Mingyuan Zhang, Afif Darwisy, Vlado Vragovski and Ain Farah Amira
Our class have been given the opportunity to work on a collaboration project with the students from MMU (Multimedia University of Malaysia. Our brief’s theme for DMCC in 2018 is Digital Storytelling – City. Teams comprising of 4 students per group. Two students from RMIT and two students from MMU. We had to produce a creative digital media piece utilising the skills of all team members. Our group consisted of a sound designer, 3D developer, visual designer and a video editor. We believed that our group had all the skills needed to create a project. Once we made our groups we had made a decision to create a 3D Virtual Reality/Soundscape project.
The idea came by discussing our everyday lives both in Australia and Malaysia and we all felt the same way by feeling alone in these big cities. Hence why we named our project ‘ALONE’. We all felt different levels of loneliness in our everyday lives. People who chose to live in the city tend to be more individualists than social butterflies. People in the city rarely interact with other people around them and we all have noticed their faces are always looking at their phones. In our contemporary society people often don’t look around and realise what’s around them. Our piece of Audiovisual art takes you on a journey through a post apocalyptic scape while subverting common expectations of destruction through nature. We are aiming so that the viewers are to rethink their life style after seeing this installation. Are they too addicted to fragmented entertainment and are they ignoring their surroundings.
The viewers are wearing VR headset to immerse themselves in a 3D city constructed in Unity. The viewers are the main character our story. Our main character that we had designed was a female. The story starts as a girl just finished from work. She is going to catch up with her old friends in a restaurant. When she’s walking in the street, she suddenly realise that things are changing through time. The city is getting older and she’s starting to realise that the city is so empty. Once she reaches her destination which is the restaurant she realises that she feels so alone and no one is there. After a few seconds people tend to show up looking at their phones. This is explaining our main point of the story, which is that we are not alone, we just feel alone in this anti social society.
In creating this VR experience we believed it would work best for telling our story. Accompanied by a 3D soundscape. By building a 3D soundscape it would make you feel like you are actually in the city and you could feel the emptiness around you. We decided that this would work best. The way to best create our VR futuristic cyber city was to create all the 3D objects and most of the coding in unity. As for the sound create everything in Ableton then do all the mixing and mastering in Pro Tools or Reaper. Once the sound was exported we then put it in unity. Sound mainly consisted of ambient atmospheric sounds with a spoken narrative. We didn’t need that much equipment to create this project on the VR headset, headphones and a decent computer to create all the works. Thankfully MMU provided us with an Oculus Rift DK2, headphones and a ZOOM recorder to help us with our project.
Ming from RMIT was assigned with the role of being the 3D visual developer. This was a major role and happened to be a lot of work. She needed to basically create the 3D city alongside our visual designer Afif (student from MMU). While Afif was working on the city designs, Ming had the gruelling part of developing all the work. She basically did the whole walk through timeline and also linking everything to the oculus rift. Which later on we encountered many stressful issues. Programs she had to use to create the VR digital world was Unity and cinema 4D.
Afif was our visual designer and he had the role of helping Ming design and finalise the cyberpunk city. He did his designing using adobe software such as illustrator and photoshop. He also helped out in creating the artwork posters for our project.
Vlado from RMIT was in charge of the soundscape. This was another major role. Sound plays a very important role in film and other visual works. It can work in very subtle ways. Though it sometimes goes unnoticed, sound design is crucial to the audience’s experience and can play a huge role in determining how the story is developed. Sound also can change the viewers emotions and we needed the viewer to feel scared and alone. Sound along with the visual design helped make this happen.
Ira from MMU was our groups video editor. She basically created a video of the walk though for our city which worked well in the exhibition so other people can view what the city looked like without having to wear the VR goggles. Seeing as we only used one pair of goggles for our exhibition. People could get a rough idea on what journey they were about to embark on.
Having such a diverse group helped a lot because we all had our specialised skills and brought them together to create this project.
For the visual style of the scene, instead of modernist realism, we set the story in a future city with cyberpunk features. We are taking inspirations from the movie Blade Runner. We decided to use the colours green, blue and purple as main colour scheme for the buildings’ textures. This created the futuristic cyber punk feel. In the narration, there was a part in the narration that says “the city is getting so old”. Most of the futurist cities we saw in the movies and digital paintings are hight-tech, well-cleaned and well-polished. Also the narration quotes “Our city used to have a lot of people live in it. Where did everybody go?”. This now gives off the visual as abrasion and abandonment. To create the sense of abrasion and abandonment, we turned the grain up in post-processing stack. The scenes consist of low-key lighting from our direction light. The streets are filled with street lights. With the user wearing the VR goggles going through a straight line in the timeline seemed a little boring so we created few blocks for the viewers to follow a designated route. As for the sound we came to a conclusion to use a lot of dark low frequency sounds to make the user feel alone and scared. Examples of sounds used in our project consist of thunder which is used to make the user feel uneasy, some tech glitches to represent that the city is futuristic, low frequency pads that create the emotion of dark and gloomy and also we had decided to put some musical melodic elements so the sound could take you on somewhat of a journey. Our narration was spoken by Winnie which is a girl from RMIT that was in another group. We believed she sounded sweet and innocent and would work really well with telling our story.
We faced a humongous amount of challenges while creating this project. There was a collection of complications we had faced that we weren’t expecting. With the sound part Vlado couldn’t create the 3D soundscape he wanted. With the resources available he didn’t have enough equipment ie. Speakers, to create the surround sound. 3D sound was the main idea for this project but as we learned it was quite difficult to create 5.1 sound with 2.1 sound speakers or headphones. A way he tried working around that was the use of panning of the sound. He thought it could be a great idea to pan sounds from left to right to create a sense of movement but once we put it through unity it totally screwed everything. As unity supports 360° sound for VR every time you looked the opposite direction it jumbled the sounds and also cut sounds out due to the panning. This was a crisis, as we figured out on the day of the exhibition. The best way to fix this for the future is to get in the music studio in RMIT and use the facilities and resources to create this 5.1 sound. That way we could dispose of the panning and the sound could work so much better when looking around in VR.
On the virtual side of things for better performance we had planned to use the Oculus Rift DK2 given to us by MMU instead of using google cardboard to view our project. When we doing our first user testing, the Oculus rift did not work. It was not accommodating with any Mac IOS systems or PC and even Unity. All we could view is the desktop of extended screen from the laptop. When we entered the play mode in Unity, turning the headset around did not turn the game camera around. According to Unity console window. The plug-ins can not be loaded and Oculus Rift could not be activated. We tried to play the project on other laptops and came to an conclusion that it just didn’t want to work. Even using Windows it came up with the same outcome and we could only preview the extended window. We have to give up on Oculus Rift and exported the project to the phone instead.while configuring the project to the mobile phone we had realised that it limited the performance. Post-processing stack, massive buildings in the scene and significant amount of street lights were dragging and the scene was very slow and laggy. There was a building that had too many polygons in it which was the main reason for the time lag of the scene. We have to turn most of our cities street lamps off and delete most of the buildings to ensure a smooth experience. We also had to change the colours of the buildings to create this smooth experience. This was quite hurtful because we had spent a great deal of time designing the infrastructures. Thankfully, with help of Jolly’s merge VR headset, we then changed everything so we could export as a Google cardboard so we could view it on the Merge VR headset. The export went well and worked smoothly after we optimised it. Other issues we had was time. Given the time factor we couldn’t complete the final shop or great models of people holding there phones so we had to cut out the peoples shapes to create the feeling that there were people in the final scene of our story. They ended up looking like ghosts.
With only given 2 weeks to complete this project we finally had something to show for the exhibition. Even though we were not happy with the final output we think we did really well with the set time and resources that were handed to us. We had changed the colour scheme due to the post processing so the colours did not go according to plan. Overall we we had something to show at least. On exhibition day we took the top level in the E-gallery to show our work. We used Jolly’s Merge VR headset and MMU’s headphones to showcase our work. There was also a projector showing a video that Ira had created on how it looked while viewing the work on the headset. We got some great feedback from the mentors and MMU’s faculty. They told us on what to work on when we came back to Melbourne. We definitely will take their opinions in mind when working on this project in the future.
In conclusion we have a great idea and foundation. Now that we are back in Melbourne we have another 6 weeks to complete this project. In this time we will work on 360° sound and design our virtual world to our hearts content. We will definitely not be outputting our work to google cardboard but try different types of VR headsets. This way the performance will be greater and in smoother detail and post processing won’t be a hassle since we don’t have to run our project from a mobile device. We will have better models of the people on their phones and we can add more ingenious ways to make this city look amazing.