Road to Echo: Classroom

Work In Progress / 09 September 2020

About 99% of the film takes place in one room: Echo's classroom. The design of it has changed quite a bit over the last year as I worked on logistics and how I wanted to add to the overall story. Much of the design and color stems from my personal experiences growing up and my school's colors at the time, but the classroom undergoes a transformation towards the end of the film to become something greater. Because of that, designing a "mundane but still contemporary" classroom was quite the challenge.


Originally, the classroom was going to be a long rectangle: 

I then took this very blocked out version and made a perspective concept piece to get a rough idea of items and placement. I'd used Echo's scale as a reference to try and keep everything in proportion.

With the story also changing drastically this past year, I merged the lunchroom and the classroom into one area, therefore my original idea of a square wasn't going to cut it with everything I wanted to put in there. So, I refactored my scene and expanded it, extending the initial rectangle, making the overall room larger to fit things like bookshelves and toys, and including a lunch and play room area towards the back. Some of the additions I made straight in 3D as it helps me think better to start blocking things out like a level designer would their levels or an environment artist their space. Some of this I posted over on twitter.


At this stage for this environment, the story could still change or adapt while deadlines remained the same, therefore I did much of the classroom modularly and kept certain things separate so that if I needed to, for example, extend a wall or rearrange a row of books, I could do so in Unreal without outright having to do anything crazy.

In order to maximize both my productivity and the models I would be making, I made a checklist of all of the items I would want in my classroom based off my research online as well as talking to teachers now that try to find ways to invigorate a space and prime it for learning. Here's just a screenshot of a portion of that list:

As you can see, I named each unique asset and the number of times it would be used in the scene, if I had reference for what they would look like, marked the priority it needed to be done in, and kept track of the progress as I worked on the entire scene. Making lists like these is perfect for whenever I work on massive projects like a short film or even in the professional setting. Environments and models can be made up of hundreds of individual models that all should meet a standard of quality.

Another thing I installed for myself during this stage of production was a deadline. With this being a personal project and one that I am not reporting to anyone about, I needed a way to keep myself accountable as well as have an end in site. I gave myself one month for the full process with the intention of adding and tweaking once I had something up on its legs. I find this to be the best approach because a lot of artists have a hard time even starting if they don't think they can see the end. With this 1 month deadline set, I can focus on making assets and completing a list that, upon the end of the month, I can look back on and see what holes I need to fill or what textures I need to look back on as a whole.


The list I had initially made had a total of over 50 assets with multiple texture variations planned, but because many of them were smaller low priority assets, I gave myself a strict schedule of completing anywhere between 8-10 assets a day. again, that may sound like a lot, but aside from higher priority assets like the desk chairs or the teacher's reading chair, it was very achievable. The last 2 weeks of the month were then spent on textures and placement in a maya scene.

Instead of placing everything in Unreal as a final pass, I elected to place and design my scene in Maya, something that will be a continuous process and will not stop after this month is over. Once I had the majority of assets placed or the boxed versions of the assets replaced with the final assets, I imported the scene into Unreal and started playing with what I could do with lights just for fun. Lighting was not something I'd factored as part of this 1 month sprint, with that being said, however, playing around with throwing even random lights in there on where I was thinking of having light sources made me realize I needed more light as a whole, so more windows were added to the design. 


In total, I was able to get all of the models completed and in the process of being textured, though I did not get to all of them textured. But this brings back to what I said a little earlier: I can now keep going and start to look at the big picture as it takes shape and make adjustments as opposed to never having started at all. At this point, I want to switch gears to work on Echo's model and rig, therefore this will be put on pause for now and then picked back up later. I work best when I work on multiple projects and bring them up to speed so I can continuously see how each piece works and what I need to fix on one to make it make sense with the other.


This part of the project happened back in June, smack dab in the middle of COVID-19 when we were still under a strict quarantine. I've had a lot of friends deal with lack of motivation to make art in such a bleak world right now, which is 100% valid and something I myself was not immune to. I've been furloughed from my job as well, so where I would normally be going to work I no longer had been since April. These kinds of times are extremely unprecedented, and it is very normal to feel like it's a dark time. I definitely felt that, and there are times I still do. 

I'm not used to sitting still for so long, however. In a way, having this kind of structure was what helped me keep going. I could focus on something that wasn't the fact that the world was really bleak right now. I could turn my attention on a story I believed in. Towards the beginning of COVID-19, I struggled with the question of why make art right now in a time where everyone is collectively dealing with a massive pandemic, but the truth of the matter is now is the time to remind ourselves about our ability to use art for good and for healing. I am fortunate to have an amazing support group in my friends and family who try to keep each others' hopes up and high. I even made some new friends over on social media because they was feeling the same way. So if you're dealing with similar feelings in quarantine or have had your life disrupted by the inability to leave the house, find your way back to what you love to do and don't be afraid to ask for help from those around you.