Narrative VR — Neighbourhood

Overview

We are a team of two with Meng Na and myself. We paired with the initial interest to create a low-poly world with a simple environmental narrative V.R story: a village boy who wants to save the birds from losing their home.

I was tasked in creating the 3D models and other assets, while Meng Na in charge of the unreal game engine.

Meng Na (left), Todd “the professor” (middle) and Me (right)

Interacting in a V.R environment

In our world, the viewer is in control of their point of view while the story is progressing. Initially, the viewer is brought forward by the camera to be in front of the main planet. Once the viewer is placed, they are in control to venture around the planet and see how the story took place.

Final Result

Ideation & Storyline

Meng Na strongly suggested to create a story about the environment and I wanted to utilize my low-poly avatars to be part of a story. We both agreed to create this piece inspired by Penrose Studios’ work like Rose and I and Allumette. We came up with a simple story to demonstrate how the environment is being impacted by urbanization.

A boy’s love for the forest is threatened to be destroyed. It is his secret place where he goes to escape from reality and share only to those he trusts with many fond memories. The V.R experience is one location-based and a time-lapse sequence shows how the boy over time was able to conquer and protect by preserving those who live in the forest. This piece is about how protecting the natural environment from urbanization will always benefit the later generations.

Rough Storyboarding
Rough Environmental Layout

Moodboard

Design Details

Main planet designed through C4D

3D planet modeling

The planets were created through C4D software. This was my first attempt creating a 3D model through C4D by watching youtube videos and it was surprisingly cool and fun. Building a low-poly world wasn’t too bad by following a tutorial, however there were some hiccups with accidentally making of polygon edges when I was extruding inner. I continued following C4D tutorials in modelling and animation with initial thoughts of transferring it into Unreal. After speaking with Todd, my professor, it would be easier to do the sequencing in Unreal if the polygons don’t change.

I enjoyed molding the model in greater detail with dimension. It wasn’t as difficult after some practice and followed up exporting my planets as FBX files. It is important to organize the materials to make sure it is cohesive when imported into the game engine.

Character Design through Google Blocks

Avatar creation through Blocks and Mixamo

Before the project was created, in the first 5 weeks of the class I created these four avatars through Google Blocks for an initial project. There were four avatars with an added red-haired fifth boy as the subject of the piece. After creating them, I sent them through Mixamo to be rigid and download the animations.

Cute Birds by SURIYUN

Cute Birds

Since Meng Na and I are doing our first V.R piece and want to incorporate animals, we used SURIYUN’s cute birds from the unreal asset store. Our decision was based upon our limited resources and we wouldn’t have been able to create a skeletal mesh of an animal with its’ animation on our own. Suriyun’s pack fits our art direction and solved our animation issue.

Sequencing

After creating the assets, all the pieces were placed and we sequenced them into our narrative piece. There were some adjustments back and forth being in a 3D environment and not-so flat ground low-poly environment. Meng Na started the sequencing and I did some finishing touches by fixing the details, adding sound effects and music. It took some adjustments to test whether it communicated the story the way we wanted it to be.

Control

We set our unreal project as V.R mode, but there were attempts to do it as first person as well. We attempted to adjust the controller to give the user the control to move around the environment, but we were having some issues with it. We had some help from our professor with this last minute detail and we fixed it by using the blueprint.

First Ideation

We did a first draft with 80% of the project done with adjustment to the story to meet the deadline and critiques coming in to give us feedback. The comments were mostly positive for creating our own assets and having a simple story, but one important thing was missing was harnessing the V.R features. In other words, giving the viewer the ability to move around the world and go about how they want, even if they don’t see the full narration. It made sense as it will be just a restricted movie in a 3 dimensional environment.

Googly eyes on the headset while testing out the narrative V.R experience

Second Ideation

After the adjustments were made to the experience, we showcased our piece in IDM’s showcase. It was fun to showcase our work after two months working on it. We gained a lot of positive feedback and curiosity, however one thing that was missing was the message of the environment and urbanization. It was a tricky item to be showcased as many viewers are new to the V.R experience and not sure how to go about it. For a first time V.R piece, it ain’t bad.

Viewers curious and experiencing the V.R piece

Next Step

Where would you take this project if you had more time/resources?

I would personally want to take more time to learn motion capture, skeletal mesh, smoother sequencing, interactions and add more details to the world. It would be fun and cute to add a couple of other storylines in three other planets and other parts of the main planet to explore. Since this was my first time attempting this kind of medium, I had to make decisions that will be efficient for the project timeline.

Our narrative V.R class were grateful and thankful to our professor Todd Bryant.

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Designer + Art Educator — manping.co

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Man-Ping Wu

Man-Ping Wu

Designer + Art Educator — manping.co

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