My favorite time of the year is finally here and I could not wait to make a Holiday special! The newest video “Oh Christmas Tree!” is a step further in the right direction – focused learning, additional characters, props and sets, and even some more camera angles.
Of course we had to make some printable activities to go along with this video!
Decorating Mitzy’s shop for the Holidays was the best part – All assets are from Adobe Stock or the Epic Marketplace – This was the Christmas Decor marketplace asset I purchased and it had the coolest Christmas Tree blueprint which allowed full control of the tree size, ornament positioning and other customizable features. It also included some particle snow that was perfect.
It took me one full day to decorate Mitzy’s shop and build the second set. Most of the time was spent finding the right assets and importing them into Unreal. It took me another day to do the entire video, which included recording both Mitzy and Daisy’s performance, adding camera angles, character/prop placement, rendering, cutting together and adding some audio/sfx.
The next exciting part was introducing Daisy, my new character. Daisy is supposed to represent all of the scientific and mathematical wonders found in nature. Due to COVID restrictions and the lack of the right gear, the process for voicing and animating Daisy was a bit more difficult. One of my friends in San Diego recorded the lines on her iPhone, then I would act the lines back out and record my facial performance onto Daisy so there would be animation that is sync’d to the audio. My friend in San Diego does not have an iPhone with the FaceAR capabilities, nor a machine powerful enough to run Unreal and record. Using some camera angles and trying to record some idle reactions for Mitzy allowed me to fake the back and forth conversation scenes.
Mitzy’s world is quickly growing and this video got me so excited for what is to come. I am shifting gears to finishing the book, for a release in early 2021.
Mitzy is here to celebrate National STEAM Day with you! Here’s a short little video showing how Mitzy uses STEAM in all of her projects and every day life.
Mitzy Makes It is a STEAM focused brand aimed at inspiring little girls to make and create in fun new ways through a series of children’s books and short form digital videos all made in Unreal Engine. Mitzy hopes to change the stigma around STEAM and inspire a new generation of builders, creators, and makers. The brand’s mission is to empower little girls to pursue futures in STEAM, which adds diversity to leadership and problem solving in the tech industry.
STEAM doesn’t have to be complicated or hard, you use it all the time in your daily life – from making toast to counting toys.
This months video is celebrating Halloween while learning how to count to 10! Mitzy has made a Costume Making Machine that generates 10 costumes based off of her favorite things and popular Halloween Decorations.
This video was focused more on embedding basic STEM principles into the video and creating a longer piece of content to increase engagement.
In addition to this months video, I made a couple work sheets based off of her costumes! The worksheets are made by using a Toon Shader post process material in Unreal Engine. It allows me to re-use the assets from the video and create activity pages very quickly.
As Summer comes to an end, Mitzy looks back at all the things she made – a variety of inventions – a small one, a big one, a silly one and a complicated one. Accompanying this video is a handful of worksheets that focus on counting, shapes and using your imagination.
Mitzy spilled her buttons all over her shop. However, she realizes this is a perfect opportunity to organize them by color and size. Her imagination runs wild as she thinks about all the things she can make with these buttons!
This week I have created some downloadable activities that go along with the video to reinforce sizes, colors and counting!
After your kids finish the activities, you can cut the buttons out for them and let them imagine what they could make from buttons!
For you techies – The line art version of Mitzy is actually rendered out of Unreal. I added a post-process toon shader material to the scene and rendered it. A super quick way to make coloring pages and activities out of all the assets.
After a successful splashdown of the Endeavor yesterday by SpaceX and NASA, I thought it would be great to make a video of Mitzy being inspired by this recent event. Something Mitzy and kids can share together. The beauty of working in Unreal Engine is the ability to create things real-time and take advantage of making content that is fresh and relevant for kids.
This was made in less than an 8 hour work day. From quickly coming up with a script and doing some quick layout in engine to figure out the shots, to final renders (which of course took a couple tries again because I kept missing some things)
I used the new Control Rig in Unreal for some of the animation and it was great to quickly pose and animate some hands and feet. I do not have any formal animation training and the goal was to post something quickly – trying to not get caught up in the small details at this stage.
I’ve been trying to get some Mocap Animation packs to retarget to Mitzy correctly, but she’s so tiny with drastically different proportions than the UE4 Mannequin, that not many have been working out of the box. I did have a Moon Walk animation and I knew I had to use it for this video.
I’ve been using Adobe Stock for various 3D assets and Audio. They actually have a ton of free assets you can download. They have a bunch of Space assets – Suits, Planets, and Spaceships that are all free and were perfect for this (Link Here). I grabbed one of the Spacesuits and just grabbed the helmet part and somehow made it work for Mitzy’s head – although you will notice she never turns around haha.
It has been almost two months since my last post and I have a ton of progress to share! The past two months have been spent bringing Mitzy to life! I have so many updates to share, but I will keep this post brief.
I am excited to announce that I have received an Epic Mega Grant for Mitzy Makes It!! I have been using Unreal Engine since grad school and it has empowered me to make so many amazing things!
Anyone can apply for a mega grant and please reach out if you want to learn more about Unreal or applying for the Mega Grant. I am happy to help 🙂
And with the video and image above, you may have noticed Mitzy has a brand new look to her and her maker space is complete (I cant wait to share more about her space!)
Her body rig is following the Epic Skeleton Convention and her face is rigged following the Apple AR Kit Blendshapes. Also, what perfect timing the Epic released a brand new Live Link Face App and a new Control Rig system. Both are so easy to use and set up, she was up and moving shortly after bringing her into the engine.
Let’s just appreciate the version of Mitzy I had modeled in the beginning…
It’s been a little longer than I would have liked for a blog post, but I did start a new job recently! I am continuing to work in Unreal, which is awesome because that engine keeps growing and there is so many ways to use it.
Over the past couple weeks, I put together a survey to help me gather more insight from parents and teachers. I was focused on how their girls (and students) where being exposed to STEAM and their passions in general. Here is the link to the survey. This was my first survey and I already received helpful feedback on how to set up surveys!
As of today, 61 people have responded – From parents of girls of all ages to teachers. Below is a highlight of the topics I want to tackle with this project. THANK YOU – to all of you that took the survey and helped share it.
Repeatedly, the comments mentioned Role Models. Whether it is fictitious characters, family, friends, or real life STEAM women, it seems that young girls are not being introduced to these role models. “Mitzy Makes It” needs to be a role model for young girls, someone they admire and want to be or be friends with. If many young girls like princesses – then why cant those princess be building the future?
As we all know, there is an abundance of content out there for kids. Often times, the STEAM based content is STEAM first, then girls. “Mitzy Makes It” will put girls first – their interests, the way they learn and problem solve. This will be the biggest section of iteration. From the children’s book, to the game, to the hands on activities – these all need to be tested with girls. Making legos pink is not enough – it is taking into account their passions, how they learn and create, and what brings them joy. A huge take away as well, was access to content. As this project grows, I want to create a Free Resources section on the website, for teachers and families – whether it’s print out material or activities you can do at home – accessibility is very import. Parents and teachers shouldn’t have to spend $40 to expose their girls to STEAM.
The stigma/stereotype with STEAM is still very prevalent, especially at a young age. As mentioned before, all of these are intertwined – if they are seeing more role models and interacting with more content, young girls will realize they can break that stereotype and it can be as glamorous of a career as they want. The world of “Mitzy Makes It” needs to be fun, colorful, and loving. Mitzy will show that you can be glamorous, cute, silly, fun, and fashionable, all while building, making, creating, design the future. Why cant we do it all?
This survey taught me a lot – I think it’s time for me to dress up as a princess everyday and code (just kidding). Although, it has inspired and pushed me even more.
I finally got Mitzy’s shop to a place where I felt like I was ready to test out my theory – I could use this same environment for my game and the children’s book.
The initial concept for the children’s book was someone would come to Mitzy’s shop needing help making something. Mitzy then would make the item and during this process various STEAM concepts would be introduced (problem solving, numbers, counting, iterating, etc.) As I started to actually write it and mock up some screenshots for the images it quickly became complicated and boring, more like a How-To & Step by Step instead of a story.
Finding that balance between fun & STEAM concepts will be key. The children’s book will be an introduction into this world. The game and any play along videos will be more hands on and educational.
Below are some images I put together for the book – I was thinking of starting each book with various items that Mitzy makes.
Mitzy was making something practical in this story – I want to push the things she is making to be much more whimsical and fun. I got through about 10 pages for this draft and realized it wasn’t right. Back to the drawing board!
Made some more progress in Mitzy’s space. The area’s I’ve been working on lately feel more cohesive and not a kit bash of assets. Hoping to make her whole space to feel like this. Definitely will need to revisit the earlier areas I worked on.
Did some searching on stock.adobe.com for free assets and found some planets and a space shuttle! Making sure to incorporate all aspects of STEAM into her space.
I’m continuing to incorporate various elements to expose kids to concepts and items that they will continue to see in STEAM. The Utah Teapot, A space shuttle, a powerful PC, and a green screen are a few of those elements.
The Utah Teapot was the first CG element I rendered at UCSD with my own ray tracer and it is widely used in the Graphics community. The Utah Teapot has various elements that allows it to be a great test for initial rendering and lighting. Computer Graphics was one of the hardest and rewarding classes I took at UCSD – It pushed me in the right direction and I knew this is where I wanted to be.
I’ve been spending the past couple days playing around a bit more with the look and feel. The hard part about using the Epic marketplace is trying to achieve consistency between all the assets. I would still like everything to be a bit more cartoony but I am trying to do as much as I can in the engine (simplifying materials, playing with scale, etc).
I was also distracted by my terrible modeling skills, so I gave Mitzy another pass.
I grabbed the ArchVizInterior Ray tracing project to play a bit with colors and lighting to see if that is the best approach for the children’s book. I didn’t spend any time trying to reduce the noise in the shadows, but it is on my list of things to keep exploring this week.
I continued working on Mitzy’s Maker space today. I started thinking about how she would move in the space and how is should be organized.
In the middle of working on this, I realized it would be helpful if I had a CG Model of Mitzy to place around and figure out the scale of this world. I made a rough one in Maya just to help me get a better idea of her size – She is small but mighty! (Mitzy will eventually be modeled by a professional, but until then…)
The quote above made me giggle and too many people that I told that quote too, actually agreed! Math shouldn’t be hard or scary! Often times kid’s hear their parents, teachers, sibling and friends say that math is hard, boring, or useless – this is hugely impressionable on kids. All kids should believe they can accomplish anything, and we should support that as well – even if we can’t do it ourselves.
This project is constantly growing and evolving. I’m going to start formatting my blogs into 3 sections – Creative, Technical, and Educational. Creative will focus on art and story, Technical will be updates regarding Unreal Engine, and educational will focus on curriculum and research.
Creative I am currently working on my second idea for the children’s book. My goal is to write 3 stories and test them with kids, parents, and teachers. Mitzy is currently building a dog house – focusing on measurements and shapes.
Technical I enabled Ray-Tracing on my project and ran into the weirdest bug. The project said ray-tracing was enabled. However, it was not! I pulled up the ArchViz Interior Project that Epic provides as an example and tried to narrow down what was going on. The biggest give away was that Ray Tracing Debug was missing from the View Modes.
When I looked at the DefaultEngine.ini config files between the two, I noticed my project’s (Which started at a template Virtual Production project, and then had ThirdPerson template settings imported on top of it… I know…what a mess) config file was a giant mess of settings being enables and set. The ArchViz one was simple and clear. Copying the ArchViz DeafultEngine.ini Config file into my project resolved the issue. I would like to spend some time and figure out which settings were conflicting – my instinct is that it is some of the mobile settings were preventing it.
Educational I’ve been spending a lot of time seeing what is being taught in schools, what kinds of TV shows, books, and websites currently exist that are STEM/STEAM focused. I’ve been learning a lot and the how many different factors can influence girls and STEAM. My goals for this project seem to be growing and become more ambitious each day. Spending time talking to teachers and parents is my next step, to see what works for them and what they feel like is missing.