Project Bespin

 

Unity Neon Challenge 2018 (Submission Post: click here)

Aesthetic: Realtime cinematography, dystopic sci-fi.

Platform: PC

Game Engine: Unity

Development Time: 3 Weeks

Team Size: 7

Role: Environment / Level Designer, Lighting Designer

Tasks + Responsibilities:

  • Grey boxing the initial layout and using it as a communication tool to help solidify production direction and scope.
  • Modularizing art assets into a manageable range of variations, and then assembling them into aesthetically pleasing compositions.
  • Optimizing tower modules within reasonable poly counts and game object counts to maintain smooth real time frame rate.
  • Communicating regularly with the 3D artist and the texture artist to ensure artistic vision supports the narrative context and atmosphere.
  • Collaborating closely with the character animator to finalize the proper positioning of game objects based on animation flow.
  • Collaborating closely with the programmers to ensure the environment animation achieve the intended effect.
  • Handling production pipeline bottlenecks as result of remote workflow.

Narrative Inspiration

We imagined a dystopian future where overpopulation has led to the construction of hyper-vertical cities, where the buildings penetrate through the stratosphere. The construction of such superstructures have eclipsed most of the Earth, making the surface uninhabitable and obsolete for humans.
The thick smog serves as the barrier in a polarized society. The upper layer is called Eden, and the lower layer called the Hell. Eden is a utopia where humans are granted the luxuries of retirement and pleasure from birth. Work doesn’t exist, only life. In contrast, Hell is a sub-society that solely exists to serve the upper class. In lieu of technological advancement, humans have been able to rapidly produce and mobilize an entire robotic workforce to both maintain and facilitate industrial production. Life doesn’t exist, only work. The social hierarchy of the society is directly reflected in the environment’s verticality.
Consumerism at the scale of such population have been the driver of heavy industrial production, ultimately resulting in significant air pollution. Thick smog is prevalent in the lower parts of the stratosphere, rendering the outdoor environment uninhabitable. This serves as the industrial district where the working drones exist.

Scene Conceptualization

Using the above narrative as a starting point, we set out to make two distinct scenes that are vertically connected by mega skyscrapers. Due to the lack of sun in the lower levels, the dystopian industrial scene was envisioned as a dimly-lit environment punctuated by the building lights. The buildings eventually fade out in the distance, evoking a sense of mystery and claustrophobia. The intention here was to communicate the depressing tone of the slaves’ mindless workplace. On the upper levels, the polished towers emerge out of the smog and reflective surfaces shine against the brilliant sun. Due to the curvature of the earth, the density of the towers are more sparse at the higher altitude, creating a sense of openness and expansiveness that reflects the luxury that humans enjoy.
We started off by collecting concept art and sketches that match the description above. Given the narrative, we focused on monumentality of ancient building styles, and environments that are both terrifying and mysterious.
As the team further developed the art direction of the environment, we were interested in expressing the larger building modules as a complex amalgamation of smaller volumes. Very much like computer chips, we settled on treating these small buildings as attachments onto the larger underlying base geometry.
Since scale and proportion were very important in conveying the desired visual effect, we rapidly prototyped several design schemes to determine the most appropriate shapes, sizes, proportions, and spacings for the building modules.
In facing a unique challenge of devising a visual language that could speak to both the upper and the lower layer, we strove to combine archaic and futuristic building styles into a hybrid that can cater to the two seemingly opposite environments. We were able to achieve this contrasting effect with material differentiation, juxtaposing the reflective, polished textures against the rough, rusted ones.

Environment Art

Due to the growing number of different building modules, it was imperative that the master model be updated as the assets are completed by the artists. The instancing and locator features in Maya have allowed the iterative process to be more expedient for testing multiple tower configurations in the early process.
Once the rough configuration was set, the number of diverse modules and their sizes were communicated to the 3d artists who modeled each unique building module within the parameters given. The model was then handed over to the texture artist, who textured each module using the softwares Substance Painter and Designer, and the level designer, who replaced the blocking instances with detailed models. Once the entire set of building modules had gone through this process, the building as a whole was brought into Unity, at which point the final materials are applied.

Environment Animations

The mega skyscrapers are envisioned as vertical stacks of individual building volumes that rotate independently of the overall tower. As each volume rotates, the gears in the reveal between the volumes also rotate, adding to the mechanic visual effect. Once the volume is rotated to its desired orientation, the gate opens and the skybridge extends across to the pairing tower. This environmental animation was intended to allow any of the building volumes to connect to any of its neighboring towers via skybridges, hence creating an impression of a networked city. The scene starts on one of these bridges.

 

The original vision was to have large modular towers with bridge swaying across the horizon we needed to create a network of buildings that these bridges could reach. The building distances were first put at varying lengths which required varying length bridges, but the problem was that a bridge, if not planned properly, could collide with other buildings as well as required additional work for the artists. To avoid both of these a city was designed where all the buildings were equidistant apart, thus all bridges of the same length, however this created alleys where the camera could possibly view down creating boring camera shots. The approach we implemented was to have extending and retracting bridges which Russian dolled into one another, and eventually into the building module itself, prior to rotating. This allowed us to have buildings placed wherever in the design, within a range of numbers rather than an exact placement. We could then network each module to any other module without worrying about collisions. The process of the module was to rotate a bridge gate to face a target module while that target module was also rotating a face to face the bridge module. The bridge gate doors would then open, revealing and extending the bridge towards the target. The bridge stayed extended for a set time then retracted, gates closed, and the module could rotate onto the next building. During the rotation, extension, and retraction phases gears on the module and bridge respectively spun to give the impression of mechanical movement. The gears were given a animation curve to add some randomness into the design without having to hand animate multiple gears.

 

 

 

Another piece of the design was to create a transition level in which the poor, rusted buildings separated prior to the smog giving way to clouds and a luxury skyline. Due to scope this level was cut however, Unity editors were created in the case of its addition. A building generator which would randomly place modules in a stack with different angle orientations was created for singular building asset files. The asset files could then be passed onto an environment generator which placed the buildings in a random location about a center point, given the number of small/medium/large buildings to place and the interval spacing between any given building. It was decided to not use this feature for either the industrial or luxury levels of the environment, because of the randomness and how close the camera was to that detail.

Lighting

The two main scenes of the project compose of two distinct lighting strategies. For the dimly-lit industrial scene, the towers are primarily defined by the emissive highlights from its materials, and complemented with area lights for rendering the building surfaces partly visible. The scene above is mainly lit by Unity’s directional light.