24. Art Director Von Neumann Reckons Illuvium’s Irreproducible 4D Holo NFTs Will Be A Brilliant Drawcard
Illuvium will be a nostalgia trigger for all lovers of RPG gaming, obsessive character and item collecting, and fans of holographic card decks. Our anonymous Art Director and lifetime expert of graphics and CGI, Von Neumann, created a proprietary process to generate Illuvium’s 4D Holographic artwork.
According to Von Neumann, what makes them so visually captivating is that: “The shaders we use for these NFTs to make them look holo are the most complex. Ever.”
Von Neumann admits that the bewildering eureka moment in how he solved the technical shading process took less than 24 hours. From that moment, refining them into something fans would love has taken months and tons of feedback from the team.
“I don’t even know how I really came up with the solution. It takes some crazy outside the box thought processes to solve problems even the software engineers think is impossible.,” Von Neumann laughs.
The resulting renders are mysteriously articulate in their delivery of a real-world holographic look. The complexity is an order of magnitude beyond mere iridescence, a different shading technique artists use to “fake” holographics.
Incorporating this level of intricate artwork will not merely make Illuvium a novel gaming title by way of look and feel, but truly hearkens back to the authentic joy of owning holographic cards.
The 4D Holos were a must-have for Illuvium, and were discussed early in the ideation stage of the franchise: “Early on, Kieran was inspired by Logan Paul pumping Pokémon back up. Kieran wanted to tap into that rejuvenated nostalgia,” Von Neuman recalls. “So I began asking myself what it was about Pokémon that made all of us go so crazy for those cards.”
Von Neumann knew that holos were the answer. “Charizard. Venusaur. Blastoise. The cards were so incredibly beautiful, and different, from the rest — it created this combination of rarity and beauty,” Von Neumann says. “It’s the same psychological reason sports cars or Hermés bag are prized. The consumer knows they are rare. They have impeccable quality. They are the hardest, most complex thing in their class to make, which results in increased demand.”
Game producers for other studios will appreciate the uniqueness and the beautiful result of Von Neumann’s proprietary holographic process for Illuvium. “In the digital world, everything is reproducible, if you know the technique. I have said this many times, good luck to anyone who can figure out how I solved it. When they can’t and we still have the world’s most complex and unique NFT shaders years from now, our NFTs will only become more sought after.”
What does it mean for a holographic to be 4d? The 4th dimension refers to time, specifically animating the holographic surface. In the real world, the difficulty is not the ability to make the surface appear 3d, but to animate it. While possible, most methods involve highly sophisticated setups in lab conditions. In the digital world, animation is the easy part. Where everyone so far has tried and failed, is making a truly holographic digital surface.
To appreciate the true holographic nature of Illuvium’s images requires an understanding of what “holographics” are. Physically, holograms are born by encoding light information from one source, onto another, in many cases, multiple times. The mechanism for how this happens is relatively complex. It involves capturing the pattern of light that is reflected off a surface, called a “light field” by etching its information onto a photosensitive surface.
This process isn’t perfect, as the light that is captured goes through a spectral change when striking the card surface called diffraction, which results in all the mesmerizing rainbow effects associated with holographic materials.
The real world has an array of materials that stretch and bend light. Oil, and oil spills. Bubbles. Beetle shells. These spectral changes are based on their iridescent properties. The varying thickness of the surfaces of these materials is a major part of why light stretches more or less, and produces the spectrum of different colors.
According to Von Neumann, “This is where there is a common misconception with digital shaders, and more specifically in the NFT space, where multiple “holo”-like materials have been used. Examples of these “holo”-like images are all 100% imitations of the holographic process, but they do not replicate the process, so they don’t deliver a true likeness of a hologram.”
The difference in process is that what the other guys do with their shaders “Is very simple. A single texture defines the reflective color of a surface,” Von Neumann explains. “So they end up with a rainbow-like surface, but it is purely iridescence. It’s not a microstructure bending light based on it’s bidirectional reflectance distribution function.”
By contrast, at Illuvium, “the holographic material I have made for Illuvium is truly holographic in nature, not iridescent,” Von Neumann says. Real holos are a microstructure that channels light through a surface in a way that the movement of the light across the surface follows the shape of that surface, resembling the original source. “This is the distinction that needs to be made. The information from the source material — such as depth, color, and light intensity — is captured into the shader, along with all of the spectral reflectance properties of the holographic substrate, which is the “plastic” that the holo is encoded in.”
By understanding the real world process, Von Neumann was able to then bend those rules, and capture additional information for each angle view of the card. What we see when we look at the holos in Illuvium, is a comprehensive view of the animated source subject from every angle it was encoded in which takes days of rendering time to compute.
The holos are created in 3dsMax and V-Ray and are so secret, only a couple of people on the team know how they were created.
“The shading technique has never been produced before. I have a 20 year career in multiple CGI-related industries. Do research online into digital shading, and holographic materials are the holy grail and by far the most complex,” Von Neumann explains. “You simply won’t find anything like what we’ve done. Each shader captures an insane amount of information about the source subject. You have to in order to represent the original model on a simple 2D surface.”
Ultimately, the holos in Illuvium are not reproducible. “No one could make a 1–1 reproduction of my shader without source files. It uses an outside-the-box method that allows the rendering engine to compute the spread of light on surfaces — which we call a spectral computation. Even the owner of the rendering engine software we use said it was impossible. Digital holographic shaders are not impossible to write. Others may generate their own processes of doing so. They just won’t be done the way Illuvium does it. The end result will differ.”
Players of the game will encounter these rare holos in the Illuvium overworld very infrequently. A sighting would not only be dazzling to behold, but will be especially exciting because players will want to jump on the chance to capture the Illuvial. “Encountering these will be more rare than the original Pokémon cards were,” Von Neumann says, “and we also have varyingly complex holographic shaders too, so that even among the holos, players will appreciate a variety of aesthetic looks, and there will be a range of rarity even within the class of holos.”
We wanted to make something where you know, instantly, upon seeing it, that it is unique, desirable and highly sought after and the preliminary feedback from the community has given us motivation to suggest we have done just that.