VIVVI - Everything Will Be Okay
During the remaining time I went by the online name RobotUnderscore, I was eager to leave my comfort zone and start doing commissioned work after the respective YouTube channel shut down. Back in early 2018, I was approached by Tri to do track art for "VIVVI - Everything Will Be Okay," where my only prompt for the track art was to "make something uplifting." As open-ended as that was, I eventually found my way to a more concrete idea, which started when I first noticed that VIVVI has a very distinct pink squirrel as part of his branding.
After toying around with objects associated to squirrels, like acorns and trees, I came up with this rough idea for a floating tree island with the pink squirrel sitting at the helm, like an airship. I realized how I could venture into uncharted territory and try my hand at photorealism through the tree and island, while still maintaining a hint of my usual style through the bright pink squirrel.
The first thing to tackle was the tree. I refrained from using tree generators because I had this distinct shape of a tree in mind: a circular head of leaves with one big branch.
I used the skin modifier to model a base tree and some sub-branches. I then pulled some free wood textures and an image of a maple tree leaf off the internet to make a base branch that would populate the main tree structure with a particle system. There's also some moss textures scattered around the trunk.
In the end, I got rid of the extra branch. It proved to be holding back the tree's appearance as opposed to actually giving it character.
The island, on the other hand, proved to be much easier when I used Blender's built-in terrain generator plugin to make a floating land chunk. I don't recall what settings I originally used other than the fact that I started with the Volcano preset.
From there, I modelled two clumps of grass and used a particle system to add it to the floating island. I also grabbed a free shader off Blendswap for the dirt and tweaked it a little.
This was already looking fantastic, but the dirt looked a bit unnatural.
That means it's particles to the rescue again! I added some dirt bits of varying size falling off the island to make the soil look less uniform.
And of course, the pink squirrel. Note that in the actual VIVVI squirrel the tail is not the standard bushy tail seen in the most common squirrels. It's actually more of a pinecone shape.
Finally comes the background. I really wanted to experiment with HDR lighting and cloud generation, but due to time constraints, I took this picture of the sky and just used that.
Here's how it looks like when you pull everything together. Not bad.
Some changes had to be made to accommodate the label's overlay, namely a horizontal flip and a contrast boost. The contrast boost actually does a good job of hiding the pixel artifacts in the blue areas my cellphone camera left on the photo.
So overall, this project has proven to be one of the coolest learning experiences I've ever had! If you're a fan of trap music, you can check out the finished song here.
VIVVI - Connect
Here's another piece I did for VIVVI and Tri not long after the first job I did for them. It's not as complex as Everything Will Be Okay, but it was still a fun project to do. Most of the time was spent arranging all the puzzle pieces. You can listen to the song itself here.
A dual-blade saw spear, a stop-sign hammer combo, a magic pool set, and more. These weird weapons are part of Jam3D: a project where people throw their crazy ideas at me and I make some of them into 3D in 2018. This round's theme was weapons.
You can see the list of original submissions here: https://imgur.com/a/l6csU.
A depressed mantis shrimp, a lone-ranging cactus, and a blue collar star-nosed mole were some of the results of this round of Jam3D, a project where people throw their crazy ideas at me and I make some of them into 3D in 2018. This round's theme was Pets.
Additionally, here are some server icons made during some of the submissions.
You can see the list of original submissions here: https://imgur.com/a/sIqHn68.
ConnorEatsPants 2018 (1 of 2)
ConnorEatsPants is a variety video game streamer on Twitch. He asked me to make him a new set of stream graphics in mid-2018, including BRB and Stream Starting Soon screens. So I delivered.
ConnorEatsPants goes live every day at 7PM EST. Check him out if you have a general interest in video games! You'll get to see the animated stream graphics in action. (Nowadays he actually uses remastered versions that I made a year later.)
ConnorEatsPants 2018 (2 of 2)
ConnorEatsPants not only commissioned me to make him those new stream graphics, but also for another two jobs: one being the freshening-up of these outdated branding assets (banners/profile pictures):
...and the other being a stinger video and a transparent logo for his upcoming E3 2018 event streams. Here's what I came up with:
The video essay format was a very different direction from what I used to do. My old self had dreams of fictional worlds and colorful animations that I attempted to pull off right away.
With the death of idiots.exe and the monthly 3D animation videos weighing down on me, I had to start thinking about a video format that would more lucratively grow a channel, leaving the fantasy dreams for later when I get a bigger audience.
The video essay format involves a few key features: a blank white stage, a specific default character, and a storyboard animation style.
The focus was on speed. I would crank out as many of these video essays as possible, since I would have to animate less and create fewer assets due to the barebones aesthetic, and the quantity (while remaining on a level of quality) would ultimately game the YouTube algorithm and grow my channel.
I created two video essays: one called Waiters and Water and the other called The Great NAND Shortage. Both were made in late 2017.
I found the former not that good after I finished it, since I didn't like how it was venturing into a "life story" territory that would ultimately end in me making nice-looking videos about me just...rambling. Who would want to watch a video about something as mundane as waiters and water?
With the waiters video taken out of the public YouTube domain, I went all in and talked in-depth about the 2017 NAND flash memory shortage in the latter video, and it turned out beautifully.
Unfortunately, I did not like the idea of becoming purely an informational content creator and I began to work on two other projects (see Turtle and Bird and fix the dog) to scratch my itch for fiction.
This work overload combined with college ultimately led to the demise of my YouTube channel, but in the end, I'm glad I still have The Great NAND Shortage to show for all my effort spent on these video essays.
Turtle and Bird is an early 2018 show about two college student-aged friends who live together and get into mild trouble. It's a simple premise that I wanted to really expand on, even though I didn't even get to finish one episode.
Like the video essays, this show was meant to game YouTube's quantity-over-quality algorithm by expediting production time with a storyboard animation style and the usage of photo backgrounds to save time normally spent making such backgrounds from scratch in 3D. You can see a short demo of the animation style here.
As unimaginative as the gist of Turtle and Bird seems, it allowed me to think outside the box in ways that doing only the video essays wouldn't let me, since one is goofy fiction and the other is glorified homework, so it seemed like a better idea overall.
All these images are final renders from the first episode, in which Turtle attempts to take care of various pets. The episode was going to alternate between a main story and several smaller sketches, but I ditched that format after I began writing episode two.
Like I said on the page for the video essays, the combination of taking on too many projects (this along with those essays and fix the dog) and college work ramping up ultimately killed all three YouTube projects. However, shelving this one hurt the most since it has the most potential in my eyes.
I will never forgive myself if I don't come back to Turtle and Bird later on and finish it somehow.
You can watch whatever I finished of the first episode here. The audio for the episode was completely done before the 3D animation finished, so everything after the first minute is acted out with placeholder images. (Think of it like an actual storyboard.)
fix the dog was another project from early 2018 that I had started while working on Turtle and Bird in an attempt to use a storyboard-animation style to win the favor of the YouTube recommendation algorithm.
Turtle and Bird was proving to take too long to produce even though it was meant to be fast and easy like the video essays, so I decided to start this third series in which each episode was no more than a minute long, pushing my ability to maintain quality despite striving for quantity.
There was no way I could make a minute-long video a month and still be favored by YouTube's video recommendation AI, so the twist with fix the dog is that the outcome of the story is determined by the comments on the video. These comments will chain up over time between videos and eventually tell a whole story.
The internet is absurd by nature, and the YouTube comments section is no different. To make use of this, I start the story with an absurd scenario: a man's dog is shaking violently for some unknown reason and you need to somehow fix it. This is open-ended enough for people to pitch crazy ideas on what to do next, while not being so vague as to leave people struggling to come up with anything.
The series uses the exact same animation formula as Turtle and Bird: photo backgrounds, storyboard animation. The only major difference is that videos are much shorter now.
Unfortunately, introducing this third project added to the ongoing stress that eventually caused me to stop my YouTube career. While it's an interesting idea on paper, I don't plan on returning to fix the dog; it doesn't have enough quality to warrant a future revisit since it's a show completely hinged on YouTube domination.
You can watch the only episode I completed of this show here and the finished audio for the second part here.
I'd say rich dinos is my best animated work during the RobotUnderscore era, right up there with The Great NAND Shortage, one of the video essays I did. The video was made and released in summer 2016.
Two dinosaurs, loaded with money beyond belief, chat about how to go about their day. The idea is so simple and stupid, but the final execution turned out better than I anticipated.
The video was part of an attempt to make one 3D animation a month, but it started to take up way more time than I had anticipated, so I stopped. While those other animations weren't really that great, I'm glad this one came out the way it did.
I voiced the green dinosaur, Roland, while I had my friend Nathan take on the role of his red counterpart Reginald and their butler Mitchell, pictured above.
You can watch the video here.
LOOK! FREE GUYMOTES FOR YOU! THIS EMOTE PACK IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY-NC 4.0.
As simple as this character looks, there was still a bit of a long process to how everything ended up the way he did.
One of the very first things I wanted to accomplish in Blender 3D in 2014 was to make a fully-functioning stylized torso. This wasn't particularly easy to do without thorough knowledge in rigging and topology, so I didn't get to accomplish this goal as fast as I would've liked to.
Over the years, I kept revisiting this one project, eventually developing an oval-like head shape and this particular face design.
One day in 2017, I decided to buckle down and finish the character design on a whim, and the guy was born. The character hasn't been used much, but he has an important role in all the videos of my video essays series.
He's also the star of a series of emotes I made for a now-defunct Discord server. Feel free to download the .zip of emotes for your own use! (Download buttons are located at the top of this page.)
There was one issue though. Rigging the face was no easy task, and wrestling with Cycles Material nodes in Blender 3D is not the most enjoyable thing in the world.
This is only a fraction of the mess that makes up the rig for the face. The face is a flat 2D texture comprised of various asset images that are all arranged entirely with these nodes. The alpha channels of these asset images also determine the boundaries for the eye materials themselves, so the eyes can be shinier than the skin and vice versa.
When I went to revise my blue robot character in 2018, I decided to fix this one too. Not only did I redid the Material nodes for less confusing face animation, but I also implemented the new Principled BSDF shader Blender had and also switched to a Bendy Bones rig like I did with the robot. (The drawback is that I can't do sharp bends on the limbs anymore.)
I also reorganized the nodes for the face shader to make it look less like the original node setup's spiderweb clusterfuck.
It kinda looks like an airship now.
The only times this character was used again after the 2018 revision was for those Discord emotes and for the Jam3D project. I currently have no plans to use him again in the future, so why not scroll back up to the top and grab those emotes?
The Blue Robot
Picking the name "RobotUnderscore" was a pretty soulless process. In 2014, I was tired of having a username with numbers and was anxious to get a new name quickly. I took the first noun I could think of, which was a robot, and stuck an underscore at the end of the word. Unfortunately, the handle @robot_ was already taken on Twitter, so I hastily spelled out the symbol.
The resulting name stuck.
I quickly made this first image as soon I picked my new username. (I can't find a bigger version.) Not very exciting. Eventually, I had my friend Ethan make me a new icon. (He used Photoshop.)
Looking good. However, once I got into Blender 3D, it didn't feel right having a profile picture that I didn't make myself. I called Ethan in again to help me design a robot I could make in 3D.
As you might have guessed, the red robot design stuck out to me the most, so we took that one and ran with it.
A few more sketches from Ethan later and something was beginning to take shape. I took these sketches into Blender and went to work. Soon enough, in 2015...
...our hero was born. The final rendered blue is a bit harsh on the eyes, but I didn't notice at the time.
Believe it or not, there was actually another design on the table, but it looked weird in 3D so I scrapped it.
I also was originally planning on doing a futuristic approach instead of something more cartoony by using these images for inspiration, but that didn't really go as planned. (All images in this moodboard belong to their respective copyright holders.)
Anyways, I didn't change my robot for quite a while. I used it for a good two or three years.
And boy did this fellow meet a lot of people. (Once again, none of these images are mine.)
Eventually I wanted to revamp the robot in 2018 because it was starting to look outdated, especially with its harsh blue color. I had only been using the Internal Render in Blender up to this point, so I remade the robot and its materials in Cycles for a more streamlined look. I also switched to a Bendy Bones rig to make the limbs look more like metal hoses.
And that's the journey of the little blue robot that could.
(Shoutouts to Ethan W. for helping me bring this to life.)
One a Day
The Beeple-style daily art grind: the best way to learn how to master any creation software. Here are some of my works from when I made one image in Blender 3D a day. I did this for 321 days from 2015 to 2016.
Newer images are closer to the top. (Notice how my logo on each image got smaller as I got better.)
You can see all of it on this website.
On top of the 3D renderings I do, here are some 2D logos from 2017 that I've made with Inkscape and/or Blender 3D. The logo on the left is obviously mine. The one in the middle is for a defunct Discord bot called Nitro. The one all the way to the right was done for a music artist named Zaire.
This Is It is a project that went completely unnoticed to my YouTube fanbase, garnering its own audience on tapas.io (a.k.a. Tapastic.) It was a 20-episode web-comic I started on a whim, spanning from 2015 to 2016.
The comic revolves around a depressed, starving artist (orange guy) and financially successful and non-depressed roommate (green guy).
Outside of the web-comic itself, I also made some images for people on Tapas who followed the comic. On Tapas, it's a custom to thank people for following your comic by posting to their page. This is what I would post:
I also ran some profile picture raffles for my readers.
All things come to an end though, and in classic RobotUnderscore fashion, the comic concluded with a bittersweet ending.
I would like to adapt these characters into a feature film one day so I can flesh out the orange and green guys even more (and maybe give them names too.)
For now though, they're just two guys in a short web-comic about life and stuff.
You can start with the first episode here.
Angiru, Fist, and Codi are the reason why I even have any interest in content creation, animation, design, video-making, etc. Work on this series spans from 2014, the very beginning of RobotUnderscore, all the way to 2017. They're pretty important.
Once I got to high school, I got tired of stop-motion and attempted to pick up Blender 3D. I wanted to take the series I had started on the old channel and bring it into a more lucrative format: 3D animation. So idiots.exe was born.
The series didn't go very far since it proved to be a very large undertaking, but I managed to finish two and a half episodes.
Angiru is usually the clumsy and energetic idiot who is the cause of most of the adventures, Fist is the one chasing after him and trying to keep everyone together, and Codi is dragged along in the mess, offering emotional support when he can. These final models were completed in 2015, after many brutal months of studying 3D. (Their completion eventually led to the end of the daily practice project I had been doing.)
I had already attempted to make Angiru several times over the course of three years, but I eventually got it on my third try, followed by a successful first try for both Fist and Codi. (Pictured first is the 2014 attempt, followed by a 2016 one.)
I had planned to bring in dedicated voice actors for episode 2 and beyond. Other than that, I worked on all of this alone.
Production for episode 0 spanned across the entirety of fall and winter 2015, with episode 1 taking up the first four months of 2016. Episode 2, however, was stuck in the pipe for over a year until the entire show was finally cancelled in 2017.
The entire first two or three years of me learning Blender 3D were all focused on this, so it especially hurt to let the project go and all the fans that accumulated along the way.
If I ever come back to these three, I want to do stop-motion again instead of continuing in 3D. Trying to bring them into this new medium didn't have the homemade charm their old videos did.
Hopefully that day will come soon! I owe everything to these guys.
Future Snowflakes was a small project I did for the virtual art trading card website Neonmob back in 2015. Users of the site open virtual card packs daily and trade art pieces with others to collect all of a set. I was lucky enough to be picked to do a series early in the site's running.
There are 26 pieces total, but I'm only allowed to share a few. To collect them all, check out the collection's page here.
(New cards were circulated until September 28, 2018. Please note that these pieces belong to Neonmob.)
The Glorious Adventures of Captain Maxwell is my weirdest project. I had made the 20-minute movie for a high school film festival because my mom nagged me to participate in school clubs and I chose the Film Festival one. (In the end I wasn't eligible to win since the limit was 10 minutes, but the movie was played anyway.)
I had never worked with live-action on this level before, so I had no idea how much work I was gonna put myself through when I wrote up a script about a family of box-headed people and their son Maxwell who still acts like a kid despite being fully-grown.
Shopping online for cardboard boxes of specific sizes is surprisingly annoying, but I realized that was the least of my troubles once I began actual filming.
Filming these campfire scenes was annoying because it was 20 degrees out (Fahrenheit) and the last place I wanted to be was my garage. I did the takes anyway since I was crushed under a heavy April 2015 deadline. (I had only started working on it in the January before.)
As you can tell by the confused looks of the people in the background, filming in public with a cardboard box on your head is very humbling. It wasn't too bad though, since the S.S. Crabtrap was pretty well-built.
My younger sister made it out of an old hand truck and a spare set of dolly wheels. Even with such a smooth ride though, propelling the boat with only a stick was very hard, as you can probably notice by the first few seconds of the movie.
Filming this scene (and the "rowing" scenes from the same setting) was really cool just because of the water that day. It was obviously really cold, but it was so cold that massive pieces of ice were flowing down the river and the rocks were covered in ice. It looked really uncanny, which added a lot to the film.
My favorite scene that I did overall, however, was the documents scene. (I've censored them here since it gives away an important part of the movie.) It involved words/typography and motion graphics-like animation, a territory I'm more familiar with in a mysterious land of people actors and in-real-life cameras.
Here are some of the fake logos I made that appear on the documents. (I would show all of them, but once again, that would spoil the movie.)
Looking back on this movie as a whole, I find it decent, but not absolutely perfect. The biggest issue is how slowly things move, how a lot of the scenes are unnecessary, and how dumb the ending is, but The Glorious Adventures of Captain Maxwell still holds up through all the toil and tears I went to filming it (and wrestling with the footage in Sony Vegas and Zamzar Converter.)
If you have a half-hour to spare and you're not afraid of artsy abstract stuff, give this a watch by clicking here. I probably won't work with live action again for a long time.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out on this massive journey of a movie: I had never worked with so many people before, so it was a real learning experience.