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.
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.
After feeling stumped on my first draft of my children’s book, I decided to share it with a couple teachers I know and got some great feedback and additional resources. One of those resources is the California Standard on Math for Kindergarten ( http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/K/introduction/ ). I had no idea what kids know at that age, and this gives me some great guidelines! It also made me realize that my book could be a teaching tool as well!
I also spent some time watching some Maya modeling videos. I really love the cartoony look for props, and since I am limited on resources, I figured I would start modeling some things myself.
I’ve also began to build out pieces of my game. I used the template for the ThirdPersonController project that Unreal has to get some character movement. I also started working on some UI and collisions in my environment. Still thinking a lot about how to use this space and incorporate #STEAM principles.
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…)
My first goal for this project is to begin building the world. I’m using Unreal Engine ( https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/ ) for this project. I can use CG assets purchased from the Epic Marketplace to build out the environments. The goal is to expand the children’s book into a play along app. Creating all of this in Unreal initially will allow me to easily create the app.
First, I browse to see if I can find assets that fit the look and feel I am going for. This is going to be a fun and vibrant world, but still practical. I start importing all of the asset packs that I think will be useful.
Had fun curating all the assets I am going to use. Hoping to nail down the layout soon so I can start decorating.