A SUDDEN BLOG POST: How I have Evolved.
“… and I said to myself in the reflection; if you think about it as a job, it will be.”
You live in the world you build, and sometimes – through whatever happenstance of intermingled data – that life becomes the world. In such cases, we all get to see where a person truly lives, even if we can’t see the whole of it. My approach to Real-Time VFX, which I in a slice of errant scribbles around this site have willfully documented when I could, was very flawed. A very few of you have come to be very helpful in my realization of this regard, some of which from super rare moments of reaching out. I thank you. Thank you for the left or right. Your selfless effort has honored me, and truly I can not thank you enough.
Recently I found it was deeper, and in some cases simpler, then I could have realized, and so I’m writing this here because of… here. What it’s for. Why I am here. How I was. How I am. Made so by such a subtle thing, that even when I saw glimmers of it, the whole of it was hard to discern. And I want to speak of it, as I again found myself making actions that we are all prone to, be it early on, or always; which will make more sense in a moment.
I have been reflecting on everything. This year is the third year I’ve been able to go to GDC, and I’ve been thinking back about both where I was then and where I am now. Reflecting on the honest realities of this job I so seek. I wanted it, I really did. I wanted it too much, with out knowing what I wanted. I wanted it, but in the wrong way. I wanted it, but I didn’t know where to start, which all feels so obvious now. So… I pointed my ambitions in a direction and just eyeballed it. For some reason though, this year I dug even deeper into the core of me. The old old foundations where a young self built the me of today with a fearless daring from a jubilation in all things. The finest white marble made tall. Learn History, Learn Art, Learn Math (in the right dosage), Learn Philosophy, Learn… whatever I could. Nothing, not even myself could stop me from learning then. …Man, it has been too long. These stones have been cold too long, sitting untouched in this dark. … You know why? You know what I’ve realized? What I’ve realized and later reaffirmed after requesting to speak of… The VFX Job Realities… to a senior peer? I knew I knew. All knew I knew.
I’m… scared. I’m scared scared scared scared scared. Filled not with dread but humanity.
It’s not a fight or flight thing, nor is it some wholly existential foreboding. I don’t even “feel” scared, yet it’s there. It’s been there the entire time, and I couldn’t see it, or perhaps I didn’t comprehend what I thought I saw. It’s like… why you can for now still always catch the flu or a cold; it’s just different enough where it passes through the checks. I …got… comfortable. Deeply comfortable in my fear. I was tricked by time. I didn’t know, and it had been building for a looooong while. Grown from every next fresh hope in topic, but only sprouting in dead flowers of black. The roots feasting in the silence given upon my dinky little “attempts” I did publish, where I saw not input, nor insult, but nothing. NOTHING. So I don’t post anything, because… why bother . In my state, accustomed to the warmth of the poison I had been sitting in, such things only worked to confirm and taint my fears. My mind fighting in between the longing of a dream made by a child, and a cold reality where the mind weighs on so called worth. A weaponized imagination, set on neither reason nor truth. A loud silence, allowing the mind to fill it with ill whispers.
Worst of all, I was fine. It was just another splinter, just another quirk of the mind and age. Like how sometimes when you go to bed because you are sleepy, your brain goes “Oh hey it’s time to sleep!” then goes on a 4 hour endurance run and drags you along. Just another quirk. Or is that just me? Eh… anyway…
In thinking about my fears, trying to find what brought me to such a point, I found it’s because I never thought nor considered in any realty but dreams that I’d get as far as I have. I’ve crossed into an unexpected territory of possibilities. If my young self could see all the skills I have to bear in this moment alone, he would be… well… would be a mixture of flabbergasted and excited honestly. Would ask me to make something and… hoo boy this is meta. Anyway, I never really comprehended I would hold so much actionable data and with reason. One of them; I thought it mortally impossible for me. My intake then had been slower then my peers (as far as I could tell) and I knew nothing of Art then. 3D, 2D, Realtime, Rendered. That is so much stuff alone without knowing the VFX Reality (which in these last two years I’ve learned and comprehended). And so this VFX thing that I stumbled into out of sheer curiosity of uncrossed & untouched territory was the impossible dream. In reflection, it didn’t even occur to me then that I had done the “impossible” to even get to that point, to even form that “impossible” dream in the first place! A flaw of context. That’s a story for another day. I thought I was never going to be able to do anything like this as a job, professionally. Still might not. Yes you read that right; I still… might… not.
In these last two years I’ve slowly realized as well that Realtime VFX in the capacity I sought is more then a job, it’s a life. If I go pro, this is a life with a direct singular (yet undeniably vast) intent, and I can’t just stroll in the garden. Do I want this as a job? Do I accept those realities? Or simply as a Hobby? What do I want? I don’t know. That scares me too. All of that scares me. Doing just one thing? Even if so vast I… If I knew I was going to live in good heath for two hundred years, then perhaps I wouldn’t be so amiss, but… that sure isn’t going to be the case.
Of what I do know though, I hate –with in reason– limitations. It’s why I’m even speaking (and writing in) full sentences. English may be my mother tongue, but it was never guaranteed for me. Despite third party assistance, I speak and write as I do in part because I grabbed a dictionary, sat down, and studied it to the objection of my mind. Both truth and metaphor. My mind objects more now, feisty bastard.
I’ve come to realize I’ve been limiting myself. Again, in my youth, I used to walk into my fear because I knew that often where my fear was, my greatest potential was too. It’s the very reason I became “I am who I am”. Also, to compound on all of this, psychologically these last two or so years, I’ve been dealt in the least with the heavy weighted blows that all of us must eventually face. Those we love, who helped make us, wrapped in a mortal coil. With the passing in some of those whom I’ve loved, I lost parts of myself – and been pretty stupid at times as well as a result. So with-all-of-this wrapped in one ugly radioactive package, I’ve not been myself.
I’ve not been my potential.
I’ve been asleep.
I don’t care if I get this as a job any more. I don’t care if this just becomes a fun hobby. All of this ambition shit just gets in the way, like a deadline I can never know but always forebodes doom should I miss. The dream was "never working a day", all along. To be payed well to play, learn, discover, and make. To live some visual poetry that I was happy to take. It wasn’t directly VFX or anything else, and in the harsh realities of society I lost sight of that in my ambition. To make, and with the best quality I can muster is the focus, and my aim distracted me from that. Thus, as far as I care if get a job -and a life- that brings me into my element as a result of all this, AWESOME! If not, it’s not a problem, still made the best stuff I could. Still found joy in the creation, in the zen of the craft. Still learning. Still making. If it turns out I don’t know something to that quality I seek, I’ll fix it so I can, best I can. That’s my focus, just as it was… in my youth. Just as it was that even got me to be here at all. The quality of my work in whatever I pursue, be it VFX or anything else that can effect a feeling or doing in atmosphere or impact. A love of ambiance.
I’ve said to myself what I already know. What I already have known; To focus on the quality of my work, and the rest will follow. There are still no guarantees, but what you make.
And of course I have to round this up with…
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. ~ W.E Henley
… Much like Halo, I’ve Evolved. Let’s see what one can figure out and do now.
TL;DR – My VFX Saga to this point. Reflections on things such as why I haven’t really been posting much (if you can really consider any?) VFX content, plus a bunch of really honest perspectives that are rarely(?) put onto the net. Ultimately I expect this to be very motivating to others because… I’m scared too.
Now let’s make.
When you tell me make an Evolve effect, in essence, the first thing I’m going to think of it that you are asking me to make is a Morph effect. To create that effect, I think I would be using things like the procedural nature of Houdini (if I knew how) or morph targets to assist the creation of such an effect.
Yet for this months Official VFX Sketch, as far as I can tell what is being asked for is a state change, and the effects that sell that change. This intrigues me, as well as makes me go… I can’t do that. I don’t know how to do that.
SO! Here is what I’m planning to do, and figure out. I’ve always wanted to do something with the Epic Assets from Paragon. In particular, grab an animation and have effects occur that reflect the motions of such animation. Simply for the reference of the lot of you, I recommend giving Gideon, Kwang, Morigesh, Serath & Sevarog a look. These characters have a few animations that are very vivid casting animations, which as mentioned recently, is very low in supply.
Of those characters, after lots of analyzing and concepting on my part with so many of the animations, I’ve selected “Anim_Emote_Master_Levitate_T3” from the Character called Gideon as the starting animation, which will then transition to “Anim_LevelStart” from the Character called Sevarog.
In other words…
<Cheesy Dramatic 90’s Anime Music> FOOLS! YOU HAVEN’T BEATEN ME! THIS ISN’T EVEN MY FINAL FORM! <Constipated Screaming>
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA <Constipated Screaming/> Character off Screen: Oh. My Goodness. Look… he’s… CHANGEING! … (20 minutes later)…
AAAAAAAAAAAAAA… BUWAHAHAHAHA FOOLS! BEHOLD MY # FORM! <Cheesy Dramatic 90’s Anime Music/>
In otherwords it’s Pokémon, but with more screaming. Neat.
Oh, and one more thing… I’m not going to care about the deadline for this, which honestly is a rather refreshing thing to say outright. I don’t care about the badge thingy, I care about the effect. So if next months subject is cool too, which it probably will be, bummer.
This is done when it is done, not when the month ends.
Skill – As usual, I’m doing something that feels to me WAY over my head.
Pre-Existing Assets – I’m building off of assets with a set Pre-Set Shader Structure that will make some shader based effects a touch more work then I would like. May present interesting problems.
Blueprints – I only just recently got a foot hold on how this system “thinks”. How it works. I am still very new to blueprints, I expect a lot of my issues will be wanting to do something but not knowing the “Code Node” if you will, the password of what I need to search to find what I need. Or the process of connections. That said, what I intend to do for now with blueprints isn’t too complex – I just want to trigger the whole of my effect animation and all through…
Sequencer – I’ve never used this. I’ve used matinee a little, but not Sequencer. I don’t know how powerful this newer tool is. LEARNING!
GDC’19 – I’m not going to be able to progress on this effect while at GDC 2019.
Time … sort of. – This kind of rolls with the above, as what I have in mind VS what I know means I don’t know if I’ll “Finish” AKA Be Happy With within the month. That said, If I don’t – so what. This sucker is getting finished, as mentioned.
Life – Thus far, each time I’ve come back from GDC “with a plan” life has gone 0-110 REAL quick, and thus I’ve had to focus on other things. I… seriously… hope what has occurred doesn’t become a trend into this year, but if it does – I’ll disappear from this, and this will be unfinished. The exception to the rule.
Looking forward to the processs !
I wanted to post one more small update before we lolly gag about in marryment, or whatever it is we do at GDC. I forgot to mention, FLUID SIMS, which I have very little experience with. In this case from Blender v2.79, which I haven’t really ever used either, so I feel like a fish out of water right now. But… well, so it goes. LEARNING!
I leave this in anticipation of what I can make of it with a metric ton of tweaking (if I choose to use this result… I might still tweak some things).
Thank you. This concludes Update # 1.
15 Days Later.
My time at GDC’19, at San Francisco, was… exactly what I needed. Questions I had asked, and not asked were answered. My time was great, but as a result my official time with this effect, at only 48 hours remaining, is not. I don’t expect to finish this in the next 48. I’ll give it a push, but I’m not going sleepless for it (anymore then the jet-lag adjustment will allow). This minor qubble aside, this will get finished.
This Friday evening was me getting acquainted with Sequencer, which I have never used before. I probably haven’t used it as efficiently as one should, but… this is what I got. This is the animation backbone where all the material transitions (which I expect to be a bit of a pain) and of course particle effects are to be based from.
Instead of showing the full animation from the master camera, this is just showing off all the animated connections I have. Don’t want to show EVERY thing off quite yet. ;D
Obviously I’ve added some assets to create this animation. The Unaltered Gideon Mephisto Skin is the starter mesh now, as well as some “Stun_Start” and “Stun_Loop” Animations (to say the least), as well as added an extra animation to the ending for Sevarog. I did this to drive home that the character got his ass kicked, and now is evolving to its next form to tilt the stage of the apparent fight. I did this because… I mean… I’m doing this inside something made for telling stories, so it felt wrong to me to just brush off that purpose for the sake of getting straight to the effect. Let’s have fun with it! Plus, it adds more of a process in the “Evolve” aspect of this project.
And that is Update 2.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been dreading the Material Step of this little project of mine. Now that I’ve dived in, my suspicions have proven correct and then some.
For those who haven’t already dug deep into these free assets, it’s obvious that who – be it one or many – ever built these material assets were in a rush, and never had (or gave) the time to give these materials a clean up pass. I’ve come across full meals of spaghetti not hooked to anything. Leftovers from a rush in iteration, I presume. Yet that is only a side dish of horrors here, as it is the methods used that sum up these textures which has caused me the greatest ache.
Conventionally, there is a diffuse map, a roughness/spec, and a normal map. Had this been done for these assets, I would have had no issue just using whatever set textures as is and make my own material to cut out the middle man. You can probably guess then that is not what was done with these assets. These assets are all Channel Packed Masks & Material Functions. Did I mention that some of the Material Functions have Material Functions with Material Functions in them? Material Func-ception! This has resulted in figuring out what effects what, and how, to be a royal pain in the butt. I can change the shader model easy, but finding where the inputs are for the opacity/mask is a hunt. And my Ax! I’m not even metioning all the hackery I’ve done to make this work at all. Material Functions are super useful (just ask @Luos_83), but when you’re trying to add and alter functionality after the fact – eesh .
I, of course, knew that when I proposed my evolve idea in the first place. That’s why my two initial characters above were all purple/pinkish/light-ish red. A proof of concept for myself to see that I could dig into the grit of these characters collection of shaders and alter them. I knew it was going to be rough, but I wanted to give it a shot all the same. This overall idea is really cool, so I wanted to give it a shot – difficulty be damned.
What I didn’t know though was how differently each character, including skins, were in method. It looks to me in the small sample size here that I’ve been working with that each character and each varent materially is its own monster. Its own hydra of make. As a result, the method that I presently have working mostly on one character works inversely as well on the other. I’ve done what I could to make it work the best I can for the moment. I’ll have to figure out if I want to use the time to try and fix this, use it as is (which I’m heavily weighing towards at the moment), or just alter the deal (and the animation) of my concept here or even the material approach entirely.
I finish this update with the most perplexing observation out of all of this; Why can’t you use instanced material variables in Sequencer?!? Why is a Material Parameter Collection the only thing the works “Out-of-the-Box” in Sequencer?!? I burned a solid hour or two in research trying to figure out if I was missing something, as this just doesn’t make sense to me at all!!???
Up next, I’m going to take my temp smoke flipbook (my first ever!) and see my options are. Once I understand that… it’s simulation time. I get to smash my head into a Blender!
…er… something like that.
This Concludes Update 3
Bonus Update!: Boy, it would be really helpful of me if I was more apt towards blueprints than I presently am. I tried to make a blueprint, and I just couldn’t find the logic to build it out. It’s a shame, as I could probably have circumvented a lot of the trouble I’ve found through blueprints. One idea I have that I’d like to test, which again -perhaps you can see a pattern here- is WAY past my knowledgeable pay-grade, is a customized “Zone” that would be using something like “Custom Depth” or “Post Processing” to that mesh object that enters the zone. Have it apply a change materially that I could then key in sequencer. Ah well, something for me to study in the future.
I got a lot from GDC’19, but it seems I might have overdone it.
Hello! I’m @Mez & I’ve not been able to give as much time into this as I would have liked for this little project of mine. While that would be true anyway, 'cuz I gotta eat, for this last week, most of my time was also weighted towards other responsibilities; Things like sleep & getting some fluids into my system. That there “convention flu” variant hits like a TRUCK. No joke. As a result, when I haven’t been in a delirium, I’ve been watching movies and asking my self questions. Things like; What do I want this to be now? What do I want to convey with the Overall “Evolve” effect? What do I want to convey with each stage of the character? Is there a feeling I want? A look? A shape? With these questions, I already had a vague idea, but in this last week with my sudden downtime I wanted to sure up those thoughts I already had. No harm in double checking ones work. As it turns out, this convention flu might have helped. SEE! GDC’19 still handing out them dividends!
Of the movies I’ve watched, these examples I’ve embedded here are the ones that are relevant for inspiration. The order of these starts with things that reminded me of the final stage of the character (with Sevarog), and progresses backwards to the very beginning character. Well… except that last one.
… and not a movie… but as with all their CG stuff THEY make … should be!
After watching these scenes, I ultimately had two sets of words on my lips. Summaries of a visual idea; “Black Wind” & “Duplicates”. This has changed my initial concept slightly, but instead of taking the time to make an updated “V0.2” of my concept idea, I just went and started to make the darn thing. Sorry if this causes confusion for those of you following along. But – if I’m able to do as I in-vision, you’ll still be able to see exactly what I pulled inspiration from. You should still be able to see the broad strokes of my “V0.1” Concept, or the finer strokes of detail inspired from these embedded videos here in this update.
But Wait! There’s MORE! Got to build that ansitapa-
…I updated Unreal to Version 4.22.0 which has Sequencer Updates to it. I already knew this would break things and it did. But this is ok, as I’ve learned more about Sequencer, and want to do some things that will help make controlling my effects easier with timing and ansitapa-
As you can see in the little clip above, thanks to a finer understanding of how Sequencer works, I was able to pull off some effects to help sell the “Weakened State” and the start of the “Evolve State”. Don’t know if I’ll keep this as is… but I’m likeing the jest of this.
In the previous update, I mentioned some smoke sim stuff. Fortunately, rendering works even if you’re sleeping (and nothing crashes). These here are some preliminary-WIP-1stVersion-Don’t-Taze-Me-Bro smoke flip books. All of these are SOOOOOOOOOOOO alpha. These are NOT efficient in the least, or at least I don’t think them to be. I’m still playing around with styles and techniques - as well as working on finding if new ones exist. (Which I’ll edit this post with links to if I do)
I can’t say this enough – I have NO IDEA what I’m doing… but I’m getting there. I understand metaphorically what you use the hammer for, and the screwdriver, and the saw. I can see (or atleast I think I see) the steps I might need to take and the fear is replaced with the excitement of possibilities. I don’t know if that’s zen, but it’s nice.
Enjoy it while I can.
Anywho… SMOKE! Let’s get into what I have with the smoke!
Far Left in set of Three (as well as the .gif below) - This uses Frames 40 - 250 from my smoke sim. It is 8k - yes I know - and has had all light information from this render removed. Silhouette Only. Want to play with some shader tricks.
Middle in set of Three - This uses Frames 40 - 95. I wanted to see the difference. Don’t see much - yay learning! 8k. Light information is baked in. I’ll be playing around with Motion Vectors. Thanks @simonschreibt. I feel like motion vectors would be over my head to things that already feel over my head but… eh! If I’m already drowning, whats a little more water? (LOL! Aw man… please don’t quote me on that.)
Far Right in set of Three - This uses… I don’t know. It’s about 34(?) frames, 40 frames as I recall. I made this by clicking random rendered frames and turned the winners into a flip book just so I could see what it looks like. 8k. Light information is baked in, and you better beleve I’ll be playing around with Motion Vectors on this one.
Then there are the “Jets of Smoke” group on the right. These are me testing what might look best with the Sevarog mesh when it appears from out of the floor. These were actually some of the first “direct idea” renders. What I mean by that is; I need the smoke to make “this” motion, can I do that? I do not recall the particulars in their creation as I do for the first group.
Up next… no idea. There is one thing I need to figure out that I can declare though. For my swirly renders here there is this 11 O’Clock angled “+” seam in it, and I’m not sure why. It’s more obvious on the renders with the baked lighting information, though the compression makes it harder to see unless you look for it.
So if I use these, I’ll have to fix that.