Honours Blog - Mushbutts - Week 1
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
This week I've been working on concepting and imagining what sort of world these Mushbutts would live in. These little mushroom creatures have been floating around in my head for a while as ideas and I knew for at least one of my honours projects I wanted to bring them and their world alive!
So what is a Mushbutt? Above is a sheet of sketches I did to explore what their species may look like, in all their diversity. The Mushbutts are small, whimsical little creatures of the forest that only live to cause hayhem. As mischievous as they are, their pranks are harmless. The most evil thing these little guys could do to someone is misplace their socks. They don't do much, and certainly don't think much. But they are however, avid fans of berries.
Here are my first explorations into what the scene could be like in Unreal. I aimed to explore different thematics and focal points in all of them, but the idea of having some sort of shrine to/for the Mushbutts felt really strong to me. I thought it could be really fun if some other race theoretically built a big Mushbutt statue or shrine for them, and completely misjudged their species to be something worthy of worship and offerings, when in fact they're just silly mischievous spirits/fairies that don't really understand these concepts. Going with the statue/shrine idea, this could also allow me to model, sculpt and texture a lot of stone and natural elements, which I really love doing and have just longed to do for a while. One thing that troubled me during this process was trying to keep everything feeling natural and not too formal with the shrine idea. Whenever I looked for shrine reference photos, it was very grand with even some temples. This felt very off to me, and not something the Mushbutts would really live in. I feel like this was most present in sketches 1, 2, and 3.
I ended up choosing to develop more sketches with the same focal point and feeling of number 5. I felt like this was definitely the strongest environment out of them all, and really had a focal point *on* the Mushbutts and their home, with some mystery as well. I felt like in some of the other ones, the Mushbutts were just sort of background information or not the main focal point. I definitely feel like having the bigger scale of the Mushbutt statue in number 5 made a big difference here and feels a lot more like what I wanted. I was also excited to develop some water materials in Unreal with this concept later down the line!
Here I tried to make some more refinements based on number 5 from the previous environment exploration. I wanted to explore more surrounding environments while keeping what I think worked the best originally - the main focal point being the big oversized Mushbutt statue. There are different elements I like in all of them, but overall I do still feel like the best composition is the original one. These explorations help me figure out that I definitely want to have a water feature and stone lanterns.
Research & References
Modelling & Sculpting
Here I started modelling some of the most basic assets I think I will use in the environment. I am not feeling too precious about most of them and I am thinking I may not use some of them, especially some models that are closer to the right hand side (stairs, pedestals etc). However I do know that I definitely want these lanterns, rocks, and Mr Mushbutt himself! The reason I'm not feeling too precious with some of the other ones is because they were really fast and simple to make - probably 5 mins each - and I know that If I want to use them in the future I will be able to just put procedural materials that I have made in Substance Painter on them in about 10 minutes total.
Here is a closeup of my Mushbutt statue!
ZBrush sculpting progress - was still working in relatively low-poly here, just sculpting basic shapes I want.
On the left is how the Substance Painter bake turned out, and on the right are some comparisons between the Highpoly, Lowpoly, and original mesh. Sculpting stone is probably one of my favourite things to do, so I am really excited to do more of this in this project and that is definitely a goal of mine.
Above is a very simple block-out I made based on my concept art. I found that it was kind of difficult to block most of it out since I felt like a lot of the composition was mostly how the landscape itself was shaped, and was a bit difficult to block out using solid shapes and such.
Firstly, I made a landscape material using the material editor. My goal was to be able to use multiple different colours on the same landscape painting tool so that I could create a really nice stylised effect. Up until now, I never knew how to do this, and my landscapes were either just one tiling texture that looked quite janky, or just a solid colour. I am really pleased with how this turned out, and even imported my own brush alpha texture to paint with on the landscape to give it the painterly effect I wanted, instead of using the default round brush for example. I really wanted to try and recreate the colour variation that the Studio Ghibli art-style has in their art, picture below for reference.
Reference for my grass - Studio Ghibli.
In Substance Painter, I made my own procedural stylised stone smart material that I am able to save and re-apply on any other model. I wanted to use some procedural smart materials because I found that this would be the most efficient way to texture compared to hand-painting, keeping in mind I have 4 weeks to work on this project total. I can also easily go back and edit any aspect of this material because of this non-destructive workflow.
Reference for my rock textures - Studio Ghibli.
How they look in UE5!
I also made grass for the foliage tool and a grass material. I really wanted to make the grass colours have variation to match my landscape. The noise texture above is what the colour variation is based on - so, based on the world position of the grass, whenever it is in the white spots in the world, it applies the dark gradient effect and seamlessly blends. The video is a example of me messing around with scale parameters in my material instance to show how easily and quickly this can be changed. I am really happy that this worked out the way I wanted, because the other way I would have done this (possibly individually placing each colour of grass I wanted) would have been way too time-consuming! There is also wind using Unreal's 'SimpleGrassWind' node, however I did modify this a bit to make sure the bottom of the grass does not sway, only the top.
Above is my material instance for the grass, as you can see I am able to change pretty much every variable on the go without commiting to any major changes within the actual material which is really handy!
Actual grass mesh, modelled in Maya.
Overall this week I feel really happy with the progress I have made, and I feel like I have set up a really strong basis to be able to focus on more art later on. Since I've been able to work in some tech art and procedural textures within the first week, I am confident I have saved a lot of time in the future if I ever want to tweak anything. I also know this is standard industry practise and would make theoretically collaborating a lot easier down the line.