Orcs on Fire

One of the first clients I worked with at FXVille was Monolith. I started smack dab in the middle of development for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (actually, this was before the game even had a title!). My first task was to create an effect for catching orcs on fire. I started with duplicating the orc’s mesh and re-mapping it so that I could place a scrolling fiery texture over the top (left), and then attaching flame particles to various sockets (right):


After a round of feedback, I made a version that was less bloom-ey, and tested it out on a bigger looking orc with armor. Part of the challenge was making this effect versatile enough to work on ANY orc – and there’s a LOT of orcs in this game. Oh man. So here’s what that looked like:


I also had to make a wraith version – a special move of Talion in the game:

Here’s a compilation of these iterations, as well as a few test captures where I set dozens of orcs on fire (I’m not sure if you can even DO that in-game, without fancy shmancy dev cheats), along with the final version as shipped:


Trading Card Game Pre-Viz & Mock Up

The summoning sickness post made me want to revisit some more old work from the online trading card game. Instead of breaking down each little piece into its own blog, I decided to make a pre-viz reel! Most of these were done without a game to even work on. It was my job to get thrifty and fake battle scenarios, animations, even systems. Every effect you see here was a work in progress, sent through email, FTP, etc. to the decision-making people who would say “keep exploring” or “try something else.” Hence the bizarre aspect ratios (sorry).

It’s neat to look back at this stuff. I always forget just how much iteration happens during the course of a project.

Just like summoning sickness, it was a mixture of UI/UX (user interface / user experience) and VFX (visual effects). Particularly challenging for someone like me who isn’t much of a UI person to begin with.


(Someday I’ll post more current work, I promise. I’ve grown a LOT since the work in this reel is completed. And I’m excited to share!)


Here we go a-time-travelin again. Age of Empires Online has been shut down for a little while, but the work I did is still fresh in my mind, as clear as the day I made it – which would be (gosh) two and a half years ago, already. One of the effects I was asked to do was “conversion.” Your team had the ability to convert units from another team to yours.

The unit that had the ability to convert you was a sort of shaman/magic-man/priest. I had this idea that he was “showing you the light” which is why I went with yellow. I also thought that his spell might confuse or disorient the affected units, which is why I went with birds circling overhead. Specifically bluebirds because they are happy and cheery, and this was a happy and positive move. More units! Less destruction! Who doesn’t like that? Also, I didn’t want to use yellow birds/canaries because yellow wooshes and yellow birds is a little too matchy-matchy. Color variation and value depth is always something you wanna push for in vfx. Especially since bright, saturated colors are often used to define teams (and AOEO was not an exception here).

One of the challenges was animation and shape. Some of the characters had a quick, snappy animation, some looped very seamlessly, some were randomly super long. Anyway, I had to make a few different effects that looked like they were the same, but had different lengths and beats. As you can see in the final product below, it worked out pretty well!




(a youtube version, if you’re curious. It has sound.)

Summoning Sickness

Back at GPG, I got the opportunity to work on an online trading card game. I didn’t know (still don’t, really) very much about card games in general, so it was a unique challenge for me. It was a sort of combination of UI and VFX that made me appreciate UI Artists as if they were some other worldly creature, capable of thinking in dimensions I’d never even seen before.

One of the first things I worked on was Summoning Sickness. For those who are out of the loop like I was, summoning sickness is what prevents the card you just played from doling out attacks right away. It was explained to me in a bunch of different ways, but the one I remember the most is this explanation:

It’s like you are a wizard, and you’ve summoned this big beast. He travels through a kind of magic portal and has to rest before he can start fighting.

The first thing I had to think of was color. What does “sick” look like? You could think greens and yellows, but usually those are a kind of poison. I ended up going with grey-purple. More of a fatigue type of sickness, a foggy type of sickness, than nausea or phlegm (heh gross).

I started simple. Just borders that look a little bit like they’re breathing. (Apologies for that awful Unity-blue. I’ve gotten into the habit of changing that immediately when I open Unity these days):


From there, I branched off into different ideas. The “portal” idea stuck out to me, so I tried to recreate that in a couple of these. The border tracers represent a kind of timer – since summoning sickness is temporary. The lightning trails crossing each other was supposed to represent something “blocking” the card from working properly – like chains? Maybe? I dunno man. Iterations.


This next set was really about silhouette and movement. Some similar ideas as the ones above, but pushing it as far as I could without completely covering up the important details in the card. I still have a particular fondness for the bottom middle. Stretched particles in Unity tend to give me a lot of guff but they worked out really well here (imo):



What we ended up with was actually much more subtle than all these turned out to be. The client really didn’t want to obscure the card details. And since most card-playing people know what summoning sickness is, anyway, it wasn’t as important to them to highlight that state. So there you go! All that work for nothing (not really but). I feel you, UI folks. I feel you.

Old Work, Gif’d

There’s this thing I did for my portfolio on my main site where I make gifs of my flipbooks, and even some smaller effects work. It’s tough to show a portfolio when much of what I do needs to be seen in motion. When I showed someone my portfolio, they thought the gif idea was so super smart, and I wondered why I haven’t done it for more of my work! Here are three REALLY old pieces (ah, college days) that I’ve turned into looping gifs: