Reflection ♯7: Project “VR-Zen”

The last week project’s topic was “Virtual Reality-Zen”. The objective was to create a 3D environment where the spectator feel a sensation of relaxation, tranquillity and meditation through different simple elements, slow animations, light, colours and transitions that induce relaxation and themes related with Zen thematic.

We had an introduction to the Oculus head set, a new technologic device that allow the user to visualize and play within virtual environments with a total immersion. We also had examples of virtual reality beyond this type of device like the Hatsume Miku concerts, where the singer is a holographic projection of a anime cartoon.

As the topic cover so many possibilities, I started by doing a list of relaxing things that I could include in my project:

-Fish pond, crickets and slosh sounds.
-Sea scene.
-Slowly geometry movement.
-Rocks flying around and maybe colliding.
-Butterflies flying.
-Some structure deconstructing itself and constructing again.
-Clouds in movement.
-Aurora Borealis
-ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). This refers to a biological phenomenon caused by a series of sounds, like whispering or tapping the nails on a surface, that triggers and causes tingling and relaxing sensations that are felt only by a percentage of people, not everybody.

Finally, I decided to use geometric shapes that move and transform themselves slowly. I took geometric wood games, rubic’s cube and geometric origami references from Google Images for the dodecahedron and pyramid shape and movement. I also took the Tamara Kvesitadze’s “Man and Woman” moving sculpture as reference to make a cylinder made of different layers that join together to make new shapes and planetary spinners for a concentric circle figure.

Images gathered using Google Images:

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I did the modelling and animation of each piece on Maya, baked the animation and exported it to Unreal Engine. I did first all the process with the dodecahedron and I found an issue with the timeline playback on Maya, where the baked animation was slower than the previsualization playback. This was because as default Maya playback speed doesn’t come as “real-time” speed. I fixed the problem for this animation on unreal by speeding up the animation and setting it to “real-time” speed on Maya for the rest of animations.

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I decided to use a spaceship environment because I have always found the space very relaxing and it fitted very well with my slow, floating geometry figures. I modelled the spaceship room on Maya and looked for a tutorial on internet about how to change the sky sphere to a space full of stars and nebulas. I found and followed a very interesting tutorial  on FRAG Level Design Youtube channel that introduce to Spacescape (Alex Peterson), a free application that generates a good quality space skybox and how to use it on Unreal Engine.

I duplicated some models that were not big enough to fill an entire side of the room (like the dodecahedron or the cylinder). Nevertheless, I had some problems with the size and space of the room because the animated figures went through the ceiling or the floor in some parts of the animation. Therefore, I made some adjustments on the room’s height on Maya and re-imported them to Unreal Engine.

As I wanted that the figures cast shadows while they move, I put Spot Light lightning  on each figure from above and below of each one so they cast shadows on the floor and the ceiling. I also added some yellow illumination on each one of the corners to lit the room a bit more using the last week’s recommendation of using a multiplier node on an emissive material.

I wanted to use one material for each geometry shape like metals, plastic and glass. I wanted very shinny and reflective materials that interact with the light.  I took a look for first time to Substance (Allegorithmic) and took some default materials like plastic, aluminium and gold  from it and, as I didn’t find any option on Substance that allow me to create a transparent material I looked for a tutorial on Youtube to create one directly on Unreal with blueprints. I found one on MetalGameStudios Youtube channel but after complete the tutorial the material didn’t convince me because was too transparent and it did not look as I wanted. Therefore, I started to tweak the different nodes trying to adjust the transparency. Finally, I ended creating a holographic material from the tutorial’s original glass material which fitted perfectly with the scene theme. I applied it to the spinner and two of the three cylinders.

I finally figure out how to record properly with Matinee (Unreal Engine). The problem I had was that in the Play details of the Matinee Camera Actor I had to check the option “Play on Level Load” so the camera follows the path once the recording is launched instead of stay static. I made the post-production on Premiere (Adobe) and added the song “Rainstorms and Rainbows” by Jake Chudnow to the background because its relaxing electronic music reminded me the space and fitted perfectly in the scene.

This is the final result:


In my opinion, this project has redeemed me of the bad result I think I had in the light and shadow’s project. I liked the lighting and the cast shadows I have achieved in this one. As in the Light and Shadow project, I feel that I have learnt a lot (animation baking, unreal lightning, animation, materials and skybox and also substance). I still feel quite a bit lost with the Unreal’s blueprint system. On one hand, I am not a programmer and I don’t intend to be one in the future so I feel that knowing how to use it would not improve my design skills or models as a character artist. On the other hand, Unreal engine gives a great look to the models and would be very good to know how to use it for presentations. I will learn more about it in the future because is a programme required for this course and for games in general.


Love Anime (n.d.) Let’s Go… Shake It! Hatsune Miku Live Magical Mirai 2014 in Osaka [Online video]. Available from: < > [Accessed 02/11/2016].

Oculus (n.d.) [Online]. Available from: < > [Accessed 02/11/2016].

VIVETM United Kingdom | Discover Virtual Reality Beyond Imagination (n.d.) [Online]. Available from: < > [Accessed 02/11/2016].

FRAG Level Design (n.d.) Unreal Engine 4 Tutorial: Space Skybox Creation [Online video]. Available from: < > [Accessed 06/11/2016].

Alex Peterson | Spacescape (n.d.) [Online blog]. Available from: < > [Accessed 06/11/2016].

MetalGameStudios (n.d.) Unreal Engine 4 Tutorial: Glass Material (English) [Online video]. Available from: < > [Accessed 06/11/2016].

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