Sneak Peek at Project: Symphony of Demons

Varuna Darensbourg is a traditional and digital artist with a deep passion for video games as astorytelling medium. He studied Art & Animation at LCAD, and has been working in the film industry at SDFX Studios as a compositing artist and supervisor on films such as Avengers, Mad Max, and Blade Runner. In his spare time, Varuna has been working with his wife, Michelle, to develop an original video game using Reallusion’s tools and Unreal Engine.

VFX Industry Veteran Pursues Artistry with the use of Contemporary Technologies

Working in the industry has been both challenging and immensely rewarding. I work on big projects, but my field of work on those projects does not actually involve any of my interests in animation, storytelling, or character design. As an artist & storyteller, that passion and need to create never stops.

Demon girl with helmet close-up

Over the years, I have explored many tools for creating my own projects and in 2019, I began to narrow my personal creative passions on game development. For me, video games are an incredible medium for storytelling and the tools currently available are unbelievable. Character Creatorhas given me a lot of control over creating the sort of characters I want in my project.The characters I have created so far have me beyond excited and confident that a Reallusion pipeline will allow me to produce the character quantity and quality I am seeking to achieve as my project progresses.

Symphony of Demons

The Sweet Spot in Symphony of Demons: Character Aesthetics and Sound Design

This project has several underlying concepts that are driving the overall aesthetic. It is a story-driven action-adventure based around a young demon girl learning new things about herself and the unique world around her. Many of the core concepts will be left for the player to unravel, but I want the art to support a sense that characters and environments all have a sense of history behind them. For both the characters and environments, I am aiming for a sweet spot between stylized and realistic. Everything from the visual art to the sound is based on contrasting themes like old and new, strange and familiar; much like the work of Guillermo del Toro and Studio Ghibli, but with a Dune and Fifth Element twist.

Pretty Creepy Detective | Symphony of Demons

For Symphony of Demons we are doing more planning than usual in regards to writing music. I tend to compose music based on a feeling I am trying to capture. This works well for ambient soundscapes that instill a feeling of mystery and intrigue. For this project however, I am collaborating with Michelle for vocals and to write some more intentional music. This is new territory for us, but we are beyond excited about it.

Like many artists, I pull inspiration from sources like animation and comics, however, a key factor in my approach to world building stems from nature and growing up in the Sierra Nevada mountains; surrounded by forests, fields and creeks. Having a familiarity with different environments can enhance your approach to many things on a creative level. Comics like Elf Quest, Jeff Smith’s Bone and every Studio Ghibli movie are prime examples of worlds where the environments solidify your connection and understanding of the characters that exist within them. My goal is to capture a similar connection in Symphony of Demons.

Why Symphony of Demons had to be an Action-Adventure Game

There are several reasons this project must be a game. Video Games are an incredible and versatile storytelling medium. They have evolved into a wonderful, interactive, sensory experience that can meld so many different art forms together and immerse the player in incredible ways. Basically, the platform is helping me focus all of my interests into a single project and collaborate with my wife to breathe life into a world of strange characters. I won’t lie, it’s all very daunting, but I am extremely driven to do it.

2021 iClone Lip-Sync Animation Contest – The Pumpkin Cave

Crazy Fast Tools to Deal with Character Dialogue: iClone Acculips & Motion Layer

When my wife and I worked on the Reallusion 2021 Lip sync contest, we ended up re-writing and re-doing all the dialog in the last four days leading up to the deadline. We had a new idea and acted on it. iClone’s Lip Sync tools made that decision possible and also helped us develop a pipeline that easily translated into our game project.

One of the most important yet challenging components to character dialogue is facial expression and lip sync. Even in AAA games they will often bypass having to include these elements to reduce time and cost. Reallusion’s tools actually make including high quality lip sync and natural expressions a possibility for smaller developers. The base CC characters all have fully functioning face rigs and morph systems which allow for many different, modular approaches to using them. For me, the iClone Acculips and Animation layering system changed everything. After a few tests, I knew I had a pipeline that would enable me to achieve the results I was seeking. The best part of it all, is that compared to doing it all from scratch… It’s fast. Crazy fast!

Create the demon girl’s lip-sync animation in iClone 8

Benefits of Using “CC4 – iC8 – UE5” Workflow to Create Character-Driven Games

UE4 Game Development with iClone Live Link

Over the past two years, my goals evolved as my skills grew. The more I worked with Character Creator and expanded additional skills, the more potential I saw to tell a more character-driven game than I originally envisioned. Now with the release of CC4, iC8 and UE5, the possibilities are unbelievable. Switching to the new updates has been intuitive and very inspiring. These updates certainly injected fresh energy into the project. CC4 alone immediately improved my workflow. There are many things I can list, but the ability to quickly create and map custom expression morphs using GoZ is incredible. Additionally the ability to test your characters at any time with animation and lip sync presets without leaving CC4 is a massive workflow improvement. Combining CC4s improved facial profiles with iClone 8 also gave me an immense sense of reassurance that I could produce the subtle character performances my project required.

Character Development from CC3 to CC4 | Symphony of Demons

GoZ Pipeline Helps 3D Modelers Turn Static Characters to Animated Game Characters

While working on Salvage, my 3D sculpting and modeling skills were extremely limited, but I still built many fun, original characters using the deep morph system inside CC. When I joined Reallusion’s character design contest in 2020, I was really impressed with the content other artists were creating by combining CC with tools like ZBrush or Blender. I was intimidated, yet inspired. Sculpting and modeling skills are not required to utilize Reallusion’s tools, but if you do have additional 3D skills, especially sculpting, you can really maximize the full potential of the software. The competition showed me this, so I took the time I needed to develop those skills. For me, learning the basics of ZBrush took some time, but the Character Creator GoZ pipeline is so fast, powerful and intuitive, it’s beyond worth it!For anybody already familiar with ZBrush and Substance, adopting Character Creator is one of the fastest ways to get your custom characters up and running in a game engine and still have the ability to quickly test and update things.

Create Creepy Detective with GoZ pipeline.

How to Design Your First Game in Unreal Engine 5

For anybody new to Game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine, my advice would be to look at the engine as a studio that has different departments that all handle different tasks. E.g. Animation, Level Design, Game mechanics. Break it down in a way that makes sense to you. While doing that, you will not only learn the interface, but you will begin to learn about other things that tie into other departments. In Unreal, for example, iClone & CC make it very easy to get your custom characters into the engine, but you will still need to understand how the Blueprint and material systems function. YouTube is filled to the brim with tutorials for any game engine, but it still helps to break your focus down into digestible blocks or departments and chart out your tutorial choices based on your initial focus.

Create the opening scene with the Motion-layering system in iClone 8

Additionally, even the best assets will require you to understand how they work inside the engines. I have no programming skills, so for me, it is very important to know what assets in the Unreal and Unity markets will help me achieve my goals. For me, it helped to learn some of the engine basics with some free content, and then I was able to understand the true value of the marketplace items and what tools and plug-ins would benefit my project.

CC4 & iC8 Animation Test | Symphony of Demons

The Next Five Years: How Emerging Technologies Impact the Entertainment Industry for Pro Studios and Indie Artists

From my experience, current technologies have already shifted industries. The use of Virtual sets is becoming more common and has reduced the need for some forms of compositing in bothfilm and streaming content. Advances in real-time engines have started to change the landscape for both large and small studios and I believe it’s going to change rapidly moving forward.

Reallusion and Unreal Engine are already on the forefront of this, with real-time tools pushing all of the visual mediums to new heights as well as allowing smaller studios to produce more complex projects, create unique gameplay and tell stories in new ways. Over the next few years, I don’t believe tech will fully erase practical sets and VFX though. Instead, it will allow teams to work more efficiently and put more funding into necessary areas, while reducing time and money spent in others.

Editing Demon girl’s poses in Character Creator 4

In the next 5 years, I believe AI-generated art will have a massive impact on both pro and indie studios. Currently, there seems to be a lot of fear that AI is going to steal something from artists, but like all digital tools, it can be used to enhance one’s existing skills as well as a studio’s pipeline. What matters though, is what people do with the technology and what the creative individuals and studios apply to it to bring their ideas to life.

Demon girl in sci-fi scene (part of costumes from ‘Rugged and Trendy Collection’)

Learn More:

Varuna Darensbourg >

Character Creator >

iClone >

Reallusion >