The Blacksmith FAQ & Unity’s Demo Team
Since showing our short film The Blacksmith at GDC 2015 in March, we’ve received many questions from our community. Here we introduce the team that created the demo, and answer some of the most common inquiries they get from our users. And that’s just the start. Over the coming days and weeks we’ll publish more blog posts on every element of The Blacksmith’s production.
Inside Unity’s Demo team
Our Stockholm-based Demo team is a small and rather autonomous unit within Unity’s R&D department. We use Unity for production, and we aim to create our content alongside development of the next Unity versions. This makes us the first users of certain new features and systems.
Although working with early alpha or even pre-alpha versions of the engine might not be very efficient production-wise, we think it is very useful to do it, because early usage exposes potential issues and gives time for the intended workflows to mature.
Usually, we cannot have perfect alignment, because every production has its unique needs and challenges. In these cases we have to prototype our own solutions to the specific problems we meet. Eventually, when it makes sense, we hand over our prototypes to the main R&D team for proper implementation in Unity. For instance, the first prototype for Physically Based Shading in Unity was done for the Butterfly Effect demo; a project which made the need for such a shading system very apparent.“The Butterfly Effect” (2012)
Our previous demos
Once work started on developing Physically Based Shading in the Unity engine, our team produced several demos of gradually increasing complexity, which were intended to contribute to the more robust implementation of the PBS.
We started as small as possible, with the Doll demo; a single object designed to combine a variety of materials and provide an early test case for the new shading system.
We built on it with the Teleporter, a huge object which is animated and put in an environment, meaning image-based lighting and reflection probes also come into play.
We did some side-quests to explore specific shading cases – skin, car paint – and then continued with the development of Viking Village: an actual game-ready environment where we touched on many neighbouring systems that the PBS interacted with. We released this project and shared some production techniques in this blogpost.
In Viking Village, we worked a lot with the new lighting system while it, too, was still very much under active development. We took the opportunity to explore how content authoring based on scanned textures would work in Unity. We believe that the role of scanning in content creation is about to expand a great deal in the future, because of its potential to reduce production costs while at the same time raising the quality immensely in the cases where visual realism is the goal.
The next obvious step on this path of gradually increasing complexity was to make a project where we work with a character, and this ended up being our short film The Blacksmith. Besides enhancing the work on PBS, this project was also designed to provide early feedback for a storytelling toolset which is currently in development.
The people behind The Blacksmith short film
Veselin Efremov has 14 years of experience as an artist and art director in the game development industry. He was previously at Scattered/DeNA, Crytek and Black Sea Studios. Having built and led art teams of various sizes, and himself taken on different artistic roles through his career, he joined Unity for a creative and artistic experiment. That experiment resulted in The Blacksmith real-time short film. Veselin is passionate about researching and applying efficient pipelines for the production of high quality art. He lives in Stockholm.
Torbjorn Laedre has spent a great many years wrangling code for a bunch of well-known AAA engines and games. He’s held several lead and principal roles in projects across DICE, Ubisoft and EA, and in later years even managed to ship a couple of games built on Unity. These days, his code check-ins are mostly delivered by carrier pigeons from somewhere deep in the Swedish wilderness.
Damien Simper has a background in film, TV and games. Having started his career in animation with Walt Disney Studios in Australia, later he moved toward video game content, and spent several years as Lead Animator and Director for Game Cinematics at Plastic Wax Australia. Nowadays he lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with his family, where he worked for several years as a Lead at IO Interactive, before finally joining Unity.
Team locations and nationalities
The team behind The Blacksmith has never gathered in the same place. In fact, Torbjorn and Damien have never met at all. And Torbjorn and Veselin didn’t meet during The Blacksmith’s production; the first time they got to talk about the demo in person was on the airplane as they headed towards GDC, when we were about to ship. The two had met two or three times before work started on The Blacksmith; they shipped two games on Unity at their previous company, also working remotely.
At the moment, there are two more people who recently joined us. Counting in the producer as well, this makes the current team consisting of six people located across four cities – Umeå, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Vilnius – and they represent five nationalities; namely Norwegian, Bulgarian, Australian, Polish, and Lithuanian.
Additionally, the team working on the storytelling toolset in Unity was also instrumental in this production. They are in Montreal. And the composer of the music is an American from Swedish descent living in Paris.
At the time of writing this post the PBS and new lighting system in Unity 5 are a fact, and are being used by many developers already. The storytelling toolset continues to evolve and will need some dogfooding again. The need for high quality post effects to match the improved shading and lighting in Unity is now taken very seriously, and we’ll continue to be at the forefront as early users, providing the content production environment that is needed from the very start of a feature design and throughout the whole cycle of its development and implementation in Unity.
We are passionate about researching and implementing smart content production tricks that will improve quality while keeping the costs down. We believe that high-end content creation should rely on the combination of artistic talent and smart technological pipelines, rather than on brute force and crunch.
We’re also happy to answer questions from our community. For that reason, here we’ve compiled an FAQ to share responses to the most commonly asked questions about The Blacksmith from Unity users. If you have more questions, please ask us in the Comments. We will do our best to answer them in the coming weeks.
The Blacksmith FAQ
What machine specs does The Blacksmith demo run on?
The short film runs at 30 FPS in full-HD – so 1920×1080 – on a desktop PC. We use a Core i7 4770 with a GeForce GTX 760 as a standard for showing it. The Blacksmith also runs at the same framerate on a laptop – for example, a recent MacBook Pro – at 720p.
But to be on the safe side, we used GTX 980 for the first public showing at GDC, as that machine also had to run other demos.
Video and audio were both output directly from Unity to the final MPEG compressed movie, which you can see on YouTube.
What Unity version did you use to create The Blacksmith?
We used builds based on the official alpha- and beta-versions of Unity 5, plus a sequencing tool developed internally .
The visual aspect of the project, including the shading, lighting, post effects and everything related to rendering, is based exactly on Unity 5 as it shipped. We wanted to make sure that the looks of the demo are truly representative of what can be done with the engine we ship to our users.
As an R&D team within Unity, it made sense for us to also use the production of The Blacksmith for early usability testing and feedback on a sequencing tool. That tool is being developed by our engineering team in Montreal as a part of a larger storytelling toolset currently in R&D phase. If we were not a part of Unity, we would have used an Asset Store package such as uSequencer or Cinema Director to deal with the storytelling aspects of the project, such as aligning cameras, animations and VFX on a timeline.
What was the structure of the production team?
A core team consisting of the three people mentioned above worked directly in Unity on The Blacksmith. We felt that the combination of one artist – who also wrote and directed the film – an animator, and a programmer, is a well-rounded production unit.
A producer supported the team from the organizational side, while simultaneously being responsible for other projects.
Each of our three hands-on team members had ownership of their own area of expertise, be it art, animation or code, and worked on everything related to that within the same Unity scene.
We contracted some external help, which happened outside of Unity, such as concept art, 3D art, motion capture and music. Contracted work was submitted to the respective team member – either the artist or the animator – who would then implement it into the Unity project.
How did the team extend Unity, and what custom tools did you build?
We wanted to achieve the best visual quality that Unity can give us, within the limitation of our resources, meaning one programmer. He managed to harness Unity’s extendability to develop specific shaders and tools to better meet the Art Director’s ambitions for the project. Here are the Editor enhancements and shaders, which he built::
- A hair shader
- Unique character shadows
- Wrinkle maps
- Plane reflections
- Atmospheric scattering
- Normals-based mixing of two materials
- Paint vegetation anywhere
- Soft-vegetation rendering
- Tonemap and color grading
- Motion blur
- Video- and hi-res screenshot-capture
- A scene manager
Why would you build those as extensions, rather than create them as new features to be included with Unity as standard?
At Unity’s Demo team, one of our most important roles is to ‘eat our own dogfood’, and in order to be effective in this, we try to emulate, in some ways, what a typical small-scale production team would do. We use out-of-the-box features which are relevant to our project, and we also build our custom, project-specific stuff on top, just as the majority of Unity users do.
Also, adding a feature to Unity would require more resources and take more time, because then the feature would need to cover a large number of use cases which are not present in our project, and have almost universal applicability across game genres, platforms, artistic styles and so on.
Where can I learn more about The Blacksmith and its production?
There are several blog posts scheduled to appear over the coming days looking at every element of creating The Blacksmith. We’ll link to them from the dedicated page about The Blacksmith.
Are you going to release it?
The standalone, executable version of the short film will be released publicly.
Some of the post-effects developed as extensions are now being properly developed to go into Unity. For example, tonemapping, color grading, motion blur. This work is already in progress.
We are preparing the rest of the assets and extensions for release in separate packages, which we’ll put on the Asset Store for you to use.