Creating the Seashell

I began the seashell model as a low-poly asset created in Maya for the Chakra game I created in Unity. To create this shape, I used Maya’s Helix tool and gave it volume with an extrusion. I used Lattice Deformation to help shape the form, and even after deleting history and freezing deformations, I was unable to use the GoZ feature to import it into ZBrush. Instead, I exported it as an OBJ to simplify the geometry and make it ready to import.


Here is the shape imported into Zbrush.


One of the issues I had was that I could not make the shell hollow. If I deleted the end cap, it caused the shell to have no volume when imported into Zbrush. I decided the leave the endcap, but do a negative extrusion to push it back into the shell a bit. Once imported into Zbrush, I used the Move tool to massage the shape and push it back further, but was unhappy with the flatness of the shape. I wondered if it were possible to Divide just that one area to give it more polys. Using a Mask, I found that you can indeed Divide to add polys to just a specific area. This gave me more geometry to work with.

shell masked

I began shaping the outer edges of the seashell to look more organic. I also stretched out the shell to be longer.

shell masked2

After getting a shape I was more pleased with, I began using the Dam Standard brush with a variety of Alphas to add detail.

seashell1 seashell2 seashell3 seashell4 seashell5

At this point I was ready to use Polypaint to add color.


Finally, I used a darker polypaint color along with Zadd to give it some depth to create the ridges.


Overall I would say I was fairly happy with this sculpt. Going forward, if I had to do another one, I would have taken the advise of my professor to do more preliminary sketches from reference, because I’m not sure the bottom of it looks entirely realistic. Creating sketches would have helped firmly fix the initial shape in my mind. For now I plan to use this to push forward into the rest of the project. Perhaps another time I can spend an entire day creating seashells. 🙂

Landscaping with fountain in UE4

Today I began setting up a scene in Unreal Engine 4. I began by watching this tutorial by Levon Church that had a handy link for importing some ready-made foliage. I was able to create a grassy landscape, then import some happy little trees, then import my fountain.

Happy trees
Happy trees

Fountain on grass

Fountain on grass

Next steps will be to see what I can create directly in UE4, vs. what needs to be created externally in Maya and Zbrush then imported.

Importing the Fountain into Unreal Engine

Yesterday I wasn’t happy with the resolution and look of the fountain, so I exported it at a higher res and re-textured it in Maya. The file size went from 242kb to 1MB.

Higher res fountain

Higher res fountain

Today was the first day I actually launched Unreal Engine and I was able to import the fountain asset into a scene.

Unreal Engine
Unreal Engine

My first thoughts are that Unreal Engine seems way more complicated than Unity. The UI is very cluttered, and you actually have to go through the Epic Games launcher just to get to the game engine. Once in the actual editor, there seems to be a lot going on. Even a blank scene comes with a bunch of pre-built chairs, tables, etc cluttering the screen. This will take some getting used to.

Modeling the Fountain, export to Maya

For my fountain “hero piece” I began by creating a low-poly model in Maya, then brought it into Zbrush for more organic sculpting. Here is the sculpted “red clay” version.

Fountain modeled in Zbrush
Fountain modeled in Zbrush

Zbrush allows you to create Polygroups from Normals. This basically lets you group areas of you model according to which direction the topology is facing and organize these facing “normals” by color. This can be helpful for exporting or isolation sections.

Polygroups from Normals
Polygroups from Normals

After watching several hours of tutorials on on prepping Zbrush files as game assets, I was able to create polypainted version. I enjoyed the process of painting directly on the model in 3D, rather than painting on flat UVs in Photoshop then wrapping them around a model.

I exported the polypaint texture maps from Zbrush, then exported the low-poly version of the fountain model into Maya, where I used the Hypershader to apply the high-res texture map to the low-poly model.

Polypainted fountain
Polypainted fountain

Polypainted fountain in Maya

Polypainted fountain in Maya

I think this could still use a lot of work. I wasn’t entirely successful getting Bumpmaps to be as dramatic as I wanted. It’s possible I could export a few more types of maps (ambient occlusion, etc) and tweak them in Photoshop, then reapply them in Maya via the Hypershader. But for now I was happy that I had gone through the entire process of scuplting, polypainting, then exporting back into Maya. This asset could them be sent over to a game engine like Unreal or Unity for inclusion in a larger scene.

Unity or Unreal Engine?

One thing I realized while working on my prototype is that Unity does not provide any kind of visual code editing helper to people like me who are unfamiliar with programming. This is a hurdle for people like me who focus on 3D and animation, want to make games but haven’t had lots of time to learn coding. There is a plug-in for Unity called Playmaker that costs $65 and has decent reviews.

It was brought to my attention that Unreal Engine has Blueprints, which is a visual code editor that works sort of like a flow-chart. I had already started in Unity, because I heard it was the most popular platform. When discussing with professor Zeb I asked if I should work in Unity or Unreal and he said “Let’s do both!”

So here goes… I installed Unreal Engine after getting particularly excited about some of the recent tech demos they released showing how innovative they have become. So now I’m starting all over in Unreal Engine, so I can make a comparison.

Here are my thoughts on Unity so far.


  • Same user-controls for moving around the viewport, scaling, rotating etc. as Maya, so very familiar
  • Intuitive interface, easy to find things
  • Easy to drag/drop assets
  • Good selection of beginner tutorials
  • Exports to WebGL for HTML5, so easy to post games online


  • Have to code interactions in C# or UnityScript, which is based on Javascript
  • If you don’t want to learn code, you have to buy a plug-in
  • Graphics rendering isn’t awesome

Next steps

  • Watching lots of Unreal Engine tutorials
  • Building the game prototype in Unreal
  • Improving all game assets by importing them/recreating them in Zbrush
  • Trying to understand the workflow of taking hi-poly assets from Zbrush, dumbing them down for game engine and then making them look nice again. This is the part where I am completely confused!

Low-poly game assets

I created some low-poly game assets in Maya to import into Unity to prototype the game and experiment with game mechanics. These represent the element of Water, plus a 3D version of the Sacral Chakra symbol.

Low-poly assets
Low-poly assets

After the initial game build, I felt they needed more color, so I used the Hypershader in Maya to give them some color for the final prototype. I also created some background texturing for the floor of the game.

Assets in Unity
Assets in Unity

I used the Roll a Ball tutorial for Unity as a template to create the game prototype. I was really glad this tutorial allowed me to copy/paste the code provided as I followed along in Unity, because I have very little programming experience.

Here is the link to the final game prototype!

SevenGyre 3D Interactive Scene

My project will be an interactive 3D model of a fantasy landscape to simulate the 2nd or “Sacral” Chakra known in Sanskrit as “Svadhisthana,” meaning “your own place.” (In traditions of Yoga practice there are seven Chakras that align along the spine.) The 2nd chakra is located along the lumbar vertebrae, slightly below the navel. It is associated with sensuality, creativity, passionate emotions, flow and flexibility. Associations with this chakra include:

  •         A circle with six petals
  •         A moon crescent
  •         The color orange
  •         Element of water


Symbol for the 2nd "Sacral" chakra
Symbol for the 2nd “Sacral” chakra

To make the scene interactive, I plan to create a series of objects that the player places in specific locations around a fountain. If they select the right objects, a spiral of colorful “energy” emerges from the fountain. I would also like to recreate the Koi fish I created in a previous class. I feel that using Zbrush will help me create a more realistic and beautiful model. If there is time, I would also like to create music soundtrack.

Similar projects:

  •         Deepak Chopra and Wevr Studio’s “Finding Your True Self,” a VR guided meditation
  •         Snowworld” a VR simulation developed by University of Washington Seattle and Harborview Burn Center. Used to assist burn patients alleviate pain.
  •        Yana VR Relaxation for Google Cardboard. Basic graphics of a beach environment with ambient music soundtract.

Software needed:

Unity, ZBrush, Maya, Photoshop, Audition (sound editing)

Unity screenshot
Unity screenshot

Assets needed:

  •         “Sphere” environment – a 360 ° environment/playscape
  •         Fountain
  •         Koi fish
  •         Assorted objects – mandala symbol disc, seashell, goblet, etc.
  •         Music

Estimated timeline for each asset:

Prototype scene assembly in Unity 2/21

Prototype game mechanics/interactivity 2/27

Refinement of objects…more to come…


Estimate budget:

Purchase Zbrush $500

Unknowns in software:

  •         Improving modeling skills
  •         How to make spiral energy in fountain
  •         Pipeline from creating objects in Zbrush and Maya then bringing them into Unity
  •         How to use Unity

Steps to complete prototype:

Create rapid prototype to test game mechanics, then refine modeling for each asset, optimize for Unity, import into Unity, refine game mechanics/interaction, import soundtrack and sound effects.

Rendering and post-production

Having gotten most of the mechanics of animation and modeling worked out, this week I began mixing the audiotrack using Adobe Audition. I found some great websites for sound loops and FX.

Mixing the sound
Mixing the sound

Audition has a nice feature where you can add Markers to your timeline so you know when certain transitions or sound effects should occur.

Premiere video editing
Premiere video editing

I placed the previously rendered “glowing figure” scene into Premiere, and added sound effects. I also added the soundtrack from Audition.

I was able to get Maya’s Mental Ray render engine working after installing a service pack upgrade. This caused me to tweak the lighting a bit. I began to batch render a test sample. My laptop was able to batch render 120 frames in an hour 1/2. By my calculations, rendering the entire 1440 frames should take only 32 hours!

Under lily pad
Under lily pad
Before lighting tweak
Final scene

Still needs a few tweaks on audio, but making progress.


We have now made the transition to the underwater scene. I animated the Koi fish on a path, and also animated his joints so that his spine and fins move as the shape moves along the motion path.

I also found a tutorial on how to create a helix curve. This will be helpful when attaching the mandalas to the helix shape so they “dance” upwards.

The next part might be the trickiest thing I’ve attempted yet in Maya. What was I thinking? LOL

Getting all the mandalas to float in and spiral up the helix in their “dance.”

This isn’t too bad, except now that I have the mandala attached to the helix, I want to edit the timing. It should start around frame 90, not 150. I cannot figure out how to change the start/stop time of the motion path.

I decided rather than one big spiral, I would do one for each of the seven lily pads. Here is the final animatic for this scene.