Making of The Heretic: The VFX-driven character Morgan

Creating a character with the help of Visual Effects Graph was an interesting challenge for the Unity Demo team. As someone who spent a lot of time in his career waiting for renders to finish, Demo team’s Technical Artist Adrian Lazar has appreciation for the creative options made possible by real-time authoring. Read the post below for his detailed breakdown of the process behind the character Morgan, as well as useful tips for anyone doing VFX in Unity.

My name is Adrian Lazar and I’ve been working in the computer-generated graphics industry for the last 18 years or so, starting with post-production in advertising and transitioning to real-time graphics with game development in 2009. I have a generalist background and in the last few years I’ve been taking more technical art tasks – this helped me ship my own indie title together with a small, but talented team.

When I joined Unity’s Demo Team in early 2019 as a technical artist, we were getting ready to release the first part of The Heretic so I helped with some finishing effects. Soon after that we started talking about Morgan, the god-like, VFX-driven character introduced in the short film 2nd part.

On the storytelling side, Vess (Veselin Efremov, writer, director and creative director of The Heretic) had some clear requirements: Morgan needed to morph between multiple states, calm and angry, female and male or a combination of these, grow in height multiple times over, crumble, catch fire, and more.

Regarding the appearance, on the other hand, Vess intentionally left it quite open for exploration and experimentation. We had some early concepts created by our former colleague Georgi Simeonov, but those didn’t get into the vfx and shape-shifting aspect of the character, both fundamental to the final look – this meant that I had a pretty blank slate to start which was challenging but fun!

Concept art

I started my initial tests in Houdini 3D, a tool I feel comfortable with from before and that gave me a good opportunity to explore and bounce some initial ideas with Vess. 

Of course, for the production of the real-time short film, we wanted the effects that build Morgan to be developed inside Unity, so that it would be easy to iterate on the character and make sure it reacts correctly to everything else that happens around it. Therefore I had to look for a different solution and move away from pre-simulating the effect in another software.

One thing that gives me joy as being part of Unity’s Demo Team is having the chance to stress test, improve, and sometimes develop tools and processes that our many users can make use of daily.

Early tests video

In Morgan’s case, the opportunity was two-fold: create a complex VFX-driven character that runs in real-time, and equally important, take a first step into real-time authoring of complex effects. This was very exciting for me.

Just think about it, being able to develop and iterate on the character look in the final environment, from the desired camera angle and with the final lighting, post-processing, and other VFX! This is a dream that would have been unthinkable only a few years back.

It was not a smooth ride, but with a good team effort, we achieved both.

And so,

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