First a foremost, I consider myself a writer. However, there are a lot of other nouns you could give me — graphic designer, gamer, yogi, composter, grad student. I’m an odd conglomeration of different skills and interests. As the cliché would go, you could call me a Jackie-of-all-traits.
I’m fascinated by the art of interactive storytelling. I’m doubly curious about the possibility of telling immersive stories in VR. That’s what led me, a slightly techier than average writer, to the Integrated Digital Media program at NYU Tandon. My combined love for the art of storytelling and my adoration for story-driven games led me to sign up for a Motion Capture class.
Now, I’m stepping into a world of 3D assets.
When I first opened up Unreal Engine, I definitely felt out of my depth. The first thing that came to mind was… well, a meme.
As ridiculous as this might sound, the koalafications meme has always been near and dear to my heart. When I first graduated with my literature undergrad degree, my fellow lit majors and I would grimly joke about entry-level jobs that wanted several years of experience.
We sent each other variants of the koalafications meme so often that we stopped saying qualifications to each other. We just said koalafications. It added some pleasant levity to a bleak job hunt.
There was admittedly one time when this running joke caused trouble for me — I was in a job interview once and nearly said koalafications instead of qualifications. I caught myself and it came out as a stutter instead.
“I’ve done a lot of content writing in the past and I believe I have the right ko — qualifications.”
Not my finest moment, that’s for certain.
For my first attempt at assembling 3D assets into a scene, I wanted to do something fun and silly.
And thus I embarked on a bizarre adventure to take my beloved koalafications meme from 2D photo into a 3D world. Though I had a basic knowledge of 3D asset creation pipelines, this was my first time working in Unreal Engine. Just the simple act of navigating in a 3D space without a controller threw me for a loop at first. Later, making animations stop looping threw me for another loop.
It was tricky to get used to new keyboard shortcuts and actually using the extra buttons on my hand-me-down gaming mouse. (Also, Unreal developers — can’t control + r mean rotate? Wouldn’t that make sense?)
First, I found some worthy koalas that were rigged with preset animations. I wanted something cute and I had this ridiculous idea to somehow make an animation of a koala falling out of a tree and questioning its koalafications. From there, I dug through the free environments made by Epic in the Epic Marketplace, and I found a stylized fantasy environment that had some nice trees for my koalas.
Once the scene was set, I decided it was time to play with the sequencer.
With the help of a bunch of tutorials and some tips from my very Unreal-savvy partner, I dove into the mildly terrifying Cinematics menu of Unreal Engine. Since I was struggling a bit with basic navigation of the program, it made trying to use those same shortcuts to position the in-scene camera rather difficult. I’m sure I’ll get used to these basics before too long, but trying to position these little koalas in ways that they didn’t clip through the ground was tricky.
The koalas came with a few different preset animations to choose from. Their bodies are quite different from the more realistic default bodies in Unreal, so I had to stick with those special koala animations. I wasn’t able to get my koala to fall out of a tree, so that part of my vision wasn’t possible with my current knowledge of 3D. I decided to make a little army of alarmed koalas instead. It took a lot of careful positioning to make sure they didn’t clip through the ground or trees of the surrounding environment. My clipping isn’t perfect right now, but it’s at least not too glaringly glitchy.
First, I put the animations for the koalas outside of the sequencer. Then, I realized I couldn’t record the animations unless I sequenced them in the sequencer. It took a bit of trial and error — combined with me then realizing I could do multiple preset animations for each koala and needing to go that extra mile to add idle animations — and eventually, I had a bunch of koalas falling over and questioning their place in the world and their koalafications in life.
Finally, I put the final touches on my ridiculous video in Premier.
I found a free motion graphic thought bubble template on Adobe Stock and went to work. To keep with the light and silly tone, I downloaded the font Anime Ace for my text in the thought bubble. Last but not least, to layer meme upon meme, I found some fitting background music.
I’ve done basic motion graphics and video editing in the past, but this was definitely the most complicated cinematic I’ve ever put together. I have a newfound sympathy for every video editor out there who has also spent nearly five hours of their life on a ten-second animation.
All in all, this project is far from perfect, but I’m pretty happy to walk away from this first attempt at using Unreal with this. I hope to use these cute little bears quite a lot more in the future. I felt a little nervous and out of my depth at first, but taking time to get used to the tools and giving myself fun subject matter to work with made the learning process a lot more enjoyable.