Director and CG Artist Federico Moreno Breser has told us about his WIP adventure game Bogdan's Cross, explaining how the game is being developed using a combination of Unreal Engine and Quill, and shared some advice for Indie Developers willing to get started with Unreal.
I'm Federico Moreno Breser, and I've been a Director and CG Artist in the industry for nearly 17 years. Currently, I'm the VFX Supervisor for the Real-Time division at Reel FX Montreal, where I'm fortunate to be part of exciting projects, such as Super Giant Brother Robots, which premiered on Netflix last year.
Before joining Reel FX, I ran Mcfly Studio, my animation studio based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During this time, I had the privilege to collaborate with clients such as Netflix, Legendary Pictures, Fox, Ford, Unicef, and many more. Over the course of more than a decade, I've been involved in a diverse range of projects, wearing various hats and gaining invaluable experiences. I was also heavily involved in the creation and direction of projects such as:
- El Paraiso (2022), Co-Director and Production Designer. Epic Mega Grant recipient.
- Rebels (2021), Creator and Director in partnership with Oculus/Meta world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.
- Tierra de Rufianes (2016), Creator and Director. Winner of Best Animated Series at Expotoons International Animation Festival.
Getting Started With Unreal Engine
Back in 2019, I stumbled upon Unreal Engine, and let me tell you, it was like a lifesaver! I was knee-deep in a music video project for a client. We'd filmed it using a miniature rocky mountain set, but the footage turned out... Well, not great. So, what did I do? I dove into Unreal Engine, tapped into its 3D library, and within no time, I'd replaced the entire footage. That was the moment I knew UE was destined to become an essential part of my workflow.
As for Quill, I dabbled in it about five years ago. I'd just gotten an Oculus Rift, and with a newborn keeping me up all night, I turned to creative apps like Gravity Sketch, AnimVR, TiltBrush, and, of course, Quill. I'd stare at Quill's empty canvas during those sleepless nights and just experiment with the tools. It's funny because back then, I was inspired by artists like Goro Fujita and Martin Peixe. They were sharing their incredible Quill works, so I thought, "Why not give it a shot?" After a couple of months of sketching and sharing my creations in a Facebook group, Goro reached out. He invited me to fly to Oculus HQ in SF for a one-on-one workshop and to collaborate on a VR short film.
Over the years, I've given various talks, classes, and online workshops about Quill. Every time I introduce this tool to an artist, I see their minds get blown, just like mine did years ago.
It's not just about the software; it's the technology behind it. To me, Quill is like a gateway to creative freedom. I can express myself and bring my visions to life in a 3D space without the usual technical roadblocks. I come from the traditional CG industry, where you have to master multiple software and processes to realize your vision. As a storyteller, this was always limiting. You had all these tools at your fingertips, but mastering them all took forever. Sculpting, polycounts, UV, shaders, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering – the list goes on.
Quill removes those barriers and lets you focus purely on the artistic and creative side. It's true; Quill's toolkit is tiny compared to other software, but that's what forces artists to become problem solvers. You find unique ways to work around limitations and develop a workflow that brings your vision to life.
One cool thing to note is that while Quill is VR software, you don't have to limit yourself to VR projects. In my case, Quill, paired with Unreal Engine, forms the core of my workflow for nearly all my non-VR projects.
What's truly amazing is the VR creative experience it offers. We're harnessing cutting-edge tech, yet the process feels oddly close to traditional art. It's more organic, more intuitive, and this translates into speed and efficiency. Complex technical tasks that might slow you down in other software become a breeze in Quill.
I practically live in this tool – I use it almost every day. I handle look development and previsualization right in Quill, and then I take everything to UE to add lighting, atmosphere, and that cinematic touch. This holds true for projects of all types and styles. If the style aligns with the project's vision, I even create assets entirely within Quill before fine-tuning them in Unreal Engine. A prime example is Bogdan's Cross, the game I'm solo-developing.
Bogdan's Cross: Combining Unreal Engine & VR
Looking back, it seems like a very natural progression, given my current workflow. Creating a game, especially on my own, is an enormous task. But for me, it became an achievable dream thanks to Quill and Unreal Engine.
Venturing into the indie game development scene, even temporarily, like in my case, can be quite intimidating and demanding. Yet, despite the steep learning curve and the endless avenues to explore, I feel confident in my abilities. Drawing from my background in animation and storytelling, I've found a unique approach.
Using Quill VR has become second nature for me. It allows me to quickly sketch out ideas and experiment with different concepts without a significant time or resource investment. Since I chose a visual style that aligns with what I can smoothly achieve in Quill, asset creation flows seamlessly. Characters, props, environments – they all originate in Quill and then make their way into the engine.
As for animation, I've taken a hybrid approach. I've employed a mocap library to craft my character's locomotion and supplemented it with keyframe animations for special moves and NPC actions.
Ultimately, my goal is to create a game that people enjoy playing. But it's more than that. It's about setting an example for storytellers who might be apprehensive about stepping into the world of game development. I've never made a game before, and I'm no expert in coding or programming. Yet, I've harnessed the potential of these remarkable tools and learned how to implement game mechanics through Blueprints.
I work with a streamlined toolkit. My process typically starts with creating a production schedule and to-do list in the Notion app. Gathering references is a crucial step for me, and I invest a significant amount of time in it. Once I've curated the references I need, I use PureRef to build a comprehensive mood board.
On occasion, I turn to Mixamo for quick LookDev and character tests. I import an FBX version of the modeled character and use the auto-rig function to test some available mocap data. While it may be somewhat basic, it works brilliantly for pre-visualization.
Apart from Quill and Unreal Engine, two other software tools I frequently use are Blender and Adobe After Effects. Blender comes in handy for tasks like model clean-up, UV mapping, and physics simulations. For compositing, I still rely on Adobe After Effects since I am an early adopter from the time I had my own studio.
Unreal+Quill Combo in Character Production
The workflow can vary depending on the project, but in most cases, I start by creating a quick character diorama in Quill. Here, I play with the character's volume, design, and pose to convey their attitude, all while placing them in a context with relevant elements. Once I'm satisfied, I prepare a T-pose version of the character and send it either to Mixamo or Blender for a swift auto-rigging process. In Mixamo, I'll browse through the different mocap libraries and test quickly how the character reacts and performs. In the case of using Blender, I'll run an auto rig tool and then follow the typical keyframe animation process of Block/Spline.
Early in the production, it's crucial to understand the final look and style of your project. This decision impacts how you sculpt the character in Quill and create shaders/materials in the engine since when you are working with unlit flat shaders there is a lot of forgiveness in how you sculpt your meshes, but in case you want to aim for something more CG, less flat more volume, then you need to take some considerations upfront when painting in Quill if you want to avoid some weird shadows or messy polygons on your models.
Once the final character is in the engine, along with its animations, I create a blueprint version of it. This blueprint serves as a vessel, and I enhance the character by incorporating props and visual effects elements. This workflow enables continuous iteration of the character, allowing me to combine various approaches seamlessly.
In terms of animation and VFX, Quill excels at creating gestural, freehand, organic animations like particles, transitions, aggressive character deformations, or smears. I use techniques such as Animbrush or other brush methods in Quill for these purposes. Combining the strengths of Quill and UE in a hybrid approach yields the best results when aiming for a stylized and unique outcome.
Importing Quill Assets to Unreal
I must say, Unreal Engine is impressively flexible, and I haven't encountered many challenges or roadblocks within this workflow. My primary tools of choice are FBX and Alembic Cache, which serve me well. However, there's room for improvement, particularly in Quill's Import and Export features. Especially when dealing with substantial projects demanding scalability, enhanced capabilities in this area would be greatly beneficial. Thankfully, Unreal Engine is well-equipped to handle such demands.
Unreal Engine is a fantastic choice, especially if you're taking your first steps into game development. The engine, along with its extensive ecosystem of training resources and library assets, equips you with everything you need to get started. Personally, I opted not to utilize the UE Marketplace assets because I wanted my game to have a visually unique feel. Reusing library assets could have limited my ability to bring my distinct vision to life. However, I want to emphasize that there's absolutely nothing wrong with using marketplace assets. It's not about whether you create everything from scratch or use existing assets; it's about the story you want to tell and how you choose to tell it.
For me, the training resources, community forums, and game development content creators have been invaluable learning tools. They've helped me overcome various challenges and obstacles on my game development journey.
Advice for Beginners
If you're just starting on this journey, here's a valuable tip – don't be hesitant when it comes to choosing an engine. When I began, I already had experience with Unreal Engine due to my work in the animation and advertising industry, so it was a natural choice. However, some people tend to lean towards Unity or simpler game creation tools because there's a misconception that Unreal Engine is exclusively for AAA games. While it's certainly capable of handling such games, it's also incredibly user-friendly and well-suited for smaller indie projects. In fact, there's a rich portfolio of beautifully crafted indie games developed in Unreal Engine, and I hope that Bogdan's Cross will join that esteemed selection.
One of the aspects I find most enjoyable about Unreal Engine is its cinematic features, especially when it comes to cameras. For example, when approaching cinematic sequences, I use virtual cameras, these allow me to inject a personal touch into my game through unique camera movements. The real-time lighting is another game-changer. Being able to see your sets and characters react to dynamic lighting opens up endless creative possibilities. I've stumbled upon many "happy accidents" while experimenting with different lighting setups and atmospheric effects – experiences that would be impossible in a more conventional workflow.
Furthermore, the Post-Process Volume tool is an invaluable asset for the real-time refinement of your creative vision. It allows for seamless adjustment of both gameplay and cinematic visuals, eliminating the necessity for external compositing tools.
Lastly, but exceptionally significant, the ability to utilize blueprints as a visual scripting method is a game-changer for artists like me, where coding and programming can feel as distant as the moon. It's an incredible sensation to plug in a few nodes and provide your character with controllable functions. You can grab your gamepad and start moving your character around, making it the closest thing to breathing life directly into your creative visions!