Places of the Mind Retrospective
My piece this week is absolutely unfinished, as I focused more on completing small proof-of-concept elements along the entire pipeline when it became clear that the time limit wouldn’t allow for more than that (depth rather than breadth). Still, I do like the way it is going and would like to update it when I have more time. The first thing I’d adjust is the Kuwahara filter: working on it was a good introduction to UE4 and, with the basic state that my cottage is in, it did add to the overall effect. However, it really didn’t have the distinct brushstrokes I was hoping for in a painterly filter, and tended to overly blur the model, obfuscating the few details I did manage to include. With that, the house remains entirely primitives and is missing all of the woodgrain/stippling elements in the sculpt that exist in the original concept art. I also only hand-painted the ground and ‘automated’ the rest with materials in Substance Painter; I think it could be vastly improved by fully custom-painted textures. Finally, the concept building has exaggerated perspective and wonky angles to the roof and walls which I would like to match in my sculpt once the rest of the elements are finalized.
This week was rough in terms of the workload that I chose to give myself. Essentially, I took on learning three brand new programs (Maya’s UV mode, Substance Painter, and Unreal Engine) as I took my piece through the basics of the entire game-ready pipeline. I am pleased to finally feel like I have an overview of the entire process; this week de-mystified a lot of unfamiliar elements for me and I’m less intimidated by the idea of creating a full game character. That said, while I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I had anything to show with how many stumbling blocks I ran into, this is certainly a lesson in setting reasonable goals with such a quick turnaround.
One of my biggest issues at the moment is a tendency to settle on what a finished product looks like and refuse to compromise on that vision. I had grand plans to create a painterly filter over a beautifully painted, stylized house, despite never touching several of the primary pieces of software, nor ever practicing any architecture. I’m also very determined to have a polished piece to show off each week, despite the fact that the ‘showcasing’ stage is approximately 30% of the overall work; this week, it was creating choreographed fly-cam video in Unreal as well as high-res, post-processed screenshots. I’m trying to break out of that notion and accept that these weekly projects should be rapid-fire practice sculpts.
I also had a chance to revisit programming, my original degree discipline, in working on the Kuwahara post-processing shader. This clarified a few things for me. For one, it validated my choice to switch careers, as I found I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about programming as I am about sculpting/painting. I don’t intend to pursue much more shader programming, but as someone who feels quite out of my depth amongst other practiced artists, I’m glad to discover previous expertise that I can apply to my work (anything to feel like I’m ‘catching up’ to all my amazingly skilled classmates!). Next week, I intend to start exploring Marvelous Designer, where hopefully my sewing background will be an asset…and I’ll attempt to be happy with in-program screenshots to show off my work instead of full renders.
Cottagecore & Covid-19 Escapism
It’s no coincidence that my first thought upon hearing the prompt ‘Places of the Mind’ was to go to my ‘happy place’, the antithesis of the stress of starting a new course and moving overseas. For me, that’s imagining a cottage in a meadow, away from society and technology. Beyond that, I’ve been particularly influenced by a major aesthetic trend recently: ‘cottagecore’, which came into particular popularity during the pandemic and represents many people’s desire to escape to an isolated, safe, simpler time.
Like most trends, cottagecore can be interpreted in many ways, but it is essentially fashion, architecture, and lifestyle that involve a reconnection with nature and some nostalgia for the sugar-coated aspects of historical frontier living: picnics in meadows, farm animals, flowy summer dresses, home baking, and a lack of any real responsibility. Leah Dolan describes it in Vogue as a movement that “celebrates rural domesticity”. There are subreddits, Facebook groups, and Pinterest boards that embody this aesthetic. We’ve also seen the rise in popularity of charming, idyllic games like Stardew Valley, Valheim, and Animal Crossing in the past two years.
I recently discovered a large study on this phenomenon, focusing on the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a stylized village simulator game that was one of the most widely played during initial global lockdowns (Comerford, 2020). I’m clearly not alone in seeing the appeal: it provides a sense of community, roleplaying, routine, and small-scale accomplishments with very few punishing elements. Visually, it’s colorful and aesthetically pleasing, with stylized artwork that evokes childhood cartoons. This is something that I was keen to explore in my sculpt this week. While I usually tend stylistically towards realism, I shy away from dark/horror/upsetting genres, preferring to keep my artwork an expression of fantastical ideals.
Comerford, C. (2021). Coconuts, Custom-Play & COVID-19: Social Isolation, Serious Leisure and Personas in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Persona Studies. [Online] 6(2), pp.101-117. Available at: https://doi.org/10.21153/psj2020vol6no2art970 [Accessed: 11 October 2021].
Dolan, L. (2020). Trust Us, The Pastoral Fantasies Of Cottagecore Are The Perfect Antidote To Quarantine Blues. [Online]. British Vogue. Available at: https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/what-is-cottagecore-trend [Accessed: 17 October 2021].