Conlen Breheny's Beginnings

Conlen Breheny's Beginnings

Conlen Breheny
by conlen on 30 May 2023 for Rookie Awards 2023

A collection of my work so far as a 19-year-old first year student in the 4-year Bachelor's program at Gnomon School of Visual Effects.

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"Demolition Studio" - 3D Animation

This was one of the final pieces I created for my application portfolio to Gnomon. When trying to think of a creative way to frame an effects shot, I had the idea to frame it as if a studio was shooting an explosion to upload online as stock footage. This project was my first rendered animation in Maya, but I had prior experience in Cinema4D and with rendering stills in Maya so I wasn't completely lost. I enjoyed all aspects of this project- writing the script, modeling and texturing the environment, simulating and shading the explosion, and doing the sound design.

I definitely put too much detail into some of the props that would take up a small portion of the screen, but I'm proud of them regardless. There are some definite flaws, but I'm happy with the piece overall. This piece is about a year old, but it's still one of the pieces that I'm most proud of -- although I've been learning so much in the past year that once I apply more of what I've learned I'm sure that will change.

"Ghostly Formation" - VFX Shot

I created this project during my first term at Gnomon as a personal side project to practice particle simulation in Houdini, which I was learning at the time. After looking for FX reference, I found a shot from Robert Langnickel of a ghost forming with particles swirling around them and decided to create a similar shot. This project was both fun and extremely challenging, and was a great exercise in furthering my knowledge with Houdini's Particle Operators (POPs) as well as structuring and layering FX elements. The four major FX elements from this shot are 1. the particles that come together to form the subject Gabriel Martinez (The formation particles are two simulations -- one for the head and one for the torso), 2. the particles that swarm around his body once he is formed, 3. the particles that swirl from his head once he is formed, and 4. the ambient particles floating in the air that are influenced by his movement.

After keying the footage of Gabriel, I painting on some designs and tracked them through time with EbSynth, then performed some basic color correction to make him appear more ghastly. I also created a photogrammetry scan of his head and torso, which I object tracked with the footage and then projected the footage onto. This mesh served many purposes -- it defined where the formation particles would end up (which were actually backwards simulations "blowing away" from the formed body), it defined a surface for the other particles to emit and inherit color and velocity from, and it was part of the holdout matte for rendering the different elements.

This project was more ambitious than I realized originally -- simulating, rendering, and compositing particles with live action footage (especially when the particles turn into the live action footage) is extremely difficult, and while I know there are many areas for improvement, I am happy with this as a first attempt, especially with how much I learned.

"Elegant Suspension" - 3D Animation

This was the final piece that I completed for my Gnomon application portfolio. The overarching goal of this piece was to frame some effects shots in a creative way, similar to the "Demolition Studio" animation, but I went for a vastly different style. I was very inspired by music when creating this piece, namely the genres of shoegaze and dreampop. At first, I was going to create this piece with a Beach House song in the back, but decided that I preferred the mood that Desire Lines by Lush exuded.

At the time of creating this piece, I hadn't done any simulation in Houdini or Maya, so I had to return to Cinema4D, where I had prior experience using Insydium's X-Particles plugin to create simulations. I'm happy with the way that this piece turned out, and it conveys the mood that I was aiming for. This is another one of my favorite pieces that I've made so far, although I'm excited to apply more of the knowledge I've gained since in my upcoming projects.

"Stood Up" - 3D Render

Reference - @neatcoolfun on Instagram

This was my final project for my Introduction to 3D with Maya class at Gnomon. The assignment was to match a piece of 2D art as closely as possible with a 3D render. The artist of the original piece “Sir, You Have to Give up the Table” is Alyssa Borbowski @neatcoolfun on Instagram. This piece was super fun to work on, although it was definitely a major crunch to get it done during the last few weeks of the term. The only compositing work done was color correction to match the original more closely, all of the paint and canvas detail is in render via textures.

I was originally planning on working from a more ambitious realistic fantasy concept art, but I realized that I was being overambitious and needed to get the project done so I could pass the class. I chose this piece because it would be more simple to execute, but would still be extremely fun to work on and have some creative challenges. This is my first intentionally stylized render as I normally shoot for realism, but as I've mentioned it was unexpectedly extremely fun. Texturing and shading this was my favorite part of the process, as I got to work with some really fun paint and canvas setups in Substance Painter and Designer.

Switchboard - Game-Ready Asset

Blueprint Code for VR Interaction

All images and video rendered in Unreal Engine 4.

This is a game asset I made for the cancelled high school student VR game "Find Emma". The Switchboard is a task item that is used at a key point in the story. This asset was created over the course of 3 months during my senior year of high school. I was responsible for all aspects of the asset: modeling, UV unwrapping, texture baking, texturing, programming, and FX.

The design is original and targeted towards its purpose in the game, but was inspired by the 1960s rocket launch control panels, analog tape machines, and both electric and telephone switchboards.

There were a lot of firsts for this project: This was my first hard surface model in Maya instead of  Cinema4D, my first time using a streamlined modeling workflow with new techniques that I learned, my first time baking a high poly model onto a low poly model, my first time creating an asset in Unreal Engine (and pretty much my first time using Unreal Engine anyways), my first time programming the mechanics for an asset, and my first time using VR (and my first time developing for it). All of these firsts contributed to the long turnaround time, but I also learned an immense amount and am very pleased with the final product. 

"Find Emma" Monster - Rig

This rig was also created for the cancelled high school student VR game "Find Emma". This was my first time creating a rig (before starting it, I didn't even really know what a rig was), and I had the absolute pleasure of doing it for the great sculpt and creature design that my high school classmate Bridgette Grimsley created for the monster in Find Emma. This rig was built from scratch without the use of third party tools while following Anthony Ward (AntCGI)'s RiggingInMaya course. At essentially every point in the process I underestimated how long this project would take, but ended up getting it done in just short of 3 months. This did put quite a roadblock in the schedule that I was shooting for, but I had no way of knowing how long the rig would take, and had to finish it before anything else because my class project was relying on me.

This project was a great insight into how rigging works and also how Maya works as well, and was a fun exercise in balancing hundreds of small aspects for one end result. No animations have been created for the monster, but I spent some time creating some demonstration poses which can be seen above (the images with textures are rendered in Unreal Engine; the texturing was also done by Bridgette Grimsley).

Following AntCGI's course was a pleasure, he made the entire process engaging and very informational. In the course, he was focusing on rigging a dog (another quadruped), so I was able to follow his instructions closely for many aspects of the rig. For some aspects such as the legs and jaw, however, I had to come up with my own systems and get them working without instruction, which was difficult but rewarding. I was also responsible for the Retopology, UV Unwrapping, and Texture Map Baking for the monster. Just before this project, I had done the same steps for another character in the game (Emma), so I had some practice before attempting this one. The retopology was still quite difficult, but I'm relatively happy with the end result. While learning how to rig, I also learned a lot about scripting in Maya with Python to automate certain processes, which was my introduction to my now obsession with Python, which should be highlighted more in my submission next year.

What's next

Thank you for taking the time to look through my first Rookies submission! I'm really looking forward to continuing my art journey, and I'm really excited to implement more of the skills that I've been honing in the last year. I've been learning a lot of both technical and artistic concepts that haven't quite coalesced in my art visually yet, but stay tuned for next year!

Reach out!

Artstation: @conlen

LinkedIn: @conlen

Instagram: @conlen.vfx

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