Cassette Futurism

“Stories which use a technological aesthetic reminiscent of the early 1980’s, regardless of the real time setting of the media. Most often found in the context of science fiction.”

Through the development of Cosmic Echo, our final year project, we have been building around the idea of a science fiction setting from the start, and with that came one style that each of us loved and wanted to use. Cassette Futurism.

As you can see above Cassette Futurism is very 80s, the very hard edged, simple and cubic design that has become a huge aesthetic in the resurgence of retro design. In today’s culture there has been a renaissance of 80’s tropes that can be seen throughout the world through fashion, movies, tv shows and general design. The vivid neon colours mixed with the simple colour palette of white, greys and blacks  is huge now and we want to capture that in our animation.

Some of the above images are going to be references for the environment we are going to be developing, the tight hallways, the low ceilings and the use of cubic computer systems with lots of light sources. Above are some shots taken from Alien, Star Wars and Akira. All of which are great examples of the cassette futurism that we are going to achieve. I will be doing a separate post on the development of the environments.

Presentation Reflection

After the presentation, Alec, Henry and Priya gave us some really great points to move forward with. Giving us options on how to proceed with the development of the monster by possibly removing the eye to take away the personal aspect of it as well as giving us a few books to read one of which was The Ressurectionist: The Lost Work and Writings of Doctor Spencer Black. They were all very happy with the development of the project so far and liked the story. For the next presentation they want to see development on the environment as well as some possible audio resources, Jordan recommend a program to Jack to allow us to create Monster noises, which will come in very handy.

Cosmic Echo

“We all make choices but in the end out choices make us” – Andrew Ryan

Finding our Idea

As we started our final year we began to develop our idea by asking the question “what if?”, and the what if that we all loved was what if something lived in a black hole. From here the idea snowballed, we developed further how the monster would be on the ship and if it would affect the interior of the ship, reversing the gravity of water droplets or completely changing the environment. We also looked why our main character would be on this ship and why would it be so close to a black hole? We then looked at how they would interact with the anomaly when they found it. Would they be scared or curious? Would then fight or flee? And on and on we kept developing our idea until we found ourselves enthralled by the idea of a time loop. From here we began to hone the idea and write up a story for it.

“In general relativity, an event horizon is a region in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer.”

In the end we had a few points that we knew that we had to have in the plot and ideas that we stuck with because of how fun it would be to play with.

  • Cause and Effect based animation
  • An audio cue to cause the loop to essentially start
  • A character that people can relate to
  • A Lovecraftian monster
  • Based around a black hole that causes time distortions

Building the Plot

“In the abyss of space, an inquisitive pilot seeks answers when her ship chances upon an impossible doorway into a black hole but only discovers that she must escape the monstrosity lurking within”

This is the shortened idea for our story however it took a lot of trial and error to get to this point. A lot. We learned a lot as a team about how hard it is to develop a story around a loop, as technically it doesn’t have a start or an end as they connect to become one in of itself, and because it’s a loop we found that starting the loop was difficult and anything found on the way would have to have a reason for being there in the first place. In one of the iterations we had the main character take a wrench from her room and drop it on the way which would cause the noise for the main character to hear again in the loop, which would be our audio cue. However we found we couldn’t do that because it would mean that every time the wrench dropped to the floor it would cause a pile of infinite wrenches, meaning that the wrench itself would be stuck in its own loop. We also messed around with the idea that what if we had more than one loop going on, and that there were 3 versions of her, one being lured, one being chased and one being caught, each would cause an audio cue whether it be a loud bang of dropping the wrench, or a scream from being grabbed, but it meant there would have to be more than one monster and it got some complicated so we went back to the idea of just one loop.

The Final Iteration

Our last version of the story was simplified enough to allow for a short animation but also push ourselves in terms of creating a fantastic 80’s inspired scene. We found the style called Cassette Furturism, it fit perfectly and was used in many of our references, 2 of the main ones being Alien and Alien Isolation. As the story progressed we found ourselves wondering what the monsters lair could be like, and we threw out the idea of a dungeon and we all loved it. Everyone in the group plays dungeons and dragons so it was a perfect blend of two of our favourite genres. Sci-Fi and Fantasy. We looked at several monsters one of which is called Jubilex, who is a shape shifting entity that appears as a mound of black goo. From here we moved closer to lovecraftian horror for the monsters lair, it just fit so well. “Lovecraftian horror is a sub genre of horror fiction that emphasises the cosmic horror of the unknown”, it was too perfect and the idea that this monster is an entity that lives in a black hole, one of the biggest if not the biggest mystery in the universe, just fit so well. We looked at some lovecraftian monsters and 3 stood out to us. The classic Cthulhu, The Blackness from the Stars and Shogguth. Ill add some descriptions below. But these were out main focus when developing the monster. After this we really had our story put together. We wanted it to start with the main character playing a game (Cosmic Echo), before being distracted by something banging on the door, after investigating further, being drawn further into the ship she finds an impossible hole through to the monsters lair, entering in she finds obelisks and terrible monstrosities that defy all sense of space for this ship, this area could not exist here. As she goes further in she finds a torch on the ground, picking it up she realises its her own, switching it on to reveal a brief shot of the monster, throwing her own flash light and dropping the second, the camera follows the thrown light as it rolls in front of a large pile of torches. As she flees from the monster and reaches the door, she bangs on it and looks through revealing herself, from the start of the animation, as the realisation dawns on her the monster grabs her, making the noise that cues her to leave the room. As it happens we cut to the title of the game Cosmic Echo.

Studio Work – Billy Goat

For our studio project I was given the chance to work with Billy Goat Entertainment. A Northern Irish Games Company who worked on Her Majesty’s Spiffing. It was a great opportunity working alongside William Barr and his game Supermarket Shriek. Our task was to create interesting characters for the game as well as come up with a level for the game.

Initially we started off with just character design, we were told to focus on creating characters that would fit into the supermarket setting, after that we would be able to have a more free roam. So when creating the characters we would try and cover as many variations as possible ranging from normal everyday characters, to more colourful characters like knights and pirates.

Initially I worked on the environment rather than the character, I built a pretty rough outline of a possible level heavily based of off the original level Billy Goat had already done, however the level was designed so it was split up into 3 parts of a grocery store. The butchers (the obstacle being the large knives), another being the fresh foods, possible exploding fruit or something? (I didn’t think that one through) and the other being the freezer area,  the obstacle would be a slippery floor. Here is the concept for the level:

There were issues with this like the ramp, it would be too steep for the cart in game. and that the slippery ice might be a problem with the game engine. After this we were told to develop some characters for the game. We were told to keep the characters modular, by this they meant create a base design for the character that has no gender and is just a blank slate, then add modular items of clothing to it. We each decided to have a go at creating some (roughly 3 each) here are a couple of renders of our characters :

The 3 characters I developed were a pirate, a knight and an army man. The outfits were modular so you could mix and match with the original base staying the same. I textured the pirate character and the ship in substance painter, we were told to only use diffuse/ albedo maps so the renders you see above are just albedo/colour maps. The renders are done in marmoset, I render in marmoset as it allows for an easy transfer to unity or other physically based renderers. After a while developing characters we wanted to move the supermarket shriek into an interesting direction by adding an interesting new environment. We looked at the game overcooked as a reference pointed and noticed that the levels weren’t just a kitchen but brought in new interesting environments that influenced the gameplay. We opted to go with the pirate environment as well as the pirate character. For the pirate environment I looked at pirates of the Caribbean for inspiration, specifically the Disneyland ride and the Tortuga environment from the movies.

I stole some different ideas from each like the style of the buildings from Tortuga, the tower from the ride and the mast from the ride as a way to make the scene more interesting. I also thought about ways that gameplay could come into it, so I added an archway that the character could enter through, a long set of stairs that barrels could be pushed down to be obstacles, a barrel leaking rum to make that area slippery,  a cannon on top of the tower and I thought that off screen that ships could shoot at you. I also placed a well in the middle to split up the track into a simple circle. The actual goal could be to collect rum bottles or pirate treasure around the map. I also tried to keep the map modular so you can pick up and move the models around to create a track, for example the rails around the border are all modular, there are 4 or 5 types but you can just click and drag them around. as our the houses which are just 1 2k texture map. I also wanted to add in some coconut trees but I wasn’t sure how to capture the style correctly with the leaves. Here are some renders of the map going through development.

A few things to note, the environment is rendered in marmoset, so it is easy to move to unity, it is textured in substance painter and the pieces are all modular. The sea is reused from another scene that I have been working on (the kraken scene), it was created in Cinema4D but would be replaced by the game engines water.

Discipline of Choice

So for my discipline of choice I wanted to try something new with the environments I create, usually I stick to hard surface modelling creating interior environments and stone structures. This time however I wanted to create something with fluid in it as well an organic creature. Recently the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean came out and it got me thinking about 2nd movie with the Kraken attack. This lead me to planning a dynamic kraken scene based on Dead Man’s Chest.

My main concern was the water, at first I thought of creating the water in maya using bifrost but I found that that lead to complications with importing it to marmoset which is the program I use for rendering my models. So I ruled that out, instead my cousin Michael told me about a program called Cinema4D. I used a plugin called Hot4D for Cinema4D that allows you to create realistic water and texture it. It wasn’t a difficult process as there are tonnes of online tutorials for it. The hard part was bringing it into marmoset and getting a luminance shader for marmoset. It was a challenge getting it to work but it worked really well. It was a little trouble finding the balance between blue and the green hue that the sea emits.

For the tentacles of the Kraken I originally used some curve tools in maya and then extruded a cylinder along the curve. After that I exported them in zbrush, after sculpting the suckers and such in zbrush I then zremeshed it so it was a low poly mesh and baked it. After that I brought it into substance painter and exported it into marmoset.

Here you can see some renders of the final product as well as some earlier versions. I will also include a link to my artstation so you can see the marmoset viewer. It is lower quality since I don’t have a pro subscription but it still shows it off quite well.

This project was a challenge, it brought me out of my comfort zone in terms of creating an interesting scene but it’s nice to do something different. Up until now I have been creating environments and assets with not real story to them, they are just environments. However with this piece of work there is so much going on and I think I did well achieving a dynamic scene which is what I was aiming for. I wanted to make it seem like the scene was in motion.

I can still however pick flaws with, the most notably being the water and the lack of foam. With the water breaking on the ship and the tentacles there should be water lapping up against them rather than the objects just sitting in the middle of the water. Sadly I haven’t figured out how to do this in Hot4D, I know you use a vertex map to create the foam but I haven’t learned how to put it into practice but I will eventually. However I have been working on this for a month on and off and there comes a point where you have to say it’s done.

Final draft before rendering

Here is our final pre-vis before we begin rendering, you can see our final cameras, final characters, final animations and final graphics.

We are currently changing some shaders before rendering so we can cut down render times but that’s the last major change. We are doing this because in test renders like those seen below the reflectivity of the current shader is making the scene hard to read and has way too much noise.