Film Noir Themed "Project Rain"


I'm in my final year of school and this will be the WIP of my thesis project. The requirement is to make a 1 minute animation, but I'm going to go a bit further by making an Unreal Engine 4 demo. Deadline for the animation is April 2014, will do some additional work after that.

Inspired by film noir/ classic Hollywood horror movies. Originally it was set in the 1920s but I decided to go more alternate world and have some 30s/40s influence in there as well.

Here's the premise:
A detective is assigned to a team investigating a group of missing persons cases. Soon that is not the only case to solve as monsters begin appearing around the city and crime is rapidly increasing, throwing the detective's life into chaos as she struggles to bring back the balance.

Hopefully I can make something exciting.

Edit on April 3rd, 2015: Here's some gameplay footage for this project I managed to pull together in 8 months. It was a nice experience to learn all aspects of production. For the remainder of the project I will polish the art. In the future I may return to this demo to develop a legit game, but before that I want to work with teams on other projects. Hope you guys like the potential.



  • visoutre
    art dump



    This is just a small amount of my inspirational material to get a feel for the theme I'm after.

    credit to for most of the environment textures. I'm just using them temporarily in the WIPs but I will make my own textures eventually since enviro texturing is one of the skills I need. But saved me so much time in the design phase, thanks!


  • visoutre
    some more WIP art



    I was so excited the first time I figured out how to make a skin shader, this was an early test from around August. I rendered a lot of my nicer WIP shots with Marmoset Toolbag 2 and some Zbrush, Maya Viewport 2.0 or UE4 depending on what it was.



    This secondary character was just designed in a weekend to test out a workflow for creating paintovers of 3D models using 3D lighting layers and masks. I explained a bit more over here
  • Auldbenkenobi
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    Auldbenkenobi polycounter lvl 6
    Wow. That looks insane!
  • visoutre
    Yeah it does seem insane, but I'm cutting corners where I can to keep everything under control.

    Here's the video I promised with some simple movement. Having trouble with apex cloth working for characters. I want a dress or a longer coat so she feels more detective/1920 woman. The Apex cloth to UE4 workflow is buggy though (collision messed, vertices displacing erywhere), so until then she'll be wearing leggings.

    [ame=" Noir Gameplay WIP - YouTube[/ame]

    This outfit is too much police officer and textures from Epic Games/Quixel, lots of fixes to do :)


    This just doesn't feel 1920s or detective enough to me, but it was easier to implement quickly. Maybe the monster hunting aspect can make it acceptable...

  • DWalker
    The mixture of languages on the posters is a bit odd - unless it's set in Quebec, I suppose. Pick the language appropriate to the country and use that throughout. Don't worry about the player/viewer being unable to read it; people have been trained to accept funny languages in movies for years now:
    Speaking of old movies, I'd recommend using the film style and aspect ratio of the period (1:1.375 Academy ratio (825x600) and a subtle grain on a black & white film.

    Her costume really isn't era-appropriate. There were very few female cops at the time, and none of them were armed patrol officers, and their uniform was always a long skirt.

    This isn't to say that there were no women of the time in pants; they just weren't uniformed officers with guns & badges.

    Kate Hepburn is probably the best example of an elegant woman from the period in slacks:

    In her t-pose, she seems to be wearing a bustle.
  • visoutre
    Yeah the costume is causing a lot of issues. Every outfit I want needs drapery animation (which I will never do manually), but I'm having trouble with APEX cloth. It looks fine in the Nvidia tool, but in UE4 it penetrates/gets stuck on the capsules. Figured out the other issues though, so maybe it'll work.

    [ame=" Cloth Collision Errors UE4 - YouTube[/ame]


    But yeah I think right now I'm struggling to find the balance between 1920s woman, police and detective. It's a fictional universe with monsters and I'm not going for the classical portrayal of women from the black and white film era. So I should be able to push the design a little outside period accuracy. Guess I should flesh out more 2D designs to communicate the ideas I have. It's fun to have something working in game, but the 3D's feeling a bit shallow.

    So right now the outfit is too much like the police woman on the left. Personally feel it should be more detective, but she needs to eventually fight the monsters which brings in the dieselpunk influence on the right, yeeeeah.



    Flapper look doesn't seem in character, but since she is progressive and her father brought in a lot of money it could still have some influence
  • visoutre
    Updated Gameplay and add some stuff to the enviro. I've was learning about UE4's blueprint system and it seems like there's an endless list of problems to solve but it was quite addicting. Unfortunately resolving the character's costume is near the bottom of the priorities list because I want to do more enviro work. Animating is quite the struggle too (not just doing it but making those anim blueprints too, crazzzzy stuff).


  • visoutre
    So one thing I need to work on is learning how to deal with lightmaps and UV's in general properly. I use a lot of cheap shortcuts to get results fast. It's nice for previs, but probably a bad habit for a production artist.

    So I'm doing a smaller scene in the game first (detective's office) and polishing it to finished level and applying what I learn to the whole environment afterwards.

    My concept art:

    First time experimenting with some baked global illumination:


    Trying it out with the game's post-processing effects:


    I am looking at how the arch vis people set up their lighting since they get nice results. So I just have a directional light and some bounce lights off a plane. My old method of lighting was creating dozens of spotlights set to "moveable" so I wouldn't have to bake any lighting. Probably won't be acceptable in a studio so I'm changing my ways lol

  • Add3r
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    Add3r polycounter lvl 6
    Dope stuff in the last update with your post processing before and after shots. One thing I would point out in the screenshots in post #8 is there is a definite need of slightly lighter ambient light as it seems the character gets lost in the black shadows. You never want the player to lose sight of their character when playing, unintentionally, it creates frustration. Also, there needs to be some story telling/leading of the player through your environments. I say get some exaggerated moon light (essentially a mild sunlight) to cast some awesome shadows on your scene instead of artificially lighting everything with the street lights. Usually you want your artificial light to be supplemental, unless you are going for more of a night market/neon type feel.
  • visoutre
    Yeah I agree the lighting for the outdoor enviro needs a lot of work. I planned to have a lot of flashlight gameplay which is why I made everything dark, but somebody said overuse of flashlight is bad design. The interior will be a lot easier to manage so 1 step at a time I guess.
  • Steppenwolf
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    Steppenwolf polycounter lvl 10
    In terms of atmosphere you are on the right track but thematicaly it is a miss imo. I've seen about 200 noirs and there never was a monster in it nor a jet pack or female police officer/detective. It was a different time. Females in these films filled the roles of femme fatales or feeble girls who need protection. 1920's was well before film noir too. 40's and 50' is what you need to look at design wise. Even 30's and the art deco font are stretching it. Ther's a handful movies from the 1930's but they are better described as proto noirs.
  • visoutre
    I had noir in mind for the art direction all along, but the storytelling took some wierd turns. Wanted to combine a bunch of the genres from the golden age of hollywood. The 1930s version of Dracula and Scarface brought up the vampires/monsters and mafia as bad guys. At the time I felt telling the story from the POV of a female detective would be more interesting than a man since the majority of the noir's have male leads. But I guess these things break the genre too much?

    Not sure how detrimental it is to change up the theme or how the public would react. Would it be ok to stylistically make something noir but themetically cover different ground? Maybe it should be labelled as neo-noir instead. At one point I thought of incorporating dieselpunk too (jetpack idea) but didn't pursue that direction.

    If anyone has an issue with the theme or story let me know too cause that kind of feedback is just as valuable as technical or artistic info. Thanks!
  • visoutre
    Gave the moonlight a quick try. It's hard to unify lighting in an outdoor environment. The alley seemed to get the most improvement. Adding too much ambient light was taking away from the noir feeling so it'll require more experimenting.


  • pongstah
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    pongstah polycounter lvl 9
    looks very professional and polished
  • Add3r
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    Add3r polycounter lvl 6
    visoutre wrote: »
    Gave the moonlight a quick try. It's hard to unify lighting in an outdoor environment. The alley seemed to get the most improvement. Adding too much ambient light was taking away from the noir feeling so it'll require more experimenting.



    Yes. This is awesomesauce. Could even go the route of using shadow as a game play element. I think the slight ambient from the moonlight bringing the stark blacks out of the shadows is exactly what this needed. In your first outdoor screenshots, you had BLACK shadows. One way to combat this (was thinking about this after posting my first response), would possibly be doing some sort of shader work so when your character is overlapping with stark black shadows, you could have a very very slight glow outline around the silhouette of your character? IDK, something to make the main focal point(the character in this instance) is still visible. This is once again, only if you do not mean to have the character disappear on screen.

    You are building a game around the use of lighting. You could get away with just black environment silhouette objects, just zero detail on buildings and such. I mean, it would be a style change, but what I am trying to say is that lighting is like 75% of the environment work you will be doing.

    That being said, you should definitely be aware that your current environment we have seen have not been built around this premise, rather around just conventional city architecture and city layouts. A lot of what lighting artists do is not only set up lights, guide the player and set a mood with the lights, but we also create interesting shadows and make sure focal objects are focal objects from everything of material all the way to its value on screen in the final composition.

    This screenshot shows some very stylized, exaggerated examples of what I am kind of talking about (from Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions):

    As you can see, they went for a lighter shadow color for gameplay reasons, and then have the main character highlighted, and main gameplay elements are highlighted. In this case, enemies, hints at areas you can use to your advantage, etc.

    Take what I say lightly, as its just some opinions and thoughts based on what I would do with the theme you are working at :) Nice work so far, and good luck with the project. This is not an easy style, admire what you have done so far.
  • visoutre
    Oh good point about the shaders. Thanks for all the advice, it's like an early Christmas present! Going to play with some lighting after the holidays and fix up the layout. Cheers!
  • visoutre
    Starting to populate the office! Hard surface modeling and baking normal maps is still tough. It feels like I'm taking too long to make 1 asset because I spent an entire workday for the desk and the sofa (2 days). They're really simple designs so it's suprising how fast time disappeared.

    I make the low, high, UV manually (to get full control of UVs), bake with xNormal. For textures I used Quixel Suite for a base pass of materials and photo textures on a 2nd pass for unique scratches.

    I did some tweaking after viewing in Marmoset, but when I hooked up the materials in UE4 the graphs are super basic. I also have a lot of photo references, but I don't spend as much time gathering refs as I used to, so it shouldn't be much of a time-sink.

    I've got a feeling I'm modeling my high-poly incorrectly because there are usually baking problems I have to resolve through trial and error and even then some of the detail is lost. I guess modeling, re-modeling, manually UVing and tweaking is just time consuming. Got to be thankful for Quixel to help with texturing and UE4 for rendering/game magic.










  • visoutre
    Another High poly. Wonder how much detail will transfer over. I think I need to exaggerate the details more.

  • visoutre
    Test bake turned out ok! There are a few artifacts but it can be fixed easily. This still took too long IMO to make for what it is. Around 4 hour high poly, 2 hours for low/UV and another 2 hours disappeared with test baked (how??). So for next prop I'm going to try Ndo.

  • NomadSoul2501
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    NomadSoul2501 polycounter lvl 7
    Can't believe this is the first time I see this project.
    Subbed! :)

    This looks extremely promising and I can't wait to see more.

    Best of luck!!!
  • visoutre
    Thanks. It's encouraging when people dig my work!

    This prop turned out pretty cool. I don't feel the polycount is very high, but I made some LoD's just in case. I got some animation for the blades in UE4 too :D


  • visoutre
    UE4 was crashing my computer yesterday so took a break from enviro. Did a paintover and designed one of the thugs to replace the UE4 blue man. The tattoo wouldn't be there, I was just messing around. My character style is pretty simple but it took just as long to sculpt him as it did to finish the fan so it felt like a good use of time, but I want to speed up my hard surface enviro modeling.


  • limeforce
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    limeforce polycounter lvl 4
    Lookin' good so far! Very well modeled and textured objects like the desk, sofa and fan are a joy to look at. Eager to see how this turns out!

    I wonder where other commenters are at, this deserves more attention :O
  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. greentooth
    Great works so far visoutre! I actually have a question for you.

    How did you go about making the ornamental designs on the desks high poly? They're very nice looking. Was it just regular old poly pushing, did you use splines, or another technique?
  • visoutre
    limeforce: Thanks! Yeah not much attention yet, but there was some good feedback. Got to be thankful for that and just keep making more regular posts. I work on this every day, so I'm going to try daily updates. Hopefully when I add more storytelling elements to the enviros it will excite people.

    Jack M. : Sure. The ornamental models are floaters and I used regular poly pushing. Traced a design from the internet then split a line down the middle which I dragged up manually. Then I added lots of bevels and cleaned up the topology just enough so it would look ok from a distance. The intersections are not perfectly modeled, but you'll never see that issue in a texture bake. It's still a lot cleaner to poly model or use splines vs. zbrush or hand drawing it with nDo. Even though something like Ndo can be quicker short term, I want to reuse ornamental designs on future models so clean is the way to go.

    Hope the pic helps

  • visoutre
    Started to set dress! Most of the new shaders are temporary. I can work on this until the 12th, then I have to get back to the main outdoor enviro.

    It's strange cause I tried to do a fairly realistic look but it feels like a stylized miniature model. People told me they mistook the thumbnail for a photo, but there is something off...Maybe it needs more set dressing and a tiny bit of grunge? (but not overboard). Enviro can be tough especially on a solo project, but it's so cool to run around it in the game. That's pretty much the primary thing to keep me going. It's fun to research different props and stuff too but re-creating them in 3D is a lot more work than drawing them.


    An idea of the main menu. I was going to have the environment be the main menu, not sure if that's a good or bad idea. I like the look a lot more when the film noir post processing gets used :)

  • AlexKola
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    AlexKola polycounter lvl 7
    Nice approach, love that you're really fleshing this out.
  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. greentooth
    Thanks for the reply. That's a much better way than what I was trying to do ornaments.

    The red bounce lighting coming off the wood desk is really nice, and will probably translate well to your film noir post processing.

    The leaves on the plants you have on the wall are appearing nearly completely black. Bringing up the green there should help the scene. Also maybe try making the flowers blue. I could be wrong but I think they might look better if they were blue (If it's all going to just be black and white these crits may not even matter).

    The chromatic abberation is a little high too in my opinion. Next to the shades on the left in the first image there's a pretty thick blue strip running down the length of the window.

    The menu could benefit from a subtle vignette to keep your players eyes from straying too far from the menu buttons.

    I really like your work so far. Keep it up.
  • visoutre
    Thanks guys. I will try to address those issues later. Especially the dark plants. I noticed that issue with all the double sided materials, so it must be a light baking problem.

    Ugh got really sick a few days ago so I had to stay in bed for 16 hours. I don't want to be at the PC right now but I was fleshing out the other side of the room. Not sure what to do with the painting. I wanted to paint my own but not much time for that so I just put in a Mead Schaeffer painting cause he's awesome. Tried to play with the gloss so it has more texture at angles.


  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. greentooth
    You know I actually had pretty bad issues making my grass for the marketplace look good. There are a few basic measures you can take to get it looking decent.

    - Turn off tangent space normals in the material properties.
    - Get a constant 3 vector and give the values: R= 122, G=122, B=255 and plug it into the normal map slot if you don't have a normal map.
    - If your version of Unreal is 4.5 or lower foliage doesn't support baked lighting.

    These are just some suggestions that might get you on the right track as it's been a little while since I worked on foliage in unreal.

    I only really have a couple crits for your newest post:

    - The greens on the walls don't match up
    - There's a nasty artifact where the walls match up (unreal has had issues in the past with light bleeding when you use planes instead of rectangles for walls)

    Fantastic work on the painting. It has some really nice texture to it that sells it as an old school painting.
  • MaccyF
    This looks sweet :)
    Other than that I don't have much to say except that a cut that left that much of a scar on someones neck ( The thug) would most likely kill them.
  • visoutre
    Jack M.: Thanks for more feedback! I ended up cheating with the plants by making them slightly emissive. And yeah, light bleeding is one of the annoying things. Had to close off the entire room with BSP so the outdoor lighting wouldn't leak in. Even then some manages to get through. I think I fixed the artifacts as much as I can?

    MaccyF: Haha yeah the scars and tattoo were just last second fun. I already removed them from the sculpt.

    My PC has been acting up again... I'm afraid my hard drive will break in the worst moment if I don't do something. It's really annoying when these external issues get in the way of work but I guess everyone deals with stuff like this eventually. It was frustrating when my computer crashed 5 times making the pinboard level select thingy and went through 3 disk checks so yuuup totally need a break until I get things sorted out.

    I'll just show what I was trying to accomplish. Thought it would be cool if each level was in a newspaper. It'd be like Dishonored level select where you can go and replay each separate mission. But obviously I'm not making the whole game by myself, this is just for show ;)



  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. greentooth
    Much better foliage man! It really reminds me of bioshock infinite in style and color.

    In regards to the bleeding, that's my usual solution for bleeding.

    Your level selection idea is also pretty cool. I think foreshadowing in the description newspaper articles for future levels would also help players to think ahead. It would also allow for a little easter egg for people to find out later if they decided to replay the game or mission (All theoretical of course as you aren't making a full game).
  • MaccyF
    On a total side note, those colour screen-caps really remind me of Grim Fandango
  • visoutre
    Jack M.: Be warned that the emissive plants look terrible under dark lighting, so it's not a proper solution. Bioshock Infinite has great stuff. One of the guys who made the buildings shared some of his process. . Wish there was more info for procedural buildings in UE4 cause it would save a lot of time for some other work I have to do.

    MaccyF: Unfortunately I missed out on that game, but I watched some let's play. Looks like lots of fun and so much personality, it's refreshing!

    Somehow as long as I didn't touch my mouse my computer was fine. I've never heard of a USB mouse causing complete PC crashes before. Well finally got to work. Now it's pretty much tweaking materials and bunch of stuff and redesigning the desk area since that feel weak and not detective enough. I have to start animation on this project for my school next week. Looking forward to tackling the outdoor enviro with the new things I learned after I get that animation stuff sorted. Can't wait to be part of a team just to focus on enviros lol




  • Jack M.
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    Jack M. greentooth
    hmmm, I might just have to do a tutorial on that. I was thinking about making a pretty big portfolio piece and I haven't made a tutorial in a while so I might be able to kill two birds with one stone.
  • visoutre
    Finally finished the main character model. Animation is a slow process which is why I can't wait to get my degree so I can just do production art. It's super cool to see the evolution of this character over months, but the other assets need some love too.

  • ostwid1985
  • visoutre
    I had the worst computer problems since the last update. It got to the point I couldn't run my PC. After buying some stuff, it was fine until a couple days ago. It crashes again which nearly gave me heart attack. Fortunately seems to be working again today, just got to cross my fingers this doesn't happen again.

    Anyways I was able to animate at school until I upgraded and today I put together the cinematic. It's nowhere near finished, but I have some WIP screenshots. Also tried to fix the lighting. It's less contrasty but at least more stuff is visible. The textures seem to be the most deficient thing right now.

    Feels good to get some work done finally urggghhh.






  • Goldo_O
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    Goldo_O greentooth
    This is looking sweet man, keep it up! :)
  • visoutre
    Thanks for checking it out again :)

    Here's some silly AI. I'm not going to go too far with the game mechanics cause I want to spend more time with the art, but I'm happy to get it somewhat playable now! The Order 1886 art dump brought tears to my eyes though, gotta do more art :'(

  • Doomathon
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    Doomathon polycounter lvl 4
    Really impressive stuff dude. Loving all you're showing!!
  • visoutre

    This video is similar to the previous one, but I finally finished setting up the player's controls and fixed the major problems! Now I can finally focus on the art. I'm so happy to move into the next stage cause it means I can just focus on creating the content/making it better and not worry about some coded thing breaking. :D Debugging bugs me.

  • visoutre
    Got a month left till school ends! Still got lots of work to do for this project, but it's coming along nicely and there's always new things to get excited about. :)

    I've been looking into Zbrush tile sculpts and more height map usage/ blending materials. After those studies I gained a big boost. Also had my first art test which was good to see what I can make in a day and what problem areas I need to avoid to save hours of working time. Some things can be scary if you don't deal with the issue early enough.

    I've been experimenting with vertex painting, tiling masks, decals and tessellation for the bricks to make them more interesting. The tessellation always distorts weird so I'm probably doing something wrong so I took it away.

    The real deadline is April 30th, but I have to demo this game at a public event next week.There's no way I can polish everything by then, so I'm not stressing about it. Just hope it's playable enough for people other than myself to enjoy.




  • visoutre
    Yesterday I had the opportunity to share the game I've been working on for my final year of college at Level Up Showcase in Toronto. Cheers to the Sheridan game dev coordinator Max Piesner for letting me show at the event. It was super cool to let other game devs play and get great feedback in person. Was cool to meet a Polycounter there too.

    There's still a lot of polish to do, but with 1 more month of school I have to switch focus back to art. I also have to finish animating the 1 minute cinematic introduction for my BAA requirements. So I guess I can show the gameplay footage:


    Some of the assets are still placeholders like the vehicles I got from The effects are from UE4 examples/marketplace and game animations were retargeted/edited from UE4's blue guy to match my characters. There's also still some placeholder textures from like the crates and roof tiles. Got to give them props for helping make the block-in phase a lot faster with their affordable stuff. Otherwise everything else was created and set up by me.

    UE4's blueprint system is really what made this possible. I tried to make games in other engines before, but coding was always a roadblock until now. It was fun to make a game solo and I am going to continue developing this IP after school. The actual game was just a test, so it's going to be put on hold until I get more experience with game dev. I'll probably return to it in a few years, at least this is an interesting enough subject to hold interest.





  • visoutre
    Here's what the level blueprint looks like just for that 3 minutes of gameplay. It only took around 3 days to set this up and I wasted a lot of time figuring out some issues with screen messages so it can be redone a lot quicker next time. The other blueprints such as the main character are really intense and I had to refer to hundreds of Youtube videos and documentation to figure things out.


    Realized I should probably show more wires. I would probably be murdered for making this character topology, but it was intended for cinematics, so I used 37K tris. Around 5k tris are for a keychain thing on her belt which isn't necessary but I wanted to put it there.


    I also started to use Zbrush more for textures since The Order 1886 art dump happened. It made me realize how valuable height maps can be. Hope to check out nanomesh soon, but still getting the hang of older workflows.

  • MrHobo
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    MrHobo polycounter lvl 8
    This project has really been coming along great. I did notice one small thing that I think you may have overlooked that is really sticking out at me though.
    It appears that her arm is broken. The arm holding the gun is either too long in the upper arm or the joint has been placed too low. If you look at the arm thats at her side you can see the difference in the arm bend between the two.
  • Stephenssart
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    Stephenssart polycounter lvl 4
    just my own opinion here, but to have the camera over the left side of the character, when the character is holding the weapon on her right side seems counter intuitive, also 3rd person always feels more natural on the left side
  • WarrenM
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    WarrenM Polycount Sponsor
    I thought that camera set up gave it a pretty unique, somewhat creepy vibe. I dunno, I say keep it...
  • visoutre
    Yeah I don't know why I thought characters were on screen right despite referring to TPS's like Resident Evil 4... Some people had a hard time knowing when she was shooting cause her back covers the guns. It's a quick fix so the actions have much better readability. I kind of liked right side of screen too maybe cause I'm left handed and do everything backwards, haha.


    @ MrHobo: I guess you're talking about the wireframe shot? Now that you mentioned it, the joint may be too low... I had to cut a lot of corners, so I used HumanIK to sort of auto rig the characters it was the only way to finish all the work. Next time I'll start a project with a smaller scope so I can pick up on these issues earlier. It was interesting showing this game to the public cause there were things everybody picked up on that I never realized by myself. Thanks for pointing it out though.
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