Thursday, February 18, 2016

Week 5: VFX & Particle Studies

For visual effects this week, we explored various inspirations, made some mock-ups, and began demoing some effects in engine.

3D Effects

Our first instinct was to turn to Sam Nielson's blog to investigate effects, as Nielson provided the basis for the simple and stylized look of our game:

Sam Nielson's VFX exploration for Disney Infinity.

The effects had a very blobby, 3D feel, with simple sculptural silhouettes for the most part.  It appeared that some of them would translate well to a 3D model.

Using 3D models for VFX could benefit our game in a few ways.

  • First, as we decided that the character Shahzaad's fire would be sculpted, it might do well in terms of continuity if fire elsewhere were also similarly 3D.  
  • Second, 3D objects could easily be targeted via Eye-tracking in game.  Minigames such as having to deflect fireballs or part smoke just by looking at them can be achieved this way.
Finding examples of purely mesh effects was difficult.  We found this example of animated mesh fire, created by user shank3d on Turbosquid.  Though its extremely costly in terms of polys, it does give inspiration for what kind of motions we can simplify and lean toward in a 3D effect:

Animated mesh fire made by shank3d

However, 3D particles can be costly in a scene.  For effects that do not need to be targeted with eye-tracking, going 2D would not only suffice, but provide even more interesting stylization options. 

Based on Sam Nielson's simple sculptural style, we concepted a few shapes for 3D model effects, such as fire for Shahzaad and the environment, a fireball for Shahzaad's ranged attack, smoke for the Rogue Channeler's hood, and perhaps some water that could be leaking out of a rusted pipe:

We are still experimenting with methods to bring these 3D model effects "to life".  For the most part, we plan on utilizing moving textures in UE4's material editor, such as panning and rotating the texture, using masks and adjusting opacity, and so forth.  

We are still working on bringing movement to Shahzaad's test fire, but that test mesh could also be used as a Mesh emitter particle effect in UE4.  The material currently isn't working as-is, so we will work on creating an emissive/panning material for this fire that can be used in UE4's Mesh Emitter system.

2D Effects

For 2D effects, we explored highly stylized works that fell within a similar maturity demographic to our game.  

When we first explored initial style inspirations, the animated movie The Secret of Kells was reviewed extensively.  

Movie stills from The Secret of Kells

The movie featured a lot of intricate illustrative elements, such as swirls for fog and hard lines for "god rays", as well as including a textured element.  As The Channeler currently features simple sculptural shapes, muted color palettes, and soft shading, it might add flavor to our simple scene to have subtle effects using more intricate illustrative elements.

Another source of inspiration for stylized 2D effects is the game Okami.

Screenshot from Okami

The game featured a high variety of stylized effects, such as brush strokes for wind, winding wisps for smoke and fog, and a hand-drawn aesthetic to elements such as clouds, water, and fire.

Various Okami particle Effects.
From top left clockwise:  2D concept art for clouds/smoke, in-game rushing water effect,
Evil boss fire attack, simple torch fires.

Though some of the brushstrokes on these effects may be a bit too intense, simplified shape language could definitely be referenced.  For instance, the smooth playful shapes of the fire torches, rushing waters, and clouds could all be referenced in both our own 2D and 3D effects.  

Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker also shares a similar aesthetic with its particle effects:

2D explosion effects from Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

A final inspiration for 2D effects was Van Gogh's Starry Night:

As our city will be lit by many point lights, like lanterns and neon, we though experimenting with stylized light halos would add a sense of other-worldliness to the streets of the Walled City.  Van gogh's use of thick, messily swirling light halos is iconic and memorable, and could add that ethereal element we're going for.

Based on these inspirations, here are some 2D particle mock-ups of what effects and styles we want to try to play with in UE4:

We've begun testing the Stylized Okami mist/fog in UE4:

We plan tweaking the current mist to have features such as layering the 2D planes of effects in a parallax effect, so that closer fog is moving slower and farther fog is moving faster, as well as closer fog being more transparent and farther fog being more dense (as there is more distance between you and that fog).  We are also working on having the transparency of the fog conditional to where you are in relation to it, so that if you get closer, the fog goes more transparent/disappears, so you don't get the jarring effect of walking through a 2D image.

As The Walled City takes place in an overpopulated urban environment, it is only natural that the place is crawling with... roaches!!!

These roaches utilize sprite sheets to get that flapping wing motion.  In dark lighting, the roaches are a little hard to see, but they do add a more subtle visual noise to the scene that can be used to distract or draw the eye as needed.  They may be used for only conditional situations, as the sprites can appear a bit obnoxious/overpowering in some scenes.  However, perhaps adding a simplistic floor-roach particle version would give a more subtle feel, and perhaps the roaches will stop emitting if you walk near them, as if they are scattering from your feet.

We plan on experimenting with and implementing the other mock-ups listed here over the next two weeks, especially working with the lighting particle effects to see how they mesh with our new lighting studies.

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