Category Archives: World Builders Project

World Builders Project: A Post Mortem


The World Builders Project was a seven week project in which we were to design, develop and create an environment based on a description from a novel for a ‘teaser trailer’. I decided to base my environment on a scene from Deep Secret, by Dianna Wynne Jones, in which the characters travel along a garden path strung high in the air between three impossibly tall towers. I decided to create the scene in 3D in the Unreal Engine. Below is the final video:

From here, I will look into what went right and what went wrong with this project and ways that I can improve my processes for future projects.


In my eyes, there are many more failures than successes however I did learn a lot about documentation and using the Unreal Engine. Additionally, I believe that parts of my final piece reflected both the intended narrative and Art Bible.


The most successful part of this project was the documentation I created during pre-production. Not only did I learn how to create an Art Bible and a Project Plan but also researched pipelines, workflow, techniques and styles that really helped to inform my work. This was extremely useful during production as it gave me a clear guide and structure to what I was creating. In particular, the dissection of my references in the Art Bible really helped me to define the look I was going for.

Final Piece

Although the final piece is extremely lacking, literally in terms of assets but also in detail and style, I believe that I successful captured some of the intended narrative by following through with what was outlined in my Art Bible. In particular, I managed to follow through with my colour scheme and atmospheric effects which did help to create a dreamy atmosphere and the feeling of being high up in the sky, both of which were in the novel excerpt. This is evident below:


The first image is a test render before the final lighting and colour adjustments were made while in the second these have been adjusted to suit the mood. This was done in reference to the Art Bible.

Unreal Engine

Through the production half of this project I learnt a lot more about the Unreal Engine. In particular I learnt about:

  • Re-importing objects
  • Lighting
    • Editing the direction and colour of lights
    • Editing the sky box and what effect it has on lighting
    • Using lighting to give the illusion of a particular time of day
  • Matinee
    • Setting up cameras
    • Animating camera movement
    • Rendering through the Matinee system
  • Materials
    • Manipulating complex materials
    • Creating blendable materials
    • Using vertex painting to blend two materials

This knowledge will be extremely helpful for future projects.

Technical Framework

Another successful part of the project was the technical framework which I used. I outlined the rules and guidelines for this technical framework in my Art Bible. The key guidelines are as follows:

  • When opening a new Max file, change the Unit Setup to Metric Centimeters.
  • Texture files are to be in PNG format, 1024px by 1024px.
  • Files are to be saved in the correct folder and named according to the naming convention.

Following Brett’s advice about file structure, I created my own which allowed me to easily to update assets and re-import them into the Unreal scene. It is pictured below:


Each asset had its own folder, inside which were a ‘Master’ FBX file and also a Maps and a Mesh folder. These sub-folders corresponded to the 3D and texture files. Inside each of these folders were a Superseded folder, in which old ‘Master’ FBX files were kept, and a Working folder in which all the working MAX files were kept. Once an asset was updated, the old ‘Master’ file was moved to the Superseded folder and the updated model was saved in its place.

These ‘Master’ files were the ones that I used within my Unreal scene. After updating an asset, this allowed me to simply right click on an asset and select re-import. This would pull the updated asset into the scene without messing up the positioning, scale or rotation. I had not used this system before and found it much, much more efficient.


This project failed in several major ways particularly in the production phase, resulting in a final piece that was not up to standard.


For me, the biggest issue with this project was time: things came up, I worked longer hours, other classes required extra work and, most importantly, I am horrible with time management. This is largely due to my overambitious scheduling: overestimating my available time and underestimating how long things would take me. I was too relaxed during the creation of the documentation, meaning that it took longer than it should thus leaving me with less time for production.

Incomplete Final Piece

My scheduling issues resulted in me being unable to finish of all the assets. As shown in my work breakdown structure below, the assets marked in red were incomplete or unfinished:

WBSMore critically, the final product is not what I envisioned: it is far blander and empty. I wanted it to feel overgrown and heavy with plants, vines and trees. In particular, I really wanted to experiment with modelling some surreal trees but, again, I ran out of time to do so.

To me, the biggest failure was the path. I had wanted it to look as it had originally in my concept:

new conceptUnfortunately, the final path is extremely plain compared to this one. It lacks depth, the root system and surface details, like trees and rocks. Instead it is boring, ugly and out of place. Overall, I am quite disappointed with my work on this project and will try to push myself for the next project.


This project was the longest solo project I have worked on for university. It was quite an interesting experience and I have learnt a great deal that I hope to carry over into future projects. I have also discovered several issues that I hope to improve upon.

For future projects I will definitely be doing the following:

  • Conducting research into the workflow, pipelines, style and design
  • Creating comprehensive documentation
  • Using an effective file structure and technical framework

However, to ensure that future projects do not fail as badly as this one, I will need to improve my scheduling. I can do this by:

  • Creating the documentation more efficiently (this should be quicker the second time around)
  • Accounting for potentially unavailable time: I can do this by leaving in some buffer time
  • Overestimating how long things will take (Chris suggested doubling my estimate)

With these aspects in mind, I will be aiming to improve my production during the next project.


The Word Builders Project was extremely interesting and fun to work on. To me, the most enjoyable part of it was actually researching and deciding on the look and feel of the piece when I was putting together the Art Bible. I probably spent too long on it as I didn’t want to put it down but rather wanted to keep tinkering. This may have contributed to me falling behind in production but, if anything, the comprehensive documentation actually helped me a lot. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances meant I had much less time during the production than I expected resulting in a lackluster final piece. I am quite disappointed with myself, as there is not much I would want to use from this project in my showreel. However, with the work I have put into it, I will definitely be coming back to it with the goal to create what I originally envisioned.


Deep Secret: Improved Concept

Taking the feedback from the gallery walk on board, I created a new concept that was a paint over of a 3D mock-up which helped me enormously with the perspective.

new concept

This is still pretty rough as my final scene should be much more overgrown, particularly where the towers connect to the path.

Deep Secret: Development Work for the Path

One of the biggest piece of feedback I got from my initial concepts was that the path was unclear in how it was structured and seemed completely disconnected to the rest of the scene. With this in mind, I created a couple of concepts which explored different styles for the path that would make it seem more plausible:


The initial concept was just a exploration of my original idea of the path: a grassy garden path that literally just hangs in the air. This concept is the least interesting and also the least plausible.


The second concept is based on suggestions that the path could be connected to rocky outcrops or floating rocks. I really like the image of a garden path atop floating rocks.


My third concept was based on a suggestion that the path could be made from tangled roots. I really like this idea and tried to explore how the trees might hold the path together. I feel that this concept works the best as it has a very surreal tone to it and the trees can be used to add variety to the scene and to break up the path a bit.

These concepts were also displayed at the gallery walk. While the feedback was mostly positive towards the rocky and root path concepts I was also advised that the top of the path was too plain and boring – that I could break it up with rocks and foliage.

Deep Secret: Initial Concepts

For the Deep Secret world builders project I created some initial concepts. Below is my first attempt at a ‘photo-bash’ concept for this project.


While this does kind of show the positioning of the props within the scene it is also very confusing. The photos I chose were from differing (and incorrect) perspectives which makes this concept very unclear.

To remedy this, I quickly coloured one of my thumbnails in the hope of making something more usable.


Again this does not display the correct perspective and gives no information about the details of path or the towers. So again, this was an entirely unusable concept.

I presented both of these concepts at the gallery walk and got a good amount of feedback on how to improve: in particular, I was told to focus on the perspective and give more detail to the path. While it was nerve-wracking to display concepts which I knew were ineffective, it was still a good experience and I have learnt a lot from it.

Deep Secret: 3D Mockup

To help block out my idea I mocked up some 3D models of the three towers and positioned them in varying positions to create some 3D thumbnails.


Deep Secret: Initial thumbnails

For the world builder project I am creating an environment for the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. My plan is to create this environment in 3D in the Unreal engine. The environment is in the land of Babylon – a mystical and hidden place – where a swaying garden path climbs upwards among st three tall towers. The hanging garden is high up in the air and the towers are each very distinct: one like a rook, one like a pagoda and one like a pyramid.

Below are my initial (and very rough) thumbnails: