Heart of Stone is the name for my real-time cinematic rendered in the Unreal 4 Game Engine. This project was created while studying at Ferris State University during the fall of 2015.
My goals for this project were:
1: Tell a story.
2: Get more familiar with the UE4 Engine, specifically Matinee (The built-in animation tool).
3: Make something beautiful.
Unreal 4 Engine (Rendering)
3DS Max 2015 (Modeling)
Adobe Photoshop CC (Texturing)
Quixel SUITE (Texturing)
Mudbox (Modeling Terrain)
FL Studio (Music Creation)
Native Instruments KOMPLETE (Music Creation)
Adobe After Effects (Post Process, Final Export)
The story of this project starts with a school assignment: Make an animation that’s at least 60 seconds long. The suggested software to use for rendering was 3DS Max and Mental Ray. I saw this as an opportunity to get to know Unreal 4 better.
My initial thought was to make an abstract, artful piece. Humanoid characters and advanced animation were out of the question, due to my lacking skillset. I knew I could animate physics using built in Unreal tools, and reverse time using After Effects. I knew I could texture using Quixel. These limitations left me with the initial idea for Heart of Stone – illustrate, and animate, the idea of a hurting, broken heart. I’d try and capture just a little bit of the feeling that we’ve all had at least once in life with a highly limited skillset.
Step one in the process was to start creating the scenery: I began by modeling the entire scene, mountain ranges included, in Autodesk Mudbox. The entire landscape is one whole model (With one or two duplicates for long-distance mountains). I created a low-poly version of this terrain, and used the high-poly version to create an 8K resolution normal-map (Thank you XNormal for making this process so easy!). From there, it was off to Photoshop. While I have experience in the Quixel suite, and DDO seemed like a great option at first, I found myself more efficient and effective using Photoshop exclusively for texturing, only using Quixels’ 3DO for 3D previewing of the landscape.
After the landscape was complete, I brought it into Unreal. I used all the previously created texture maps (Diffuse, Normal, and Ambient Occlusion) as well as some generic tiling rock and dirt textures to create a master material for my landscape. The tiling textures were used as detail maps, so that when you got close enough to the landscape, the smaller textures would fill in detail that the major textures (Even if they were at 8k!) simply couldn’t match. I was thrilled with how well the landscape and mountains in particular turned out.
Next up was modeling. The only real thing to model was the fractured face, which you can see panning in at the 35-second mark in the video.
I created this face by taking a picture of a man who looked to be in pain and yelling, and taking a couple hundred unique, randomly generated low poly chunks and began taking them and aligning them with the picture of the face in 3DS Max. By having some height variance, the illusion is easily broken at any significant viewing angle other than head-on (or face-on?). I surrounded the face with other seemingly appropriate fractured chunks of rock. At this point in the cinematic, you still have no idea why we’re majestically panning around a slew of broken rocks, and you may not quite understand yet either! But trust me, I’ll get to explaining it all!
Once I had completed the modeling of the face, I needed a proper sky. To accomplish this, I sampled a few random cloud photos, brought them into Photoshop, and used those samples to create three different cloud sample that I could apply to multiple huge, flat planes in UE4. The material I created to render the clouds would also shift them around slightly – creating the illusion of wind.
At this point, I found a couple free grass models from the Unreal Forums, modified their textures to be less green and happy, and dotted up my landscape with a bit more reality. It was at this time I also added a spattering of small stones and rocks to the landscape – also acquired from the Unreal Forums.
With everything in place, the last major step (besides writing music for it all) was to animate it all using Matinee. This process took a few hours to get right, and not being a film director or having much experience with camera placement, a basically just started coming up with camera angles until I started finding what I liked.
I’ll be honest here, I don’t like Matinee much at all. But it is functional, and it works well enough for what it is. Happily, there is now a far superior replacement called Sequencer.
The music was written and produced by myself, using FL Studio as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice, and Native Instruments’ KOMPLETE for instrument samples.
With every scene exported out, time reversed in After Effects, and lined up how I wanted, I finally had the cinematic I wanted: A bunch of broken shards, slowly reassembling, at one point forming a pained face, coming together to form a heart, a heart of stone that had been broken.
The cinematic was short, it wasn’t perfect. It has too much motion blur, and it isn’t exactly clear what was supposed to be happening: But it’s a project I’m deeply proud of. It was proof to myself that I’m capable of creating beautiful environments inside the Unreal 4 engine at least.
Thanks for looking at my work!