MORPHSCAPE: Preview cinematic and thesis summary

This week I've made a cinematic to summarize and showcase my work on my senior thesis project so far.

At the beginning of this project, I set out to create a real-time dreamscape environment as a means of achieving two major goals in my work. The first, to build an environment and assets equipped with the parameters to enable visual transformations before your eyes; and second, to develop a custom painted aesthetic.

This aesthetic I have developed relates the spirit of impressionist painting conceptually to the transience of form in dreams -- how objects are ever shifting, becoming other things entirely as your brain assigns them new identities. With loose, expressive paint strokes breaking up the silhouettes of models, my goal has been to suggest the vague impressions of our experiences that appear in our dreams. What exists is just a malleable impression at the whim of your subconscious mind. Impressionist painting can be considered a study in the way we perceive. I find that this relates to the way our brain "sees" and records visual information to memory. We recall that condensed perception in our dreams and memories.

From a technical standpoint, working in 3D graphics as opposed to painting requires much more overhead to overcome the default look of the tools and be able to demonstrate a personal style. This is an area that has been very important to me in my work, to avoid letting the medium I use dictate my vision for a project.

One of the main issues I've addressed has been the hard-edged borders of models and the seams between intersecting models. This is an area where 3D can really reveal itself as 3D, as opposed to a painting, where strokes are able to make form fluid and seamless. The hard-edged 3D model contradicts the idea of malleable form, because it exists as a very concrete, defined form. To me, this breaks the dream-like illusion, as our dreams aren't always so clear.

While rendering progresses in terms of achieving greater and greater photo realism, making a material interact with light as a painter might depict light still stands as a challenge. In my materials, I wanted to regain some of the expressive, happy accidents that can give a painting so much life and character. Using a technique based in meshes and materials as opposed to a post process gives this look a more dimensional quality that I wanted for this project, rather than looking like an additional layer on top of everything.

Another goal of mine over the course of this year has been working with the idea of "smart assets." The development of systems like Unreal Engine 4's Blueprints have made the gap between art and programming smaller than ever. Every asset I have created for this project is thoroughly parameterized, with parameters communicating between materials and Blueprints. Building assets to be "smart" allows for more functional assets but also more flexible assets in a production pipeline to accommodate rapid visual iterations on the same asset. My semi-procedural spline tree system built in Blueprints is a testament to the flexibility that the overhead of setting up a smart asset yields.

Looking ahead, I'd like to realize my vision of making this environment explorable and interactive. The trees will sprout up from nothing, and the rock formations that line the shore will melt away into the ocean. My vision is that this will be triggered by user input rather than simply distance from an object. A character and music will help to tie everything together into a cohesive, experiential dream playground.