Monday, August 30, 2010

More UDK

Here is the final video of my test fireball effect. There are quite a few layers involved in the effect, many of them firing off at different times to help sell the concept of expanding energy affecting the area around the main point of impact.

This sort of secondary behavior is something I am very interested in and often times feel is lacking in lots of effects in games. We have a tendency to be so constrained by budgets it is tough to think beyond the primary effect.

fireball_test_05 from Tim Elek on Vimeo.

Just for sake of illustration here is an image of the source texture I created for the test. This version is a very compressed jpeg, the targa is much higher quality.

I mostly use a combination of painting in photoshop, photo-mashup and Maya's fluid dynamics systems to generate my art. Even if it is not an animated page there are tons of good frames in a well executed sim. Often times I even use Maya's other dynamic systems to create regular textures like noise, lens flares, halos, water surface normals, fluttering paper and fabric, the list goes on. The great part about using something like Maya to generate your texture has to do with creation of similar effects in the future, or offshoots of a particular effects look. Instead of searching for stock footage or finding images, you have a scene file that has settings you know already work. Just go in the file, tweak some values and tune the visual to what you need and re-render. Want it higher resolution? Re-render...want the lighting to be different? Re-render...want more detail in the flames? Re-render...

This process takes longer than rotoscoping some stock footage, however when were you able to take your stock footage from 300 frames to 600 frames without loosing quality? Or could you speed up the swirling in your smoke without speeding up the footage?

Maya is also not the only bag of tricks out there either, many people swear by FumeFX for Max, Houdini has an entire system, and XSI even has their new dynamics system that looks interesting.

The other upshot, if some of these systems ever make it into games (Little Big Planet uses 2d fluid sims for smoke and fire) at least you have a leg up on the technology as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Personal Studies in the UDK

I am currently working on a new explosion effect and slowly but surely making some good progress. I have been taking videos of each sessions changes and making notes of the challenges.

Main goals
1> Better fluid renders
2> Better dissipation on main explosion fireball
3> More detail in the smoke and flame
4> Tight timing and execution on all aspects
5> A good level of depth to the particles with as little overdraw as possible
6> Do it all with less than 8 texture calls and 4 DXT 5 textures

fireball_test_04 from Tim Elek on Vimeo.

Getting a good fluid is very challenging to do from scratch. At each job I have had I began crafting explosion textures all over again because the previous employer owned the rights to the fluid containers. So in my spare time I am going to begin creating my own personal library of containers to save time in the future, and to have knowledge (each containers settings have loads of good info in them) of how I achieved specific results available to me at any time.

This is proving to be very fun, and having access to Unreal at home via the UDK is crazy helpful.

Some Concepts

Being an effects artist I don't often get a good chunk of time to work on concepts. Sometimes however I have an idea I really want to illustrate, or I need to work up comps for myself so I can retain all of the ideas I want to convey in the project.

In the case of effects muzzle flashes and explosions can be so easy to just hop in the editor and start working on with no concept of relative scale. To avoid this mistake I spent some time mocking up muzzle flashes in Photoshop. I also wanted each flash to have some distinguishing characteristic that made it unique to that weapon.

All weapons of course need cause and effect visuals in order to communicate messages to the player. These are normally weapon impacts or squibs...I like to generate a visual scale reference for these items as well so I can just check my work against a concept.

Often times I need a particular look, or a visual that I cannot achieve on my own. Since I am a visual being and rely on lots of art speak with a little technical mubo-jumbo mixed in I often times paint up what I need in photoshop and then show it to more tech savvy folks like engineers or technical artists. In the case of our explosion post process (PP) for Singularity I painted up this concept to show the engineers how I wanted increased saturation, contrast, and color tinting to the scene in very specific locations, based scene depth and the impact location. You can also see the radial blur PP in this concept here.

Other times I whip up a quick painting just for fun. I cannot attest to being the greatest painter in the world, but it is usually enough for me to hand off to an Art Director who can give it to a proper concept artist if it is deemed worthy. Some of these paintings made it into games at Raven, while others weren't quite what we needed for the game.

Sometimes I have ideas that don't really relate to my discipline, but perhaps would benefit the game in some manner. This concept was an idea I had for Singularity's menu system. The idea was to use the menus to better communicate the story progression to the player. As the player progresses through the game, nodes would appear on the two timelines showing the user which timeline certain events took place. These nodes could also be used as checkpoints to allow players to go back and play sections of the game. Our story was a bit difficult to follow at times with the multiple time periods, time waves, and portals between timelines, so I thought we could utilize the menus to better inform the player experience.

This is the menu without any nodes selected.

When you highlight a menu, the player is given a list of options available at the node, and some post effects would help sell the selection.

The idea was abandoned, but this is an example of how I think about the entire project and not just the one piece of the puzzle I am tasked with doing. I like to play the game as much as possible and see how things are coming together and give feedback.

In short I enjoy doing effects immensely, but I also like to take some time away from velocity, scale, and acceleration to do some straight up artsy stuff from time to time.