Salamander refinement

I imported my model from Maya into Zbrush as an OBJ file, then used the Insert H-Ring tool to create some elbow-macaroni type shapes above the eyes, then used the Move and Smooth tools to flatten and shape.

Salamander refinement – eyelids

I added some ridges with the Standard brush

Texturing the back

Then I began to use the Polypaint tool in Zbrush to give it some color



This weekend, I began creating the Fire Salamander for the Root Chakra.

Box model salamander
Began with a box model, using a reference image
Salamander box model
Used Extrusions to work forward to the head

After an hour or so into it, I realized that my modeling felt clunky and wasn’t flowing smoothly. I began to feel I had started with too many subdivisions, which were unwieldy to control and shape. Every time I tried to select an area to scale, rotate or move, I had to select several faces/vertices. Also, it still looked very much like a box, not organic. At that point Maya crashed, so I called it quits for the night.

When I re-opened the file the next morning, something was wrong with it. Maya took several seconds to respond to any command, and seemed to seize up every time I made a selection. I decided to start over, since I wasn’t happy with that model anyway.

This time I began with a cylinder, using fewer subdivisions, and began blocking out the rough proportions. This was much quicker. It took half the time that I spent the day before.

Beginning again with a cylinder
Used Extrusions and scaling to rough out the overall shape
I cut a hole in two of the faces and attached an 8-sided cylinder for the leg
After attaching 2 legs on one side, I split the model in half
I mirror copied the model, so now it was whole again with perfect symetry
Added some spheres for eyes

About halfway through the process, I came across a tutorial that pointed out the Maya now has several ready-made basic mesh templates you can use, including a LIZARD! Although I would have shaved a few hours off my production time by starting out with a ready-made sculpt, I felt I got much better with practice doing this model and was glad I did it myself.

Up next – taking the model into Zbrush for more refined sculpting.

Refining the Roots

Tree Roots modelings
Tree Roots modeling in ZBrush

Recently I refined the model in Zbrush and used Polypaint techniques to give it more color and texture.

Then I imported it back into Maya with the textures so it can be exported as an FBX to Unreal.

Modeling the Roots

I began modeling the tree roots in Maya. I began with a polygon primitive cube and began subdividing the bottom faces, extruding them downwards, and continuing to subdivide and extrude each new face in a branching method, using scaling and twisting/rotating at times to organically shape them. Here is a pic of the beginning, with Smoothing turned on. (I cannot get smoothing to work once it is exported as and FBX, even with Smoothing Groups turned on.)

Roots low poly
Roots low poly

Once I felt I had enough branching roots, I imported it into Zbrush, and began shaping it more organically with the move tool.


I continued to shape the roots by pulling with the Move tool and applying some texture with Clay Buildup and Clay Tubes tools.


Root Chakra beginnings…

Muladhara: The Root Chakra.

The first of the seven chakras. Physically it is centered at the base of the spine.

Root chakra concept drawing
Root chakra concept drawing

Element: Earth

Associations: Safety, grounding, basic physical strength, vitality and survival.

Gemstones: Ruby, garnet, jasper

Symbols: Fire salamander, cauldron, mushrooms, roots

Lotus has 4 petals: 



Player begins below the root system and travels upward via a “lava path” – a warm red light that guides the player up the roots. As the player climbs, they encounter red glowing “bubbles” that turn orange when the player runs over them. Along the way the player encounters 3D objects that symbolize the fiery root chakra (salamander, cauldron, etc.) These objects may also change (glow?) when the player encounters them.

Once the player reaches the top, the level finishes.

Tree in progress
Tree in progress

Level 2 will be the Sacral Chakra. The player will emerge from the base of the tree root and climb a hill towards a fountain.

Week 2 update

Most of week 2 was spent in frustration, reading several documentation pages on software/hardware installation and trying to sort out how to set up my computer to publish to Samsung Gear VR. In total I spent 8 hours reading, installing, uninstalling, and reaching the limitations of my laptop computer that is my primary design & modeling computer.

Unreal Engine’s documentation is inaccurate and out of date. I feel that many hours of frustration could be resolved if their documentation was updated and better written. Unreal needs to hire some UX people with some real empathy for new developers.

  • To publish to Android, you must install Android Codeworks, which only works with Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 (not 2017, which is what Windows 10 and most updated computers have.) Microsoft does have a link to download older 2015 Visual Studio if you dig for it. Visual Studio requires 8 GBs hard drive space, and on my computer it said it must be installed on C: drive. My laptop is limited to 100 GBs C: drive – even with most programs installed on D, I do not have room. I am working on a solution to install VS Studio, Unreal and Codeworks on another computer and port files back and forth to publish.
  • Codeworks is NOT in the folder Unreal’s documentation says it is. You must go down one more folder to find it.

Because I could not get Codeworks to install, I also tried installing Android SDK, Java DK, etc. per this video on using Unreal with Samsung Gear VR which says you do not need Codeworks if you install those components separately, but still received an error that said the SDK was not properly installed.

The bright spot – by watching the above mentioned video, I successfully put my phone into Developer Mode, plugged it into my computer via USB and ran the Command Prompt to navigate to the correct folder to get the Device ID which gets copied/pasted into the Oculus Developer Tools. This is how you get the Oculus Signature File that goes into a folder in Unreal Engine which helps you publish to your phone.

Another bright spot – I had some mental breakthroughs about how the interactions could work in my VR garden and began sketching in earnest and modeling.

Meditation figure, giant curtains

I wanted to show some boundaries for the scene, especially as people may be experiencing this in VR. I tried making walls, but they were too intrusive and felt claustrophobic. Instead I opted to scale them smaller to allow more light/air around them. I felt this was a good way to imply boundaries without them being so concrete. Eventually I would like to create “dome” effect that doesn’t occlude the sky, but that is something I will have to research.



I wanted to add another asset, so I used Zbrush to model this seated meditating figure.

Koi animation

I was able to quickly assembly a skeleton using the Joints tool in Maya and animate the Koi. I did this several months ago and it took me much longer. Again, iterations/repetition really helps you become more proficient and become faster each time. He animates wonderfully in Maya, with a cute little wiggle in his tail.

Animated Koi
Animated Koi

I watched a few Youtube tutorials on how to Bake the animation and export as FBX, then import into Unreal. As you can see in my Contents folder, the model imported with an animation, skeleton, mesh, etc. When I double-click on the animation, it animates beautifully in the editor dialog box. Unfortunately the Koi does NOT animate when I play the scene. Need help troubleshooting this.

Koi animation not working properly
Koi animation not working properly

Animation timeline

Animation timeline

I tried to animate directly Unreal using the Sequencer tool, which seems to animate fine when you play it inside the editor, but again, there is no animation in the actual game. Need to research more on animation.

Trying to set up VR

After reading through some of the documentation and watching some suggested video tutorials that that didn’t quite answer all my questions, I did find one very helpful tutorial by Matt Taylor on making your game VR ready.

I did pretty well following along, except when I got to this point, my VR controller static mesh doesn’t actually show the controller like his does.

VR tutorial video
VR tutorial video

I followed the rest of the instruction except for changing the game mode. The reason I didn’t change this yet, is I’d like to test packaging the game for desktop play first, since I don’t have currently have a Vive to test on.

Game Mode
Game Mode