Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Yegor Smirnov uploaded a video tutorial on using TensionMap v0.1 python add-on for Blender that lets you create dynamic wrinkles and various effects based on stretching and squeezing of the mesh. Some of you might have missed this magical tool, but it’s definitely worth giving a try.
Jean-Francois Gallant (also known as PyroEvil) released the script back in 2014. The purpose of this script is to track and show the edges stretch/squeeze of a mesh deformation.
You can use it for many things but the most used case is for facial expression.
The edge stretch/squeeze is wrote on two vertex_groups call “tm_stretch” and “tm_squeeze” to be used on a displace modifiers or any others modifiers accept vertex_groups. It’s also wrote on a vertex_color call “tm_tension” (where red is stretch and green is squeeze edge ) to be used in your shader tree ( to control any shader node).