic Characters(?) - 1 month
    • This would be great to complete but would take a pretty significant investment in time. I might revisit this in the future after I've finished learning a foundation in the other skills I think are necessary.

This is just learning about modeling and doesn't touch upon rigging and animation... Still so much to learn as I haven't even started focusing on what I'd like to learn in Unity yet. Regardless, each step should improve my VR Storytelling skills so hopefully in a year or two I can look back at how far I've come. 

I'll be attending Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) for VR and AR again this year towards the end of September. It'll be my second year attending and I'm looking forward to learning more about how the industry is doing and seeing what others have created.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

August 5th 2019 - CG Cookie Initial Impressions

Biggest change this week was switching to the newest Blender 2.8. I really like the new look and UI of Blender, especially the templates that set up a recommended window layout for modeling, UV mapping and etc. Still in the process of getting used to the new Blender as they've moved things around as well as removed certain features and introduced new ones.

CG Cookie - Blender Mesh Modeling Bootcamp Review

I really like the way CG cookie has set up learning flows that go from basics to advanced. Gone through a few hours worth of courses now and so far the quality of the training has been great. Specifically I like how they go over the modeling theory and how to approach creating more complex objects. It was exactly what I was looking for. For example, one of my first blender projects I posted about was the 3d model of a Ninja. When I was working on that course and went through the steps of creating the 3d ninja there wasn't a lot of explaining behind why it was modeled the way it was. However, CG Cookie explains the importance of the creating loops and what good mesh topology is and how it helps in modeling.

Since story telling in VR is something that I'm interested in, creating better characters is a particular focus of mine. Which is why I'm really enjoying the section of the course where it's focused on creating a cartoon character.

I skimmed the initial basic introductory to Blender but if I have time in the future I'll probably go back to it. Just the brief time I spent skimming that section taught me some useful tricks and tools that I wasn't using before but should.

So far my time spent in CG Cookie courses has been worth it and will help me in all my subsequent projects.

Monday, July 29, 2019

July 29th - Cooking 2019 Skit Complete

A bit of a rushed project at the end and could have spent a lot more time polishing everything. Still, I feel that uploading and sharing it out is better than just having it languish as an un-finished draft forever. Although I'm sure I'll look back at this and cringe in the future... 

Here are my thoughts after finishing this learning project:

  • Gotten more comfortable with the Blender/Unity and make was able to progress in the project much faster.
    • Blender
      • Learned UV warping / Bone location constraints /
      • Exporting animations
        • Figured out the issue with exporting animations from blender into Unity. Wasted a lot of time wondering why even though I stashed the animations they weren't appearing in Unity. Turns out I need to select and highlight all of the animation key frames for them before I export from Blender. Makes sense since I select the option where it only exports what's selected. This might make it so I can really start working from one singular master blender file for future projects instead of the way I'm splitting them up right now.
      • Rigging
        • I added in clothes to the models and now understand why you would want to delete the non-visible underlying objects and mesh's. Removes weird clipping issues and artifacts. I had wasted a ton of time rigging the models and trying to get all of the objects to deform together.
    • Unity
      • Learned the basics to Trail Renderer and got some more experience with VFX particle generator creating fire. I do want to spend more time learning how to use both to create effects in the future. 
      • Unity Physics - I had manually animated the falling speed of the objects but next time I might just try and use Unity Physics engine to do it. That way the falling speed is more natural. 
      • Turning off the environment lights seems to work alright as a replacement for fading in and out of scenes. Still needs a bit of work to make it darker but is a usable solution for now. Lighting overall is something that I can probably improve a lot on
      • Timeline - Much better organized than my last project and was able to separate the animation out based on scene
      • Falling animation can probably use the rigid body physics of Unity so I don't need to animate it. 
      • Audio - I can probably improve the audio a lot by just using one single track. That way I can adjust the volume and quality of all sounds. It'll be an additional final step that I can add to projects.
    What's next?

    I need to learn more about how to do better modeling. Better modeling will help both rigging and animation so I think improving my modeling skills will result in a larger overall improvement. 

    As a result I've signed up on CG Cookies so that I can take their 3D Blender courses. Specifically, I'm interested in their course about good topology for modeling. 

    However, after taking a look at all the courses that are available, I might spend the time to go through all of them. If I do, try to take all of the courses then then this may very well end up being the focus of both August and September.

    Monday, July 22, 2019

    July 22nd - Cooking skit update

    Been an extra busy week but I should be able to finish this cooking skit project by the end of the week. Here is the current progress of the project:

    I've UV mapped and colored all of the cooking objects on the table as well as animated them being thrown into the air and being chopped up.

    I realizes that I should consider very carefully what objects I want to include in a scene and take out anything that doesn't add to my goal. The ingredients are important to this skit but if they weren't they would have taken up a lot of time.

    Wednesday, July 17, 2019

    July 17th - Cooking Skit 2019 | Dillon Gu Chaotic Cooking Animation Contest

    I've been working on a short cooking animation skit to enter into Dillon Gu Chaotic Cooking Animation Contest. The requirement is that it needs to be cooking themed. Don't expect to win but I felt that the contest would help through giving me both creative parameters as well as a deadline to finish.

    I modeled new characters for the animation and do feel that they are better than my first set already. Unfortunately it was only when I was pretty much done modeling the new characters that I thought about trying to modeling and rigging eyeballs. Attempted it for a bit but realized that the face shape I had made would make it really time consuming and decided to try and create flat cartoon eyes instead. 

    Initially I followed a YouTube tutorial that used UV warping in Blender to animate the pupils. It worked in Blender but didn't quite translate over into Unity so I had to make due with just attaching bones to the black pupils of the character. 

    While rigging the characters I realized why its a smart idea to delete the mesh that are underneath the models and can't be seen. It makes the whole process of rigging better since you don't have strange deformations during the animations.

    I realized during the process that learning more about proper topology and modeling is something I'll have to look into and can help improve everything overall. Should make both UV mapping and Rigging easier. Better rigging should also lead to better animations as well.

    In Unity I've started using the trail renderer for the first time. Hoping to give a cool cutting effect for the character cutting animation. Hopefully it turns out as well as I hope it will. 

    I'm planning on keeping this animation skit short so I should be done over the next week if I don't run into any unexpected problems. 

    Thursday, July 11, 2019

    July 11th 2019 - Bringing your VR title to Market - Event by The Cube Vancouver

    Just attended an event about bringing your VR title to market. It was a fun event and met some interesting people. Quite a few of the people I met were actually just interested in learning more about how to get into the VR industry. Nice to meet fellow VR noobs.

    The format for the event was a panel of people who have launched VR titles interviewed by a moderator. I didn't capture everything that was spoken by the panelists but below are the notes and main points I took away from the event:

    People who were part of the panel 

    Peter Kao - CEO/Developer

    Cloudhead Games 
    Jo Dunlop - Business Development and Communications

    Ken Thain  - Senior Producer


    What was your biggest challenge bringing your title to market ?

    Jo - Could have used more time to polish the games and would have liked to have been able to play test everything more in depth. 

    Peter - The biggest challenge was managing the scope of the game and determining when it was "finished" and ready for launch. An example challenge of VR was the virtual user interface. Most games have menu screens which you have to page through for information because of the limited screen space. However, in a virtual environment your screen space is much larger so users don't like the mechanic of having to click forward to navigate a menu screen.

    A good question that was brought up by the moderator was what aspect of their game differentiated them from others. What mechanic within the game had to be amazing. Peter said that it was the touch/physicality mechanic of picking up and interacting with the virtual objects. A simple but very complex mechanic

    Ken - Before launch one of the issues he was concerned about was the quality expectation from VR gamers. What he found was that the current climate of the VR market is that they are just happy to receive good quality content. Reception for their game was overall positive. 

    How did you go about finding funding for your game and did you do anything different ?

    Jo - They seeked funding through a variety of different ways. From Angel investing to family & friends and revenue sharing. Brought up that you could also get project funding from Sony and Occulus who are pretty open. Valve provides a bit of funding but it seems they are more focused on Enterprises.

    Peter - Funded their game through client work and some grants that they've applied for. They have been careful about the grants they apply for because they don't want to create unnecessary work that detracts from what they want to focus on. 

    Ken - Looking at putting their games into location based VR arcades. Evaluating Spring board VR who provide that type of content for VR arcades.

    Are you finding it challenging to hire or retain qualified staff ?

    Jo - Hiring has not been a huge issue for them. However since their main office is on Vancouver Island it can be a bit difficult to hire quickly. However, retaining talent hasn't been a concern. In fact they found that the lifestyle and location on the island provides for a more relaxed work environment which has helped them attract some senior talent. 

    Peter - Their work environment is different at Metanaut where they don't focus on working at a physical office. The team operates remotely with once a week meetings to catch up and plan. Rely on slack, video calls and etc to maintain work communications. This has allowed them to easily work with quality talent. 

    Ken - They haven't been finding it very difficult to hire. However it was brought up that most people who apply do not have a ton of experience with VR. 

    Moderator brought up that the industry is still new and that no one can really claim to be an expert. It doesn't take a lot of time for people to catch up to those who've been working in the industry for three years,.

    What are your thoughts on marketing your title and creating awareness 

    Jo - Spending money on advertising isn't the best. Discord is a great tool for chatting and interacting with people interested in your game and is worth the time investment. 

    Peter - Supporting Jo's comment about community engagement, Peter highly recommends posting and sharing your game on VR Reddit forums. Found that when they shared their work on Reddit that it generated a ton of publicity and interest. 

    Ken - Let's play YouTube channels were a huge marketing boost for them. Sales would spike when they did showcased their games.

    Misc notes and panelist thoughts on VR

    • Ken feels like the Oculus Quest could see big adoption during Christmas. Hopeful for the future of VR at the moment.
    • Peter mentioned that producers are still not creating games based on VR research. Users of VR are more likely to play VR in short 10 - 15 minute duration at a time. Need to keep that in mind when designing your VR experience.
    • Jo mentioned that you have to keep in mind that you can't make your VR game too niche. The market isn't super big and it will be difficult if you make your game a niche within the VR niche.

    Monday, July 8, 2019

    July 7th 2019 | First 360 Animated Skit Complete !

    I'm finished with this learning project as I've reached my animation skit goal that I originally envisioned! It has been a great learning experience so far. Here is the 360 Skit for you to watch:

    Just watching it over now that I'm finished with it I can see pretty much all of it can be redone to be better. Quite a few times I found myself during the later half of the project thinking that I could have saved time or made it better if I had done things differently initially. For example, I discovered that you can animate the texture/material and change it using timeline. This would make things much easier than than how I was activating and deactivating the expressions to get the characters to emote different expressions

    Regardless I'm happy that I was able to keep progress steady and finish all of this in two weeks. 

    Maybe I'll revisit this skit in the future and redo it as a comparison piece.

    Quality varies based on device and application

    The quality of the 360 video really varies depending on what device you view it on as well as the application it's opened in. It looks best on mobile and rather pixelated on desktops because of the larger resolution. When testing it out, if you use the YouTube mobile app it looks good but if opened in a mobile browser the quality drops pretty hard. 

    What I'm taking away from this is that I shouldn't get too hung up on detailing the models, objects or the environment because those details might not be visible depending on the device or app used to watch. 

    What's next?

    Working on a animated cooking skit. Trying to finish it within the next two to three weeks to submit to Dillon Gu's animation contest. Don't think I'll have a chance at winning but it helps me with figuring out my next project and focusing my efforts to improve.

    I also finished the Queenie model 2.0 I started on last week with the goal of making better hair and creating a simple outfit. Unwrapped it and applied a texture and it looks much better.

    I'm working on creating a Stevie cooking model. Trying to improve it all around and so far I think it's much better at a basic modeling level. My new experiment is going to be rigging the eyes so that I can animate where they are looking as he cooks. 

    Tuesday, July 2, 2019

    July 2nd 2019 - First Animated 360/VR skit update

    Been a good week in terms of progress. Slowly tackling through my list of items that I need to complete for the Basic Queenie & Stevie Ramen Skit. Shouldn't be too long before I reach my goal. 

    Key learning #1 - Project Organization & Workflow

    Biggest key learning from the project so far is how to better plan and organize any future projects like this. I had made the characters in separate blender files which has made exporting it all the Unity a bit of a pain. I could probably have just kept working off of one master blend file and just moved the character to different layers and it would have been smoother work flow. During the Canada long weekend I also decided to make a new Queenie Chibi model which I think turned out much better than the one I'm currently using. At this point I haven't rigged it or even colored the new model but I'm looking forward to comparing it to my old one after I'm done.

    It's been fun to be able to mostly focus on applying what I learn instead of just following learning tutorials. Starting to get much more comfortable and familiar with the UI for Blender that's for sure.

    While working on this project I realized that I could probably spend quite a lot of time trying to tweak and improve things. My vision when I started was to make a basic skit that allowed me to apply what I learned and test to see whether I could bring to life what I imagined. So far I haven't run into any technical challenges that have been impossible for me to overcome. At this point I think I'm going to try my best to avoid project scope creep and move on as soon as I achieve the vision I had in mind at the start of the project.

    Perhaps after I finish another project or two I'll revisit this in the future to remake it and compare how I've improved.

    Next Focus Areas

    Thinking about my next steps I'm going to focus on learning the basics for other skills that I have no experience in before making a list of key skills that I'll focus on getting better at. I want to get better at VR Story telling as fast possible. 

    The three key basic skills I want to learn more about and gain a basic understanding would be:

    • Particle Effects
    • Environment Lighting
    • Unity Shaders

    Afterwards I'll probably get back to focusing on improving my Blender 3D modeling and then Rigging/Animation. 

    Here is a short video on the current state of the project. 

    Sunday, June 23, 2019

    June 23rd 2019 Update - Starting my first Animated 360/VR skit

    Been a few days since I picked up where I last left off. Learned how to do some basic 3 Modelling and animating. I think I have most of the basic skills I need to create a short skit and starting to try and put the pieces together.

    Here's what I put together based on a Youtube character modeling/rigging/animation tutorial.

    Applying what I learned I created two basic Chibi models of myself and my fiance Queenie. Decided to test out if Unity Recorder also properly records sounds. As you can see, it seems like it works perfectly fine and won't be something I need to worry about. However, it seems this is the highest quality that Unity Recorder can output. For now I'm just happy that it works so I'll figure out the quality issue in the future.

    Animating facial expressions is still something I need to properly learn. Right now I have a work around where my character models have a floating mesh where the eyes and mouth are. Using Unity Timeline I activate and deactivate the mesh to change their expressions. For some reason I couldn't apply automatic weights in Blender so I had to weight paint the rigs manually which ended up taking up a massive amount of time.

    Here's a mock up of the restaurant environment for my short skit. You can see the mesh I have for animating the expressions.

    Monday, March 25, 2019

    Getting back into Blending

    Been taking a break and enjoying life for the last few months and finally getting back into learning blender. Started to forget what I've learned so planning on spending the next week or so quickly going through old courses to familiarize myself with what I previously learned. 

    For now its getting familiarized with the controls again. To do that I decided to create a potted plant model. 

    The first one I made was not that great. Rethinking my approach and quickly going through some of the courses for a bit I was able to make a better one. Still a long way to go but going to try to keep progress steady !